At the first new moms support group I attended, as other moms began to discuss the baby trifecta (eating, sleeping, pooping), I began to have that creeping hot, embarrassed, and out of place feeling. I thought, We can talk to any woman on the street about all that. Didn’t anyone want to talk about what we moms were going through? Was I the only one who felt sad, lonely, and used up as often as I felt head-over-heels in love with my baby??
I did voice my feelings that day, and a few other moms chimed in that they, too, felt the darker emotions of the postpartum experience. It wasn’t until I joined Yeshi’s Moms Circle that I experienced real affirmation and peer support.
In our first session with Yeshi, as moms of mostly 5 to 8 week old babies, we sat in groups of three. We each had two minutes to share something wonderful and something challenging we had experienced so far. In my group we glossed over the happy part, blah blah blah, and each dived in, desperate to say out loud those challenges and more negative feelings. It seemed like not one person—care provider, loved one, family member—had acknowledged this side of postpartum or motherhood to us. We were all keeping silent, hiding this deep well of emotion, that spilled out so easily when we were finally asked about it. The power of this sisterhood, of validating each other’s feelings, brought tears then and created a strong bond that lasts to this day.
What are these more negative postpartum feelings? (As a doula I’m not a medical professional. I simply want to share women’s voices that I have heard. I won’t discuss the differences that range from maternity blues to major postpartum depression. Here is a good resource on postpartum depression.)
So many, many new moms have told me that they feel:
So tired that I snap at my husband sometimes.
So vulnerable that the tiniest criticism hurts me so much.
Sadness. Sometimes I feel like crying for no reason.
Confused. How can I be the same person I was before the birth . . . and when I was pregnant? and when I was in labor? Who am I now?
I feel now all the fear and loneliness that I couldn’t let myself experience during my labor. Then I just had to keep focused and moving ahead toward the birth.
I feel like I’m in a fog. I just can’t talk to regular people.
I’m so exhausted all the time. Caring for my baby is so physical, intense, and so constant. I feel used up emotionally and physically.
People say, “Oh you must be so happy, it’s so wonderful!” And it’s so exhausting to smile and say yes, everything’s just great.
I don’t feel good about the way I look. My new body feels different. I feel awkward and unsexy. My clothes don’t fit right.
My negative feelings seem so self-indulgent and weak, like I should just be happy.
While different women feel different things, the fact of postpartum adjustment is universal. We are all experiencing gigantic upheaval and transition no matter what! But, the culture around us constantly spews at us the myth that the postpartum time is all bliss and beauty. Plus, we are stressed out from the lack of support, help, and appreciation for new moms. At a time when everyone else is cooing over the beautiful new baby, our negative feelings are taboo. It’s hard to talk about these feelings, and often times to even admit that they exist. Holding them in hurts, too.
A postpartum doula can help! First of all, she can refer you to care providers and support groups if you may be experiencing depression or other postpartum mood or anxiety issues. It can be so hard to seek out this crucial help.
Second, every mom can benefit from the mothering, support, and listening that a doula provides. A postpartum doulas is skilled at listening without judgement or criticism. She will affirm that your feelings are real, are meaningful, and that you are not alone in feeling this way. She will give you the space to express them and to have a good cry.
She will remind you that this will get better, it will change, and it will end. She’ll encourage you, because you have just created an amazing new baby; your body continues to give life to this baby; and you have every right to feel joyful, exhausted, sad, overwhelmed, in love, and lonely all in the same day. She’ll tell you that you are doing an amazing thing through your mothering, because truly you are!