A missing piece

by Dr Felicia Low

This article was first published in Pregnancy BUMP&baby Issue 17 and is reproduced with kind permission from the Editor.

Not all mums-to-be have their own mamas around during their new journey into parenthood. And whether by choice or not, this can be challenging. Dr Felicia Low shares how to find other support. 

You’ve been reading avidly about what to expect during pregnancy, you’ve discussed a birth plan with your midwife or doctor, and you’ve ticked off the checklist of baby items. You feel very well informed, but something still feels missing – the supportive presence of your mum. 

Taking a different journey

Many women enjoy a close relationship with their mothers, who are keen to provide emotional and practical support during their daughter’s pregnancy and beyond. By virtue of having gone through pregnancy and parenthood, mothers can offer advice in a different way to other trusted people in a woman’s life. However, many other women are not as fortunate – some may have lost their own mothers or are no longer in contact with them. The joy of pregnancy may therefore be tempered by feelings of loss and sadness – not only for knowing their child will not get to experience a grandmother’s love, but also for not being able to share their own journey of motherhood. 

In addition, the pregnancy journey and the first few months after birth can present some unexpected challenges, and having a dependable source of support becomes especially important during this time. Some women may experience pregnancy complications or difficult births. Then, taking on a new 24/7 caretaking role and adjusting to a significant identity shift as a mother while recovering from birth can take a further physical and emotional toll, especially without a strong support system available. 

Why support is important

We know that lack of social support – whether from family, friends, or the wider community – is a major factor in women developing mental distress during and after pregnancy. However, the absence of a woman’s mother, in particular, may be felt acutely. In New Zealand, about one in seven women experience symptoms of mental distress, such as depression and anxiety, during pregnancy through to about one year after birth. In fact, it is estimated that nearly half of all women are affected to some extent during pregnancy. 

Finding a good support network on this new journey is therefore crucial to help avoid mental distress and protect the woman’s psychological and emotional wellbeing. 

So, what are some ways that mums-to-be, especially those who do not have their mothers available, can build up their support system? 

“The pregnancy journey and the first few months after birth can present some unexpected challenges, and having a dependable source of support becomes especially important during this time.” 

Finding your village

The proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” is widely used to acknowledge that in addition to parents, it takes many other people (the “village”) to support pregnant mums and help children flourish in a safe, healthy environment. Traditionally, the village would comprise people such as extended family members, neighbours, friends, and other community members. 

Seek support from people close to you 
If possible, seek help from family and good friends – these could be a sister, an aunt or other close relative, or another motherly figure. They likely can anticipate your needs best, whether through practical assistance or through moral support in person or from afar. The importance of having a non-judgemental listening ear to confide in cannot be overstated. 

Go online 
Online groups, such as on Facebook or other discussion boards, can help with connecting to other parents-to-be or new parents at any time of the day or night. A new social platform – The Village NZ – has recently been established for Kiwi mums, dads, families and supporters with the aim of fostering connections and building communities (see box below). 

Get into groups 
Once baby has arrived, another option is to meet people with babies of similar age. Antenatal or parenting classes, parent coffee groups, and even baby-focused library and community centre events offer great opportunities to make new friends. Sharing experiences, asking each other questions and knowing you’re not alone in your challenges can help make the journey feel smoother. A common tip from other new parents is to always accept any offers of help, no matter how small! 

Ask for help 
Finally, if you are experiencing mental distress at any stage, don’t hesitate to also reach out to your LMC, GP or Well Child provider for advice on accessing support services. Preparing and caring for a new baby can be potentially stressful, but for those of us who don’t have mum, it is certainly possible to find support in other ways. It could well make all the difference. 

The Village NZ 

The Village NZ is a new initiative from The Wright Family Foundation that addresses the pressing issues of social isolation and stress faced by whānau in New Zealand and aims to enhance the wellbeing of women and their families through community-focused resources. It offers a holistic approach to maternal and paternal wellbeing through educational and restorative spaces and is committed to diversity and responsiveness to community needs. Initially virtual, The Village NZ can extend a helping hand to parents, highlighting the need for collective efforts in building resilient communities. For more information, visit the-village-nz.org or email Daneille Geary at daneille@wrightfamilyfoundation.org.nz. 

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