If you didn’t catch the first part of this article “Your Feelings Are Valid (Part 1),” it’s best to go back and start there. Read it already? Then it’s time for more motherhood validation from our friend, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Dove Pressnall.
First things first: if your feelings around pregnancy and motherhood are complicated, congratulations you’re human.
Who here has ever experienced the dreaded mom guilt? Feeling like no matter what you do, somehow it is never enough for your child, your family, or your own expectations? Maybe you quit breastfeeding early like I did? Or you’ve had a laundry volcano erupting from your couch for a week? Or you get the Sunday Scaries and agonize about bringing your baby to daycare every morning? Your feelings are not unique.
Dove explains mom guilt to a tee.
She says in American culture, there is a false belief that if you just get the right information and make the right choice, everything will go well. Then, parents make the mistake of taking ownership when things do go well with their kids. They say “here’s what we did right.” When they should instead be saying “wow, we are so lucky.” Then on the flip side, when things don’t go well, these ingrained cultural narratives undermine your confidence and self worth. When really, it’s all up to the development of the individual child.
In her experience, this can be particularly challenging for women who are more educated and affluent. Especially for women having babies after establishing their careers. That’s because they have learned to believe through building a career and breaking glass panes along the way, “I can figure it out. Fix it. Navigate it. And do it all.” They prepare for baby as they would any other new challenge. They read the books, research, and take the classes. But when baby arrives they suddenly feel vulnerable, uncertain, even–gasp–incompetent. American parents are sold the idea that they can and should maximize their child’s potential and opportunities by giving every last little decision a ton of weight, which is simply not sustainable.
What’s the difference between moms and dads or parental roles?
When I asked her if she could generalize a bit on the difference between parental roles, she said something so obvious it’s almost funny. She said in a stereotypical heterosexual relationship, moms and dads experience this emotional weight differently. Moms are hypervigilant. We are wired that way to protect our babies. So every choice feels like a minefield. Meanwhile, dads typically regard a decision made as a victory–evidence of their competence.
When I asked my husband what he thought about that, he grunted in the affirmative. Ok, I’m kidding. But he did say if it was up to him, he would have just gone to the store. Then, he’d pick out whichever car seat wasn’t the cheapest one, install it, and feel good about doing it after. Good thing it wasn’t up to him, am I right?
Meanwhile, god only knows how many hours I spent researching strollers, car seats, and travel systems, texting my mom friends about it on multiple occasions. Even going so far as to swap what was on our registry several times. But back to Dove’s point, there are many great articles about the invisible workload of motherhood and its impact on women.
Beyond that emotional weight, there can also be grief and loss.
Dove says there are lots of unanticipated losses women experience throughout motherhood. The loss of connection with single friends or changing dynamics with your spouse/significant other are some big ones.
I asked her if it is normal to grieve when you quit breastfeeding. Because I know I’m not the only woman who has had a shockingly hard time both doing it in the first place and giving it up. I was so upset when I stopped pumping, I kept my final ounces of milk in the fridge for days. I just could not bring myself to throw it away. (Side note: I couldn’t feed it to my son because of a medication I was on at the time). I even panicked recently and found myself asking Google and mom groups on FB if you can relactate a 4 month old–even as my son is perfectly healthy and happy on formula.
Dove explains what I’ve been feeling saying: “women think ‘good moms’ will do whatever it takes even if it makes them miserable. But your health and wellbeing is more important. It is totally ok when your plans and best intentions don’t match reality.” And in those cases, it’s important to accept and let go. (Something I’m clearly still working on.)
Speaking of expectations of motherhood….
Something Dove and I have in common, that I’m so glad she brought up, is that it is not uncommon to NOT feel an overwhelming rush of love the minute they put the baby in your arms. She shared that she was very worried when her son was born because she didn’t feel that rush of love everyone talks about.
So she started researching and found that the average amount of time it takes a mother to experience that “falling in love” feeling for her baby is nine weeks. Nine weeks! Yes, some women feel a connection fueled by that rush of oxytocin right away after delivery, but some women don’t really feel connected to their babies for a while–sometimes until after infancy. Chances are they may be communicating and connecting, but moms are too stressed and tired to enjoy the sensation.
How can moms cope with all these big feelings?
So now we’ve established that being a mom is an identity-changing experience that includes grief, loss, and guilt. What does Dove recommend women do to make the experience more enjoyable for themselves? Give yourself a break whenever you can, without apology. Whatever that means for you. Whether it’s splurging to pay for a housekeeper, not talking to a family member for a while who is stressing you out, whatever is within your ability to do to give yourself a break.
She also says, if you’re not feeling great, you’re probably tired. Figuring out how to get some solid sleep can make a huge difference. But if that’s not possible, always hold the knowledge that you will get through this and it won’t always be so difficult. Also, get support that is meaningful to you: spend time with your circle of moms who get you, see a therapist, tap into family if that’s healthy for you, speak to a spiritual or religious leader if that helps.
How do you know when something is really wrong and you should seek professional help?
She says one clear sign to be concerned about is when women feel disconnected from or don’t feel like they can care for their baby. Also, obsessive thoughts or fears that something bad is going to happen to them. Or your feelings feel scary to you. Experiencing these things is not abnormal. It doesn’t mean something is wrong with you. Your system is just super stressed.
Dove points out “if your baby seemed a little off and you wondered if what you noticed was normal, you wouldn’t hold off until you were sure it was important before you called an expert to ask. Be as responsive to yourself, your needs, and your feelings as you are to your baby. Get some help! You being well-supported is being supportive to your baby.”
And I don’t know know about you, but all this is definitely the validation I needed that I’m doing just fine at this, and maybe I should cut myself a break. So please share Dove’s words with another mom who could use that same reassurance. Oh and, it’s time to accept your feelings as normal. Yes, all of them.
Connect with Dove on LinkedIN. And if you need support, please reach out and talk to someone. Postpartum Support International may be a good place to start. Did this article help validate any of your feelings? Let me know in the comments below.
And feel free to check out my little self care gift shop if you want to treat yourself (or pamper a friend) with something special today while supporting this blog and other mama-owned businesses!
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