By Christine, Shout Clinician.
May is Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month; a campaign dedicated to talking about mental illness while pregnant or after having a baby. This is an incredibly important month to support those affected by Maternal Mental Health. In addition to the support these mothers deserve, we’d also like to hold space for those who aren’t mums for whatever reason that may be - through choice or not.
Last week my sister called to ask for advice. She was having a group of friends over for a barbecue all of which were couples with children, except one. She asked how to plan the day to ensure that the childless friend, Jane, felt included and had as much fun as the friends who were mothers. We concluded that it would be considerate to ask Jane if she wanted to bring her new boyfriend. She'd also offer Jane a special option of spending the night so that she didn't have to travel back to the city. As I hung up, I’d realised that despite our efforts to be compassionate, what we had done was perpetuate the stigma around not having children. We’d projected feelings onto Jane. We assumed she would feel “less than” and excluded because she wasn’t a mother.
Many of us still internalise bias about what motherhood means.
We have come a long way as a society accepting the multitude of options for living a full and meaningful life. Yet as my sister and I proved, many of us still internalise bias about what motherhood means. Despite identifying as modern forward thinking women, we’d projected that not being a mother is a lesser status. This stigma is still present in our society. Because of this, not being a mum or thinking you will never be a mum can bring up difficult thoughts, emotions, and interpersonal challenges.
As a woman myself who wants to be a mother but is not sure if that will be a reality, I’ve faced these challenges. When these pesky thoughts creep up, I’ve found some helpful strategies to manage before they grow into painful emotions:
- Ground yourself in the present moment. When thinking about our future as mothers or not mothers, we tend to get swept up. We make assumptions about what the future will or won’t hold and may have a strong emotional reaction to a perceived future reality. We may start thinking we’ll never feel the love a parent feels for a child or we won’t have anyone to care for us when we're old. We have emotions about something that is not even a reality. If we see a happy fulfilling life as a destination, it will never be where we are. Ask yourself how you can build joy and relief into the present moment, then hour, then day. These moments will add up no matter what your status as a mother or non-mother.
- Challenge the difficult emotions. A full and meaningful life comes with a range of emotions. Whether you experience difficult emotions because you’re unable to become a mother or because you choose not to be, embrace the emotion. Even negative emotions are a part of a full and meaningful life. Approach these difficult experiences with curiosity. What you can learn about yourself and others through this experience?
- Find support. There's lots of support for those who do become mothers yet we may neglect our own needs for support on our journey of not being mothers. We may assume that the absence of a motherhood doesn't warrant support. It can be helpful to read or hear about others' similar thoughts and experiences. Consider talking to people who might be able to connect and offer support and understanding.
There is no perfect outcome when it comes to being or not being a mother. There are unique struggles we all face no matter what our motherhood status. If you or someone you know is struggling, you don’t have to go through it alone. Reach out to a compassionate volunteer. Text SHOUT to 85258 anytime, 24/7.