Becoming a mom can make you feel vulnerable and isolated. This is compounded when you find yourself in a new community without a support system. You eagerly open yourself up to other moms expecting to find people who share and understand your need for camaraderie. When instead you find the kind of judgment, cattiness and cruelty usually relegated to high school cliques the results can be devastating.
Being a mother is something you’ve always known you wanted. As you counted down the days until the baby came you fantasized about how wonderful it would be to care for your beautiful baby. You imagined holding your baby in your arms, pushing your baby through the park, kissing the tiny toes as your baby cooed. Now all your dreams have come true. You have a loving husband, a beautiful house and the much longed for children. You also have a secret: you don’t like motherhood.
Of course, you love your kids, but for you, life as a mother is far from enjoyable.
In your mind, motherhood was supposed to be a deeply fulfilling…even magical experience. Instead you’re deeply exhausted. You are never alone, not even in the bathroom. It seems someone is always touching you, sitting on you, grabbing at you, needing you. You are constantly hearing screaming and crying dealing with mess after mess and it never ends. Even when you go to bed you can’t completely relax. You are always on alert for a child to cry out in the middle of the night. You’re worn-out.
When you were in the hospital having your baby they made you watch a video about the dangers of shaken baby syndrome. You just couldn’t imagine how someone could do such a thing to a defenseless baby. Now it's not such a mystery.
When the toddler is throwing her breakfast on the floor and the baby is screaming and your husband is away and you have barely eaten or slept let alone showered in days, and the house is a mess and this is not what you thought being a mother would be and you just want the crying to stop…you suddenly understand the importance of watching the shaken baby video, and you hate yourself for it.
A good mother, a loving mother shouldn’t be able imagine such a thing. And with every dark thought you also feel incredibly guilty. You LOVE your children. You really do, and you would never hurt them.
It’s no wonder you’re at the end of your rope. You’re completely drained physically and emotionally. It is incredibly difficult to offer kindness and empathy when you are empty. In addition, you’re disappointed. Your expectations of motherhood did not match up with the day-to-day reality of caring for small children.
Our society romanticizes motherhood. Mothers are revered, but not supported. Mothers are expected to dive into this new role with little training, little to no experience and often alone. They are doing all of this while recovering from the physical trauma of childbirth and the hormonal shifts that come after. Many moms rarely get breaks let alone days off. It’s no wonder so many moms feel at once at their wits end and incredibly guilty for feeling that way.
Give yourself a break. You are not a bad mom. You are doing an unbelievably hard job, and you’re doing a lot better then you think. It is not unusual to feel this sense of maternal discontent, or even to have dark thoughts. Being able to understand the impulse to lose control when you are at your wits end is far from acting on it. Many people have dark thoughts when they are overtired and stressed, but few people act on them.
What you need is support. Every mother needs support.
Here are suggestions for easing the stress of motherhood and getting the support you need:
- Take a break: No one can continue to work effectively without ever getting a break. It’s important to have regularly scheduled time off. Whether it’s an afternoon to yourself or a weekend away. Take some time off.
- Connect with other supportive moms: Join a mom’s group, take a mommy and me class, go to the park or story time at the library, go to a mom’s night out. Talk to other parents who have been there and have gotten through it.
- Take care of yourself: Exercise (join a gym with childcare), eat right, meditate, leave the dishes and nap when your kids nap…do something for yourself.
- Acknowledge your feelings: There are parts of motherhood that suck…and it’s okay to admit it. Recognizing the unpleasant parts, allows to you to see that it’s not all bad.
- Be mindful of what you love about motherhood: Close your eyes and focus on your happiest parenting moment. See it in your mind’s eye, feel the joy it evokes, allow that joy to envelop your body. Sit with it for a few minutes. Now open your eyes and notice how you feel. Doing this exercise on a regular basis can begin to offset the negative thoughts that you’ve been having.
- Find help: Call your friends, call your family, call your neighbor. Find support wherever you can get it. Parenting is much easier when you don’t have to do it alone.
- Focus on the relationship: Shift from seeing motherhood as a burden to seeing it a opportunity to cultivate a relationship with your children. Take a step back and look at them as interesting individuals rather than the source of more work. Be mindful of what makes them special and what you love about them. Notice their smell, the sound of their voice, the feel of their skin, the way their eyes light up when they see you. Engage with them in something they enjoy, and introduce them to something you loved at their age.
- Call a therapist: Life doesn’t have to be so hard. If you find you are excessively unhappy or anxious or if the suggestions above feel overwhelming or impossible to do don’t suffer in silence. This week new recommendations came out encouraging healthcare providers to screen all pre-partum and postpartum women for depression. An experienced therapist can help ease your pain. If you need a referral call your doctor or your insurance company.
I just lost it on my sweet little 4-year-old boy, Harry. He was eating his breakfast very slowly. I had reminded him several times that it was almost time to get dressed to which he responded several times “I’M STILL EATING MY BREAKFAST!” After the 3rd or 4th time, I lost it. I yelled. He cried then I cried.
As I got him dressed and hustled him out the door I told him I was sorry for yelling. We got down the hill to the bus stop just as the bus was pulling up. I hugged him. He got on and looked back at me with a very sad face. I waved and blew kissed to him as the bus drove away, but he still looked sad and a little confused. I’m heartbroken and so ashamed of my behavior.
I’m the grown-up, the protector, the helper...but I’m also human.
I’m not excusing my behavior. I wish this morning had gone much differently, but it doesn’t help to revel in guilt. Doing so would just perpetuate the shame, increase the stress and make it more likely that I’ll lose it again. Instead, I want to investigate how my behavior happened.
I was awakened at 5:30am by a toddler in a cranky mood. He spent the morning “airing his grievances.” He didn't want to be put down, but he didn’t want to sit on my lap. He wanted to eat, but he didn’t want to be in the highchair or eat anything I gave him. Needless to say, I was already on edge. So it’s no wonder I got so upset when big brother wouldn’t get dressed.
I don’t think my children are unusually defiant and I don’t think I’m unusually sensitive. I think it’s the situation that’s flawed.
Parenting happens in pairs or alone when what we really need is a community. Not just a community of people who live near us, but a community of people working together to help each other. Sounds like an impossible utopia, doesn’t it?
Humans are communal beings. We are hard wired to live and thrive together and yet so many parents are thrown to the wolves. We do it all, or most of it, on our own.
No wonder so many of us feel so often at our wits end and then so ashamed for not being better.
We need real support, real respect, real camaraderie...not judgment and competition or worse isolation.
Years ago, I worked on an inpatient psychiatric unit. It was a hard job. The only way I was able to do my job effectively was because I had a team to support me. If I was having a hard day I knew there was always someone there for me. How many parents can say the same thing?
It’s not surprising so many of us end up yelling at our kids at times. I don’t pretend to have the all the answers to this problem, but what I do know is that all parents could use more support. All of us need safe place to talk about our parenting mishaps without judgment. All parents need someone to vent to, someone who can remind them that parenting is a hard job. All parents need support.
When young Harry got off the bus at the end of the day, I hugged him tight and apologized again for yelling this morning. He said “That’s okay, mommy. I just thought you lost your mind.” From the mouths of babes...
Three months ago I was nine months pregnant and worried because I needed a c-section as the baby was breech. I had the c-section. It wasn’t all that bad. In fact, it was nice to know exactly when the baby was coming. We were able to plan rather than making frantic 3am calls to friends who agreed to help with our older sons. There is a scar, but its in a place that won’t show even in a bikini…not that I plan on wearing one any time soon. The real difficulty for me is juggling the baby with the other two boys.
The baby is at an age where he wants to be held all the time, and he usually wants to eat while he’s being held. My 3 year old wants the same amount of attention he’s always had. He’s understandably frustrated that his baby brother gets so much of mommy’s time. He’s become defiant…his favorite word is no, he flies off the handle at the slightest provocation. In my sleep deprived emotionally overwhelmed state, I find myself losing patience with him regularly.
My 9 year old has said he wishes he could have me all to himself. He’s also heartbroken that we are moving this summer. He will leave the school and friends he’s known all his life. He’s able to verbalize the frustration that his 3-year-old brother is acting out.
I really try to make time everyday for each of them individually, but it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, when I have a minute, my older one can’t be interrupted as he’s in the middle of building a world in Minecraft. Then at bedtime he wants to snuggle, but the baby is screaming to be fed.
It’s maddening because I simply cannot meet all their needs. I’m leaving them feeling shortchanged, and I’m feeling like a lousy mother. This is not the parent I want to be.
Fast forward 17 months:
It is amazing to see how life has changed since June 2014. At the time, I was nursing a 3 month old, potty training a 3 year old, selling a house and soothing a 9 year old who didn’t want to move so I forgot to post it. It’s pretty interesting to look back on a struggle that felt so overwhelming at the time, but is only memory now.
My tiny infant is now a walking talking toddler, my middle son is a confident pre-k student taking the bus to school and my grieving nine year old is now a thriving 5th grader who loves his new house, new school and new friends. The kid has a much more active social life than I do.
This flashback serves as a reminder that for better or worse nothing is permanent. There were many changes going on in our lives back in the summer of 2014. Not to mention the big unknown of where we were going to live in a few short months. It’s no wonder we were all so overwhelmed and afraid. But, life moves forward and we humans, it turns out, have an uncanny ability to adapt.
New motherhood is not for the faint of heart. From the overwhelming exhaustion to the unexpected mood swings to endless diaper changes, it takes a lot to be a mom. Here are a few tips to help you survive new motherhood.
- Make sleep a priority. I know it seems like an impossible dream, but it’s so important to try to get your 8 hours. Leave the laundry. Leave the dishes. Enlist the help of family and friends. Let baby sleep on your chest if necessary (I did). Do whatever it takes to get as much sleep as you can! If you’re having a difficult time getting baby to sleep take a look at Dr. Harvey Karp's book, Happiest Baby on the Block. It’s a lifesaver!
- Eat well. Don’t let good nutrition go by the way side. You need to keep up your strength to care for yourself and your baby. When people ask how they can help let them shop and cook for you. If that’s not possible use Fresh Direct or another delivery service, but make sure you keep plenty of nutritious food at the ready.
- Get outside. Sunlight is a great mood lifter. Go for a walk. Go to park (a great way to meet other moms). Just get out in the sun!
- Do some social networking. Going online to connect is a great option for new moms with very limited and irregular downtime. With everything from mommy blogs to support groups, there are so many sources of support and information for moms online. Take a look at cafemom.com, postpartumprogress.com or blogher.com. I also highly recommend the podcast, longestshortesttime.com.
- Get exercise. It’s been said again and again, exercise is so important to maintain good health. Exercise for a new mom is particularly helpful. It improves your mood, allows you to do something for yourself and helps reacquaint you with your body. There are many stroller walking/jogging mom groups to join. Check out The Ultimate Fitness Routine for Moms. In addition, many gyms offer childcare services starting as early as 3 months. Check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.
- Get support. Whether it’s family, friends, a mom’s group or a counselor every mom needs support. Ask your pediatrician or OB for local resources.
If the suggestions above feel impossible or too overwhelming contact me for an individual support session. You don't have to suffer alone.
My baby is now 17.5 months old and for the majority of that time, I have been his primary source of sustenance and soothing. He never took a bottle. I tried different formulas and I pumped, but he just couldn’t get used to drinking from an artificial nipple. He screamed bloody murder when anyone tried to foist a bottle on him. (By the way, I have a very gently used top of the line breast pump if anyone wants it.) Forget the rubbery sippy cups, he just chewed on those. If any liquid accidentally got into his mouth he would just let it spill out onto the floor, the same goes for a regular cup and a straw…until recently.
I’m happy announce that my baby can drink from a cup and sip through a straw! But lets back up to the weaning part.
I was very conflicted about the prospect of weaning. I love the closeness and the ability to comfort him. Still, it was really getting to be difficult for a variety of reasons.
The little guy does not like having anything covering his head so I often ended up flashing people when I nursed him. Plus, he recently began massaging the breast he wasn’t drinking from. Not just a little nuzzle, but full on up the shirt under the bra nipple massage action. This is actually very normal behavior, but it made me very uncomfortable. So I would take his hand out of my shirt, he would sneak it back. It felt like I was at once nursing and trying to keep him from going to second base. This was particularly fun while nursing in public.
I tried to cut back little by little, but I’ve always nursed on-demand. When I started to deny him, he would scream…for hours or as long as I was in his vicinity. When I left the room he was fine…little stinker.
Eventually we decided the best bet was to send him to grandma’s house for a few days, and that did the trick. A hop, skip and a weekend later, he was weaned, and I was on the couch using a bag of frozen tortellini to sooth my engorged breasts. Did I mention it's really not a good idea to stop breastfeeding cold turkey? Thankfully, a little Sudafed and some cabbage leaves (seriously) dried up my milk supply.
This is an important step, but I must admit it’s bitter sweet for me. On the one hand, I have my body back, and my toddler has become more affectionate. He offers more hugs and kisses, and he will now snuggle with me without trying to nurse (which he never did before). On the other hand, I miss the profound connection, and comfort we both got during the nursing process. He is my 3rd and final baby. I will never again give birth or nurse another child. I’m mourning the passing of this stage of life.
That said, it’s exciting to see how he’s growing and changing, and I look forward to watching his on-going progress.
On a side note, other day I got on the scale and saw that I was up 5 pounds. I hadn’t changed my eating or exercise habits. How did this happen? Oh, wait. I’m not burning calories by breastfeeding.
The baby you have anxiously awaited has just arrived. You should be on top of the world. So why are you so sad? It’s not clear, but you are not alone. As many as 80% of women have some mood difficulties after giving birth. They feel alone, disconnected, upset, scared or unloving toward their baby…and, of course, guilty for having these feelings.For the majority of women, the symptoms are mild to moderate and go away on their own. However, about 10-20% of new mothers experience a more debilitating mood disorder called postpartum depression. So how do you know if its just common baby blues or something more serious?
The “baby blues” are a temporary state of heightened emotions that effect about half of mew mothers. This usually peaks 3-5 days after giving birth and can last for about 2 weeks. Indications of baby blues include, crying easily, difficulty sleeping, irritability, sadness and edginess. Baby blues are not considered an illness, and do not get in the way of a woman’s ability to care for her baby. The tendency to develop postpartum blues is not connected to a previous mental illness and is not brought on by stress.
On the other hand, postpartum depression is a serious illness, and it requires the mother to get help. Postpartum depression occurs in about 10-20% of women who have recently given birth. It usually happens within a few months of delivery, but it can develop anytime in the first year. Risk factors include previous episodes of depression, severe stress, inadequate social support and previous premenstrual dysphoric disorder (a severe form of PMS).
Symptoms can include depressed mood, tearfulness, inability to enjoy pleasurable activities, difficulty sleeping, low energy, change in appetite, suicidal thoughts, feelings of inadequacy as a parent, and impaired concentration. A diagnosis is made when these symptoms are present for a least a week. Unlike baby blues these symptoms do not resolve on their own, and they do interfere with the woman's ability to function.
If you experience postpartum depression, you may worry about the baby’s health and well-being. You may have negative thoughts about the baby and fears about harming the child (although women who have these thoughts rarely act on them). Postpartum depression impedes a woman’s ability to care for herself and her baby, and if left untreated can create a very dangerous situation for both mother and child.
If you suspect that you or a loved one has postpartum depression call do not wait until the situation gets worse. Call your obstetrician or contact Rebekah Shackney, LCSW at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions or concerns regarding postpartum depression.
So I’m 38 weeks pregnant today. I just come from the doctor who told me the baby is not only around 8 lbs, 15oz, but he is also breech. The first part is not surprising as his brothers were both big boys as well, but breech…yikes.
If this guy doesn’t get into position, I’ll have to have a c-section. This was not in my plan. I wanted to go into labor naturally, and have a regular delivery.
This is really disappointing, but I suppose I have to practice what I preach. I often tell clients who are expecting to make a birth plan, but be ready to throw the whole thing out the window if something changes. Having a safe birth is far more important than following a birth plan.
Still, it’s going to be so hard to start life as the mother of 3 after having surgery. Already, I feel guilty about the sacrifices my other two will have to make. My 8 year old is being forced to share his room with his 3 year old brother until we get a bigger house. This is not a tragedy, but it’s really annoying for a guy who is used to having his own space.
My 3 year old is not going to know what hit him when the baby comes. He’s not going to like sharing his mommy with his baby brother. He’s not going to like that his brother gets to breastfeed and he doesn’t. He’s not going to like that his brother gets to sleep with mommy and he doesn’t. He’s not going to like that his brother gets to use a Binky and he doesn’t…the list goes on and on.
If I focused on all that could go wrong, I might lose my mind. For now, I’ll focus on what I can do. I’ll talk to the boys about what to expect, and reassure them that they are and always will be loved.
By the way, I haven’t given up on getting the baby to move into a head down position. I’ll try anything…acupuncture, visualization, headstands, etc. If you have any suggestions please send them my way.
And at the end of the day, if he’s still breech, I’ll work on acceptance.
Like so many new moms, my friend Sarah struggled with breast feeding. She felt tremendous pressure to be the sole provider of nourishment for her firstborn child, and she always worried about her daughter getting enough. And, if she broke down and gave her a bottle, she felt like a failure. Sarah is not alone.
Breastfeeding can be a very emotional issue for new mothers. It can be immensely pleasurable, excruciatingly painful, extraordinarily frustrating, fulfilling, exhausting, joyful, etc. When a new mom successfully feeds her baby with her own body there is a sense of mastery that is created at a time when everything else in the mother’s life is trial and error. On the other hand, when breastfeeding does not go well the mother can be left feeling like a failure.
From the beginning, many new moms are flooded with information about the benefits of breastfeeding. There is tons of research showing that breastfeeding is very beneficial for the child. But here’s what I know, my grandmother and many of yours did not breastfeed. In the 1950s, formula was the state-of-the-art so doctors recommended it. My father, aunts and uncle never had a drop of breast-milk, and they became healthy, successful adults. In the 1970s my mother-in-law shocked her family when she decided to breastfeed her children. Both women made a choice that was right for her at the time, and their babies were non the worse for those decisions.
New moms encounter so many opinions from friends, family, books, doctors and society. The bottom line is that there is no right or wrong answer. Breast feeding is fabulous, but it is not essential. Every woman must weigh the pros and cons and come up with a decision that makes sense for her life.
As for Sarah, by the time her second baby came along she had learned to be much more forgiving herself.
I am Rebekah Shackney. I’m a wife, a psychotherapist and the mother of two. Seven years ago, as I waited for my son’s birth, visions of rocking my baby in the nursery wearing a beautiful nightgown with bluebirds singing at the window danced in my head. I heard from friends that new motherhood was difficult, but like many women before me I didn’t take the warnings seriously. How hard could it be to care for my beautiful baby boy?
Well, let me tell you it was harder than I ever could have imagined.
It was not just the sleep deprivation, the pain, the crying, the lack of free-time, etc. I felt completely alone even though my husband worked from home, and my next-door neighbor also had a newborn. I felt desperately insecure about my abilities as a mother. I worried constantly that every wrong decision I made would ruin him for life. I was miserable.
New motherhood was not the fairytale fantasy I had imagined. Instead of a beautiful nightgown I wore milk-stained t-shirts as I sat on the couch with my son on my lap, unable to move. I was paralyzed with sadness, resentment and guilt. I was suffering with post partum depression, and I did not realize it.
How does such a thing happen to a person who spends her professional life educating people about their mental illnesses? Depression is a covert illness that infiltrates the mind and body so gradually that the pain it causes feels normal. I thought it was normal for a new mother feel as bad as I did.
Thankfully, I was wrong. I got help and so can you. It wasn’t an instant cure. It was a long process that took time and effort, but I can still remember the enormous relief I felt the day I made the call. It was then that I realized I was not alone, and neither are you.
If you are struggling with postpartum depression, don’t wait for it to get better on its own…it won’t. Get help right away. You owe it to yourself and your family.