Updated: Mar 5, 2019
May is the month of mothers, and in light of that, I wanted to highlight a topic that has become quite close to my heart over the last two months: postpartum. My thoughts on the broad topic of postpartum have evolved over the last seven weeks as I have listened to many podcasts, done thorough research, and spoken to new moms, and the jury is in: the majority of women are not getting the proper care that they need after having a baby.
Upon becoming pregnant, I dove headfirst into researching everything from prenatal dietary recommendations, to the most current and trending baby products, to natural labor and delivery support ideas. Never once did I think to google “postpartum” or “baby blues” or “first weeks at home with baby…,” nor did anyone advise me about these emotionally fragile weeks I would soon walk through. At almost 2 months postpartum, I am most definitely not the most seasoned at this motherhood thing, but I definitely have learned a thing or two through my firsthand postpartum experiences.
Anthropologists refer to the process of becoming a mother as matrescence, and although some of the medical community has explored this identity shift, most efforts in research lie in the overall development of the newborn baby. In our culture, most women experience nine months of special treatment. Yet, their special glow tends to vanish the moment their baby makes their grand entrance into the world. The focus almost immediately shifts from the woman to the baby. Yet, understanding the woman’s psychology and the common challenges that matrescence can produce can help promote healthier parenting and baby.
Some of the common obstacles that new moms face include… changing family dynamics, feelings of being torn - of wanting the child close yet also craving space, fantasy expectations of motherhood versus the everyday realities of motherhood, and guilty feelings of not being a “good enough” mother. In a world run on endless filters, these day-to-day realities can be difficult to accept, and can even lead to more dramatic outcomes, such as prolonged baby-blues, postpartum anxiety, and postpartum depression.
The baby-blues affect from about 70-80% of new moms, with symptoms including uncontrolled weepiness, fatigue, mood changes, sadness, insomnia, and restlessness. These indicators can present themselves immediately following the birth, or days after, and can be attributed to the momentous hormonal and chemical changes happening in the woman’s body and brain. The blues can persist for up to two weeks, and tend to lessen as time progresses. If this is not the case, and symptoms continue or intensify longer than two weeks, then it could be a case of postpartum depression.
According to the Center for Disease Control, nearly 1 in 9 women experience postpartum depression, a serious mood disorder that can be categorized by the following prolonged symptoms: over or under eating, excessive anger, irritability, or sadness, sleep problems, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, concentration difficulties, thoughts of harming oneself or their baby, and fears of not being a good mother.
On a personal note, I just celebrated my first Mother’s Day, and it’s safe to say that this transition of becoming a mother has been a combination of almost every emotion possible - from the exhausting and overwhelming moments, to the blissfully joyous. During our first two weeks at home, I experienced a textbook case of the baby-blues. The major identity shift and life change I had just undertaken left me feeling moody, exhausted yet restless, and weepy for no apparent reason, despite the amount of support and love surrounding me. These feelings were surprisingly unexpected, as I had assumed I was supposed to feel overwhelmingly elated upon bringing our bundle of joy home. I am so grateful to have had the support of my husband, my mom, and my doula during this time, as my mind and body adjusted to all of the changes I was undergoing and as I navigated my new normal of constant feedings, diaper changes, laundry, and spit-ups.
In walking through my pregnancy and discovering the realities of postpartum, I became acutely aware of the importance of having a supportive tribe of women surrounding this delicate time of life. I have always viewed myself as an advocate of women, especially those who may lack access to essential resources, and it is this passion that is fueling me to begin the steps towards becoming a postpartum doula through DONA International in the coming weeks! In completing this training program, I look forward to gaining hands-on experience and knowledge that will enable me to be an asset to families entering into the incredibly life-altering season of postpartum!