Happiful spoke to three therapists and three parents about the importance of reducing pressure and protecting privacy around the birth of a child
There has been great speculation over the past weeks about the private path the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have chosen prior to the birth of their first child. While they are perhaps one of the most high-profile expectant couples, this time around the birth of their child is just as important - if not more so - to them, as to any other soon-to be parents.
Counselling Directory members Louise Whitnall, Pam Custers and Louise Watson have shared their thoughts around the importance of protecting privacy and learning to parent together. Here’s what they said.
Psychotherapist and relationship specialist Pam Custers said, “Megan and Harry will be going through all the usual processes of recalibration that a newly married couple go through. They will be finding their own way of operating in the world as a couple as opposed to two highly independent and dynamic individuals. Adding the impending birth of baby Sussex adds a further layer of emotional and psychological complexities.
Moving rapidly from being a couple to being parents places pressure on even the most rock steady of relationships. The Sussexes are having to do this in the glare of the world and at times through a jaundiced lens. The intricacies of being a Royal, and the complexities of the family dynamics, places a further enormous burden.
These two individuals are human, and, whilst their lives are played out in the media, they have frailties like us all. When we are put under pressure, which Harry and Megan have certainly been put under, our ability to deal well with stress reduces. Deciding to protect themselves from the public glare will reduce the pressure. Giving them space and time to do this privately without the media glare is a wise move.”
Psychotherapist Louise Whitnall added, “Whilst family, friends and - in the Royals’ case a whole nation - anticipate a birth as a joyous and celebratory occasion, the reality for the mother can be anything but. Following the birth of a child, hormones will rule the psychological roost for the new mum - being tearful, vulnerable and exhausted are normal responses to what is often experienced and felt as one would a trauma.
Unfortunately, at the same time, loved ones and complete strangers are making demands upon the new mother to be public. A new mother has to learn very quickly that the word NO is a healthy statement, not only for the protection of relationship with herself, which will help her establish a new position in her life but that of her baby and partner.”
Chartered Psychologist Louise Watson said, “Everyone has an opinion on how you should be parenting your child, even if they don’t have children themselves. Most of the time it comes from a good place, but that can be really overwhelming, especially when you’re worried about making the wrong decisions. For mothers in the public eye, the number of people invited to comment is massively increased and a new mother would have to have a great deal of self-confidence to not allow this to influence her decisions or impact on her self-esteem.”
What These New Mums and Dads Learned About Setting Boundaries
Finding the balance between the all-important privacy and wanting to share the moment with family can be a challenge for any new parent. Happiful spoke to three parents about their experiences.
Mum Sarah said after her in-laws showed up at the hospital an hour after the birth of her first daughter (at 2 a.m. and without her or her partner’s knowledge), she was hesitant to let them know when she and her partner headed to the hospital for their second child. “While they meant well and were excited for a new grandchild, it felt sort of intrusive, especially after a difficult birth. So before our second child’s birth, it was important for us to ‘nest’ as a family of three and discuss our thoughts and expectations on the birth announcement - something we did not discuss for our first. My first birth was so distressing on my body, as well as learning to breastfeed, that I did feel and value the need for more privacy and space, which I was unprepared to ask for, or realise I wanted at the time,” Sarah said.
First-time dad Jon said, “I feel that it is a very personal moment in anyone’s life, regardless of how famous you are. Prior to the birth of our son, I only wanted it to be my wife and I for the first few hours and we’d planned for this following discussions during our NCT classes. However, when it came to it, we both couldn’t wait to share the joy of his arrival with close family and friends. The moment everyone left and it was just the three of us, my wife and I looked at him and hardly said two words to one another. All of a sudden you have this little bundle, that you are responsible for, for the rest of your life and with that comes an overwhelming urge to talk about your new baby and journey to parenthood with anyone that will listen.”
Mum Alison said, “In the months leading up to the arrival of our first child, my husband and I decided to keep the birth a semi-private affair. We did notify friends and family when I was in labour, and we did post pictures of the baby on social media, but, with the exception of immediate family, we did not invite visitors to meet the baby for quite some time. We wanted time to bond with the baby, allow my body to heal and simply adjust to our new lives as parents.”
External Support Is Still Important
While setting healthy boundaries is important, for more than 1 in 10 women, perinatal mental illness can have a devastating impact on their lives, so the availability of external support is still crucial. The majority of women experiencing perinatal mental illness will hide or underplay its severity, so it’s important to monitor mental health around this time.
Clare Dolman, Vice Chair of the Maternal Mental Health Alliance explained, “More than 1 in 10 women will develop a mental illness during pregnancy or in the year after birth, and the majority will hide or underplay its severity. If untreated, these perinatal mental illnesses can have a devastating impact on the women affected and their families.
“It is therefore vital that all health professionals working with families in the perinatal period have dedicated high-quality training in order to detect maternal mental health problems and provide appropriate, timely support. Greater public awareness of the signs of perinatal illness will also help women, and those close to them, to understand when to seek support if their needs are not identified by their healthcare team.”
This week is UK Maternal Mental Health Matters Awareness Week and is organised by the Perinatal Mental Health Partnership (PMHP UK), which is a member of Maternal Mental Health Alliance.
If you are worried about your mental health, you may benefit from speaking to a professional. Enter your location in the box below to find a counsellor near you.