Before you had kids, did people tell you, "You don't have kids. You can't possibly understand!" I used to think they were crazy. Now I see what they mean.
Dr. Wendy Walsh: Long before I had children, I had a love for all the world's children and actively worked with a local children's charity. During one of our heated planning meetings, I noticed that there were two camps within our board of directors -- women who did not have children of their own, and women who were seasoned moms and grandmas. Sometimes the groups knocked heads about what was best for the disadvantaged children to whom we administered goodwill, and inevitably someone from the latter camp would fire off the hurtful missive, "You girls don't get it. You don't have kids of your own!"
Back then, I disagreed. But now, as I look at all the things my 11-year-old and 6-year-old have taught me, I finally get it. I do know a few things that child-free women can't possibly know. So, what was it that I didn't "get"? And how could I explain to new mothers that they are about to transform into another animal entirely?
Let's start with your body. Hormones rule, here. If you think you're a bit "off" while pregnant and hope that you will return to normal after you give birth, think again. You have been wired to nurture now -- and the explosion of oxytocin in postpartum life changes the way you think and behave. You'll be amazed at how well you can cope without sleep. You'll be confused about how to balance work and motherhood, because your body is programmed by millions of years of evolution to sit under a tree and nurse for a long, long while. You might find giant bursts of creativity that were untapped before. And, you may even have to struggle with your own internalized whore/Madonna syndrome, as you feel the unfair pressure to return to your sexy self when you feel far more like a grumpy dairy cow.
For some, these struggles combine with a biological predisposition and morph into postpartum depression. Each year, more than 800,000 women suffer from postpartum depression. That's close to one in five, ladies. And the symptoms are so varied that they can be missed. Let's see, how many new mothers dismiss symptoms like a change in walking pace, low self-esteem, and bad memory? Seems like normal new mother behavior to me, yet these symptoms can be part of a bigger diagnosis.
Check out the PPD symptom list, and add to it the possibility for anxiety-related symptoms:
• Depressed mood -- tearfulness, hopelessness, and feeling empty inside, with or without severe anxiety.
• Loss of pleasure in either all or almost all of your daily activities.
• Appetite and weight change -- usually a drop in appetite and weight, but sometimes the opposite.
• Trouble sleeping, even when your baby is sleeping.
• Noticeable change in how you walk and talk -- usually restlessness, but sometimes sluggishness.
• Extreme fatigue or loss of energy.
• Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, with no reasonable cause.
• Difficulty concentrating and making decisions.
• Thoughts about death or suicide. Some women with PPD have fleeting, frightening thoughts of harming their babies -- these thoughts tend to be fearful thoughts, rather than urges to harm.
If this list feels a little familiar to you, I urge you to seek professional help. Despite the baby boom that you see portrayed in celebrity magazines, our culture is still anti-motherhood -- and PPD symptoms can be brought on by an unsupportive environment. Your body wants to lay low even though there are bills to pay and a marriage to attend to. Seek a therapist who really understands postpartum depression.
Now, once you have your meds, or your support, or your non-chemical remedy, let's talk about your new place in the world. And let's start with your village. Don't freak out that your circle of friends may change. Your old child-free friends can take only so much baby talk and can offer little in the way of advice, so you'll find yourself gravitating toward the moms you meet in your new baby groups. And, I highly advise that you join some groups, whether it's baby-and-me yoga, a breastfeeding support group, or a baby music class. Getting out of the house and co-mingling with other new moms will reduce your chances of depression and help you gain a whole lot of insight about motherhood. You will find your voice as a parent through comparing and contrasting yourself to other mothers.
Now, onto your political self. New mothers see the world in a kind of technicolor, as they begin to view life through the eyes of their children. You'll notice things that you never noticed before, like bad parenting, highly sexualized advertising, public swearing, expensive healthcare, and streets without stroller-ready sidewalks. And, hopefully also you'll find yourself marching out to right the world. Mothers are a political force to be reckoned with. Welcome to our club. And you don't even have to leave your sleeping baby to make a difference. There are more than 900 mom community websites and countless other online communities that fight for causes. By becoming involved, you will become empowered as you begin to take the throne as the powerhouse of your home.
Speaking of power, I think that's the biggest transformation that a new mother makes -- from your lover's hotty princess to a fully developed queen. Mothers are the queens of their world. There's a saying in the South that sums up the power of motherhood: "When Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." You are now the emotional lightning rod and the gentle soothing wind to every other person in your nest. And this power can bring feelings of self-esteem unmatched by any paycheck. Mothers are the life force of a household, providing food, a comfortable shelter, and, when necessary, a gentle admonishing or a supportive cheer. Whether you work outside the home, from home, or on your home, you are the most valued member of the team.
You have proven yourself. You have the capacity to create human life within your womb and nurture it to greatness in your nest. And this is the thing child-free women will never know -- the secret confidence that comes from knowing you did something so magical. You created life and forever more, you will nurture life. Mothers are almost God-like in that way. And when you carry that force out into the world, you will be awed by the power you have to effect change everywhere. You are now a mother in the world. All hail before you.
|Dr. Wendy Walsh holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and her area of interest is Attachment Theory, a psychological, evolutionary and ethological theory that provides a descriptive and explanatory framework for understanding interpersonal relationships between human beings. As a psychological assistant registered with the California Board of Psychology, Dr. Walsh has treated individuals, couples and families for a variety of mental health concerns including personality disorders, anger management, eating and substance disorders, and depression.|