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Motherhood: From guilt to social media

KUWAIT: Before she became a mother, Manayer Al-Kanderi used to scrutinize what mothers around her did or didn’t do “as if (she) knew what she was talking about”. But now as a mother of a 14-month old boy, Kendari knows better. “One of the biggest challenges of motherhood is that it brings you face-to-face with the unknown. You’re throwing yourself into something that you only heard of second-hand,” she said.

Motherhood, Kendari learned, comes with complex, contradicting emotions: happiness, sadness, fear, courage, responsibility – it’s all of that and more. “It feels like your baby is holding you back from doing so many things you love, but at the same time, you can’t imagine taking one step without them by your side. When my son is awake, I can’t wait for him to fall asleep. But when he actually does, I find myself flipping through his photos on my phone.”

The emotional paradox can be tough to navigate, especially for mothers with a career. Kendari often struggles with conflicting priorities because her job takes her away from her child. “I’m have so many goals I’d like to achieve. … Since I gave birth, the way I manage my time has completely changed. My son gets priority over my needs and that can be difficult.”

Hawraa Mortada, mother of a nearly five-month-old baby girl, has been trying to find time for her interests. But she still hasn’t mustered the courage to take her baby outside on walks or to the shopping mall. She expects that in a month, she’d feel confident about handling it.

The drastic changes in a new mom’s life are no secret for expecting moms, either. Dana Ghayyad, who’s 34 weeks pregnant, said she’s really hoping to check some things off her bucket list before her due date. So far, she’s taken a mini vacation with her husband and has been getting as much sleep as possible. She’s also been taking lots of photos to commemorate this special time of her life.

“One of my biggest concerns is that my personality will change – that I’ll become a stereotypical mom whose life revolves around her baby. I know friends and family who don’t venture outside because of their baby,” said Ghayyad. The high expectations that society has of mothers, she added, puts extra pressure on them.

“Society wants moms to be perfect all the time and only talk about the positive side of motherhood. If you said you need to take a break, people would think that you’re a bad mom or that you’re not up to the responsibility. But it’s normal to need a break because you’re only human and you’re working a 24/7 job,” said Mortada.

The myriad of responsibilities competing for a mom’s attention could lead to “mom guilt” – the constant worry about making mistakes when it comes to your child. “I’m the president of the mom-guilt club in Kuwait,” said Kendari laughing. “My husband is also really sentimental and he shares those feelings with me. He tells me that our son is always on his mind when he goes to the diwaniya or the office.”

Kendari said guilt towards her loved ones has been with her for as long as she remembers, but were amplified when she gave birth. “I started going to a therapist after becoming a mother and she’s been guiding me through these feelings. She says that guilt distorts love because it takes your focus away from the person you love and directs it inwards. It’s more about you looking for self-satisfaction than it is about how much you care about the baby,” she said.

She’s also been coping with the feelings by setting aside unnegotiable time dedicated for the baby. “For example, everyday I’d spend 2 to 3 hours with the baby – just the two of us. Screen-free. … Because it’s not about the quantity of the time we spend together but also the quality.”

Besides seeking professional help, Kendari has been sharing her perspective as a first-time mother on her Instagram account (@manaerat), with nearly 40,000 people following her journey. “We shouldn’t be afraid of talking about our failures or opening up about any conflicted feelings or anxiety we might have. I’m always wearing my heart on my sleeve and that makes me feel brave and strong.”

Through her account, she’s also heard from a lot of women who experienced post-partum depression, which she described as a “natural feeling that moms should come to terms with”. The global prevalence of post-partum depression is 17.22 percent, according to a study published in the Translational Psychiatry journal. However, data looked at by the researchers conducting the analysis suggests that the condition is not common in the Gulf region.

Being away from home, Ghayyad is left without the robust emotional support system that many moms have, which could also put her at risk for post-partum depression, she said. That’s why she planned to have family members visit her during the first six months after birth. She’s also found community on TikTok, where she shares videos about what she eats in a day on her account (@danajee_). She said the account helps her gauge whether she’s eating too much or too little and encourages her to stay healthy. “It’s really empowering to share my journey and help benefit other pregnant women. It’s also great to take space in a community and feel seen by other expecting mothers,” said Ghayyad.

But one must tread carefully on social media, she said. From misinformation to unrealistic images of new moms perpetuating myths, it can be exhausting to keep track of what everyone is saying and nearly impossible to verify some claims. For moms with no prior medical knowledge, however, social media accounts run by pediatricians or experts in newborn care can be a treasure trove of information, Ghayyad and Mortada agreed. “It helps to see other moms facing challenges because it validates my struggle and it helps me feel that I’m not alone,” said Ghayyad.

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