By Midwife Cath

There is no other way to say this – becoming a new parent is challenging. From finding out that you’re pregnant all the way through to the first day of preschool, parenthood is a rollercoaster.

We are there for every stage of a child’s life, and are met with many beautiful moments, and hard-hitting ones too. With social media showcasing well-behaved babies, smiling and devoted partners, it’s easy to lose sight of what it’s like in reality.

Coupled with unsolicited advice, opinions and online judgement – it’s a lot for anyone, especially when new parents are sleep deprived, anxious and reflecting on all the tough decisions made during pregnancy.

It’s high time we cancelled the critics, focused on celebrating the wins, and spread the message far and wide that every new parent’s every day is different – and that’s ok.

“Your pregnancy is a unique and special experience”

Finding out you’re expecting a baby elicits a totally different reaction for everyone; emotions of excitement and pure joy, all the way through to sheer and utter panic. Yet, regardless of your initial reaction, different anxieties will slowly start to creep in.

What if I miscarry? Will I be a good mother? Is this the right decision? Is my partner as excited as me? The list goes on.

But, regardless, carrying a little one, despite how surprising it may be, is a unique and special experience.

Cath Curtin, affectionately known as Midwife Cath, is a qualified nurse, midwife, maternal, child health nurse and Tommee Tippee expert brand ambassador.

“You start parenting from the beginning of pregnancy”

With a changing body and surging hormones, making concrete decisions can be terrifying and can sometimes lead to anxiety and confusion. There is a lot to consider. What sort of birth will I have? Will I be able to feed the baby? Will I manage with sleep deprivation? What kind of pram should we get? Should we invest in a bigger car?

Deciding what works for you, especially as a first-time parent, can feel immensely overwhelming. Some would put this down to ‘baby brain’. Personally, I don’t think that’s fair! With all the hormonal changes occurring in your body, it’s important to recognise that this is the start of a series of changes, and that you are just becoming fiercely protective of your unborn child.

Your newly developed maternal instincts are a new feeling, and you really don’t recognise what it is until you hold your baby in your arms. That’s why I always say that you start parenting from the beginning of pregnancy. It’s normal to be forgetful or feel as if your mind is cloudy – it’s just the way it is. But, online, it very rarely looks like this.

Glowing mothers at the beach, cradling their growing bellies side-by-side with their dedicated and loved-up partner, is an image we see shared by influencers, as well as our peers and those in our social circles, time and time again.

It’s not that way for everyone, and it may not even be like that all the time for the couple in the photo.

In a study conducted by the Priory Group in 2018, the survey found that social media is partially responsible for triggering feelings of anxiety and depression in new parents – 23 per cent of respondents said that happy snaps on Instagram or “exuberant baby blogs” made them feel “depressed”, with 22 per cent stating it made them feel “inadequate”.

Depressed and inadequate are harsh words to use to describe how you may feel, but I would agree that feeling isolated is a symptom of being constantly exposed to a fantasy, not the reality of parenthood.

A recent survey found that social media is partially responsible for triggering feelings of anxiety and depression in new parents.

“It’s easy to set unrealistic expectations”

As a new parent with self doubt running rife, feeling unsure and alone during the early stages of pregnancy is detrimental, especially for new mothers embarking on their feeding journeys. Tommee Tippee research conducted in Australia in 2020 found that 96% of mums believe the emotional, mental and physical challenges that some women experience when breastfeeding is under-acknowledged.

With feeding being one of the most important things one can do for a baby, feeling as if you’ve failed or not done your job as a mother is not true. It may be how you feel, but it’s not true. There are a tonne of different methods of feeding out there to ensure that you’re able to help your baby grow. And, for it to be suggested otherwise on social media? It needs to change.

Social media is not only a way for us to connect with friends, family and like-minded people – it’s also a way for us to showcase the best versions of ourselves. The truth is, we don’t always tell or show the whole story online. It serves as a highlight reel of our finest moments, our happiest times and our most stylish outfits. We don’t see enough posts on Instagram of new mothers being truthful about their birth experience.

These moments happen often, and because they aren’t shared online, it’s easy to set unrealistic expectations for ourselves as parents – even before the baby is born.

Survey results found 96% of mums believe the emotional, mental and physical challenges that some women experience when breastfeeding is under-acknowledged.

“Women should be comfortble to share their authentic experience of new motherhood”

You will very rarely find two identical birthing stories – vaginal, caesarean, even premature births, surrogacy and adoption. Even if it’s your second birth, the experience will be surprisingly different. Whichever way the baby was delivered, the important thing is that both mother and baby are well and healthy. Antenatally, we create a fantasy of what the perfect birth looks like, and if we don’t meet that? We start to doubt ourselves.

The reality is – some babies may come on time, but others may need medical assistance to be born. On social media, we don’t hear about tearing, bleeding, complications, cracked nipples, swollen breasts, mesh underwear or feeling shame when reflecting on their birth experience… need I go on? All of these things are completely normal, but they are not normalised. And the more we talk about these things online, the sooner we will be able to encourage parents, and women especially, to feel comfortable to share their truth and their authentic experience of new motherhood.

Normalising the new every day for parents online will not only give greater visibility to the triumphs, but the harder days as well. There is nothing glamorous about a baby crying day in day out, dirty nappies, being urinated on, or vomited on. No one talks (or tells you) about these raw realities, which can often come as a shock in the first stages of parenthood. Let’s not even start on the endless barrage of coughs, gastro and diarrhoea that are consistently picked up from daycare — and not just for bub, but the parents too. At times, you’ll feel like the whole family has been sick for six months straight. Maybe, at this point, you would turn to parenting bloggers or influencers for support.

“Social media is not real life”

It’s important to remember – there are many people on social media who are not qualified to be sharing pre or postnatal advice. Though this, coupled with images of happy mum and baby, it’s important to not let it affect your experience, or make you feel like you’re doing something wrong.

One of the best things we can do for our mental health as new parents is understand that social media is not real life. Comparison will not bring you or the baby better sleep, the same way that judgement will not make you a better parent. We often ask how the baby is sleeping, but not the parent.

Babies won’t be sleeping throughout the night until they are old enough in weeks or months, and have put on enough weight. This means that parents won’t be having a solid night’s sleep either. We need to show we care, because this creates safer spaces for parents to openly discuss their experiences. Keeping an open dialogue with those around us helps set those realistic expectations.

One of the best things we can do for our mental health as new parents is understand that social media is not real life.

“Parenting is the most important and overwhelming experience one will ever have”

Becoming a new parent is a rollercoaster ride, filled with ups and downs, and twists and turns. But we don’t see it all, or share it all. There will be good days, and there will be some not so good days. And then there will be some really challenging ones. My advice? Get help early. Be honest. Be open. Tell whole truths, not half truths. Trust your gut. Know your experience is normal. Nothing you will ever do as a new parent will make you a failure. Don’t believe everything you see online. You are doing a great job, no matter how someone else chooses to portray their life.

We need to remember that influencers and ‘mummy bloggers’ are real people too. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that we are all walking the same path. We need to not pass judgement – not only on other parenting styles, but on parents themselves. We all have feelings, and there can be sensitive souls behind the screen. We need to treat each other with care, compassion and kindness, not critique and ridicule.

Parenting is the most important and overwhelming experience one will ever have. I always say that labour is for one day, but parenting is for life. So hold on, know you are worthy and embrace the good and the bad – it’s all part of parenthood.

Cath Curtin, affectionately known as Midwife Cath, is a trusted expert in women’s health, pre-pregnancy, postnatal care, breastfeeding, and antenatal care and education. A qualified nurse, midwife, maternal, child health nurse, Tommee Tippee ambassador and mother.

If you or anyone you know needs immediate support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or via lifeline.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.