9 Things That Don’t Shock Me, As A Perinatal Counsellor

mental health

As a therapist working in perinatal mental health, I often meet people who are scared to tell the truth about how they’re feeling.

As parents, we can worry that if we open up about some of the dark thoughts and feelings we’re having, one of the following things might happen:

  • We’ll be judged as being a bad parent.
  • The person we’re telling might not know how to handle it.
  • Our child might be taken away from us.

We live in a society that still stigmatises common (and understandable) experiences of parenthood. For some of us more than others, the threats of speaking truthfully are also very real.

But if you’re considering booking an appointment with me, I want you to know this: what you’re feeling is much more common than you know. And whatever it is, I have likely heard someone else express the same thing before. I may have even had the same thoughts myself.

Here are some of the biggest taboos that I hear parents talk about (that don’t shock me at all):

1. You regret having your children.

So many clients tell me this is one of the biggest sources of shame they carry. But the thing is – we don’t know what parenthood is actually going to be like until we do it. And there’s a ton of societal pressure to have kids. Regretting parenthood usually doesn’t mean that someone doesn’t love their child. Just that the huge lifestyle and identity change of parenthood is not for them. This feeling is not always permanent either – it can come and go through different seasons of parenting.

2. You don’t miss your child when you’re apart.

There’s this cultural narrative that parents (especially mothers) are supposed to pine for our children every time we’re parted, and miss them terribly. For some, this is their experience. But for many, they can focus on other things and (gasp!) even enjoy them when they are not in parent mode. You are allowed to do things that bring you purpose, outside of being a caregiver. And – if you do miss your child terribly – that is valid too. There’s no timeline on when you ‘should’ feel comfortable separating from them.

3. You’ve screamed at your baby.

When we think of babies, most of us think about the cute little innocent bundles of love that they are. But in new parenthood, many of us can be taken by surprise by how dysregulated we become in the face of a crying baby. Particularly if we have a trauma background or limited support as a new parent, a baby’s cries can be quite triggering, and, understandably, sometimes we might lose it. It’s ok to put your baby down in a safe space while you go and regulate yourself or get help.

4. You’ve had thoughts of your child being harmed in horrible ways.

Intrusive thoughts are something many new parents deal with – in fact, there’s some research to show that more than 80% of expectant and new parents will deal with this from time to time. These thoughts can be very scary and involve violent imagery around your child being hurt – by others, or by you. It’s important to know how common they are, and that having them does not mean you are a violent person or that you will act on these thoughts. If the thoughts are frequent and are impacting your life or well-being, support is available. This page contains great information around managing and seeking help for intrusive thoughts.

5. You can’t wait to go back to work.

Depending on where you live, there can be cultural expectations about when you ‘should’ return to work after having a baby. And much of the conversation around this focuses on the very important issue of parents not receiving enough parental leave or work flexibility. It causes a great deal of distress when someone is forced to return to work before they’re ready. So, if you feel the opposite (and can’t wait to return to work), you might find yourself feeling ashamed. Again, there’s no timeline for this, other than what is right for you and your family.

6. You feel aroused during breastfeeding.

This is more common than you may think and has nothing to do with being aroused sexually by a baby. But during breastfeeding, our body produces lots of feel-good hormones which (for some people) can feel similar to the experience of being turned on. There are other factors at play too, like uterine contractions and the feeling of the breasts and nipples being touched and stimulated. Some people can and do reach orgasm during breastfeeding. This article details one mother’s experience with breastfeeding arousal.

7. You’re experiencing perinatal OCD or other serious mental health symptoms.

Thankfully, awareness is rising around PNDA (perinatal depression and anxiety). However, there are other diagnoses that can arise during the perinatal period which are less common and less talked about. Psychosis and OCD can both occur during this time, and it’s vitally important to get support if you are experiencing symptoms. It’s also important you know that you are not the only one dealing with this.

8. Sometimes you want to run away and not come back.

If you have thought this, you are absolutely not alone. Two things can be true at the same time: you can love your children with all your heart, *and* you can be overwhelmed, in ‘flight’ mode, and feel like you want to run away. You are not a bad parent. You are a good parent who is having a hard time.

9. You dread school holidays or other periods without your usual childcare.

Sensing a theme with these? Societal expectations. Guilt. Shame. This is another common – and I think, understandable – ‘confession’ I hear from clients. We think we should look forward to this special quality time with our children. And we often do! But parenting requires a lot of energy and a lot of support. Support we don’t always have. When we’re burned out or exhausted, of course, we might find the idea of school holidays daunting. And if we work in an inflexible job, there’s the added layer of stress that comes from having to find alternative care during those times.

I hope it’s been helpful to read about some of the taboo parenting topics that parents struggle with. There is so much work to do in dismantling the societal stigma that comes along with them.

If you’d like to explore your experience of parenthood further, you can book in for a counselling appointment here.

If you’re struggling with your mental health and need immediate assistance, please contact the relevant crisis support services in your country.

For Australia:

  • Call 000, or present to your nearest hospital emergency department
  • Call Lifeline on 13 11 14
  • Call ForWhen (9.30-4.30, Monday to Friday)

Your kid is going to be ok

When you just need something quick to bring you out of the thought spiral and back into calm, try one of these.

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