I remember being asked how I was doing when my son was a couple months old. I often gave honest answers: “It’s hard and it’s getting easier” or “it’s so much better now that he’s a little bigger, smiling, and on a routine.” And when I shared my birth story, I continued with honesty: “I didn’t feel complete the minute he was born” or “I was in love, but not in a forget how much pain I was in kind of way.” I think my honesty scared people. I felt judged. This may or may not be true, but it was my truth.
I love my son, but in the weeks after he was born, I felt so many emotions and was overwhelmed by the transition. I felt like a failure for giving up on breastfeeding. I felt angry about things happening with my body (why is everything leaking?!) and I missed the days of showering whenever I wanted. I was also really sad about no longer feeling connected to friends. It suddenly seemed that I didn’t fit in with my girlfriends, but I also didn’t feel that I fit in with other moms because I had no clue what I was doing.
I was certainly not prepared to feel all of these things and I remember thinking it was funny that more people don’t talk about how hard it is in the beginning. I think the new mama ought to know that it’s normal to feel overwhelmed, sad, and even have moments where she misses life ‘before baby.’
I believe it’s important for new moms to acknowledge that they can love their babies so much and also be having a really hard time, all at once.
As a therapist, I often teach my patients about Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). Within this method of treatment, dialectics teach us that two opposing things can be true at once. In other words, you don’t have to decide that you must be a bad mom because you don’t love every second of motherhood. I remember thinking, ‘the fact that I miss my old life must mean I am a terrible mom.’ In reality, we can experience opposing emotions simultaneously.
As new mothers, we must quickly learn how to take care of another human being, all while enduring physical pain as we recover from childbirth and experiencing significant hormonal changes. While getting to know our babies and learning our new role as mom, I believe that it is really important that we remember to be easy with ourselves, to practice patience, and to remember mindfulness. Noticing the dialectics in my experience allowed me to love myself through this transition, even on the bad days.
If you’re having a hard time, tell someone. If you feel isolated, find groups or places you can go with other new moms. I was surprised by how much was available around me once I started looking.
If you need help, allow space for vulnerability and ask for what you need. When I began talking about my challenges, I suddenly felt more at ease. And if you’re having an internal dialogue where you are judging yourself, remember dialectics and take a deep breath.
Nicole is a new mama and Licensed Clinical Social Worker in New Jersey. Nicole has experience working in an outpatient women’s trauma program, as well as with clients with substance use disorders in various levels of care. After having her first child last year, Nicole began increasing her education and awareness of perinatal mood disorders. Nicole currently works in private practice.