5 ways to help ease the adjustment into motherhood
It’s undeniable that becoming a mother can be a very vulnerable and humbling experience filled with a mixture of unbelievable highs and inevitable lows. Inherent in the transition into motherhood is challenge – no one seems to escape it – whether it is pregnancy, chaotic or traumatic births, feeding, settling, sleeping, post partum recovery, strained relationships and navigating a balance of children and career….
Whilst some of these experiences can be the centrepiece of mother’s group catch-ups, the collateral emotional challenges are often not spoken about, leaving so many women feeling isolated, alone and abnormal.
It seems that women have difficulty speaking up and seeking help because we lack a strong narrative in society about the emotional challenges of motherhood. Social media feeds are full of sleeping, smiling and styled littlies and from the rocking chair in the nursery, the park bench of the train after a tumultuous day care drop off, women cannot help but feel like their challenges must equate to failure.
The truth is that 20% of mothers are affected by perinatal anxiety and depression. That’s a staggering figure but at the same time, it is not surprising if we consider the magnitude of the changes that come with having a child. The majority of your life is turned on its head – your routine, your sleep, your relationship, your social interaction, your involvement in work and life beyond the home. So if we consider that challenge is the norm, it is alarming that women feel that a sense of challenge in the experience of being a mother is an indication of failure or something being wrong.
With every mother, child, relationship and family setting being different, there will never be a one-size fits all approach. However, if you are expecting a baby or already in the throws of motherhood, here are some practical ways to ease the challenge:
1. Identify who is in your village and let them know what you need
This may be family, friends, neighbours, your nanny or medical professional such a GP, midwife, psychologist or physio. For the most part, people realise that having a baby is a tough gig and will go out of their way to offer or respond to a request for help. Remember that you will not be reliant of others forever but becoming a mother is a major transition, which requires a support crew. You can do yourself a disservice if you wait for others to correctly anticipate your needs.
2. Avoid isolation
Although getting out of the house or having someone come over can seem like an insurmountable task, it is vitally important to try to see the sun, get fresh air and connect with others even if it is the local barista. When we spend extended periods alone with a baby or child, it becomes easy to lose perspective and confidence. So getting out once a day can often be more beneficial than the age old advice “sleep when the baby sleeps”.
3. Prioritise beyond your child
Whilst it can be hard to think of anything or anyone else (including yourself) when you are a mother, it is important to know and preserve your non-negotiables’- it may be a connection with your partner, health and fitness, moments of time by yourself, time with others, adult stimulation. Having a sense of self beyond your children is invaluable for your wellbeing.
4. Trust your gut
There is so much (conflicting!) information so whilst it is important to seek guidance and stay informed, it is important also to remember that you are the expert on your child. So many women experience distress when they feel like they “aren’t doing it right” or “can’t do it” or “don’t know who’s opinion to trust”. So by intentionally listening out for your own “voice”, you may develop greater conviction and confidence in the way your approach motherhood and in doing so experience improved wellbeing.
That becoming a mother is a big adjustment where the pace of life, peoples perception of productivity and progress etc. all gets turned on its head. I think it is empowering to think about the fact that at different times in life you move at a different pace in relation to your life domains – financially, professionally, relationship, travel etc. Sometimes you progress at a rate of knots and at other times you need to take some steps back before moving forward. Life is not a linear journey.
Because the challenge is the one constant in motherhood, lets build that into our expectations. And just like you are the expert on your child, you are also the expert on yourself so if you do not feel like you are coping although it may seem like the world around you is, then put up your hand. It is never too early or too late to ask for help.
The Bumpy Road is a psychology practice based in Manly and Woollahra specialising in supporting women with the journey into and through motherhood. We offer support for perinatal + postnatal issues as well as relationship, parenting and career challenges.