Three days snowed in and 30 inches later…
In my last few years as an east coast resident I have become fascinated with excitement of changing weather. As a native San Diegan, where the biggest weather fluctuation is sunny to party cloudy, the unpredictability and drama is enthralling. The hype of last years storm Jonas did not disappoint. In the days before the storm everyone was in preparation mode. The grocery shelves were stripped of food and the gas lines went around the block, as newscasters predicted record-breaking amounts of snowfall. We were warned but were unsure of the outcome. On my third day of being home bound, I was surrounded by the white beauty of freshly fallen snow. It was majestic and peaceful yet it was also our capture. These mixed emotions remind me of my feelings of becoming a mother.
In the months prior to the birth of my first child I planned, dreamed and prepared. I envisioned what my child would be like, what being a mother was like and how my new life would be. I was given advice, solicited and not on how to become a mother. With these notions I felt confident in my abilities to tackle motherhood and then my baby boy came. I quickly realized that nothing could have prepared me for what actually becoming a mother involved. I felt a love and joy I had never experienced mixed with a feeling of suffocation that my life would never be the same. I felt trapped like in that beautiful snowstorm by the endless care for a darling yet colicky infant. My dreams and expectations did not match the reality I faced.
In working with mothers, I have found that every woman experiences this transition to motherhood differently but there is a common theme that many women share. At some point each mother must reconcile between their expectations and the reality of motherhood and post-partum. This process can often be painful, fraught with sorrow and disappointment. This mix of joy and sadness can lend to erratic emotions and in many cases depression and/or anxiety.
In my work with women I present the following tips to deal with this emotional time period:
- Lower you expectations and then lower them again
If you were like most little girls, you have been dreaming, imagining and playing the role of mama since before you can remember. A lifetime of fantasizing can led to high expectations for this time of transition. Cultural or familial expectations whether real or perceived can only compound our own expectations, leading to some seriously high and frankly unattainable notions about motherhood. Ask yourself, where are these expectations coming from? Does this belief help or hurt me? And how is imposing this expectation making me better person or mom? If you cannot come up with some solid reasoning let it go. Placing expectations on yourself that are unhelpful, unrealistic and unattainable is setting yourself up for falling short and feeling like a failure.
Give yourself a break. You have never been a mother before or have never had (you fill it in) number of children. You are learning and are not going to do it perfectly. I only know one perfect person and He wasn’t a mother (although He does know exactly how you feel).
Stop measuring your success by some unwritten societal standard you’ve prescribed. Motherhood is not like any other job with set expectations to measure your performance or course in college with grading rubrics. It is it’s own beautiful thing that can be done in so many ways. In my work with women I have met so many wonderful mothers, who mother very differently. One is not inherently better than the other. What this means for you is mother in the way that feels right and works for you. Let go of and lower your expectations of perfection. If you still are beating yourself up lower them again and give yourself credit for the stuff you are doing. Holding a baby on the coach for an hour might not seem like you are doing much but it really is. It’s what your baby or you needed, and you were willing to give that time to meet a need.
- Get out
You have to leave your house! The sweatshirt and stretchy pants are comfortable and all but they are doing nothing for your need for connection and feeling attractive. Wash your hair, put on some make-up and put on an outfit makes you feel feminine. I am not saying you have to do this everyday but you have to do this. There is an entire therapeutic modality based on the premise of being active in all areas of your life (socially, emotionally, intellectually ect). Do not underscore the importance of getting out for even a short while. It might seem like all the effort it takes to leave the house isn’t worth it but trust me it is. Having yourself look nice sends positive messages to yourself during a time when your body seems and feels very foreign. Taking a moment to care for yourself helps you feel like yourself again!
- Be still- be present and in the moment
Take moments to stop and observe. Look around and ask yourself, what is beautiful about this moment? After being trapped indoors for days, I could have easily became bitter on day 5 that the snow plow had yet to come to our street but I was surrounded by beauty and a moment in time where I had nothing else I could do but focus on my little family. Look for those golden moments that make all the not so pleasant stuff about motherhood worth it!
- Find an outlet
I do not care what your outlet is but you’ve got to have at least one, I recommend a few. Join a mother’s group or schedule play dates. Listen to books on tape or podcasts because you don’t actually have time to sit down and read. Exercise. Look babies have to do tummy time, if that is your only time you can set the baby down do it then. You will feel better and you can let go of the guilt that the baby screamed the whole time because tummy time is good for them. Bake, do a craft, take on a small side project or get a pedicure. Like I said, each mother might have a different outlet but you need one. Protect that time, it is sacred and is important. If you do not give yourself time to refuel you will not have anything to give to your child.
- Watch you inner dialogue
What are you saying to yourself? As a therapist, I talk a lot about the “automatic” or unintentional dialogue we have with our self. Are you using negatives or demands when you think about things? For example, “I always have to get up with the baby” or “ All I do is change diapers and take care of a BABY this awful!” Both of these send negative messages about our life and role as a mother. Enough of this kind thinking trains our brain and self not to enjoy this time. Semantics may seem like a small thing but the more you say things to yourself like “I get to hold my baby” instead of “I have to hold this baby, “ the more positive associations you send your brain and the more positive feelings you will experience.
- When it is more than baby blues…
You are not alone. The latest studies show that one in every five women suffers from perinatal stress syndrome disorders like depression and anxiety. If you are experiencing depressive or anxious symptoms lasting longer than the first two weeks post-partum such as: overwhelming feelings of sadness, crying frequently, feel anxious, having scary thoughts, are having any feelings that concern you and/or are not feeling like yourself you should seek help. Do not wait. There is hope and help. Many clinical professionals like myself are trained to help during these difficult times. There are a lot of options that can work with different needs and schedules. Remember that you need to be in a good/healthy spot to be able to provide the best care you can for your child. If you or someone you know could use help please contact me and I would be happy to work with you or connect you to resources.