This isn’t your usual list of things to buy yourself or baby for the postpartum period. Now I am all for being prepared; I created an entire spreadsheet for all the things I wanted to get done before the baby came. So trust me, I get it. But here’s the thing, that is such a small part of preparing yourself for postpartum.
Before we dive into the good stuff, why do we place so much significance on the perfect nursery, crafting the best registry, having everything in the “right” place, and developing the ideal birth plan? Well, it becomes a protective coping strategy. It allows you to focus on tangible one and done experiences. It allows you to focus on what we CAN control with something that has an actual ending – which lets be real, is very appealing. However, this also prevents you from going deeper.
So what do we actually need to be talking about?
When you give birth, it’s not just your child that is born, a mother is too! And this is called, matrescence, a term coined by anthropologist Dana Raphael as the physical, emotional, hormonal and social transition to becoming a mother. Do you remember adolescence? All the changes that came with that experience, well this is very similar.
So many changes are happening. Physical changes, emotional changes, changes to your brain and relationships, and even physiological changes. Change is hard and uncomfortable and can also be incredibly joyful, especially when talking about motherhood. And then what can make this transition even harder is the fact that we can feel completely blindsided by all of it.
That’s the last thing I want for you. I want you to feel prepared for all aspects of motherhood.
Identity changes, what does this even mean?
When you become a mom, it can feel completely destabilizing. It can shake you to your core and have you completely questioning your identity. You feel like a total beginner, yet the stakes are extremely high and that makes it terrifying. Because the thing about motherhood is that even when you start to feel like you’ve mastered something, things change completely in a nanosecond and then you feel like you start back at square one all over again. Plus we tend to have this belief that being a mother is all about trusting our instincts and that we should know how to do everything as soon as the baby is born. Well, there’s another myth for you.
Parenting is a skill.
And even though you will forever be a mom now, that doesn’t have to be your entire identity either. Everything does change when you become a mom (or at least it did for me – dreams, plans, all of it) so it might take you some time to figure out what makes you, you, again and that’s okay. Give yourself grace and compassion through this process. It’s totally common to lose yourself in motherhood and that also doesn’t have to be the case forever.
What are common emotions to experience in postpartum?
Now this is a big one because you are often told that all you’ll feel during this time is joy, excitement, fulfillment, etc. And while you will likely experience those, there are also several other super common emotions that come up during postpartum. When feelings come up unexpectedly, they can feel even more intense. Which is why it’s important we talk about all the different emotions that might come up — even the uncomfortable ones.
This can come up around the transition or about becoming a parent in general and can be accompanied by thoughts like: “should it be this hard?” , “did we make a mistake?” , “am I cut out for this?” and can end up leading to shame.
First, I want to clarify the difference between guilt and shame.
Guilt: I DID something wrong
Shame: feeling like something is deeply wrong with you; you are wrong
Moms can feel shame around a variety of things like: getting frustrated with their baby, not having all the answers, having or needing to ask for help, etc. And when you feel shame, the last thing you want to do is talk about it and share it with others. So you keep it to yourself, resulting in keeping people at a distance and can prevent you from getting the support you truly need.
This feeling usually stems from having certain expectations. You expect this transition to happen naturally, yet the reality is that it comes with a lot of jagged edges. And then you start to have thoughts like, “I wanted this so I should feel … incredibly filled up , happy , etc.”
I mean aren’t you told that this is supposed to be the most joyful time of your life and when it doesn’t feel like that all the time, of course we are going to feel disappointment. Because in reality, it can take some time to find your footing within motherhood.
This was a biggie for me. My daughter would cry and if it took longer than a few seconds to soothe her, I would start to doubt myself and my abilities as a mom. It was a little bit before I realized what I was feeling was helplessness. Not knowing what to do or how to handle a situation, especially when it’s your child, is terrifying.
This is one of those emotions that we don’t really want to admit to, especially as a new mom because again, we think we should just know everything right from the start. However, this is probably one of THE most common emotions especially with all the information right at our fingertips and social media. I’ll be the first to say, I google just about everything and am so grateful to have that information so easily available and it’s also so overwhelming. If you’ve been doing something differently than what the google or someone on social media says, your thoughts might immediately go to, “you’re doing this wrong, you’re failing your child” which can lead to even more doubt.
Now, I know you’re probably hoping that I’ll start telling you different ways to not feel these emotions, as if there is some way you can prevent yourself from experiencing them. Unfortunately, that’s not the reality. What I want you to know is that you are definitely not alone if you are feeling these emotions and/or give you a heads up that these are all common emotions to experience in postpartum.
Will my relationship with my partner change in postpartum?
We all want our relationships to immediately get stronger when we give birth. The reality, and what the research says, is that the first year of your child’s life will be the hardest on your marriage. Let that sink in for a second.
So what do we do about it?
Part of this equation is time because you won’t be in the pure exhaustion and ‘roommate’ phase forever, I promise. And there are also things that you can do that can definitely help.
Start practicing the hard conversations.
Topics can include: boundaries, managing downtime, finances, household chores, etc. Also set aside time to figure out the flow of how to talk about these tricky topics ahead of time so that you’re not trying to figure it all out when you’re going on day 3 of little to no sleep.
Oh and these conversations are not just for your partner. These can also be conversations with family. And just in case you need this … I am giving you permission to set boundaries with your family. This can be extremely difficult. Whether it’s about visitation, holding the baby, food, or all the above. You will be thanking yourself a lot for having these things figured out ahead of time.
Creating/identifying a support system. Identifying who those individuals will be and what you’ll be asking for them to help with is beneficial, even more so if you can do this prior to giving birth. You might ask family for specific support and friends for other support. This could also include having a conversation with your partner around potential ‘yellow flags’ to look for, especially if you struggle to seek out support.
For example: not taking care of yourself. I encourage you to give your support person specific examples to help them know when you’re hitting your breaking point versus typical aspects of being a new mom (aka not eating at all that day versus not taking a shower for a couple days).
What about feeling ‘touched out’?
Before becoming a mom, I had never heard of or experienced ‘being touched out’ and now … wow, I definitely understand and it can be rough. Especially when you get your energy back and start to have more alone time with your partner.
So let’s break this down. Becoming a parent really ups the ante with how often you’re touched. Keeping that in mind, think about your sensory profile and needs. And then ask yourself: are there strategies that I can set up for yourself ahead of time to have a more regulated and integrated experience?
For example: keeping a hat in the stroller to help block out some light on a walk or having a way to turn off the overhead lights in the nursery.
Essentially, ask yourself these two questions:
Does this feel good in my body?
Does this help me feel less stimulated and be more present in this moment?
Because that’s the goal, identifying strategies to help you be more present in the moment.
Now what? What do I do with all this information?
You might be thinking, well that was a lot of information. How does this help me? Well knowing is half the battle. And now you’re aware of all the different changes that you might experience in the postpartum period, expectations versus reality, and even steps you can take prior to the birth of your baby to help with this transition.
You get to go into motherhood with your eyes wide open rather than feeling unplesantly surprised by it. One last thing: this won’t automatically make motherhood easy. There are still going to be a lot of hard moments, that’s inevitable. Plus we can’t possibly prepare for everything that might happen during this time. My hope is that this helps you create a foundation and a strong base to continue to build on.
And if you need more support throughout your pregnancy or postpartum, please reach out to Dr. Kirsten Vadelund. I specialize in maternal mental health and am also a new mom myself and truly understand how challenging motherhood can be. I can help you navigate this overwhelming and sometimes isolating transition so you can cut out the noise and focus on what really matters to you. Let me be a part of your village!