Beware the picture of perfect motherhood posted by celebrities

DR MAX PEMBERTON: Beware the picture of perfect motherhood posted by our super rich celebrities

  • Nicki Minaj gushed about being ‘madly in love’ with her newborn on Instagram
  • Dr Max Pemberton has provided psychiatric cover to a maternity wing in London
  • He says celebrities can feed the myth that motherhood should come effortlessly 

Singer Nicki Minaj, whose extraordinary style has both won awards and sparked controversy, has confirmed she has had a baby boy and is ‘madly in love’ with him. Everyone has been falling over themselves to congratulate her.

She’s had thoughtful cards from Beyonce, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West and she shared a touching picture with her 123 million followers on Instagram thanking them for their support. And that’s great news for her. But this can unwittingly perpetuate the myth that mothers immediately adore their new babies — which can cause a lot of problems, as I have seen myself.

Actually, lots of new mums don’t feel immediately in love with their baby. It’s important to remember celebrities such as Minaj often have legions of people to help them.

Dr Max Pemberton reveals how celebrity pictures of parenting can impact views of motherhood, as Nicki Minaj celebrates the birth of her child (pictured)

With assistants, stylists, nurses and nannies, their experience of new motherhood can be a million miles away from that of normal parents. I couldn’t help thinking of all those women who have just given birth, sweaty, tired and in pain, wondering what the hell has just happened to them, then hearing those words from Nicki and feeling they are failures.

It’s not Nicki’s fault, but it does feed into the idea that childbirth and motherhood should come effortlessly.

Society tells women that as they hold their baby in their arms there is a magical moment when, somehow, maternal instincts kick in and they fall instantly and overwhelmingly in love. What hooey.

Certainly there are some women for whom being a mother comes easily and some for whom giving birth is as easy as shelling peas. But they are in the minority. For the vast majority, a baby is like a nuclear bomb going off in your life. Absolutely everything is disrupted. Literally overnight you become responsible for another human being that does little except demand feeding and attention.

It’s relentless and there is little respite. And women are adjusting to this while often feeling weak and recovering from childbirth, which may have been traumatic. Yet because there is this mythology surrounding childbirth and motherhood, people feel that they have failed if it isn’t all perfect for them.

There is a conspiracy of silence around this, too, with few women feeling able to speak out about it and too often doctors going along with the myth that women should seamlessly adapt to motherhood.

Dr Max Pemberton (pictured) who has provided psychiatric cover to a maternity wing for several years, says he’s met many women won don’t ‘love’ their baby the way they thought they were supposed to 

For several years I provided psychiatric cover to the maternity wing of a large Central London teaching hospital.

Time and time again I would be asked to see women who were upset and distressed because they felt they didn’t ‘love’ their baby in the way they thought they were supposed to, or felt they wouldn’t be able to cope.

They were scared, apprehensive and overwhelmed, and I would reassure them that these are actually normal feelings.

I remember once seeing a patient who mentioned that the woman in the bay opposite had been coping so much better than her, but little did she know that the woman opposite had said exactly the same thing about her to me only hours before.

What worries me is that this sense of failure can lead to women developing serious mental health problems, such as postnatal depression.

The real tragedy is that too often women don’t get help because they feel it’s admitting they have failed even further. They are embarrassed and ashamed.

And this can have even more serious consequences. For years it had been thought that the biggest risks to the mother were infections, blood clots and bleeding.

However, in 2001, the Office for National Statistics looked closer and what they found was a very different, and shocking, story. Rather than physical causes, the figures showed that the biggest cause of death in women who are pregnant or have recently given birth is suicide. What a truly awful statistic.

As a result of this psychiatrists now routinely work in maternity units to try to identify women at risk, but surely part of the answer is also to start being honest about how difficult it can be to be a mother?

The best mums in the world sometimes struggle at first.

Don’t be too scared to get help

Last week I met Simon Stevens, head of the NHS, who told me how they are actively encouraging people to come forward for treatment for non-Covid conditions. I fully back this as I and many doctors are concerned that people are staying away from hospitals unnecessarily. A radiologist friend told me how he’d seen two patients with burst appendixes in one night — whereas he had not seen one in years — because people had delayed being seen.

Many clinicians are reporting fears that people are not seeing doctors about symptoms for heart attacks, strokes or cancer. I really think the situation is not being helped by news reports — particularly on the BBC — about overwhelmed hospitals. It simply isn’t true.

If you’re feeling ill — be it your physical or mental health — please don’t put off getting help.

Dr Max claims news reports about overwhelmed hospitals aren’t true, if you’re feeling ill don’t be put off getting help (file image)

I read an obituary the other day which stayed with me.

Hawa Abdi was a doctor in war-torn Somalia. She set up hospitals when everyone else fled, saved malnourished children and provided sanctuary to 90,000 refugees. She was taken hostage by jihadis after she refused to abandon her hospital. After an international outcry, they released her but she refused to leave until given a written apology. One militiaman said: ‘We are men, we are in control.’ She responded: ‘You are a man — you have two testes. A goat has two testes. What have you done for society?’ What a woman.

Dr Max prescribes… 

10-point positivity plan

ALTUM Health’s 10-point guide to staying positive in the pandemic is from leading clinical psychologist Dr Courtney Raspin. She’s put it together, using techniques such as CBT, after seeing a huge spike in referrals for people with anxiety and stress as a result of Covid and the lockdown. It’s free and helps identify anxiety triggers and coping mechanisms.

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