Normalizing the Postpartum Journey: Giving Voice to Life as a New Mom
In my practice as a Denver psychologist, many mothers report shame, confusion and upset about their experience of anxiety, worry, depression, and difficulty connecting after their new baby arrives. A variety of questions arise alongside these feelings that are difficult to discuss. Below, you’ll find some of the top issues that surface with this unique population of women and practices we can use to support new mothers who might be struggling.
“I haven’t immediately fallen in love with my new baby.”
While most prenatal books prepare women for the euphoric rush of the moment of birth and days afterwards, some women don’t immediately feel such strong feelings, and many feel like their baby has taken over their life -- and not in a positive way. Feeling overwhelmed by zero time for self, sleepless nights, and the physical changes in one’s body following the arrival of a newborn is completely normal. Yet, it’s commonplace for women not to openly talk about the complete sense of overwhelm, and the feeling that life is suddenly out of control.
Not feeling connected to your baby can easily spiral into feelings of inadequacy. Recently, I talked with a mother who believed her lack of immediate love for her new baby was the reason he cried and fussed, and she had created a story of guilt and blame in her own mind. It’s critical to connect with other moms in environments where women might more freely let down their guard and remind you that you are not alone in the complex storm of postpartum emotions.
“I don’t feel like myself.”
Perhaps you enjoyed playing tennis, skiing, having date nights with your partner, and regularly seeing friends prior to the birth of your little one. Having a new baby probably shifted every priority. Postpartum time is one in which women naturally retreat and take care of their newborn, putting their own needs and desires aside. This primal instinct is normal, and while it shouldn’t last for months, it’s okay to feel the tendency to withdraw, re-prioritize (sleep suddenly rises to the top of the list!), and do less. For others, this shift can feel somewhat taxing and overwhelming. Give yourself permission to feel how you feel and to simplify the ways you spend your time.
Oftentimes, I work with women who describe a shift in their circle of friends following the birth of their baby. While guilt often accompanies this change as well, new moms tend to gravitate towards other moms and feel understood in circles that include parents. This mourning of previous friendships and late-night social events is something rarely talked about and always experienced.
“Other moms seem to be able to handle everything better than me. I feel alone in my experience.”
New mothers idealize the transition to motherhood and are on an unending quest for perfection. Hollywood glamorizes pregnancy and time with a new baby. “Keeping up with the Jones’” is more pronounced as parents shop for strollers and the perfect tiny clothing in which to show off their new little one.
New mothers are plagued by never feeling good enough, and often don’t allow themselves to have human moments, make “mistakes,” or real emotion. They compare themselves to other moms nonstop and even compare their babies to other newborns, immediately measuring milestones as benchmarks of success. Moms count the weeks until they can fit back into their jeans and proudly post this on Facebook. This defeating behavior continues to perpetuate until mothers are anxious and crippled by their own self-limiting beliefs. Comparison becomes the thief of joy.
The truth is that many new mothers are still experiencing the physical pain of labor and delivery, are on medication, or need therapy to transition happily into this new phase in life. They feel guilty that they are not fully enjoying what they believe should be a “natural transition” to motherhood and hide these feelings assuming that they are alone in their experience.
Motherhood is unexpectedly far more emotionally challenging than women expect and things like breastfeeding and skin-to-skin time are not as natural as the prenatal books promise. New moms judge themselves by the success of breastfeeding, baby’s growth, their swaddling success, baby’s milestones, and how soon their new little one sleeps through the night. They categorize their successes and themselves as a “good” or “bad” mom depending on these successes. All of these feelings are normal, but can have destructive effects on your identity as a mother.
The reality of being a mother for the rest of a woman's life creates additional anxiety and motherhood is unexpectedly far more emotionally challenging than most women prepare for.
“Postpartum depression means there is something really wrong with me and I can’t bare to accept that.”
Current studies report that upwards of 20% of women experience symptoms of postpartum depression or anxiety, and even more experience “baby blues” (i.e., fewer, less severe symptoms for shorter amount of time after birth) . This statistic is most likely deflated because so many women go untreated and unreported.
How can we, as a society, help postpartum women open up about their feelings? According to Postpartum Progress, only 15% of women who suffer from postpartum depression actually get the help they need. In fact, they cite postpartum depression as the most common complication of childbirth, putting American families at risk each and every year.
“I am the only one this is happening to.”
What has been so helpful for new moms is opening up to other mothers, friends and family members, and they often hear, “Oh, yeah, I felt that way too.” What I have learned through working new moms, is that more mothers feel some level of these feelings and the more that people open up and talk about it, the more that shame will be diminished and moms can get the support they need. Every mother is different; what works or doesn’t work for one mom may not be the case for the next and that’s ok.
“How can I find help?”
Reach out and ask for support. Here are some of our top resources to aid in processing thoughts and feelings, and potentially evaluate the need for medication or alternative therapies.
- Your OB/GYN or midwife.
- A postpartum doula (and she can help with housework and baby!)
- A therapist who is experienced with maternal mental health
- A physician and/or psychiatrist
- Postpartum support groups
- Postpartum yoga classes (baby and me)
- Breastfeeding support groups
- A commitment to self-care including nutrition, exercise, sleep, showers, time away
- Online resources including blogs and groups
- Mom’s groups for support, exercise, playdates, and fun. Check meet-up or local churches for options.
It’s up to each one of us to shift the norm and make postpartum feelings something that are discussed without shame and judgment. Reach out to the new moms in your life and be a trusted companion on their journey, as well as seek the resources you personally need. If you feel overwhelmed by your feelings and need a trusted professional to speak to, contact me, Denver pre and postpartum therapist, to help get you back on track and enjoy this memorable time in your life.
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