During pregnancy, people tell you to find your tribe. They tell you it's hard to do this alone, without support, and it is.
Whether your birth was in a hospital or at home, you likely had a team gathered around you; your partner, nurses, a doctor, a midwife, a doula. All were encouraging you--letting you know the baby would come out safely. All were letting you know you had the power to move the baby from your body; through pushing or C-section, the baby would come.
Following the birth--the hospital stay, where nurses and doctors popped in and out of the room, making sure you were supported. Lactation consultants helped you feed your baby, using your body to give life once again.
During the homecoming, surrounded by family and friends wanting to see the new life you brought in to this world. Some genuinely excited, others obligated.
They leave, and you are alone.
After the initial excitement and obligations of the new baby many mothers are left alone. While during pregnancy we encourage women to start finding mom friends and building their community, once the baby arrives, we encourage new moms to stay in their homes. Pediatricians say newborns shouldn't leave the house before getting their vaccinations, placing further fear and anxiety on new mothers' shoulders. While there is truth to protecting newborns from germs, what about protecting new moms from isolation, loneliness, and perinatal mood disorders?
I remember staying in the house for those two months after having my daughter and feeling my depression build. Family had come and gone and friends didn't come over again after their initial visit. I worried about taking the baby anywhere, so I stayed in, tending to her needs and ignoring my own.
When a mother gives birth, there is a sudden shift to being completely selfless. Nothing is about you anymore, it is all about the baby. When we make the shift to selfless, we often forget or don't acknowledge that recognizing our own needs is not a form of selfishness. The recognition of our own needs helps us to better recognize and acknowledge the need of the baby. While we tend to the baby, nurturing him or her--giving them love, food, comfort, and touch--we often forget to nurture ourselves. When our own needs aren't met, it makes it harder to tend to the needs of the baby. We may become easily frustrated and impatient with the baby, in turn making us frustrated with the way we are mothering.
These feelings of isolation and frustration can turn quickly to perinatal mood disorders. Whether or not you experience a mood disorder following birth, motherhood comes with unique challenges and managing new emotions and hormonal change is tough. Motherhood--especially first time motherhood--feels high stakes because you are keeping someone alive. The thing is, you have to keep yourself alive too. You have to keep yourself alive, healthy, happy, and functioning.
In staying out of isolation and building community, you are also building an outlet for yourself. Social interaction can give little hits of oxytocin (the happy chemical). It can help to normalize the hard parts of motherhood. Sometimes we think we are the only ones going through something, but in speaking with other moms we can quickly find this is not true.
In isolation we may wonder why the baby isn't sleeping through the night, in talking with other moms, you will likely find you're in the majority and even one year olds continue to wake at night. In isolation, we may wonder why we've lost connection with our spouse, or why the connection has changed, in talking with other moms you will likely find this is true for many. In isolation we may wonder why, though we've yearned for a baby, we aren't happy in motherhood much of the time, in talking with other moms you will likely find this is true for many and that it's okay.
Coming out of isolation can feel scary when you've been in it. Especially when feelings of anxiety or depression have built--it may feel daunting to begin to reach out. Know you are not alone in this. Know many moms feel the same as you. Begin slowly, connecting with a mom you know fairly well. If you have no "mom friends," connect with someone you know has connections to other moms. Use this person as a connector to begin building your mom community. If isolation, depression, and anxiety have already taken hold and are keeping you from reaching out--try reaching out first to a therapist. A therapist will help you work through the initial feelings in order to begin making connections to other moms.
There is much that needs to be done in our culture to encourage community around motherhood and ending isolation. I hope pediatricians will begin to let new mothers know that along with protecting our littles from disease within the first two months of life, we need to protect mothers from feeling alone. We need to normalize the hard days and create community. We need to build support beyond the two-day hospital stay. We need to recognize the unfamiliar in new motherhood while taking away the fear. New mamas--I see you and I hope you start to look around and notice your community is waiting.