Pregnancy and the postpartum period is a time of profound changes, physically, emotionally, and socially. Our bodies change, our emotions vacillate, and our relationships follow suit. The postpartum period is one of adjustment and adaptation. This is true if you are bringing home your first baby or your fourth. Throughout her pregnancy, a mother is typically cared for and doted on, but after her baby is born, support for mom wanes which leaves her vulnerable. So much of what women express to friends, family, and their physicians during pregnancy and during the postpartum period is minimized and invalidated, which makes women feel weak, inadequate, and not suitable mothers. Additionally, strong opinions from family, friends, the woman behind you at the grocery store, often lead moms to question what is the right thing.
The following are four truths about postpartum life that every mom deserves to know:
1. It’s ok not be ok: “How are you” is often used as a greeting, or a conversation starter, and we answer reflexively, “Fine, great, good”, but are we answering honestly? It’s ok not to be ok, especially during the postpartum period. Lifestyle changes, hormonal changes, lack of sleep, and stressors in relationships are just a few reasons that life after baby can be challenging. A perceived sense of urgency to push through, ignore your body and mind is often what keeps us from seeking help when we need it most. If you find yourself questioning whether or not you are ok, reach out to someone in your support system or seek help from a therapist.
2. Pregnancy & mothering is not easy (no matter how common it is): Yes, billions of women have had babies, but that does not mean that it is easy, even though their Instagram makes it look easy. Self-care may sound like a stretch right now, but it is also vital. Take some time for yourself every day. Spend 20 minutes outdoors, take a hot bath before bed, or chat with a supportive friend to build a self-care routine that works for you during the postpartum period. Incorporate things that you enjoyed before pregnancy into your daily routine. If your daily pleasure was going to Starbucks every morning, keep doing it; maintaining that sense of normalcy will help with the adjustment.
3. We need support from our people: Independence and self-efficacy are highly valued attributes in our society. We’d rather suffer through (beating ourselves up along the way) than ask anyone for help. It is unrealistic to do everything on our own and if there is ever a time when calling in the reinforcements is necessary, it’s the postpartum period. In many cultures, women are taken care of for weeks, if not months after giving birth. This nurturing includes, mandated rest, nutritious meals prepared by friends and family, and strict restrictions from doing household chores. Mothers are treated like someone who just gave birth to another human being. Until we catch up to these cultures, it’s up to us to advocate for ourselves; take help when it is offered and ask for help when you need it.
4. Every moment isn’t enjoyable: There are many wonderful aspects of being a mom, sweet smiles, quiet afternoon feedings, but honestly, not all of it is enjoyable. The message that we receive from family and friends is “Enjoy every moment”. This well-meaning platitude can feel like a dagger when we’re struggling with the adjustments that come along with having a new baby. Allow yourself to feel the range of emotions that come along with motherhood, without the side of guilt. Don’t let the fact that you hate some aspects of motherhood bog you down. Do you really love everything about where you live? Do really love every little thing about your job? No. But it doesn’t mean you hate your job, or want to sell your house. Lean into the aspects of motherhood that you enjoy, Identify what they are so you can do your best to put them on repeat. Be honest and kind to yourself when you’re not enjoying motherhood. Those moments will pass.
If you need to write any of the above tips on a sticky note and post them to your fridge for a daily reminder, please do. Postpartum life is complicated and challenging. It’s easy to think you’re alone, and that you’re doing it wrong. This is so far from the truth. Normalizing all parts of motherhood, admitting when it’s hard, and reaching out to others for support or help will help you manage through one of your biggest challenges.