Being a new mother brings a whole torrent of emotions along with it. The first time you see your baby’s face, you feel happy, scared, nostalgic… You’re just meeting the person who, from that moment on, will probably be the center of your life, and you don’t quite know what you feel for them yet.
There are many changes that occur at the endocrine level for the first few weeks after giving birth, and some women feel what’s known as the “baby blues,” or postpartum depression.
After giving birth, oxytocin levels increase. Oxytocin is responsible for the love we feel for our children, as well as the sense of responsibility and protection that fills us every time we look at them.
Keep in mind that, at the psychological level, the big changes that occur when a new member of the family arrives can leave your expectations about being a mother unfulfilled during the postpartum period.
You feel obligated to be happy and radiant when you give birth, and of course it’s an incredible experience, but some mothers don’t feel that way until some time has passed.
You need that time to adapt to the new situation, but that doesn’t mean you should feel guilty or blame yourself for being a “bad mother,” much less allow anyone else to do so. Having support from your partner, family, and social circle is essential.
The postpartum mind
Future mothers – especially first-time mothers – tend to have unrealistic expectations about motherhood. Our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and neighbors have spent nine months telling us how wonderful it is to be a mother and how much it made them grow, and so we anxiously await the moment when we’re going to be the happiest person in the world.
Suddenly, you have the baby and you notice that you’re not experiencing that feeling of euphoria. You feel sad, confused, and strange…but why? Shouldn’t you be the happiest woman in the world?
Careful! That maternal feeling doesn’t come magically. Everybody who told you that giving birth was one of the most amazing moments in their lives wasn’t lying, but they also forget that everybody needs time to adapt to new and important situations, and that’s completely normal.
You might feel intense guilt over certain negative, automatic thoughts, such as “I’m not a good mother,” “my child is going to be traumatized because I’m not doing this well,” “my life has become an eternal blur…”
It’s important to detect those negative thoughts so you can learn to overcome them and exchange them for more realistic, positive thoughts. If not, the guilt can turn into profound sadness or even depression. You can enter into a vicious cycle where you don’t have the energy to take care of your baby or yourself, thereby making those initial feelings of guilt more intense and propelling the cycle along.
If this happens, you’ll end up confirming your negative thoughts. “I can’t even breastfeed, look at what a terrible mother I am.” This vicious cycle can lead to postpartum depression.
On top of the hormonal and psychological changes that occur after giving birth, there are a lot of life changes that you have to deal with: lack of sleep, lack of time for yourself, lack of intimacy with your partner, appointments on appointments, etc. All these changes add to the not-so-positive emotions that you might feel during the first few weeks.
Experiencing motherhood in a positive way
The good news is that it all passes. While at first being a mother seems impossible and you start to feel really bad, your hormonal system and ability to adapt will turn hell into paradise. However, as much as nature can help, you also have to do your part.
To start, you have to accept the moment you’re living in as well as the emotions that come with it. The changes in your life are huge, and it’s normal and acceptable to have contradictory feelings, which can alternate or occur at the same time.
Embrace these emotions and let them be. Don’t fight against them or force yourself to try to be happy. You can handle being anxious, sad, confused, and even angry at the world. Don’t worry, you’re human and you feel emotions. Accept them.
Once you’ve accepted your feelings, start analyzing what happens in your mind every time you get up and realize that you’re a mother now and you have certain responsibilities that you didn’t have before. Jot down those thoughts on a piece of paper and, as if they were another language, start translating them into positive thoughts.
For example, if you’re thinking “I’ve ruined my life by having a kid so young,” translate it into “Because I’m so young, I have much more energy to play with my child and my entire life ahead of me to do other things.”
Little by little, you’ll start to realize that maybe your thoughts were exaggerated and that you’ve been too hard on yourself. In reality, you’re probably being the best mother your child could’ve had, and their smile will show you that before you think they can even smile yet.
Finally, run away from unsolicited advice. A lot of people like to meddle with parenting. They’ll tell you to breastfeed, not to breastfeed, that the child should sleep in their own room, that they should sleep with their parents, that they should have a pacifier, that they shouldn’t…
This advice, which is always based on one’s own experience, almost never helps. All it usually does is make the mother insecure over not knowing the exact science of what’s best for her baby. So trust only professionals, pediatricians, midwives, and child psychologists, because they’re the only ones who can properly advise you on your parenting.
Images courtesy of Pascal Campion