When you have a child, you are forever changed. There’s no turning back and there’s a no returns policy.
Becoming a mother is the most profound thing a woman will ever go through in life.
During the pregnancy, you go through 9 months of being coddled, and cared for with an increasing regularity of doctor’s appointments. That’s a fact and it’s amazing how normal this becomes for you. You throw in gestational diabetes, bi-weekly ultrasounds and weekly stress tests at the hospital, and you start requesting ‘your bed’ in the maternity ward.
But then you have your child and all the focus shifts on the baby. For good reason of course, but what about the mother? There is a huge deficit when it comes to the post-partum care of a mother. Of course, the baby is our priority and it’s the only thing mothers want to do because we wanted this. But as mom’s, we’re not only dealing with the recovery from the birth, no matter the circumstance or extremity, but also from the dramatic shift in hormones! You’ve just spent the better part of a year creating a tiny human and now you have to be on all the time to for care them. So where does the love and attention for the mother go?
I recently listened to one of my favourite new podcasts, GOOP, and their latest guest was Psychiatrist Catherine Birndorf, M.D. Catherine is the Medical Director and Co-Founder of Motherhood Center of NYC. It’s a first-of-its-kind program for pregnancy and post-partum women struggling with anxiety and depression because let’s be honest, there is a lack of care and attention on the mother post-partum, in particular diagnosing exactly what the new mom is going through. She called it Mothering the Mother.
PPD has received a lot of attention and can range from mild to extreme depression (Andrea Yates, Brooke Shields), but PP anxiety is something that is often ignored or undiagnosed. It’s a less severe form of PPD, a cousin to PPD if you will, but still significant and different for every woman. Most women at some point or another have it and it can happen with your first child and also your fifth. The baby blues as it’s often classified and boy, did I have them baby blues.
If I’m being completely honest with myself, like any woman, I was dealing with a complete change of identity and mourning the loss of the person I used to be for the new person I was about to become: a mom. I wrote about this on my own blog and how I was mourning the loss of me before this profound, amazing shift in my life called parenthood. You go through this transition and then your kind of abandoned in a way. This wasn’t the case with me because I had all the love and support in the world thanks to my family and spouse, but there’s always this assumption that you should be ready to tackle this new job of caring for your new baby, continue to do all the things you previously did and life would just become what it will become. The new you, version 2.0. And a lot of the time it’s the mother putting these pressures on herself and that can be blamed on the extreme fluctuation in hormones.
But Dr. Birndorf compared this shift to adolescence, only she called it “Matrescence”. It’s like adolescent but about becoming a mother. It’s a bumpy, changing, tumultuous time where your body, attitude and hormones change on a whole other level. Matrescence is the same thing. Adolescence is a known shift, people respect it, understand it and they know you will come out of it. That’s not always the case with Matrescence. Some women do come out of it and others struggle with it, hence the importance of having such a care facility to help mother the mother.
After listening to this podcast I realized that I certainly experienced bouts of anxiety. I may not have been completely aware of it at the time because I was in survival mode but looking back I definitely had anxiety – not depression – but a form of functioning anxiety where I worried a lot, became hyper vigilant, I snapped at people for no reason, I became slightly introverted, obsessed with unimportant details, a complete control freak not to mention I had the occasional thought of whether I wanted to actually do this. Oh god, did I really want to become a parent? Did I make the biggest mistake of my life? I’m not equipped for this!
As Canadians we are lucky to live in a country where being a new parent is celebrated, we are well taken care of and we have the resources to tap into if we need them. We can receive up to 18 months paid maternity leave and we can seek the care and attention we need in these sorts of circumstances, but it doesn’t change the fact that women still struggle when they have children. Some women aren’t even aware of what’s available for them to help them out. Every situation is unique and so was mine. Not only did I become a new mom after almost 40 years, I was also struggling with a massive shift in my life – moving cities, changing jobs, losing my close-knit group of friends and family nearby. Isolation was the buzzword I came to know very well.
Now, as a mother to an incredibly healthy and happy 15-month old boy, I can only hope that those who need the help will recognize it, or have those around her who will advocate on her behalf, seek the care & guidance they need and understand that its normal and that it will get better.
Mothers supporting mothers is the best therapy anyone can ask for.