As strange and even ridiculous as this statement sounds it’s a more common thought to occupy the mind of new parents than you might imagine.
It might be tempting if you hear a parent say this to mollify them. ‘Don’t be silly’ you might say. Or ‘that’s daft, a baby can’t hate anyone’ you might try and convince them. However this statement is really a sign that this person is struggling with their parenting experience and maybe they are even vulnerable to PND because of thinking this.
‘My baby hates me’ is a thought born out of struggle with a difficult situation. Babies with high needs who need to be held a lot, who cry a lot, who are difficult to feed perhaps because of reflux issues or who are light, infrequent sleepers are challenging. Parents seeking help with high needs babies often feel unsupported by health visitors, GPs or midwives who have nothing in terms of practical solutions to offer.
My son had chronic reflux, every time he fed he threw up, which meant he was really hungry all the time and had to be fed frequently. It impacted on everything; his comfort, he cried a lot, always needed to be held, slept for only for 2 hours at a time. It was exhausting. Health visitors confirmed reflux but had no solution, ‘he’ll grow out of it’ they said.
My conclusion wasn’t to blame a healthcare system that had no resolve, no recognition or even any validation of how hard it was. My conclusion, from their blasé response was that it must be something I was doing wrong. Why couldn’t I comfort him? Why wasn’t I good enough to sooth him? He seemed so relentlessly angry all the time. He knew my failings and he was making them known in the only way he could by crying a lot and never sleeping. He obviously hated me I concluded and headed back to full time work after 8 months.
This heavy, dark feeling continued however. The guilt and shame that somehow I couldn’t do the mum thing. I packed it away, along with any desire to add to the family again. I knew that I was too selfish to be a good parent, I had failed that test. I only ever shared the thought that my baby hated me with my husband. He didn’t try to contradict me. Perhaps he thought ‘maybe he does hate her’. We were so sleep deprived and addled it was a theory that made more sense than any other.
My son is 14 now and occasionally tells me that he ‘hates me’ after a spat or disagreement about PlayStation time or vegetables eaten or homework done. Parenting is much easier 14 years on, that’s for sure, but the biggest change is in me. I began my own therapeutic journey, retraining as a hypnotherapist when he was just 3. As a result I have benefitted hugely from a practice of self care and self compassion both personally and as a parent.
Working with parents over the past 10 years has taught me to always listen, acknowledge and validate their experience. When I was struggling as a new parent I heard plenty of platitudinal advice ‘they won’t be babies forever’, ‘you should cherish this stage’, ‘they grow up so quick’ and inside I mentally computed this to mean that I must be a terrible parent because I hated this first year of parenthood. Their well meaning advice only served to make me feel more guilty, more ashamed and more useless.
The truth is the first year of new parenthood is challenging for most people and for some it is a downright daily uphill struggle of punitive thinking (I am a terrible person), pain (it hurts thinking that all day long) and depression. Imagine a society where we were able to acknowledge the impact of difficult perinatal experiences and the heavy feelings that arise from that. How conversations with doctors and HCP would change? We could stop metering out platitudes and really listen to other peoples’ experience unafraid of their feelings. We could support people to feel safe to look at their thoughts and feelings. We could teach self compassion to all new parents. I am sure it could safe guard and protect them from depression in the first year.
The new TBR online course ‘Understanding and supporting postnatal depression’ opens for enrolment soon. Click here to find out more and to register your interest.