We call the transformation to motherhood matrescence, pronounced like adolescence, because of how enormous this change can be. Much like adolescence, it is a time of great physical and emotional transformation. You are now a parent in addition to all of the things you were before having a baby. And you are not alone in feeling a mixture of different feelings. It’s important for us all to dispel the idealized myths of pregnancy and motherhood as being an all good or magical experience. Motherhood can be raw and messy, in addition to being beautiful.
There’s a push and pull for all moms or a sort of ambivalence about motherhood. There may be feelings of sadness or loss around your childless days of freedom or spending less time with your older children. And we can sometimes have some shame or guilt around those emotions. Similarly, going back to work after maternity leave can also be an extremely challenging situation filled with worry and guilt.
It’s also important to let go of the idea that you should instinctively know what your baby needs at all times. It’s okay to not feel instantly connected or in love with your baby when you first give birth. I often see new mothers struggle with perfectionistic tendencies. But you’ve just met your baby and it takes time to get to know them. And if this is your second or third child, each baby is completely different and will take some adjusting and getting used to.
The time may also bring up some emotions around your own parents, especially if your mother is absent. Pregnancy and the postpartum period may lead to a new wave of grief or mourning. Know that it commonly happens and it may be worthwhile to reach out to your support system. You can connect with the maternal figures in your life or obtain individual or support therapy to help sort through some of the confusing feelings.
To help manage the array of emotions that your new identity as a mom may present, here is what you can do:
Line up support and help in the first few weeks after delivery.
Call on family, friends, or anyone willing to pitch in. It takes a village to raise children, so don’t feel like the weight of it is all on your shoulders.
Self-care is not self-indulgent, it’s essential to survival as a new mother.
Taking a bath, exercising, socializing and connecting with friends, having date nights to reconnect with your partner, and intellectual activities like reading are all important in maintaining your sanity. They will also remind you of your identity outside of being a caregiver for your new infant.
Practice mindfulness exercises, like breathwork and meditation.
This will help balance your nervous system and calm worry or grief by getting you to focus on the present. Set out to start with just ten minutes a day, even if it’s broken up into five minutes in the morning and five minutes at night. You can even do a walking meditation while carrying your baby, where you pay attention to your breathing and your baby’s breathing.
Find a mom group.
Support groups can be incredibly helpful during this time, especially if you don’t have many friends who are currently pregnant or new moms. This universalizes some of the challenges you may be feeling and allows you to see that you are not alone in the difficult transition to motherhood.
Read a book.
Reading good literature on motherhood can be incredibly helpful. Buddhism for Mothers by Sarah Napthali and Mindful Motherhood by Cassandra Vieten, Ph.D. reinforce many of the mindfulness strategies I outlined and are both fantastic reads. If you are data-driven, I would recommend Cribsheet by Emily Oster who is an economist by profession and breaks down myths from evidence-based data.
Lower your expectations.
You may not be able to achieve as much in a day as you once were. And the level of organization and cleanliness that you may have kept up before the new baby may change.
Know when to seek out professional help.
If you’re still struggling despite making some of these interventions, individual therapy or speaking to a reproductive psychiatrist may be a great tool. Many women face issues of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. We believe these mental health issues occur in the context of the dramatic shift in hormones after giving birth and significant life changes and stressors involved with becoming a parent. If you are experiencing overwhelming feelings of low mood, hopelessness, tearfulness, thoughts that life is not worth living or your baby would be better off without you, reach out to your healthcare practitioner immediately as these may be signs of postpartum depression and they’ll be able to give resources to help you.1
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This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and we recommend that you always consult with your healthcare provider. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Perelel.