Congratulations! You’ve made it through 9-ish long months of planning and decorating, crazy cravings and frequent doctors visits, baby showers and unpredictable mood swings. You survived the journey through labor and delivery. Now, your perfect new arrival fills your heart with love and your life with meaning. Whether it’s your first or your fifteenth child, you can’t help but marvel at your baby’s every movement, coo and milestone.
For the lucky among us, the picture I paint may be pretty spot on. For the rest of us, there may have been a few unexpected feelings and experiences mixed in there as well. As many as 30% of new mothers deal with some degree of post-partum depression or post-partum anxiety. Though we all do our best to prepare for the major transition to parenthood, many among us may not plan for four major losses that are likely come along with the joy of gaining a new family member.
Losses of Autonomy and Time – Sure, your newborn may be able to sleep through anything. You can take her to the grocery store or the mechanic with little fear that she’ll wake up or need entertaining. Still, even if you are the lucky mother of a serious snoozer, you’ve still got to pack up all of the baby gear, find a place to stow it and probably make several trips as you carry everything from the house to the car and back again. What was once a 20 minute jaunt to buy forgotten milk is now a 60 minute excursion with 30 pounds of extra cargo strapped to your shoulders. Furthermore, you may not have realized that new mommy status also means you’re not likely to be going anywhere alone any time soon – and that includes the restroom. Unless another responsible adult can supervise your little bundle, she’ll probably be bound to your hip (or your back or your ankle or your hand) for the next couple of years. Though you surely love your baby, you may not be so crazy about your lost independence and personal freedom.
Losses of Appearance – Most new mommies expect to lose sleep and to sport an easy-to-manage ponytail during the first few months with a new baby. However, some mommies may not make the less obvious connection that less sleep may also mean less energy to put into little luxuries like showering. Before long, you may find yourself living in your pajamas or displacing your mascara to make room for lanolin cream. On top of all that, some women may actually weigh more post-partum than they did in the last few days of the pregnancy. It’s a horrible trick of nature, I know. Suffice it to say, pregnancy can certainly take its toll on a new mommy’s body and hygiene. It happens. You probably planned for some of that. Still, though you may be glad to compromise your needs to attend to your new baby at first, that set up is likely to become increasingly difficult to maintain over time.
Losses of Femininity and Sexuality – It’s no surprise that stretch marks and leaky breasts may take a toll on a new mommy’s confidence in the bedroom. C-section stitches and other delivery injuries could also cause an otherwise interested lady to put on the sexual brakes. Still other mothers have a difficult time reconciling a new “mommy” role with the “lover” role they knew before. Pre-baby, a woman’s body is basically a tool for her own survival and pleasure. Post-baby, a woman’s body image and self-perspective can sometimes shift as she starts to experience her body as a tool to sustain a life other than her own. Such a profound addition to purpose can take some getting used to. Baby’s unpredictable schedule can also interfere with his parent’s plans for romance. Especially if parents choose to co-sleep with baby, sexual intimacy can easily be pushed down the priority list.
Losses of Occupational Identity – Many societies believe that the ideal situation is a mother in the home to nurture and care for her children. If the new mother also subscribes to that philosophy, this last “loss” may not carry much consequence for her. However, if a mother prefers to work, the expectation that she stay at home may come as a serious blow. When a partner’s income allows a woman to stay at home with her children, that new mommy may be ashamed of any longings she has to work outside the home. She may convince herself that she should find ways to appreciate her “good fortune”. She may also question whether or not she should gain more satisfaction in fulfilling her role as mother. On the flip side, if a mother prefers not to work but needs to in order to keep the family afloat – she may feel guilt over not being able to stay home with her children. Often, some of that guilt is offset by her pride in helping provide for her family. Even so, it can be very disheartening for a mother when the reality of her work and home lives don’t match up with her expectations.
The TLC network and Babies R Us would have us all believe in a blissful, seamless transition to parenthood. Similarly, many well-meaningful family members, friends and neighbors leave little for new mothers to explore the very real challenges that can accompany life’s most joyous milestone. While babies are certainly a blessing to be celebrated, I know that I would not have survived my son’s first few months without my closest girlfriends who were willing to tell it like it is. Be it a mommy group, a therapist’s office or a partner’s shoulder, every woman deserves a safe place to genuinely express all that comes with mommy hood. The difficulties will probably pass, but the journey will be more manageable if a mommy can be true to all of her feelings along the way.
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