NOTE: Please see our response to this posting on our facebook page. This is “most” of her article, some portions have been inadvertently deleted, but the public seems to have lost access to the original article for some reason…
Three Tips for Navigating New Motherhood
By Sheryl Paul
The dominant message in our culture during the preconception through early motherhood stages is that any signs of anxiety or depression indicate that something is “wrong” and needs to be fixed. This message sets women up for unrealistic expectations, which lay the foundation that entrench normal anxiety and depression into clinical levels.
What does it mean to have “normal” anxiety or depression during pregnancy or the postpartum stage? It means that every life change, no matter how positive and life-affirming, is accompanied by loss, fear, and doubt.
Let’s break this down: You’re pregnant. You’ve wanted to be pregnant since you were four years old. But as soon as the pregnancy test revealed a positive result, you heard a door slam shut and felt a pang of loss. You pushed it aside because you thought that’s not what you’re supposed to be feeling at that moment.
You feel fear arise during your first trimester. You’re scared you’re going to lose your baby. You feel scared again during your third trimester and wonder, “What if I won’t be a good mother?” Because you don’t understand how vitally important it is to acknowledge and express these losses and fears, you push them aside and instead focus on buying the right car seat. But the feelings don’t go away. Instead they mutate into anxiety, and your doctor suggests an anti-anxiety medication.
Or you’ve just had your baby and everyone is healthy and thriving. While you’re deeply in love with your magical child, you also feel a profound sense of loss and longing for the familiarity of your old lifestyle and identity. You prepared for childbirth and you took classes on breastfeeding and baby care, but no one prepared you for the normal and necessary sense of loss that most women feel on the other side of the birth threshold.
You wonder what’s wrong with you. You wonder if this means that you’re not cut out to be a mother.. Nothing could be further from the truth, but because you’re not educated about what’s normal, you form false assumptions, which then prevent you from grieving the losses and allowing them to move through you to completion. Thus begins the slippery slope to postpartum depression.
Here’s the good news: Pregnancy anxiety and postpartum depression are avoidable and preventable! They both result from normal thoughts and feelings that are pushed underground because we don’t realize that they’re normal, where they then grow into an unmanageable state.
Here are three tips that I’ve learned for having an emotionally healthy pregnancy and avoiding postpartum depression:
1. Educate yourself with the truth about what’s normal to feel during pregnancy and early motherhood. Most pregnancy guides pay scant attention to what’s happening emotionally for women and instead focus on the growth of the baby and your body. While this is important information, it won’t facilitate the birth of an emotionally healthy new mother. Here’s what you need to know in a nutshell: it’s normal to feel fear, grief, loss, confusion, ambivalence, uncertainty, terror, and doubt during every stage of this transition (as well as joy and excitement, of course!).
2. Find a safe and compassionate place to express the difficult feelings.This may be with your partner, a friend, a therapist, or in the privacy of your journal. Your feelings are real and need to move out of your body. Most people hold the erroneous belief that so-called “negative” feelings will hurt your growing or newborn baby. The truth is that when you try to stifle these feelings, they’re amplified and that’s when they can harm your little one. So let them out!
3. Find the courage to explore the hidden thoughts that are lurking in your pregnant or new mom mind.Just as the feelings need a place to land, the thoughts also need to be explored and fleshed out. This may be the first time in your life that you learn to work with your anxious or fear-based thoughts effectively, and there is no practice more worthy of your time! Whatever you learn now will serve you for the rest of your life as a mom, and as a human being.
Taking these three simple steps can be the deciding factor that determines whether your normal fear and loss descend into anxiety and depression or transform into serenity and an empowered transition into motherhood.
Sheryl Paul, M.A., is regarded as an international expert in transitions. Since 1998, she has counseled thousands of people worldwide through life transitions via her private practice, her bestselling books, her website, http://conscious-