I really struggled to adjust to life as a new mum. We did have a few issues which made the early days a bit more challenging, but looking back it was how I thought about things that made them so difficult. Thoughts like:
It’s not fair!
Why won’t she sleep!
I can’t cope with sleep this bad!
I’m so crap at this!
There was also a lot of comparing to friends’ babies, or comparing our situation to other people’s e.g. lack of family support.
I also completely lost my sense of self-identity, which was very challenging. I’ve always been a bit of a goal-orientated person, and like being busy and ‘getting things done’. I get a great sense of achievement from setting myself a goal, working hard towards it, and completing it. Being a mum involves a lot of repetitive, monotonous tasks like changing nappies, feeding, housework and so on.
Thirdly I also felt really isolated. I had been working as a full-time adult education tutor which meant I was meeting lots of new people all the time and had people around to talk to nearly all day, every day. Then I went to being at home with only daytime TV for company. Facebook and Twitter were a bit of a lifeline but it doesn’t compare to face-to-face interaction with real human beings.
As a result, I felt angry, anxious, irritable, resentful and frustrated for most of the first year of my daughter’s life, if not longer. Not to mention guilty for feeling all of those things, because I was supposed to be enjoying this wonderful time.
I also expected my husband to understand how I was feeling and somehow fulfill all the needs I felt were now lacking, which is rather a lot to expect from any human being, let alone one who is also sleep deprived and adjusting to being a new parent!
I have been reading Buddhism for Mothers and The Little Book of Contentment (free ebook) lately and although I’ve never really thought of myself as a religious or spiritual person before now, they have really resonated with me. Buddhism for Mothers focuses more on your experience as a mother than on what to do as a parent. It’s the first book I’ve found that really acknowledges that parenting comes with suffering as well as happiness. The Little Book of Contentment is a really easy read (you can read it in an hour) so it’s perfect for parents with little free time.
I see now that previously, I was completely reliant on external sources of happiness: achieving goals, interactions with other people, being praised, good food, playing computer games and so on. When I became a mum, suddenly all of these were taken away, or I had very little time to do them. My baby daughter has, in a way, become my first spiritual teacher, because she has forced me to learn how to be happy with much less, and to look within for happiness. I am slowly, very slowly, learning to be content with life as it is; to learn to like myself, to stop comparing myself to others, to let go of perfectionism.