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GAZING at the baby in her arms, Emily should have felt nothing but love for her newborn son.
But sadly she was wrestling with feelings no mother wants to admit. Had she made a mistake?
Bristolian Emily struggled with postnatal depression after the birth of her son Robin
“As lovely as Robin was, I wasn’t sure being a mum was the right thing for me,” says Emily.
“I really struggled with the sleep deprivation. And while he was a lovely baby, I felt I didn’t love him as much as I should. If I had known how hard it was going to be, I’m not sure I’d have gone through with having a baby.”
According to the NHS, more than one in ten women in the UK struggle with postnatal depression and can feel disconnected from their newborns.
Those who go on to have feelings of parental regret, like 38-year-old Bristolian Emily, typically endure them long term.
Emily says her life is much better now Robin is getting older
Baby regrets can cause relationships to crumble and, for some working mums, a baby could result in them being passed over for promotion.
It might be a taboo topic but hundreds of parents discuss their feelings anonymously online, and a Facebook group called I Regret Having Children has more than 24,000 followers.
Psychologist Natasha Tiwari, CEO of The Veda Group, which provides mental health support to families, says: “Experiencing regret in becoming a mother is more common than many would guess.
“The stigma means most will never find someone they feel safe with to discuss their feelings.
‘I WAS UNSURE’
“Parental regret is likely to be experienced as a painful longing for a life not lived, comparable to a grieving process.”
Emily, a university administrator, never really wanted children but when she was 34, agreed to try when husband Dan* said he wanted a family.
She says: “I felt we were very happy as we were. But he changed his mind and I agreed as that’s what he wanted.
“I was unsure but once we decided to try I was very excited. I was apprehensive but felt pleased he wanted to have a baby with me — it felt extra special.”
Emily felt exhausted and struggled to keep up with parenting chores
The couple had been together six and a half years when Emily became pregnant in September 2017 after a few weeks of trying.
She did not enjoy her pregnancy and Robin was born in July 2018 after a quick but tiring labour.
Emily says: “It was amazing when I first held Robin. Suddenly he was with us and I couldn’t stop gazing at him. I was besotted.
“I felt a lot of affection but I didn’t feel that kind of amazing love that other people describe. I would pass him to someone else at every opportunity.”
‘I FELT INCREDIBLY GUILTY’
After many sleepless nights, Emily felt exhausted and struggled to keep up with parenting chores.
“I’ve been a very good mother, because I’ve always done my best for him. But I found it hard to interact positively with Robin as I was so exhausted,” she says.
“I felt incredibly guilty. He deserved to see people smiling at him. I was crying all the time. I was just about holding it together, but I knew I couldn’t go on much longer.”
When Robin was four months old, Emily spoke to her GP and was prescribed a mild antidepressant.
Some mums regret the hassle of having kidsCredit: Getty Images – Getty
Her health visitor referred her to The Bluebell Care Trust, in Bristol, where they treat postnatal depression.
Emily returned to work when Robin was eight months old.
“It was great to go back,” she says. “It was really nice to focus on one thing at a time, to get a cup of tea or go to the loo whenever I felt like it.”
For some mums, having a baby means their career plans have to take a back seat.
‘I FEEL REGRETFUL’
Stacey*, 30, a police officer, from Portsmouth, says having a child had a major impact on her job prospects.
She says: “I really wanted to have a baby with my partner. Our son, who is now 20 months old, was planned and is very much loved. But there are times I feel regretful because of my career.
“My employer did agree for me to do a special, part-time shift pattern, yet there are lots of jobs I’d like to apply for but I don’t really have the time to take on as I’m so busy being a mum.”
“Right now, I can’t do it. I have to prioritise the baby.
More than one in ten women in the UK struggle with postnatal depressionCredit: Getty Images – Getty
“Yes, you could put them in a nursery, but childcare is so expensive these days. I feel like, because I’ve had a baby, I’ve had to put my career on hold. It’s a sacrifice I’ve had to make.”
Stacey also misses the freedom she had before having a baby.
“I love him very, very much but I miss my old life,” she admits.
“I miss being able to go out any
time and spend money on treats for myself. I miss just spending the day watching Netflix in bed.
‘I MISS TIME TO MYSELF’
“It’s mostly time to myself that I miss.”
Sam*, 29, from Walthamstow, East London, works in communications. She says having a baby led to the breakdown of her relationship.
“Adam and I had been to- gether eight years when I fell pregnant,” she says.
“We were excited even though we hadn’t planned it, but we had no idea how everything would change.”
It is common for women to miss the freedom they had before having a babyCredit: Getty Images – Getty
After son Archie was born in December 2018, the couple grew apart. “I love Archie,” says Sam.
“But I do regret a lot of what happened in my life after I had him. I was exhausted, he barely slept and ended up sleeping in the bed with me and Adam would go on the sofa.
“I resented Archie for getting between us. I’d think about what we’d been like before – romantic meals, throwing on our coats for a walk. Suddenly nothing was that simple.”
“We had no family nearby so we never had date nights. Adam worked long hours too.
‘I COULDN’T HELP BLAMING THE BABY’
“On maternity leave it was just me and Archie. I barely saw my friends. Most didn’t have children and were still partying every weekend.”
When England went into lockdown last March, the couple began arguing more and in May, carpenter Adam told Sam he was leaving.
“I was gutted,” she says. “I loved him and missed our old life. I couldn’t help blaming the baby. Adam said he didn’t love me any more – I was just a mum, changing nappies. I wasn’t the woman he’d fallen in love with. We had drifted apart.
“Adam is still in Archie’s life and I do miss him, but I’m happy and I’ve moved on.”
It’s important for mums to know that what they are feeling is OKCredit: Getty Images – Getty
Dr Tiwari says anyone feeling these sorts of regrets should find someone they can open up to.
“Putting words to these complicated feelings is the first step in resolving the pain, shame, guilt and loneliness,” she says.
“Find relief in committing to having both ‘alone time’ to connect with your identity, but also ‘kids time’ to remind yourself of the aspects of motherhood which bring joy.
“Motherhood was never supposed to be a sole person task. Lean on your partner and your family.
‘LEAN ON YOUR PARTNER & YOUR FAMILY’
“Even if you have these feelings now, it is possible to come to a place of some acceptance and even joy if you’re willing to let go of black and white thinking around the matter.”
Emily adds: “Things are a lot better now. Robin has grown up a bit. He talks and we can do more together. I’m not so tired. At the same time, I still really feel the limitations of being a mum.
“I miss time to myself and I’d love more one-to-one time with my husband. But I do feel more positive about the future.
“It’s important for other mums to know that what they are feeling is OK, that there is nothing wrong with you and you shouldn’t feel guilty.
Dr Tiwari says mums should find someone they can open up toCredit: Getty – Contributor
“Often women don’t talk about it for fear of being judged. They don’t want to be seen as selfish, they feel like they are a bad mother.
“But it’s only when you open up and talk about how you feel that you can get help and things may start to improve.”
- *Some names have been changed
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