Being a first time mom is completely life altering. It’s not like you didn’t know that, it’s just hard to know exactly what is going to hit you hard until the moment comes. If you’re like me, you did all the reading you could and still felt blind-sided when the baby came.
Unfortunately, even when we try to prepare ourselves, having a child (especially a first child) is not something we can be really ready for. In the best case scenario we are on an emotional roller coaster and have to completely reconfigure our relationships and habits. But if anything doesn’t go as expected (and let’s be honest, when does anything go completely as expected?) a time that is challenging in the best of times can feel really untenable. Not only do you have the life changes to contend with, but there are so many messages swirling around us about what motherhood is supposed to be like that we start to beat ourselves up for not meeting societal expectations.
This can sometimes lead to postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, and feeling like a failure as a mother.
Perhaps you always looked forward to being a mom. You knew there would be challenges; your body would need recovery time, your schedule would need to be restructured, and your relationships would feel different. But when you thought about that moment holding your baby for the first time and feeling that incredible rush of love it felt like it was all worth it. You always knew that you wanted to breast feed and when you had morning sickness or your feet were swollen, you just thought about holding your tiny baby and what an amazing bonding experience it would be to be able to feed your child and it got you through.
But when they put your child on your chest that rush of love wasn’t there. In fact, you mostly just felt tired.
And when breast feeding you didn’t feel content and connected to your baby, you felt stuck and suffocated. Instead of bonding time, you started feeling resentful and frustrated that you had to have another person attached to your body again after you just got your body back in the first place.
Unfortunately we don’t really create situations where we can talk about things like this. Even if you have people you really love and trust in your life, it’s just that the idea you had in your head of the kind of mother you were going to be wouldn’t be having these types of issues. You start emotionally isolating yourself and just telling yourself to get over it. You decided to be a mom, so you have to deal with this on your own.
Eventually you wind up feeling hopeless, completely overwhelmed, and like an utter failure.
But the truth is that motherhood is an incredibly challenging transition for most women, and it’s completely normal to struggle with things that might not have seemed like that big of a deal before you had your baby. It’s okay to ask for help, to talk about things that may feel taboo, and to want to have some independence back.
It’s true that new motherhood is a really difficult transition. However there are several things that can help us really enjoy this time with our little ones, and be kinder to ourselves as well. When we keep these 10 things in mind, it is completely possible to have a smoother transition into motherhood.
Keep reading for the top ten things to keep in mind to ease your transition into motherhood.
FEELING NOT GOOD ENOUGH POSTPARTUM
The biggest downside of not getting support through the partpartum period is that this time with your little one is precious. This is when you get to know each other and set the tone for the rest of your relationship. Even if you are able to go through the motions and do everything your baby needs from you, if you continue to be that hard on yourself you’re not going to be as emotionally present and available for the bonding time. Living this way is exhausting and isn’t what you want for you and your little one.
BONDING WITH BABY AND PREPARING FOR ADVENTURE
Although you struggle with insecurity and hopelessness, you have the potential to feel present and connected in this time with your baby so you can set the tone for a close and loving relationship for years to come. When we keep these 10 things in mind, there is a possibility to feel more hopeful about the future, and more connected with your little one. You have the ability to enjoy this time while your mind, body, and life acclimate to your new family member.
TEN THINGS THEY DON’T TELL YOU ABOUT NEW MOTHERHOOD
Yes, it’s true you may be feeling hopeless and like you have disappointed yourself, but if you learn to give yourself more space to be human instead of living up to some impossible society standard you can enjoy this time so much more. The key to feeling more present and connected with your little one is giving yourself permission to be imperfect and reaching out for help. Although new motherhood is never going to be easy, it can be magical if we give ourselves permission to give in to the changes and ask for help when necessary. You can absolutely ease your way into your new family and identity. Take a look at these 10 things to keep in mind during your transition into the postpartum period to see how you can feel supported and calm in the beginning of your journey as a mother.
Check out these 10 things that you might not already know about the postpartum period to feel supported and calm as a mother
10) The birth experience might be traumatic
Everyone knows that delivering a baby is going to hurt. No one goes into childbirth thinking it’s going to be all sunshine and roses, but what they don’t necessarily prepare you for, is if something goes wrong. While ideally the time after birth is about getting to know your little one and doing early bonding, if there were medical complications, especially serious ones, you may have some trauma to contend with. If you are having flashbacks, feeling scared and anxious a lot, or having a hard time moving past the delivery emotionally, it may be best for you to seek outside help. It is all too easy to pretend it isn’t happening and try to be the mother you expected yourself to be, but it isn’t fair to you or your family to not get the help and support you deserve so you can feel safe in your own body before expecting yourself to be wholly available to someone else.
9) Having a baby might bring up existential angst.
Bringing a life into the world is a beautiful and wonderful thing. It’s incredible that where there was nothing, now there is this small, precious being. But there may be family that didn’t make it to meet your little one. Having your baby may have been later in your life than you intended, which may bring up concerns about aging with your little one, and being able to keep up with a growing child through the years.
Although bringing a baby into the family is a cause for celebration, the grief and anxiety that may come up around the absence of important others or fear of our own mortality can definitely change the way we think about our lives and cause us to re-think our priorities and the way we have our lives set up. It may make sense for you to get some outside support to help you sort through your values and priorities, so that you can feel comfortable in your decisions moving forward.
8) You may not be able to breastfeed, and if you can, you may not like it.
It seems our society has realized something pretty extraordinary, our bodies are made and intended to be an ideal food source for our infants. It’s incredible, and the support for breastfeeding should definitely continue to increase. The problem is that some of our number, doctors and other mothers alike, may have taken this information a bit too far. For mothers who cannot breastfeed, there may be significant disappointment and even guilt. And women who maybe can breastfeed but really dislike it may feel pressured to continue despite the stress and discomfort it may cause.
Although breastfeeding is a great option for many families, it may not be the best option for you. If you have taken the time to sit down and consider your priorities and values, you may recognize that the peace in your family, or your bodily autonomy, may trump breastfeeding. There may be times this requires some uncomfortable conversations setting boundaries with well-meaning family or health professionals. Exploring where you stand on this and even practicing some of these conversations can be done in a therapy session to help prepare you.
7) Your body isn’t immediately back to normal after the baby is out, and in fact, recovery can take a long time depending on the extent and type of challenges you experienced during the pregnancy and birth process.
Again, we are all prepared for the idea that pregnancy and birth are difficult, it’s just that the social discourse around our bodies tends to stop there. It doesn’t seem to be as much common knowledge that recovery from pregnancy and childbirth is not only not instantaneous, but may take a year or more for your body to fully recover functionally,
This means you may have a grieving period for the functionality that your body used to have. It may mean you need to cut yourself some slack in the childcare and household responsibilities. None of this is easy, and just like you aren’t going to go right back to life as you knew it before baby, you also aren’t going to go right back to life in your body as you knew it before baby. The process is slow and requires a whole lot of self compassion.
6) You might not immediately bond with your baby.
I have said this before and I will most definitely say it again. The expectation seems to be that the second our baby is placed in our arms we are supposed to be overcome with joy and love and connection to this little person. The truth is that many people do not have this experience, and some of the complicating factors we have discussed above, as well as many others, may make this even less likely.
What this means is that we get to give ourselves the time and opportunity to bond with baby over time. We get to know her different cries, and we spend the time cuddling and interacting, and as baby grows, most of the time our connection to baby will too. If you do not immediately have an ironclad bond with your infant, rest assured, this doesn’t mean that you aren’t a good mother or that your relationship is doomed. If you are still feeling guilt about this, or if it has been some time and you are having a hard time developing that connection, therapy can be a useful tool to help ease that process.
5) Postpartum depression and anxiety are more common than you think
We are told that the transition into motherhood can be a bit challenging, and that some women may even develop postpartum mental health concerns such as depression, anxiety, or OCD. But when these mental health concerns are discussed, many women still get the impression that they are super rare, dangerous, or a cause of shame. The truth is that postpartum mental health is nothing to be ashamed of, and many things that new mothers will just write off as something they need to “just get over” can be assuaged with a combination of therapy and (in some cases) medication.
Getting treatment for postpartum mental health conditions is incredibly important for many reasons, not least of which to give you an opportunity to be mentally and emotionally present for your family
4) If you had a challenging childhood, some of that trauma might be activated by you having your own baby.
This is a really interesting one. Although I’m sure there are many reasons that this happens, one that sticks out to me is how hard we work to create a different and better experience for our own children than what we had. When we look at our own child we think of the experience we want to create for them of being loved and wanted and feeling safe. If that wasn’t your experience you may notice that some old anger, grief, or resentment may crop up and you may not feel like you have the emotional bandwidth to deal with it right now. Don’t be surprised if you have a hard time interacting with loved ones whom you thought you had long past forgiven. This is very normal, although not really talked about, and with support this can be another healing opportunity.
3) The weight of responsibility you feel might surprise you.
Although you went into the pregnancy knowing that your life was going to change and that you were going to be responsible for feeding, clothing, and otherwise just keeping alive a little person, it may surprise you to feel the depth of that responsibility when you look at your baby’s tiny face. Somehow the recognition that this person is going to be learning who they are, how to have relationships, and if the world is safe or not doesn’t really seem to settle in until the baby is here. For many women, this is scary and overwhelming, and they have moments of feeling humbled by the weight of it.
This is a great opportunity to remember that this is normal, and you are not the first person to question whether or not you are up to scratch. While it is a huge responsibility, you will definitely make mistakes and there is no one better equipped to love and care for your baby than you.
2) Your relationship with your spouse will never be the same.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either. The two of you are tied together differently. Now it is not just two people who really like each other, but two people who are connected by an intense love for this other person. But it can be stressful and challenging to manage at times. There will be child rearing ideas that the two of you disagree about, and, at least while the baby is very young, you will not be able to be each other’s first priority anymore. This can take some getting used to, and may mean that some habits and relational patterns need to adjust.
1) No matter if you choose to stay home with baby or go back to work, you will be giving something up.
I wish I didn’t have to write this one. In a world that celebrates a woman’s right to be a working mother or a stay at home mother, it is hard to own up the idea that either choice means that we are giving something up. We talked earlier about sitting down and really considering your values and priorities and how they have shifted now that the baby is here. This is where we have to identify what you want your life to look like, and what you want to build for your family. There is no wrong answer, but I’ve noticed that the drawbacks tend to be left out of the discourse, and I think it’s important to be able to process the decision from a place of having as much information as possible. This means knowing what you want for your family and your relationships, knowing your own limits and temperament, and knowing what you will be giving up so that you can mitigate the damage. You can be a wonderful, present, involved mother both staying at home and going to work, the idea is to choose what is right for you and your family.
Smoothing the transition into motherhood can be an immense relief, and a lot of the time what that means is recognizing things that will be challenging, and giving space and permission to yourself to sort through it. You absolutely can be the mom you want to be and feel confident in your ability to connect and support your child. Therapy can help you identify areas that are particularly challenging for you and work through them taking into consideration your strengths, your values, and your priorities. Every family looks different. Your family needs to reflect you.