Motherhood. Goodness, there’s a lot wrapped up in that! It can be excitingly anticipated as well as fearfully resisted, both during pregnancy and at any point along the road of building a family, regardless of the number of children already in the family. Parenting young children might best be described as wondrous chaos. We often feel an overwhelming amount of emotions and begin to ask questions like – Who am I? What is happening here? I love this, I hate this! I feel lost, alone, confused…(fill in the blank).
Recognizing the Loss
As we welcome motherhood and the additions that come with it, it is essential to allow us the opportunity to grieve the losses that consequently arise as well. Primarily, we may often be confronted with the sense of loss of self, to some degree, whether in mind, or body, or both.
We all know that our bodies change as we carry and grow our baby. Our growing belly is a daily visual reminder of the miracle of the human body to literally create life. But, it also can make us feel like we have lost the control over our own body, knowing that our body will not be the same after carrying our precious babe. Not only is there loss associated with changes in our bodies, but also changes that occur emotionally, whether from hormonal shifts, the onset of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, or general shifting of focus, awareness or identity.
As we move forward, perhaps feeling thrust into motherhood, we feel this loss of self. Sometimes we are able to navigate this grieving process without too many bumps in the road, but other times we encounter roadblocks that cause us to feel as though we have lost ourselves; who we are, how we connect to our loved ones, our vision of where we are headed in life, and what’s important to us. Suddenly, we are being asked to keep this other human alive, a top priority that was not on our to-do list prior to motherhood.
While becoming a new mother can be filled with joy and love, it is also important to make space for the loss we may feel for the life before baby.
Mothering the Mother
Almost immediately upon sharing the news of pregnancy, the mother often begins to get lost in the shuffle. People seldom inquire about the state of mama and instead attention revolves around baby. If mom is included in the inquiry it most definitely focuses on her physical state as a carrier for baby, feeder of baby, or how she is meeting the demands of baby. What about mama as a person? This can be the start of those feelings of loss.
Historically, there was space and time created for a mama in the days after birth when her community surrounded her, essentially mothering her, as she settled into being a mother herself. While the Twin Cities has a great birth community comprised of many people who carry on with this tradition and who recognize the importance of this time of transition for mamas, that experience of mothering care is not shared by all who enter motherhood.
It is common to hear a new parent mention the experience of a flurry of support and engagement in the first days or weeks after a baby is born, and then the newness seems to wear off for those who were initially around. What’s left may be a mama feeling isolated, scared, lonely, lost, and forgotten. I most commonly see mamas begin to notice the struggle of increased anxiety and/or depression around 12-16 weeks when people around them expect that they jump back into working, getting out and about, and generally returning to pre-baby activity. What’s forgotten is that things don’t go back to the way they were, there is a new life that has become a part of you. We need to be sure to remind new moms that this is okay. It is okay to not return to your past life, and that there will be an adjustment to the new normal.
All mamas need some mothering, whether it be from our own mothers, our peers, or our caregivers – therapists, doulas, midwives, yoga teachers, etc. Reaching out, and more importantly, being reached out to, is essential to the wellness of the system within us as individuals, within our families, and within our communities. At Wild Tree Psychotherapy we offer holistic mental health counseling designed to promote wellness for the whole system; mind, body, and family. Our specialized and passionate providers understand perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, transition into and challenges related to parenting, birth trauma, pregnancy loss, fertility challenges, parent-baby attachment, and the impact of family of origin on our present day experience of motherhood. We work with individuals and couples; mothers and fathers, both during pregnancy and in the postpartum season.
At Wild Tree Psychotherapy, we care for mothers as they care for others. After all, motherhood is damn hard.
Written by Lauren Robbins, MS, LPCC, LADC Clinical Director
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