We Don’t Need to Be SuperMom
If you’re expecting or recently had a baby, you’ve educated yourself on baby gear, feeding schedules, soothing techniques, and much more. But how much have you prepared yourself to take care of you?
According to The Blue Dot Project, one in five women will face a maternal mental health disorder at some point in their life. This estimation is higher for first-time mothers, especially those suffering from birth trauma. Despite being so common, few women share their experiences with perinatal or postpartum mood disorders, seek professional counseling, or educate themselves on how to manage their new roles while also managing symptoms of depression, anxiety, or psychosis.
Local therapist Kiara Williams knows because she’s been there. As a working mother to three daughters and a stepson, Williams established Pieceful Therapy Counseling Services, P.L.L.C., to uplift and educate moms like herself.
“I experienced postpartum depression with all of my pregnancies.” Williams shared. “I had suicidal ideation, thoughts of harming baby; I was very irritable and lashing out a lot… I knew something was wrong, but I knew the stigma…”
In the same year that Williams started her practice, author Minna Dubin gained national attention for her memoir-esque article on mom rage published in The New York Times. In the last few years, maternal mental health awareness has been circulating in mothering support groups, but these groups tend to be frequented by moms who’ve been raising children for a while rather than soon-to-be or first-time mothers, who lack the words to describe what they’re feeling.
Nevertheless, we need to start somewhere. Williams has a few pocket-sized points of advice you can reach for at any stage in your mothering journey.
Expect to Change
As much as you gain as a mother, you also lose something – your free time, your privacy, your body, your hobbies, and even your sex life for a while. “Everything changes. You may not even like the same foods anymore.” shared Williams. These changes are gradual, but they can result in feelings of identity loss. Lamenting these changes doesn’t make you a bad mom. Externalizing these feelings by talking about them in therapy or with trusted friends can help.
Know the Signs
“Baby blues” is a cute name for serious feelings. If you’re constantly feeling down, hopeless, irritable, fatigued, socially withdrawn, or are having trouble sleeping and eating, these are cues that you may have a maternal mood disorder requiring support. Williams wants women to know that experiencing an intrusive thought, such as harming a baby, is more normal than most people think. Think of intrusive thoughts as having a protective factor. Many parents (dads included) experience an intrusive thought and feel a sense of discomfort or disgust; that feeling is the brain’s way of ensuring the thought isn’t acted on. Again, talking about your thoughts can help you “feel more at ease.”
Recognize Mom Guilt
That feeling of having to choose between your baby or you is mom guilt. You can also feel guilt for not spending enough time with a partner, friends, other children, or even pets. Williams said this is the most common source of frustration she hears in therapy. “Moms need to know it is okay to pour into yourself because if you don’t, you’re going to… not have the energy you need to pour into your baby.”
Identify Unrealistic Expectations
When I delivered my first baby, I packed my work laptop because I thought I’d be bored while in the hospital. As a working mother, Williams knows my type. “Women today are expected to be independent, to run their own businesses, and to strive for equality because society emphasizes women in the workforce [being] completely equal to men.” she said. Stay-at-home moms place unrealistic expectations on themselves, too, possibly stemming from feelings of inadequacy for not working outside of the home. The reality is that all mothers can demand too much from themselves in the postpartum period.
Create a Support System
Early on, your partner may be the person you confide in, but your partner has probably never felt the pangs of postpartum recovery. Williams recommends finding authentic, nonjudgmental friends, mothers or mothers-in-law, or therapists who’ve been where you are now. Keep these people in your corner. Share with them, and you may be surprised what they share with you. Or as Williams told me, “I am an open book because moms need to know they are not alone. In experiencing [postpartum depression] myself, [my clients] don’t feel as though I’m talking from things I read in a book.”