The Dark and Light of New Motherhood
After I gave birth to my first child, I felt I had been deceived by those closest to me about what those early days would be like. Why did no one prepare me for how untethered I felt, for how my thoughts were not my own, for how sleep had become my only currency, for how my relationship was suffering, for how my identity felt like sand in my hand, and for how love and loss had formed an untangleable knot in my heart? With time (and more sleep) I’ve come to understand that, in fact, I did have honest and forthright friends that tried to prepare me for one of life’s greatest transitions. The problem was that new motherhood, like grief, is a process deeper than words. You can know what to do if you’re pulled into a riptide but no one can fully prepare you for the disorientation you experience when you’re being tossed around under the waves. These metaphors, grieving and ocean currents, I use purposefully to try to convey something beyond our control and filled with meaning.
Looking back on those first months with my baby, I can clinically assess myself as meeting the diagnostic criteria for postpartum depression and anxiety, but diagnosis is a blunt instrument that does nothing to color-in or add a depth of understanding to that precious time in my life. Postpartum days can feel like being submerged into an alternate reality. That experience can be tender, intimate and satisfying while at the same time harsh, alienating and anxiety producing.
Every woman’s initiation into motherhood is unique and, I believe, spiritual, in nature. The end and beginning of life rub up against the unknown. In that liminal space, you are transformed into a different person. That transformation necessarily involves the loss of who you were. Early days with a baby is a mourning process as much as a welcoming-baby process. Additionally, consciously or unconsciously, a confrontation with profound vulnerability will be taking place. You have birthed the most dependent of baby animals and the truth of that responsibility lives in your body. The vulnerability of our most tiny humans can stir up frightening or confusing feelings rooted in our own personal histories of being, or not being, cared for. Add to this potent mix the possibility of ambivalence around becoming a mother, trepidation (or impatience) to return to work, a complicated relationship with one’s own mother, recent life stressors, a culture that isn’t set up for supporting moms, and it’s no wonder that a woman might find herself having anxiety and depression symptoms.
If you are a new mom, I offer you this piece of advice: find soft places. Your baby just emerged from the womb and both of you need places without edges. Harsh self judgements or judgements from others can wreak havoc on you at this time. Be gentle with yourself and find gentle-others. If you find yourself with symptoms of anxiety and/or depression, seek out additional support. New moms groups, or mom friends, can help normalize and validate your experience.
A skilled therapist can help process challenging feelings and mental states that are emerging. Soft places are the places, people and things that help you to integrate your singular postpartum experience in a way that honors the transformation you are undergoing. If you are needing additional support during this time feel free to reach out to us here.