Elise Clement

Elise Clement

Your expectations shape your experiences. And it’s no different with the transition to motherhood. You may have assumptions about what the birth will be like, the type of parent you will be, the things you will or will not do with your baby. 

When reality does not match these expectations, it can be hard to navigate the feelings of disappointment, failure or inadequacy that may come up. A negative thought spiral can stand in the way of enjoying these precious moments with your newborn. Research shows that in some cases this can lead to higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression after birth.

Here are three ways to manage expectations when you’re expecting:

Increase Awareness 

What stories and beliefs do you have about birth and motherhood? Here are some of the common ones:

  • I waited so long for this baby to arrive. I know I will be the happiest when he/she is here.
  • I am a mother now so knowing how to look after my baby’s needs will come naturally. 
  • I will fall in love with my baby straight away. 
  • I will love breastfeeding. 
  • I am definitely not going to breastfeed.
  • I am so organised and so used to managing others at work, I’m going to get into a great routine with my baby straight away. 
  • No one else but me will know how to look after my baby. 
  • My pain threshold is so low I’m sure I’ll need all the drugs available to get through birth. 

Often, they are “all or nothing” statements that don’t leave any room for possibilities. So, once you are aware of these expectations, the next step is to go through them with a fine-tooth comb and assess whether they are realistic or not, and what other possibilities may be available to you. This is a practice in flexibility, a quality that is golden in this phase of your life. 

Invest in preparation

It may sound counterintuitive based on what we discussed above. How can you prepare for something you have no certainty about like birth and life with a newborn? Preparation, when understood correctly, is actually what can support flexible thinking. 

Dr Alexandra Sacks, a reproductive psychiatrist, suggests that one of the biggest adjustments,  when you become a mother, is to the new level of uncertainty in your life. Even as you gain expertise and comfort, nothing will be predictable.

I often remind my clients that investing in preparation with a birth plan and a postnatal plan is one of the most powerful things they can do to support their needs as a new mother. 

Preparing in this way won’t give you more control over the outcome or protect you from the normal challenges that come with stepping into the unknown. Instead, when you are doing a birth plan or a postnatal plan, you are giving some thought to your options, to what’s important to you and what’s not, so that when you’re faced with the unexpected, there are things you can do, people you can call on, to support you. You are gathering knowledge and tools so you can feel steady even when you go through the storms of motherhood, and as you learn to live with a higher level of uncertainty. 

Embrace good enough

Perfectionism often underlies a need for control and the high standards you set for yourself as a new mother. Although you won’t be measured against your ability to keep your home tidy while sleep deprived, you may be tempted to put pressure on yourself to live up to these ideals that do not serve you or your baby. 

Donald Winnicott, a psychoanalyst and paediatrician, coined the term “good enough mother” to remind us that we do not need to be a perfect mother. Our children benefit, over time, from learning that it’s ok to make mistakes and repair them. This is how they can become resilient and well-adjusted to this imperfect world they’re being brought up in. 

I find that coming back to a beginner’s mind is a supportive way to approach the transition into motherhood: it can remind you that expecting to be good straight away at something you’re doing for the first time is a burden that often leads to frustration. I suggest reflecting back on times when you did something you had never done before: what did you find supportive back then? What are the things you wish you had done differently, perhaps?  

If the idea of lowering your expectations or having to deal with uncertainty on the daily makes you feel anxious, please seek out the support of a trusted friend or family member, or the help of a health professional. 

It is possible to step into motherhood with confidence and to feel empowered during this transition. If you’re interested in learning how to be adequately supported in the months after giving birth and nurture your mental and emotional health, I offer an online course called The Birth of a Mother. It includes an introduction to the transformational insight of Matrescence as well as step by step recommendations to fill in your postnatal plan so you can gather the inner and outer resources that will ensure your postpartum experience is the most supportive and nourishing it can be.