• Becoming a mother is a huge psychological and physical event

  • Esther Marshall shares her own maternal mental health experience and offers tips to other new mums

  • We have therapists and counsellors who work specifically with issues around pregnancy and parenting – find yours here 

I remember it so clearly, walking back into my flat with my baby after just giving birth for the first time two years ago. As we walked through the door I turned to my husband and said – what on earth do we do now? It’s ironic that for the majority of our careers we go through multiple interviews for every job we have to ensure we are qualified for the job but for the hardest job in the world (in my opinion) there is no job interview. Just one day we get handed our baby and then it’s up to us to ensure they are looked after and loved in the best way possible.

Throughout my pregnancy any time anyone, be it a friend or a family member or even a stranger, saw me with a bump they would be so kind, always asking if I wanted a drink or to take their seat or stop me if I even attempted to lift a finger. It felt wonderful. That all changed as soon as I had the baby. I felt I no longer existed. All people wanted was to see the baby. So, despite recovering from sepsis with an emergency C section, everything was about the baby. I felt invisible. I found myself saying yes to multiple people at the flat every day offering to make them tea and offering them biscuits and felt this need to keep up the persona of the hostess even though I was in so much pain.

I felt so much pressure to “bounce back” that I overdid it and walked over an hour a day pretty much straight after my C section and then ended up back in hospital as my scar had got infected.

Motherhood is a personal journey and differs for everyone but one thing I have heard from every mother I know is that no one ever told them how hard it would be at the beginning. I therefore feel so passionately about speaking up and talking about what it is really like which seems to have been hidden underground for so long. Mothers should be told what it is like and how the so called fourth trimester is somewhat harrowing but would be less harrowing if you knew it was coming. I know that if I ever do have another baby, I would do things very differently and here’s how.

1. Stay in your bubble

I would ensure that once the baby is born, I would hibernate in my own bubble until I felt ready to let people in. Please don’t feel pressure to have everyone around straight away. A few days or weeks won’t hurt anyone but will make the world of difference for you and your mental health. This has of course been the case for people who have had babies during Covid-19 but hopefully once life returns to some form of normality you can still say that you would like some time to yourselves and only let people in as and when you feel ready.

2. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help

I would say that asking for help is actually so brave and will help so much. Even if it is someone coming over and watching the baby so you can sleep for an hour or so you can actually have a shower by yourself and get some much-needed self-care.

3. You know your baby best

Every single person who has been a parent (and even those who haven’t!) will feel the need to tell you what to do with your child as if they know best. My advice would be smile sweetly at all the advice you are given but only take on what you think will benefit you and your baby. You know your baby best, even if you don’t feel like it sometimes. Every baby is different so what has worked for others may not work for you and your baby. I listened to all the advice and then worked out what worked for me and my baby and what didn’t and any time I didn’t think I did know what I was doing I just went back to the words “you know your baby best” and that helped so much.

4. Don’t apologise and trust your instinct

This is similar to the point above but deals more with medical professionals. One of the most frustrating things I found with being a new mum is that I constantly found myself at the doctors apologising and saying “sorry, I know, I over worry as a first-time mum”. Don’t apologise. If you are worried it’s so much better to get it checked than sit at home and worry even more.

5. Don’t compare

Every baby is different and every mother is different. Not comparing is easier said than done as suddenly your whole life, literally day and night, is totally focussed on this little bundle, but please don’t compare how your baby is sleeping, eating or growing etc. When we are older no one asks questions like: Were you breastfed? How old were you when you were weaned? Were you a vaginal or c-section baby? But regardless we get ourselves in such a spiral about whether we are doing the right thing. Please try not to compare, you are doing the best for you and your baby and that’s all that is needed.

6. You do no need to “bounce back”

This phrase makes me so angry. You have just had a baby and yes, as naive as it sounds, I thought that my bump would just automatically disappear after having the baby but that is anything but what it did. But regardless, you have just given birth, please give yourself some credit and be kind to yourself.

7. Happy mum happy baby 

I never understood this quote until I became a mum and it is so true. Those first few months are such a blur, full of body changes and lack of sleep, that anyone would be forgiven for feeling totally out of control of their lives and bodies. 

I would suggest you find what helps you and make sure you put a plan in place to ensure you are looking out for you as well as the baby. Even if it’s just going for a half an hour walk yourself a day. For me it was just to be able to have a shower whilst someone else was with the baby so I didn’t feel so anxious that baby was going to cry and I would have to jump out of the shower. 

Whatever will give you some joy find it and put a plan in place for you to get that be it daily or weekly. I promise it will make the world of difference!

Esther Marshall is a Diversity and Inclusion expert, mental health activist and the author of Sophie Says children’s books series 

Further reading

7 self-care tips to manage the intensity of being a new mum

Maternal isolation: it takes a village to support a mother

The supermum myth: why good enough should be the aim

Why postnatal recovery and rest matter

How to help a friend with postnatal depression