Updated: Dec 27, 2020
I have spoken to a lot of moms who look back on those first few weeks and months with their newborn and wonder how they made it through. Most moms admit that they struggled a great deal, living in a fog somewhere between postpartum depression, anxiety and exhaustion. Feeling overwhelmed, over-extended, tired, sad & lonely are only some of the very common emotions women face following their transition to motherhood, a transition that takes time, not one that magically morphs over a nine month gestational period as society would have us believe. We do not become the mothers we’ve always hoped to be the moment our baby is birthed and thrust onto our chest. Sure, those first few moments are typically a rush of tears, happiness and relief as you hold this new little miracle and lay eyes on your child for the very first time, but pretty quickly hormones, sleepless nights and the reality of caring for another helpless human take center stage, and it is not only your external world that has changed, but your entire identity as well. You no longer exist for and of yourself, but now fully exist to care for and keep another alive and well. You are at someone’s beck and call each and every moment of the day and have, for a time, lost most of your autonomy and freedom.
It takes significant time to come to terms with these overwhelming aspects of motherhood in those first few weeks: the physical changes experienced after birth, the emotional claustrophobia that can set in when caring for a newborn, the exhaustion from very little uninterrupted sleep, and the the day to day worrying that you are not meeting your baby’s needs. Pregnancy is often times full of its own struggles, but the minute those subside after birth, new ones settle in. This makes the transition from pregnant mom to newborn mom much harder than we imagine it will be.
Postpartum lasts far beyond your days in the hospital. As you return home, you are taking care of yourself and your baby in new ways that are completely unfamiliar and perhaps wildly annoying and unexpected when it comes to your own self care. Mesh underwear, large pads, bleeding through the sheets and leaky, lumpy breasts are those first rude awakenings in the land of motherhood. I think that most women are overwhelmingly shocked by the realities of what their bodies go through postpartum, particularly in those first few weeks. Every hour is seemingly endless, and yet also fleeting, as the days somehow manage to creep and run together. Getting used to feeding schedules, having trouble getting up and down as you heal, cranky and sleepless babies are all realities that are hard, if not impossible, to prepare for before your baby arrives.
So why do we continue to be shocked if so many experience these challenges? The fact that we as women to not talk about it is simply not a sufficient answer. That is certainly the big picture reason, but there are reasons this is so. Perhaps it is because if we admit it is hard then that means we are not the mothers we wanted to be or are supposed to be. Perhaps we are afraid of being seen as less than, a failure, without motherly instincts. And perhaps we are even more afraid that others (and God) will view us as ungrateful or unappreciative of our children and the opportunity to have a family. We shame ourselves for our sadness, our frustration. We start identifying shame with motherhood from the very onset of the experience and internalize it so that whenever we are feeling unsure or overwhlemed by our children or the journey of motherhood we sink to its depths and admonish ourselves instead of honoring and owning ourselves in the midst of the challenges and hardships that accompany loving a child. Loving is hard. Loving a child is hard. And I do not mean to infer that the feeling of loving is hard, but I do mean to acknowledge that the act of "being" in the midst of sacrificially and actively loving another, as we do our children, is hard. There is no manual to balancing your personal identity with the role of motherhood. Finding this equalibrium is hard. When you are a new mother this is almost impossible, and the imbalance can be extremely overwhelming and even traumatic for some. There is hope however. There is always hope. There can be a sense of fulfillment when we begin to settle into ourselves as mother while also coming to know ourselves in new ways through the challenges of motherhood. In voicing the struggles, honoring the challanges and owning the journey we start to gain a sense of accomplishment and self-actualization. As Glennon Doyle says, "We can do hard things", but we have to first be able to normalize that being a mom, particularly a new mom, is a hard thing, and that fact does not define how good or not good of a job we are doing. The "doing" of mothering is going to be a lifetime of goods and not so goods, and to define motherhood in any other way is simply idealistic and certainly unhelpful to everyone in every way. Being a mother does not mean that you are no longer yourself. We take with us all of our insecurities, all of our stories, all of our tendencies and we now try to manage them while managing the loving of another helpless human being. Nothing about that sounds easy or remotely instinctual. So the next time you feel alone in your mom struggle, try to remember that it's not only ok to be feeling like it's hard, but that it is how it is supposed to be. It means you care. It means you are loving. It means you are a mother.