I'm not depressed, why don't I enjoy motherhood?
Updated: Jun 17, 2020
As new mothers, we go through a lot of changes during postpartum, and some of these can have a major impact on our emotional state. Whenever I try to talk to someone about postpartum, they almost always assume that I mean postpartum depression.
While postpartum depression is a very real and serious condition that deserves to be discussed, the term "postpartum" merely refers to the mother's state of being after a baby is born. There's much more to this time than depression, and even mothers who don't have postpartum depression will sometimes find themselves feeling sad, anxious, and unmotivated.
If a mother is not suffering from clinically diagnosed postpartum depression, we often assume that she must be happy all the time, a bit tired perhaps, but thrilled to spend every possible second with her new baby, basking in the bliss of motherhood.
Motherhood is a massive period of adjustment however, and any life change this big is going to come with some ups and downs. Although many Instagram profiles might say otherwise, motherhood is hard and early postpartum is a time when a lot of women will feel down in the dumps, no matter how much they love their baby. These feelings can last for a while too.
The Push / Pull Duality of Motherhood
The shift from pregnancy to parenthood is a massive one and it puts the mother through an interesting mental and social transition. When a woman is pregnant, she is told to take good care of herself and that will be great for her and the baby. Self care is baby care at that stage! But once the child is out in the world, the focus shifts to them. This leaves the mother with the main responsibility of caring for the baby's needs, while leaving her own identity and health as an afterthought at most.
However, women don't stop being people just because they become mothers. We still want to eat, sleep, socialize, and enjoy the hobbies and jobs we had before we were mothers.
This conflict between the baby's needs and the mother's needs is frequently called the "push and pull" of parenthood. On an emotional and hormonal level, you love your baby and want to be with them all the time, giving them all the comfort and care you can. But on a physical and mental level, you're still a grown woman with needs and desires of your own.
This means that mothers want (and need) time and energy for themselves, but they often feel guilty about taking any time away from their child. As mothers, we all go through an adjustment that will force us to really examine how much time we need for our baby and how much time we need for ourselves. Taking time to care for our own needs will ultimately help us be better parents.
Also, it's frankly impossible to be happy every second of every day. There's a societal view of mothers that makes it seem like 24/7 bliss, even in the hardest times. But every mother is a person and people have a right to feel tired, bored, or generally unhappy from time to time!
We can’t beat ourselves up if we feel sad from time to time. We’re human beings and emotions (yes even negative ones) are a part of life.
Baby Blues Are More Common Than You Think
We often use "postpartum depression" as a wide blanket term to describe a whole spectrum of mood disorders in new mothers. The fact of the matter is that there is more to it than just depression.
Sometimes we think of the “baby blues” as a mild form of postpartum depression but that’s NOT TRUE.
The baby blues last for two weeks, and they are a result of hormonal shifts happening in your body. This is a common part of motherhood and it happens because our bodies have to get used to having a baby on the outside, not the inside.
The baby blues can manifest as tearfulness, exhaustion, or exaggerated mood changes. Most moms will be predominantly happy during this period, and their self esteem will remain unchanged. The baby blues are unrelated to stress or prior psychiatric history. 60-80% of mothers experience the baby blues.
If you still don’t feel like yourself after 2 weeks, then you’re experiencing some form of postpartum depression (or another mood or anxiety disorder), and not the baby blues. Please check in with your doctor if this is the case so you can start feeling better.
The Pressure of the Perfect Mom
Another phenomenon that puts a lot of stress and pressure on new mothers is the eternal pursuit of "perfect motherhood". We all know this too well as mothers.
We open up Instagram and scroll through endless galleries of radiant women, glowing with maternal light, snuggling with their angelic baby. These women have somehow miraculously lost all their pregnancy weight, have flawless makeup, and are back at their exercise routines and jobs within weeks (if not days). The mother and baby alike are constantly happy and at the peak of health.
What we’re seeing there is a highly idealized and frankly impossible standard of motherhood. Even the most healthy and well adjusted women are going to hit bumps in the road of their postpartum journey, and nobody is a perfect parent.
Even if we stay away from social media, us mothers are flooded with advice on how to wrap the baby, how to feed the baby, how to sleep with the baby, how to hold the baby, etc. There are as many different opinions as there are people, and all of them seem to be telling us that if we’re not doing it their way, we’re doing it wrong.
This flood of seemingly perfect parents creates an impossible standard for every new mother. Deep down we might know that it's not realistic, or even possible to be like these Instagram mommies and baby gurus, but we still feel pressured to live up to everything we see and hear about parenthood. And when reality inevitably falls short of these perfectly choreographed profiles, we can feel guilty and ashamed.
The pressure of the ideal parent is something that every mother faces at some point. It might come in the form of social media, a neighbor, or even our own families! You're doing the absolute best that you can with the energy, time, and money that you have, so just remember that eternally chasing the rainbow of ideal motherhood will only exhaust you in the end.
You're the one that knows what your baby likes and dislikes, and you're the authority on how to raise them. It may take time to figure all that out about your baby, and that’s okay too.
A Lack of Sleep and Shifting Hormones Are Powerful Forces
Sometimes we don't have the baby blues, we’re not worried about self care, and we’re not comparing ourselves to the impossibly good parents in the world. And yet, despite all of that, we’re still not constantly thrilled to be a mom.
Once again, you're not alone in this! Ever since the first days of pregnancy our hormones have been changing and fluctuating. After giving birth, another massive shift began and our emotions began to scatter before they could settle. One minute we’re riding a high of oxytocin, and the next we're feeling an anxious rush of adrenaline. These changes are exhausting, and when paired with the patchwork sleep schedule of a new baby, they can create a fatigued mother.
Sleep is a necessity for humans and nobody realizes this more than new parents. When you're exhausted, it can be hard to love spending sleepless nights with your baby, even when you love them with all your heart.
Our bodies are healing from birth, our hormones are balancing out, and we're trying to get sleep wherever possible. Babies complicate that process, so it's okay to want a break from your child once in awhile. Listening to the natural responses of our bodies and finding the balance between motherly love and motherly needs does NOT make you a bad parent.
Babies Are Designed To Be Cared For By More Than One Mother
Being independent and taking care of our own problems are some of the qualities that are valued most highly in America. This means that a lot of people feel they can’t or shouldn’t need help. But as socially strange as it might feel, humans are not designed to parent alone.
In many cultures, a woman becoming a mother is a communal event. The mother and child are cared for by members of the community. Their food, healthcare, and pampering are provided for free! This culture of nurturing is how humans lived for so long and babies were cared for. But in modern society, privacy and the quest for self-reliance have created some barriers between new parents and their community.
Birth and child rearing was never something that humans were meant to do alone. A network of friends, family, and neighbors can help ease our transition into motherhood. Loneliness and isolation are two feelings that many mothers report experiencing after giving birth. Humans need interaction with other humans, so isolating ourselves can have major impacts on our mental and physical wellbeing.
Try to establish a supportive network before you give birth and keep in contact with people afterwards. You don't have to host them if you don't have energy or time, but keep yourself open to help and support from your community. Deep down, most people still want to care for mothers and children.
If you're feeling frustrated, lonely, or just sad during your postpartum period, spending a little time with someone who cares about you can mean so much. Feeling the love and care of another human will do wonders for your emotional state and overall recovery.
If you feel like you don’t have a tribe to rely on, that’s why Here and Now Motherhood exists - to create this community of mothers for you. Join us at the Mommy Lounge to connect with other mothers who are craving the same community you desire.
And if you think to yourself “How do I find someone who cares about me?” That’s the whole point of Here and Now Motherhood - our yoga teachers are there to support you, and they’re so passionate about it that they volunteer their time. Our childcare workers are also volunteers that choose to play with your kids on their days of work because they love it - and you.
You’re not alone, you are loved and connected. We can’t wait for you to join us.