Updated: Sep 21, 2020
I want to be open and honest about motherhood, because so many times we mothers are busy keeping up appearances, our brains are going a mile a minute but we're cool as a cucumber trying to juggle so much at once - the ultimate multi-tasker. There's only so much one person can juggle without losing the ability to remain calm and feel internal peace. That is why I hope that the more honest and vulnerable conversations I have about my postpartum feelings, what I am going through as a mother will help other mothers dive into open conversations about postpartum emotions, depression and anxiety. Deeper conversations that will normalize the postpartum season of our lives, what it's like to be a mother, feeling ok to say what it feels like and that it's not always easy - in fact, it's rarely easy.
We don't like to talk about postpartum. In fact we don't like to talk openly about pregnancy either - it's all about a woman's glow and the beauty of bringing life into this world. Those things are beautiful, but a woman's body goes through extreme physical changes during pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum. A recent study has found that pregnancy and giving birth is harder on your body than a marathon - so I think that warrants a brief conversation or two.
Once we go through the physical extreme of giving birth.to.another.human.being., just saying, we begin healing physically and are also flung immediately into sleepless nights, hormonal adjustments and in the most ideal situation the mother and baby are healthy. It feels as if everything is on us. Even with a perfect set of circumstances it can be very difficult becoming a new mother - but no one ever says that. There's a lot of talk about the nursery and the snuggles and the cute clothes. All of those things are fun, but there are some very real facts to come to terms with as well. Mothers need support even if it simply comes through talking openly about postpartum and taking care of babies.
Firstly, the lack of sleep is very real. It's easy for an outsider to think about not sleeping and sympathize with new mothers, it's entirely different to one day get a full night's rest and the next night be flung into completely sleepless nights for months - all while having just run the equivalent of the baby birthing marathon. Baby's will cluster feed and you may have nights where you are constantly feeding your baby, they won't stop and you are exhausted - not to mention the hormones oxytocin and prolactin that help with the let down of your milk supply also make you drowsy. And it's not like you get to mentally rest and shut off your mind - you need to be on your A game. You are constantly learning and adjusting to a new life with your baby all on very, very little sleep. I remember during the hospital tour for our first baby the nurse said they should have courses and birthing classes related to all that occurs after you have your baby, but for some reason we just don't talk about it.
The amount of sleep deprivation can take a toll on our ability to deal with stress, to cope with this very new life. As we're trying to cope with this new sleepless life we're also changing on so many levels. It can be hard for a mother to identify with her new life, her new baby, the new person she is becoming. All of this can lead to postpartum depression and the fact that discussing it is not normalized makes it even harder for women to recognize PPD or PPA and get help.
I didn't realize that I was managing some level of postpartum depression until about 6 months after I had my second child. Once I recognized it, I realized I had dealt with similar levels of postpartum depression after my first child. It is kind of shocking to me that I didn't understand this about myself and my emotions for almost 5 years. I think this all circles back to our lack of honest talk about postpartum experiences and realities. We need to normalize what women experience after giving birth, help women and men to see the beauty and awe of these sometimes difficult postpartum experiences along with the miraculous act of bringing new life into our world. Postpartum emotions, whether these are feelings of depression or anxiety, can be beautiful seasons in our lives, but if we continue to keep this postnatal experience in the shadows it will become harder for women and our society to recognize how valuable and deeply important this postnatal time in a woman's life can be for her and for her babies, her partners and other children.
Secondly, one reason why it's hard to recognize PPD or PPA, is that I didn't feel sad or down all the time. And it wasn't only that I felt sad, my emotions felt much more intense, they consumed me, they were so overwhelming and out of control at times. I felt like I was trapped by my feelings like they were oppressing me, I couldn't draw in a deep breath and have a moment to manage my emotions or adjust my feelings. So once my emotions got the better of me I found it very difficult to get over those feelings and move on with a fresh, lighter perspective. And what made a lot of this harder was the feeling of isolation, like no one understood me, my thoughts and feelings. I began to think I can't be the only one feeling this way.
It doesn't matter which baby it is, you can suffer from some levels of PPD. And every time it's ok to ask for help, to be vulnerable and open about what you're feeling. We as mothers expect a lot from ourselves, we feel pressure from society to be perfect, do everything, and be everything to our children, our job, our partners. In fact, to speak about the real physical and emotional healing of postpartum is frowned upon. I don't know if this is because we live in a male-centric society, or women are given this image to uphold of someone who can do it all. In some ways this may harken back to the fact that women were the homemakers, but it's like we got a promotion to bread winner while still keeping all our former responsibilities.
Around that 5 to 6 month postpartum mark, I'd wake up and feel completely empty, no desire to do anything, just going through the hamster wheel of life - this was also during the shutdown, so I went from 3 months of maternity leave and having very little adult interactions straight into quarantine for over 6 months - so a solid 9 months of not having typical adult interactions. I felt very unfulfilled, partly because I wasn't able to devote myself to being the perfect mother nor was I able to focus on doing well at work - instead I had to juggle both at the same time and I simply felt like I was failing at everything.
Was this postpartum? Or was I just being a shitty mom? Or maybe I was just a shitty person? I began to realize and see the signs that I was developing some form of postpartum depression. I never really focused on it, I was just going to brush it under the rug, assume it would go away. But I was tired of not talking about it, about the realities of motherhood - how sometimes it's not all cuddles and sleep deprived delirium - sometimes there are really hard emotions and adjustments that must be talked about. I knew if I felt this way other mothers did too.
Lastly, one reason I believe PPD on some level affects more mothers than we think is how long our bodies and minds are focused on developing human life and transforming ourselves for motherhood. During my last trimester with my first pregnancy I mentioned to my midwife that I was feeling a bit strange emotionally, I was drawn inward and felt a bit out of touch with my reality and the physical word - sounds whacky right? She explained that often times as a woman nears the end of her pregnancy her mind becomes deeply connected to the baby and the understanding that she will go through the birth process. This was so wild to me. Sometimes as I am dealing with the feelings and emotions of postpartum I realize I have moments where I feel this disconnect to my present life - I wonder if it is a woman's way of juggling the sleep deprivation, crying baby, dirty diapers on repeat. And you realize how truly remarkable women are.
To think that so many hopeful mothers spend months trying to become pregnant, then some (I speak from experience) endure months of morning sickness (which should more aptly be called all day sickness), sometimes we get a break in the second trimester and then we get uncomfortable in the third trimester. Then we spend months sleep deprived, often nursing and feeling like our bodies are still not our own and only for the purpose of providing nutrients for our babies. It's a beautiful thing and the devotion of mothers is awe-inspiring and if you think about it that's a minimum of 11 months where we as mothers devote ourselves to growing, nurturing and protecting our babies. For some it can be years. It's wonderful but it can be exhausting and make many mothers feel like they've lost who they are.
You love your children, you give so much of yourself everyday, you give yourself to them - sometimes your whole self and you feel lost and like you're no longer you. It is so important to take care of yourself so that you can be your best and more present for others, especially your children.
I say all of this, but there are things that have helped me and I feel a big difference when I incorporate these into my everyday.
Exercise I would exercise everyday, I know this isn't always possible for new mothers, single mothers or parents trying to balance work and so many other responsibilities. That's why I really enjoy quick strength training, HIIT and yoga routines. Mind body connection and how exercise and eating well help to keep your mind clear, more focused and for me I feel happier. Staying healthy and establishing healthy habits have been proven to increase serotonin levels.
Self Care for new moms this may be having a very simply routine in the morning that helps you feel grounded, and when I say routine I mean brush your teeth, splash some water on your face, maybe a swipe of toner and a bit of moisturizer. But sometimes when we make things our own routine they hold more value and restore our inner-self.
Meditation - this may look very different for new moms. Honestly, when you're nursing or feeding your baby, when you're doing mundane repetitive tasks (e.g. folding laundry, loading the dishwasher, even sitting on the toiler, etc) taking those moments and focusing on your inner self and even just calming your breath for a few minutes.
Eating Well - I was eating junk because I was tired and this would give me short bursts of energy, but then I would crash and of course I'd eat more junk and feel even more down. I remember just eating chocolate in my bed while nursing and I just kept mindlessly eating it, I'd feel awful after, both physically and mentally.
Walking - taking the kids for a walk, even if you don't have that mental break you and your kids can take a bit of a mental break from each other when out in nature.
Writing and Keeping a Journal - getting your thoughts on paper can often help you to release them and allow for healing, separation of those thoughts and help break the cycle of overthinking.