We are living in unprecedented times.
A whole cohort of parents and babies are the involuntary participants of a social experiment, whose outcomes are unknown, but will likely be felt for years to come.
Since lockdown overall anxiety levels have risen, as we are rightly concerned with the well-being of our families, working from home, job security, and so many uncertainties. This is not to mention the ever-changing regulations, and governments institutions’ struggle to cope.
Into this mix new babies are born, and parents have been left ‘holding their babies’.
Having a baby, even if everything goes well, is always a shock and takes quite a bit of adjusting to. The reality of looking after such a small new person can feel overwhelming and demands that parents draw on all their resources to cope and be available to looking after their baby. In pre-Covid times postnatal depression and anxiety was estimated to affect 25 % of mothers in England.
A baby ‘s cries will always raise stress levels. This is normal, as it is meant to activate parents ‘to do’ something to make things better. Of course, parents don’t always know what to do. Baby’s communication is opaque, and it is guessing using trial and error, which gradually help parents to get to know their baby and become more confident in interpreting the different cries.
Psychotherapists talk about ‘ghosts’ and ‘angels’ in the nursery. The ghosts are the people and unresolved events of the parents’ past. These, if we are not careful, can be projected onto babies and colour the lens in which parents interpret their baby’s cry. This happens unconsciously and is no-one’s fault. Angels on the other hand were those people, who were friendly, sensitive and caring, and who helped the parent (when they were a baby) to feel held, cared for and understood.
We all need angels. And we are not meant to raise babies in isolation. It takes a village to raise a child. In the past we may have had sisters, aunties, grandmothers and grandfathers to help. In the 21st century these structures have been lost and replaced with support groups and child focused activities. Since Covid-19 struck, support structures such as extended families, play centres and so many groups have been being either cut, reduced or are much less accessible.
Latest research is already telling us that parents’ anxiety levels have risen, and that they report their babies are crying more than they used to in the past. Now more than ever, we need to support new parents and babies in any ways that we can.
If you are a new parent and feel overwhelmed, this can be seen as a normal response to an abnormal situation. It is important to not suffer in silence but to reach out and get help. When you are stuck on your own with a new baby and are sleep deprived, it is easy to lose perspective and feel bad about yourself, your capacity to parent, or worse even to struggle to like your baby.
Do seek support, as postnatal depression does not go away on its own.
You can get help either by joining groups, or by getting individual support.
Parents tell us of the relief they experience when they feel heard and understood and how this immediately translates to them being better able to look after their babies.
Moni Celebi is a parent infant psychotherapist, video interaction guidance (VIG) practitioner, founder of Babies1st, editor of Weaving the Cradle.