This is the process of becoming a mother. The psychological transformation that occurs after childbirth. Maternal mental health is not talked about enough. When it is talked about, it is then sugar-coated. I now understand that this is a very stigmatized topic which carries a lot of unnecessary shame and judgment with it. Highlighting the less beautiful and very challenging aspects of motherhood is opening ourselves up to judgement and assumptions of being bad moms. Baby blues, postnatal depression, postpartum psychosis and all the other conditions that come with childbirth are shrouded in secrecy, while the truth is, most moms are struggling with this, afraid to speak up. It is time we had honest conversations of what parenthood can really look like. We cannot allow this fear of judgment to cripple us when there is so much at stake.
I had a severe case of baby blues. It was very confusing since I had no idea that this would be the actual reality after Shay was born. My fantasy of motherhood had been very different from this reality. When I experienced negative emotions, like moodiness, sadness, fear, resentment and loneliness, I felt shocked. I thought it was unbecoming. I felt that I should have been flooded with happiness, gratitude and joy. While these emotions were overwhelmingly present, the negative ones were really hard to accept. In the sense that a lot of women struggle with infertility or their babies are born unhealthy or worse, are stillborn, I felt I had no right to feel this way.
I had been oblivious to the fact that after the baby was born, it would not just change my body, but my soul, heart, mind and identity too. I had not expected a storm of hormonal upheaval. I had the unrealistic expectation that my body would just snap back to its former glory. The flabbiness, the leaking bladder, hair loss, boobs that kept getting bigger and bigger, nipples that chapped and bled every time my daughter latched were the reality. With this, new insecurities were born. A new task too, looking at my reflection and learning to love, accept and embrace what I saw. Giving my body the respect that it deserved for carrying life and then sustaining it.
Motherhood swallowed me whole! It was new territory, who I used to be was gone and no amount of yearning would bring back what was not there. It did not allow me anytime to do the most basic things like having a cup of tea while still warm, having my meals while still hot, brushing my teeth, going to the toilet ALONE and the worst of all sleeping. I never appreciated sleep so much until I could not have it. Any aspect of my individual needs came to a standstill. Most relationship also took a backseat. Sex was off the table too, after breastfeeding all day and night the last thing I wanted was sex. I felt overly touched and could not bear any more touching, which doesn’t do much for marriage. What I did not understand was that this was just a transition, a right of passage and a very normal one, my re-birth into whom my child needed, a mother.
I remember calling my mom in tears when my little babe was 3 weeks. With all these questions of how she had managed to raise 4 of us. My firstborn brother being a special needs child. She told me the truth of it, the challenges, the sacrifices, the sleepless nights, all the things that are not talked about. She added that unlike me she was surrounded by helping hands. This conversation helped me feel validated and less crazy. Thanks, mom.
My husband had taken a 3-week paternity leave. I was grateful for that, but it wasn’t long enough for him to be around throughout my emotional madness. The fear of being left alone to care for a newborn Monday through Friday filled me with anxiety. My in-laws also came over for a week, it was a good week. We had home-cooked meals which were not burned! They helped us fix our new flat and I could get some extra sleep, while assured my baby was in safe hands. Still, I missed having a community, I think this is purely cultural. I suppose I’m hardwired to be part of a group, it is in my nature to want to be part of my tribe. The idea of being surrounded by wise women of previous generations, imparting wisdom and knowledge from their wealth of experience. Helping navigate my new territories is not a western thing. I felt that loss strongly.
My hormonal upheaval had me constantly teetering on the brink of a full-blown breakdown. I felt out of balance and my mind so chaotic. In my emotional state, it was really easy to lose my shit with the smallest provocation, everything was so heightened. This facilitated constant fights with my husband. I got the feeling, he did not understand how overwhelmed I felt and my emotional equilibrium was non-existent. What I did not understand was, he was also going through a drastic change too. He could not just come home from work and chill like he used too. He could not just go out for a beer when he felt like it. His wife had zero attention to give him and was highly irritable. Worst, he could not spend as much time as he wanted with his new daughter.
Some weeks into my daughter’s life, the mental breakdown happened. My anxiety level was so high, I had no idea what was happening to me. I felt defeated and exhausted and overwhelmed. sleep deficit did not help much and my husband telling me how his friend Katrin had just had baby no 3 and was doing great didn’t help either. My mother in law asking if I thought my boobs had enough milk to sustain the child because I did not want to feed her formula, did not help much either. I now understand that they all meant well in their own way but I felt so judged.
Below is a little excerpt from my journal around the time I had a breakdown.
I feel like I’m living in a haze, in total exhaustion and despairing. My little love is 3 weeks now. I love her so much and feel so guilty for being so inadequate. I’m struggling with sleep deprivation and breastfeeding, with having absolutely no help and having to do all by myself. I feel like I’m losing my mind, the only thing that is keeping me sane is my lo. I had no idea it would be so hard and I’d is so alone. hopefully, I’m not headed to ppd! I’m trying so hard to take care of myself but it’s so hard when I can’t sleep for a straight 2 hours.
The storm calmed
Some weeks into motherhood I decided not to let myself wallow in baby blues and this lonesome feeling. I have always been an outdoorsy person, so cabin fever contributed a lot to my state of mind. My first conscious decision was to no longer restrict our world to the walls of our home. I researched things to do with a newborn. Signed us up for activities that would help me feel less isolated. We went to breastfeeding groups and playgroups. We made a lot of friends that were in the same stage of life which was great. In these groups, there was always a midwife present to calm our fears and offer advice, which I found great.
We got some rhythm into our day and spent a lot of time in nature learning our new roles and getting to know each other. I started taking Shay to my favourite places, parks, cafes….etc. I found that when she slept I could actually read a book. I also discovered Audible which was awesome since I did not have the time to read as much as I would have liked. I started doing things that made me happy only this time I had a cute little new partner. We bought a little swing where I could lay her as I showered. I discovered babywearing allowed me free hands to multitask. My husband, bless his soul would come home early at least once a week to afford me some well-needed timeout. Though at this point things had not normalised, our days had a routine and I was feeling so much better. I was healing nicely from childbirth and Shay was gaining weight rapidly. The worst was behind us and I thank God that it did not evolve to ppd.
A few months into motherhood, my psychological transformation was complete. I have no time frame of how long this transition took. It was quite gradual. Slowly I found my self thriving and not just surviving. The yearning for my old self died and gave way to the mom. The haze lifted and was soon forgotten and motherhood proved to be way more than I had ever imagined.
We need to nurture maternal mental health. We need to be honest about our experiences and how they impact us as mothers. I know for sure that this tug of war feeling was not something exclusive to just me. We feel shamed, stigmatized or judged as bad mothers for going through a transition that is normal. At times we beat ourselves up for it. I did not realize that this was transitional and temporary until I was out of the murk. Talking about it would help new mothers feel less alienated (or maybe scare them). It would help normalize this mental transition. We need to know that this changes to whatever degree we may experience them are not a measure of how much we love our children.
We are not meant to raise our children in isolation. When we share our stories we create a community, a culture of openness, an acceptance of the imperfect and a strong support system that we can all benefit from. The leading cause of maternal mortality is suicide. We can change this by being more forthcoming with our experiences. The more we talk and normalize our experiences the less the stigma around this topic. Especially now when most of us are on social media telling only a one-sided story of motherhood #blessed.
This is a deeply personal post and I appreciate you for taking the time to read it. Please share this post and feel free to share your experience with us. Look out for my next post.