Guest Post by Hillery Hafner, LMFT
New Mom’s Aren’t Doing Well
Did you know that some researchers estimate that up to 20% of new mothers suffer from postpartum mental health disorders, such as clinical depression and anxiety? This is much more than the “baby blues”! These are debilitating diagnosis’s that have severe consequences and symptoms. When I hear about this statistic, I am of course saddened, but not surprised. It’s a reflection of the lack of care and support families receive during the postpartum season, particularly Mothers. It’s a reflection of our culture’s general sentiment that says; “Mom’s: get it together and return to your “normal” life”. When we talk about the psychological struggles of the new Mom, the conversation often surrounds the role hormones play with postpartum mood disorders, but that diverts our focus from the more important and underlying causes of stress that Mothers face when caring for their babies.
In Orange County, where I practice, Mom’s are confronted with an implicit message of urgency to “get it together quickly” after baby arrives and an expectation to return to her “pre-baby” level of functioning (practically, physically, emotionally, and mentally) as expeditiously as possible with very little transition time. The world says, “Let’s GO Mom’s….no time to waste!”
Birth Preparation is Missing Mother Preparation
Interestingly and conversely, as a culture we seem to value preparing for birth and baby very well. Expecting parents take classes about birth, baby care, breastfeeding, etc. Physicians ask about our physical health relentlessly and we give focused attention to baby’s progress. Which is all so wonderful and needed.
But what seems to be sorely missing in the complete birthing process are the essentials of continuing to provide care and support for Mother’s after the birth. It’s almost as if we take Mom’s all the way to the finish line and just stop there, without crossing it, and we say, “You’re on your own from here”. All of the Moms I’ve talked with experience tremendous changes after baby arrives that effect their psychological, physiological and emotional selves, as well as, body-image, marital relationships, friendships, family relationships, identity and self-efficacy. Those changes do not include the massive hormonal adjustment and sleep deprivation that can magnify all of these changes.
Our culture seems to have a collective “amnesia” about the needs of Mother’s during this sensitive season in a woman’s life. This is likely the biggest life transition a woman will ever go through. Maybe, as a collective whole, just don’t want to deal with this messy and vulnerable period of time.
The postpartum experience is in reality a critical period that, for a lot of mothers, extends well beyond the traditional 6-week maternity leave milestone. There seems to be a general confusion as to how long the postpartum period lasts. It begins immediately after the birth of baby, but does it last 6 weeks, 3 months, 9 months, 1-year, or when mom is getting uninterrupted sleep at night? Perhaps this confusion is because it varies greatly from one mother to another. More ambiguity for a culture that yearns for easy and simple answers to something more complex.
Honoring Yourself in the Postpartum Season
If you’re a Mother in the postpartum process, here are a few ways to honor the postpartum season of life:
- Accepting realistic expectations for yourself and modifying as necessary. Not Super-Mom expectations, or what your mommy friend can handle. Expectations of what you can accomplish that takes in to consideration your unique life, baby, and family support.
- Finding, asking, and maybe even demanding support for yourself so you can take care of your baby and yourself. So many mothers I see feel incredibly guilty in regard to asking and receiving help. You have to fight against these voices.
- Prioritize your physical health. We seem to accept more easily that pregnant Mothers need to take special care of themselves while growing a baby, but postpartum is a time of healing that requires special care of yourself too.
- Finding other supportive Mothers. It can feel so emotionally uplifting to know you’re not alone.
- Making space to process all the changes both positive and negative that accompany new motherhood. Often Mothers experience many negative or ambivalent emotions that they feel they can’t share for fear that makes them a bad Mommy. Journaling, talking with other Moms or going to therapy can be helpful in processing this transition. Many Moms’ need the space to grieve all the losses that simultaneously accompany the gift of childbirth.
Nurturing New Mom’s
It is essential we allow for nurturing ourselves like we nurture our babies, because we too are needy, vulnerable and deserving of care and compassion. We never expect a baby to come out of the womb walking and new Moms need time to figure out how to walk too – right along with their babies. As babies reach their developmental milestones at unique times, we need to honor the same process exists for Mother’s too.
Most mothers are very sensitive to what their babies need, yet arranging for and accepting nurturing for themselves often gets missed or forgotten. It’s a sad but true reality in America. Arranging for and finding adequate emotional and practical support during the postpartum season can allow for a much smoother transition which is what Mom’s really need if we want to address the 20% of new Mother’s getting diagnosable mental illnesses.
The postpartum season is a time of neediness, when the new Mother needs mothering as well. Let’s honor that!