Hey, New Mom.
Yes, I’m talking to you. And I’m talking about you, too, not about your baby. I’m here to remind you that You, the woman — the person with needs and wants and feelings — are still in there, even if nobody seems to notice or care. This may or may not be a matter of concern for you right now, depending on who you are and where you are in the new motherhood experience. But for me and many other mothers I know, that shock of the disappearing self was a pretty rough pill to swallow in the early months of motherhood.
There’s no preparing for it, really. When you’re pregnant, the whole world seems to revolve around your magical midsection. And though it’s not exactly the same as people being riveted to your brilliant ideas, attention is attention. Now, all eyes are on the new baby who’s made his or her way out of your body (with some degree of discomfort). And you, the former center of the universe, may be feeling a little … left out. And/or: Disoriented. Alienated. Lonely. Jealous. Angry. Insecure. Anxious. Depressed. Freaked out. Scared.
When my son was born, I felt all of these things over the course of his first year of life. I wasn’t diagnosed with a postpartum mood disorder. The therapist I had been seeing for several years saw my feelings as a normal response to a situation that is inherently stressful and difficult — at least when processed by my particular brain. Looking back now, and reading the descriptions of postpartum depression, I see that I had many of the symptoms. I wonder whether a diagnosis might have changed things. Was I made anxious by the circumstances of parenting a young infant, or was my anxiety interfering with my ability to enjoy it? I feel sad sometimes when I think about my kids as babies. I wish I’d been better able to drink in the beauty of that relatively simple equation. I don’t know if it was a disorder or a disposition that got in my way.
I am a big believer in normalizing negative feelings in motherhood. The transition from woman to mother is profound and sometimes traumatic. I think aftershocks are to be expected, and they will rattle some more deeply than others. It’s crucial, in my opinion, for women to understand that the range of experiences encompasses more than perfection on the one hand and pathology on the other.
Like most things in the psychological realm, postpartum responses exist on a continuum. Where each of us sits is affected by so many factors: pre-existing brain chemistry, hormonal changes, circumstances, relationships and support. If you are not happy with where you are right now, take action. And take heart. Your feelings are not wrong, and they are not intractable. You are where you are right now, but where you are now is not where you will always be. You are not broken. And you are not alone.
Donations to Postpartum Progress can be made here: http://postpartumprogress.org/donate-postpartum-depression-2/