Dear Dr Eve
I am a new mother of a beautiful daughter, now aged 9 months old.
I am struggling. I am struggling to be a good mother. And in no way can I
be a good wife. Don’t even mention sex – or even sexy touch or
affection, with my husband.. no way, I cannot bear the thought of that
When my baby cries, I want to run away, or just stay under the duvet
covers. I love her so much but when she gets testy, and I can’t quieten
her down, I just feel such a failure.
The reason I’m reaching out to you is that I feel so guilty – I’ve been
chatting to an ex of mine and we have even been sexting. It is the only
thing that makes me get out of bed every day as I look forward to these
Tell me how to stop this cheating and how to be a better mother.
Right now you’re being a good mother. Do you know why?? Because you
reached out. It takes courage to reach out ..so well done.
Let’s unpack what being a mother is all about because being a good
mother is not in your control- it is dependent upon the many mothers in
your family who came before you. Yes, motherhood is based on whether
there was or was not intergenerational trauma in your maternal family.
You may be wondering- why now? Why now, as you have become a
mother, you have reached out again to your Ex? The fact is that when
one feels overwhelmed, even call it traumatized, instinctively we humans
find a way to manage dreadful feelings of failure, fear, shame and guilt.
Your unique way of dealing with your own possible motherhood trauma
is clever: you are recharging your dopamine /good feelings through the
oldest trick in the book, namely cheating. There is just nothing as exciting
and stimulating as the novelty of a new or revived, love affair. So
please do not be critical of this part of you which is doing what it is doing
to survive what feels like, and can be, a real traumatic experience of
I am hoping that you will continue to reach out and through therapy find
healthy ways of managing your motherhood trauma through healthy ways
that do not leave you feeling more guilt and shame— feelings which
cheating inevitably brings us. For now, wrap yourself up in a blanket and
gain information that may relieve you from feeling like the only mother in
the world possibly suffering from the trauma of motherhood
The onset of motherhood is characterized by significant psychological and
neurobiological changes. These changes equip the mother to care for her
new child. However, if there is unresolved trauma in the mother, these
changes do not happen in the same way. This results in insecure
attachment to one’s infant.
Although rewarding, motherhood is also an inherently stressful period,
more so for mothers with unresolved trauma. Past research has looked at
how unresolved trauma can hamper a mother’s caregiving response
toward her infant, which further affects the development of secure
attachment in her own infant.
This is what is meant by “attachment “:
“The emotional connection formed by nonverbal emotional communication
between an infant and their parent or primary caregiver is known as the
attachment bond. “
A secure attachment, as opposed to an insecure attachment, occurs when
the infant learns to trust the mother /caregivers to take care of them,
whilst insecure attachment happens when the child’s needs are not met.
And you can understand that if a mother comes from intergenerational
the trauma of insecure attachment, she is not regulated well enough to offer
her newborn child a secure attachment – all her energy is going to try
and regulate herself.
As a new mother, you undergo neural and endocrine changes that prepare
you to respond to your babies 24/7 needs. Mostly this can feel joyous.
However it comes with challenges.. and these challenges can be
exacerbated if you as a mother have had early childhood adversity,
unresolved trauma or any psychopathology. Any of these factors can alter
your responses to your baby and interfere with the relationship with your
And this then sets the stage for the insecure disrupted attachment.
Perhaps you are not cognitively aware of your own childhood trauma –
however, your body carries the memory of it and so when you enter your
baby’s bedroom or vicinity of your baby, your own ghosts of your
childhood enter with you.
Emotionally painful memories experienced by the parent, which linger and
impede your ability to sensitively respond to your own child, may then
There is another reason for maternal trauma-
Many women who experience sexual trauma struggle to be in their bodies
at all so the intensity of labour pains can cause dissociation during labour.
They may experience labour as another kind of trauma
And then connecting the labour with trauma may make it very hard for
them to connect with their baby after the birth. Their sexual trauma may
bring them grief and shame that when their hoped-for baby arrived, they
felt nothing at all, just emptiness. Then they couldn’t breastfeed their
baby because the baby wouldn’t latch on and nurse.
Experiencing trauma means there is an increased likelihood of depression,
anxiety, receiving a personality disorder diagnosis. Physical health
conditions such as chronic fatigue, arthritis, digestive issues,
depression and anxiety, are also more likely. These very real additional
struggles can cause such shame for mothers. They worry this means
they are not present enough to meet their child’s emotional and physical
needs, that they lack the energy and the attention for their child because
they are constantly fighting with their physical and mental health.
Now you know why motherhood is so complex and can be so traumatic.
I once again invite you to seek professional assistance to unlearn your
insecure attachment and learn how to attach in a healthy way to yourself
and your baby.