Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Baby love

A little extract from the times website that has made me furious...

'That is one side of the story: the disruption and chaos. The other, often equally unexpected development is the degree to which you adore your baby. For many women, the love they feel for their child far and away surpasses anything they have ever experienced before. At first you don’t really notice it – sure, this small pink bundle is adorable and absorbing, but you are still getting used to each other. And then somewhere around week three, quite possibly when you are dozing off at 4am, with this little milky person asleep by your side and the soothing sounds of the BBC World Service drifting from the radio, it suddenly hits you, with the force of an oncoming train: you love this thing more than life itself.

This love is a new kind of love. It is, in the true sense of the word, unconditional. The media, society, other mothers with something to prove, like to hymn this great novel love as a tremendous nirvana, the deepest truth of the female heart. But paradoxically, it can be extremely frightening, not just for the mother, whose happiness now depends on this highly unstable bundle of new human flesh and blood, whose very sanity can feel as if it hinges on one tiny human continuing to breathe, but also for her partner. Adjusting from being the centre of a person’s universe to being a distant satellite is never easy, especially if the ego involved is male.'

I have put in bold the part that has given me an angry cold feeling in my chest and stomach.

It is something that is not addressed very often and is difficult for many women to talk about, due to the social expectations expressed so perfectly in articles such as the one quoted above.

Sure, it seems as though the article is balanced, the 'great love' opposed to the 'great fear'. But what about those women who, upon leaving the surreal dream-drama of hospital, find that they DON'T have these feelings? The feelings that every magazine, film, relative and condescending well-wisher has told them they are going to have?

What about those women who feel numb or even resentful towards their tiny baby? Who find themselves in a cycle of hate and guilt because they have not been told that they might feel like this, and that it is perfectly natural?

I'm not talking about the 'baby blues', something that is defined to women as 'feeling a bit low and tearful' after the birth, due to changing hormones. Hell, I'm not even talking about Post-Natal Depression, something that is rightfully getting the publicity it requires. I'm talking about women who do not feel the instant indescribable joy of loving their baby.

It's an issue that is addressed in relation to men, usually described as having difficulty 'bonding'. It's almost expected that men will have 'problems', after all, they haven't carried the child, they haven't had the physical trial of giving birth or the huge relief of it all being over. However, it's equally expected of women that they will be instantly in love with the spasming little being that has just emerged from them. (Perhaps you find my terminology a little unsettling? Read it again, it's little more than an actual description of a newborn, we're just so inclined towards a romantic picture of birth that we balk at blank descriptions).

I maintain that this is a damaging part of 'mummy culture'. Never mind the war over breast versus bottle or 'stay-at-home' versus 'working mother', this ingrained notion that women adore their babies is one of the most emotionally damaging issues for a new mother who doesn't fit the social expectation. Imagine being told by a stream of visitors how much you love your child, and being asked 'isn't it amazing?' when you have no idea what they're talking about, but you continue to smile and agree, because otherwise you would be weird.

It is important that new mothers understand this can happen, and that they are not alone. But I think most new mums can testify that it is one of the busiest, but also loneliest times of their lives. I truely feel that the media ought to play a part in reminding women that the stereotypes aren't the 'be all and end all'. The few outlets a lot of mothers have in those first weeks are magazines and television. If this myth of maternal love were questioned more regularly in these forums then those lonely women might feel reassured. Well meaning relatives and visitors can be excused, as they often only have their own experiences to draw upon, but the media should be obliged to represent a balanced and well researched message.

Yes, I suppose I am an incurable idealist, expecting media sources to provide anything other than thinly veiled opinions, but when they are often the only place where alternative interpretations can be found then they are an important resource that should act responsibly towards their consumers. If the message were out there more often and obvious then perhaps even the doting families would be sensitive to alternative experiences of new motherhood.

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