1.21.2011

Pregnant & new mamas – let’s have a talk.

If you’re pregnant or thinking of having a baby, I want to talk to you. You may want to read this post as well.

This is not going to be a fun conversation, but I am taking it upon myself to make sure you are fully informed. Because being surprised and feeling bad about your feelings isn’t going to accomplish anything.

It may scare you.

You may not end up experiencing all of this. Or you may end up experiencing worse. But my thing is honesty, and as a part of being honest I have to share my experience. But what’s more important than sharing my experience is telling you that it’s NORMAL. You are not a bad mom for feeling like you can’t hack it. But still, this is not the fun, exciting conversation that you’re supposed to have with pregnant/new moms, when it’s all about baby feed and cuteness and joy and fulfillment.

But here’s the thing: I really, really wish someone had had this conversation with me. But no one does. People feel the need to protect new and expectant mothers from reality. We don’t want to scare them, to make them question their decisions, to imply (ha! admit) that we’re dissatisfied in any way.

Adjustment to parenthood, even if you have had a lot of childcare experience, even if you are not burdened with postpartum depression, and even if you have support – is one of the hardest things you may ever have to do. As emotionally taxing as pregnancy can be, and as physically demanding as labor & delivery are, they pale in comparison for some to the adjustment to motherhood.

DSC_0064 Oh hello there, mama-deer-in-the-headlights. And that was after one night as a mom, before even leaving the birthing center. And look at my mom with her maniacal grin. She knew that someday she would have her revenge on me for all my misdeeds and making her worry endlessly – all via grandmother-hood.

Many cultures around the world treat the transition to parent as a major life passage. They impose month-long resting periods, have relatives and neighbors care for the new parents completely, make special foods and have specific rituals. In America you sign some papers and walk out of the hospital to find yourself at home, alone with a baby, and unsure of who you now are and how you’re supposed to care for this tiny squishy ball of need. In fact, it has been shown that support is one of the critical factors in moms avoiding postpartum depression – so please, if you are not near family or friends who can help you, hire a housekeeper for a few hours a week, a doula, or a college kid to come help you manage. You may decide it’s the best money you ever spent. You do not need to suffer alone for your pride. I had support, and it was still overwhelming.

Adjustment could come quickly, as it did for my friend who said:

…for the most part, {my baby} is just an extension of my…homebody tendencies. I've never had much direction, and the baby gives me a much-needed sense of purpose. That part that, for me, is worth it. That said, even I have questioned whether I'd be willing to do it again, and it certainly is not the happiest part of my life thus far. I spend the three million nightly nursing sessions fantasizing about doing shots and eating a gyro at 2am before passing out in my heels. But I wasn't really fulfilled then, either.

And I think she hit the nail on the head for my experience:

I think it's really hard for people who are independent and satisfied with life before baby {to adjust to motherhood}.

Another friend mentioned that her first two years of motherhood were spent working to redefine herself.

For moms who had a career, volunteer positions, were students, or had some strong sense of identity or purpose, or for people who are very independent, the adjustment to parenthood can be unexpectedly and severely challenging. And I don’t mean to imply that it’s not challenging for mothers who were not doing these things – but that the challenge is unexpected. For me, being independent and a perfectionist I knew I would have to give up a lot of my independence and perfectionism – but since I like to tackle problems and solve them, finish projects, cross things off my to-do list and step back and see a finished product, the sudden inability to do these things was surprising. I just didn’t know I would have to give up so much of my identity and accept a shift in who I thought I was to satisfactorily (my version of satisfactorily) operate in this new role. Additionally, I have always needed a lot of down time – time alone to read, think, rest, process my thoughts, recharge. That no longer exists. I’m an introvert. Being a mom and an introvert is hard.

Although the transition to pregnant can be unexpectedly easy for some, the transition to motherhood is a far bigger transition than getting a first job, getting married, or any other transition I’ve experienced.

(and bear with me if I repeat myself. I suffer from mommymushbrain)

During this time, you may:

  • feel elated, joyful, content, or that you’ve found a sense of purpose
  • look at your sleeping baby and feel deeply in love
  • marvel that you made that creature, she came out of you, and that she is yours
  • be unable to think of the word for the object that you hold in your hands (it’s a book.)
  • be unable to remember what you went into a room for
  • feel scattered, disorganized, disoriented
  • be unable to remember what the next point you were going to make was on this long list of points
  • worry that anything bad will ever happy to her, ever
  • feel saddened about the fact that in the future, this tiny baby who you cared for in her greatest need will rebel against holding your hand or being seen with you
  • wonder how people can feel in love with their babies right away
  • resent your partner for being able to return to the paradise of the workplace, if you’re staying at home
  • be afraid to be alone with the baby, be afraid that you won’t be able to meet her needs without help or that you’ll become overwhelmed and break down
  • be worried that you may harm the baby
  • feel like you can’t tell what the baby wants, read her cues, or respond correctly
  • feel overwhelmed with trying to keep up with the tasks associated with being a mom, a wife, a homemaker
  • wonder how your own mother managed, or be grateful that you’re not doing what your own mother did
  • question whether you’ve made the right decision
  • question your ability to parent
  • wonder why people have to get licenses to drive a car or catch fish but procreating and caring for a child is completely unregulated
  • be amazed and incredulous that after your first doctor’s appointment, they send you home for two months and just trust you to take care of this baby without supervision
  • mourn the loss of your former identity
  • mourn the loss of closeness with your partner, even if your partner is sleeping in bed next to you
  • mourn the loss of autonomy, independence, and the ability to to things like take a shit by yourself
  • feel over-touched
  • feel uncertain about breastfeeding – whether you’re doing it right, whether the baby is getting enough, whether you can handle it, whether it’s the best thing for your baby, whether you want to do it
  • feel uncertain about pumping & bottle feeding or formula feeding
  • feel uncertain about whether the child knows who you are, appreciates your sacrifice & suffering
  • feel like if you don’t watch/hold the baby every second, she’ll get hurt
  • feel uncertain about your sleeping arrangement or parenting style
  • question your decision to stay home
  • question your decision to go back to work/school
  • wonder when this baby’s “real” parents are coming to pick her up so you can get some sleep
  • wonder if they have prostitutes for moms (yes, they’re called babysitters. get some)
  • imagine or dream that bad things are happening to the baby
  • have thoughts about how easily, in your perpetual state of exhaustion, the baby could be hurt, dropped, forgotten someplace
  • resent people asking you if the baby isn’t just the best thing that ever happened to you
  • resent people no longer looking at you when they talk to you – there’s a baby here now!
  • be unsure about whether you can do this for another minute – let alone the rest of the baby’s life
  • worry that you’re a bad mom
  • worry that people think you’re a bad mom, especially for admitting that you’re unhappy or dislike some of motherhood
  • be afraid to ask for help – you are supposed to be able to squirt a baby out, shower, shave, dress & put on makeup, make dinner, scrub the toilets, and fold the laundry all before your partner comes home
  • be afraid to have sex, worried about whether your partner is OK with your disinterest in and inability to have sex
  • be afraid that your partner will leave you or resent the baby because of how much it changed your lives
  • have days that you are so overwhelmed you can’t bear the thought of changing another diaper or producing another meal
  • feel guilty about not being an adequate homemaker/housekeeper, especially if you are in a new role as a SAHM and feel like you’re home all day, you should at the very least be able to get the dishes done!
  • feel isolated and alone if you stay at home
  • feel guilty of “abandoning” your child if you put her in daycare
  • feel guilty if you don’t respond instantaneously to every whimper and cry, even when you feel like you can’t handle fulfilling one more need for someone else and just need a break
  • feel more emotional, sensitive, irritable
  • feel a loss of connection with your partner – even that you don’t really know each other anymore
  • be unsure about whether you love your baby
  • alternate day-by-day between elation and sorrow

This is just a short list of the things my close friends and I experienced in my first few months of parenting experience. My baby was happy, healthy, not colicky, generally mellow. By all accounts she’s a “easy” baby! I love her endlessly (even when I’m not sure that I love her) I am immensely proud of her for doing things that are so silly even my mountain man can do them (sit on her own! pick up a toy and stick it in her mouth! vacate her bowels! babble incoherently!) and my heart already breaks for the day she asks me to drop her off around the corner and please not kiss her in public. I have had moments of elation and moments of despair. I have felt like I can’t figure out her cues, or that we’re so in sync I can fix the problem before she cries.

I have not dealt with postpartum depression, the baby blues, or any other mood or mental disorder, yet I have experienced most of these things – even after an uncomplicated birth. That’s because these things are a normal part of the major life change you’re going through, or are about to go through.

THEY ARE NORMAL.

Why is no one telling us this?

These things are normal – and the experience of these things is not necessarily an indication of postpartum depression, which is widely considered to be a mental and hormonal disorder caused (at least in part) by the drastic change in estrogen and progesterone after a birth. These experiences are so normal in fact that even FATHERS and ADOPTIVE PARENTS experience them. It is the complexity and difficulty of the adjustment to parenthood and not an outright indication that there is something wrong with you.

Why do we think that by smiling and telling mamas how blissful parenthood is that we can protect them from doubting themselves? Or are we trying to convince ourselves that everything is perfect by telling someone else that parenthood will be perfect? And don’t even get me started on worrying about being a perfect mom and perfect wife, caring for the baby perfectly, cooking & cleaning perfectly.

Mamas, it is sometimes blissful, sometimes overwhelming, sometimes lonely, sometime beautiful, but always, always, an ongoing adjustment to your new role.

If you feel like you can’t manage or are sad all the time, or are worried that you might do something to harm your baby, it could be a sign of postpartum depression or psychosis. It’s OK. Just get help – put the baby someplace safe, call a friend or neighbor, take a break & get medical help. The sooner you get the help you need, the better.

Don’t be ashamed if you need help managing the day-to-day difficulties or if you are dealing with depression. NO ONE CAN HANDLE IT ALONE. Anyone who says that they never needed help or that you should be able to do it alone is lying to your face.

I pledge to not perpetuate the mommy myth of perfection and unending happiness. It’s excruciating and it’s wonderful. It is both, and both experiences are valid.

You are (and will be) an awesome mom.

9 comments:

  1. Oh my goodness! I cannot possibly relay in words how proud and happy this post makes me! Finally, some honesty! Never actually having a biological child and being thrown into motherhood with two toddlers who didn't speak English, I can say that I too felt most of these things. Mine, however, were amplified by homesickness for my country and surroundings. I remember thinking, how do people love their children immediately? Am I crazy because I think I may have over done it?
    Now, after having been home for over a year with them, I wouldn't trade it for the world. But only now, after our adjustment period. And the adjustment period was mostly due to me. I was perfectly content with my life before children, my freedom, my alone time. None of that exists anymore, but I barely notice. It took a while, but I barely notice.
    I said all of that to say this.....
    Motherhood doesn't come easy or sweetly, and thank you for pointing that out. I only wish I had read this before I adopted my boys.

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  2. Nikki-
    I think your situation, being an adoptive mom of toddlers, is particularly difficult, and is totally overlooked! Not only do you have the HUGE adjustment to motherhood, but you have to make it with kids who are MOBILE and opinionated, possibly emotionally or physically troubled, completely isolated in a new and confusing place - and YOU have to figure it all out, mostly alone. I'm so glad that your adjustment period is over. I often think about how much I could be getting accomplished without my Pie, but also how much I would be missing out on. I know that as I successfully transition, I will wonder what I ever did without her - and I sometimes already do. It's just that the actual transition and re-defining of myself is messy, complicated, sad, and takes a while.

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  3. I really love this post, and the "is it worth it?" one. I sort of half-assedly made the choice to be childless (and then ended up in childfree lockdown by falling in love with a very anti-procreation dude), and while I'm usually 100% sure I made the right decision for me, I find myself surrounded by new mamas and expectant mamas and women trying so hard to get pregnant, and it makes me question my choices. There are mamas around me who are open and honest about the reality of parenthood (you, our mutual homebody mama friend in the post, and a few others), but the majority of the moms I know seem to subscribe to the "life is perfect, I'm so fulfilled now, I subsist on rainbows and baby farts and birds help me get dressed in the morniing" line of thinking. They sell it so hard that it almost convinces me that I'm wrong, so thank you very, very much for sharing your experiences and thoughts. You make me feel less like an alien. :)

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  4. Dear alien,
    While remaining childless is a valid choice, and one that I can identify with (with certainty before having the Pie and with occasional longing after), you are wrong about one thing. Mamas are powered by baby farts.
    Love,
    ppppfffffffffffffppsquirtpff.

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  5. My understanding is you need the power of baby farts in order to clean up the poonamis.

    ReplyDelete
  6. this post is amazing. i feel so grateful for insomnia tonight for leading me here. it's why i started blogging about mommying in fact, because i felt all these things and I felt so alone with them, and i felt so frustrated that no one would talk about them and when I did I'd be met with "but he's so cute" or "do you think you have PPD."

    such a lovely post this is that I'm already thinking which pg/new mom friends will need to see it.

    no seriously, i realize i'm gushing now, THANK YOU for writing this.

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  7. ps. I was just kidding about being grateful to you, insomnia.

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  8. æ- so glad that it resonated with you. i mean i'm not glad that anyone experiences these conflicting and unhappy feelings, but i'm happy to be able to share my experience and make others aware that they are having normal adjustment, even if no one is admitting it!

    and i saw you also commented at 8am. you need to get some sleep!

    ReplyDelete

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