Experts and postpartum women themselves have long been aware of the interrelationship between postpartum distress and some individual predispositions. We cannot make any claims of direct causality, nor do we have research to back it up. What we have is tons of anecdotal evidence that postpartum women are doing too much.
Women who describe themselves as “Type A” or “perfectionistic” seem to be particularly at risk for postpartum depression and anxiety. Responding to the overwhelming responsibility of caring for a newborn can catapult vulnerable women into hyperdrive, kicking off a compulsive response to conceal how they really feel or think. Efforts begin to focus on making sure they look good and appear to have everything in order.
The effort it takes to present this pretense that all is good, if they are severely stressed or in need of immediate support, can be grueling and unsustainable. And yet, the fear of making a mistake or doing something wrong, keeps women locked into a no-win scenario while constantly bombarded by the uncertainties and unpredictability of new motherhood.
But here’s the real problem. Most of these women are, by nature, doers, high-achievers, accomplished women who have limited insight into how their successful attributes also put them at risk. This proclivity toward busyness and goal-oriented behavior keeps them focused and distracted. They simply do not always see it or feel it, when they are overdoing it. In addition, they often go unnoticed by friends and family as being in trouble or needing support.
Therefore, women who are pregnant or postpartum and have self-identified as perfectionistic by nature need to place close attention to how they are feeling and how they are doing. Literally. Sometimes, I will listen to a client describe her day and be slightly surprised by her lack of awareness that she is wildly overbooked and obviously exhausted. Often, the mention of this is met with disbelief or denial. We understand that these situations are complicated by imposing variables and intricate dynamics, but the bottom line is this:
Postpartum women are doing too much. And it is making them sick.
While we could launch into a discourse on the impact of our oppressive postpartum culture, let’s just focus on what moms can do today to help themselves.
- If you think you might be overdoing it, you probably are.
- Pay attention to your tendency to overdo, overthink, overworry, overreact, overwork. Then, do less. Give yourself permission to let go, to stop working so hard, to accept help from others.
- Making mistakes are a normal part of motherhood. Accepting this early on will protect you and create resilience.
- Think of overdoing like dehydration. You’ve heard that by the time you are thirsty, you are already slightly dehydrated and the key is to drink enough water throughout the day before your body responds with feelings of thirst. Likewise, if you are overdoing it, by the time you feel exhausted or depleted, it will be much more challenging to feel better. Intervene before you are overtired. Stop doing so much. Stop believing that your worth as a mother is defined by how hard you work and how good things look.
Take care of yourself while you take care of your baby.
photo: Dmitriy Melnikov