The hormones and endocrine system of a postpartum woman are complex and vulnerable to imbalance after pregnancy and childbirth. If you have struggled with mood symptoms around your menstrual cycle, it suggests that you entered pregnancy in an imbalanced hormonal state. Women who are sensitive to hormone fluctuations are at a higher risk for postpartum mood symptoms. Lactation hormones and stress hormones in combination with extreme levels of progesterone and estrogen can create a mixture of anger, irritability, fear, and sadness. Hormones are psychiatric pretenders; therefore, it is important to address hormone and thyroid balance and any key nutrient deficiencies prior to beginning pharmaceutical treatments.
Psychologically, women are sold the idea through the media and social conditioning that they will love every minute of mothering, fall madly in love with their baby at first sight, and if you don’t feel that way there is something wrong with you. The reality is that most women struggle in early motherhood; the learning curve in mothering is overwhelmingly steep in a culture that does not support mothers. Add in an identity crisis, isolation, extreme hormone fluctuations, and chronic sleep deprivation and all the variables are in place for symptoms of depression and anxiety.
The American culture is very individualistic, and most of us have lost close connection with our extended families. In tribal cultures, four adults are assigned to the care of each baby born until the baby reaches adulthood. Can you imagine how much lighter motherhood would feel if you had three more adults dedicated to raising your baby? The extra hands would allow for breaks and rest, which is what the postpartum woman’s body need to fully recover from pregnancy and delivery.
Some of the most common experiences women describe to me leave the woman feeling like she is crazy or losing her mind. Today I would like to normalize these common postpartum feelings, so that you recognize it is not you that is broken, but rather the culture and lack of support you find yourself in.
-Intrusive Thoughts – having scary thoughts about accidentally or intentionally harming your baby are more common than you think. These thoughts are terrifying to the thinker and the taboo of speaking about the thoughts, actually breeds more of the thoughts. Sleep disruptions and hormone imbalance have a profound way of changing thought patterns and perceptions of danger. These thoughts don’t make you a monster; these thoughts are actually an indication that you need more breaks from childcare and more support in your life currently.
-This isn’t what I thought it would be! So many new moms are shocked at the lifestyle change motherhood unearths. I’ve heard hundreds of women say they think they made a mistake becoming a mom, despite really loving their baby. It is so normal to feel sadness over losing your freedom and spontaneity, for your career identity to change drastically, or your body image to be at an all time low. No one can really prepare you for the ego death involved with becoming a mother; it’s an identity shift that our culture doesn’t recognize and honor like tribal cultures do.
-I can’t stand my partner! Anger and irritability are normal emotional experiences in the postpartum period. In my opinion, it is not an indication that you are an angry woman, but rather a sign that your hormones are not balanced, your basic needs are not being honored, and/or an indication that you need more breaks and rest. At its core, anger is energy in the body to mobilize when there is a boundary violation. Therefore, we should listen to the rumbles of irritability before it screams louder as fits of rage. Your emotions are alarm systems of the body alerting you when things are off balance. It is so common to take out anger and frustrations on your partner, because you don’t want to feel it towards your baby. It is very normal to feel disconnected from your partner the whole first year postpartum, as you are re-negotiating needs and roles by adding a third person (or fourth or fifth) into the couple dynamic.
-Birth Trauma - Many women do not get the birth they imagined or expected. If you have a sexual abuse history and your needs are not heard or honored, you felt unsupported, or feared that you or your baby would die during birth there is a potential for the birth experience to be shadowed with PTSD symptoms. Birth is one of the most spiritually profound moments in a woman’s life. Unfortunately, the birth industry in America by and large is not sensitive to trauma and the psychological consequences of not supporting a laboring woman in the unique way her soul needs support result in birth trauma. Discharging the fear and trauma from a birth experience can go a long way in postpartum mental health.
-Childhood Wounds - For better or worse, birth is a portal for all the unresolved wounds from your childhood to come rushing to the surface of your heart. The conundrum is that now you are tasked with keeping an infant alive and that doesn’t leave much downtime for processing emotional wounds and traumas you experienced as a girl. How you were mothered (and fathered) greatly impacts your attitudes and beliefs about mothering. Different psychological and developmental milestones your baby experiences on the way to becoming an older kid have the potential to trigger unconscious memories from your past wounding. It is a golden opportunity for healing, but often times feels like you are resurrecting all the painful aspects of your childhood. Healing your inner child helps to clear the way for you to be the mom you always imagined.
If you are not feeling like yourself since becoming a mom, welcome to the club! Find a tribe, ask for help, and get support processing ancient childhood emotions or birth trauma. Invest in yourself in the postpartum period; self-care is not selfish! This career of motherhood requires lots of tender self-care and self-compassion and you are definitely worth it!