“So today, I’m going to dive into a really interesting topic that is near and dear to my heart - it’s the insecurities that new moms face.”
Last spring Therapist Valerie Hamaker led a discussion with a first-time mom Lesley around anxieties and insecurities new moms face.
A mother herself, Valerie said of this conversation: I'm relating to this on a very personal basis because I am the mom of four children. I do have very vivid memories of the anxieties and struggles of being a young mom and my children are rather close together. And so I'm really resonating with what you're experiencing.
Lesley shared about her experience as a first time mom, seeking advice and reassurance to the big question “is it normal to feel this way?”. At the end of our discussion Valerie answered even more questions from our community, you can find the excerpt from that section below.
Watch the full discussion between Valerie & Lesley here: Common Insecurities New Moms Face.
Q: I just had my baby two months ago and I love her so much, but I'm also feeling so overwhelmed. Sometimes I just cry by myself. Does this mean that I am experiencing postpartum depression?
Valerie: I love this question and I'm really grateful that you're asking it. I think, especially because it sounds like you're a new mom and that you haven't had a baby before, postpartum depression can look very, very different depending on who you are. So what I would say to you in a nutshell is, when you have a baby your hormones are swinging around like crazy and your body is adjusting to changes that it has never experienced before. So are you going to feel a heightened degree of emotions? The answer to that question is absolutely. You are going to feel overwhelmed. You're probably not sleeping very consistently depending on what kind of support system you have. I know my family was across the country, so I was overwhelmed. You're going to be emotional. You're going to have some weepy days. That does not necessarily mean at all that you're experiencing any kind of postpartum depression.
Now, what I would pay close attention to is how are you feeling? Are you able to have some better moments? In other words, if you feel like your mental state is sort of plummeting and you're having a hard time getting out of bed, you're noticing your diet and appetite is swinging in one direction or the other, or you're having a hard time sleeping, even when you can, and you're having a hard time functioning - that's when I would probably start getting a little bit more curious about whether or not you're experiencing some postpartum depression. In that case you probably ought to get some help, go to your doctor and start talking a little bit about what you're feeling. Oftentimes, again, there's the normal sort of baby blues that a majority of women go through, and then there is something else.
Know that there's not anything to be ashamed of, at all. If you were experiencing postpartum depression, all it means is you don't want to suffer in silence, and you don't want to suffer untreated if there's something that can be done, because there are things that can be done.
The other thing that I would recommend is, as much as you possibly can, have the courage to reach out to somebody. If you have a partner, reach out to a partner, a sister, a mother, a best friend, and be with those people, because the way we are healed in emotional overwhelm is through connection.
So, know that there's nothing at all wrong. As matter of fact, there's everything right in the world about emotion and about letting those feelings come. Sometimes what we just need to do is we need to cry because we're overwhelmed. Oftentimes when we do that in the presence of somebody who says “I get it, you're overwhelmed and it makes sense”, then what ends up happening is those emotions crest like a wave and then they crash and then we take a deep breath and we're able to move forward.
Q: My husband and I are new parents, and I'm noticing that we're having to adjust to new roles in our marriage. I find myself bossing him around more, even though we're both learning at the same time. Do you have any tips for how we can navigate these new roles and how we can be more kind to each other?
Valerie: Oh boy, I think we all do this. Every one of us goes through some period of complete and total disorientation when we have a baby. So thought number one is: you’re normal.
Having a baby is, in fact, one of the top five biggest emotional stressors that we can experience. And so what I would do if I were lucky enough to have you, or you and your partner, in my office is to validate the reality of the struggle and let you know that what you're experiencing is real, and it matters.
I would give you an opportunity to talk about all of the things that are overwhelming for you, and then I would also give your husband an opportunity to talk about all of the things that are overwhelming to him. Then I would actually facilitate a conversation where you just lock in on all of what he's experiencing and validate his suffering, and then let him do the same to you because sometimes we get so trapped in our own stuff that we cease to see the other.
That's kind of what I'm hearing you say, is that you notice that you're really being critical with him and so maybe practice this at home tonight - sit down for a few moments, look into one another's eyes and do this exercise:
Husband, I want you to spend the next three minutes, just talking to her about all of the good reasons why she's feeling the way she's feeling. Like imagine she's got an umbrella over her head and there is a huge storm pouring down and you're going to stand under her umbrella and tell her what it feels like.
And then I would have you switch roles, and do the very same thing again.
I believe in some ways this begins to help you experience empathy for what the other is experiencing. And when you notice that you're being critical or “bossing him around”, take ownership, be accountable, reach back to your husband or text/call him after and say, “You know what, I am under a lot of stress as you know, and yet I'm sorry that I'm acting this way. I want to do better. I want to be better.”
I feel like two people that are accountable partners in a relationship will always make space for the other to not be perfect, especially if we're really acknowledging what we're feeling. Those would be my ideas as far as how to manage that. It sounds like, just from the very little I read, that you have a good foundation and I would be very surprised if he didn't look into your eyes and say, “I get it. I appreciate you saying that and I appreciate how hard things are and I forgive you.”
All we can really expect in a healthy relationship is to see that you're each trying, even if it's not a perfect relationship, because none of them are.
Q: Something I'm experiencing is that everyone has opinions on how you should mother and how you should react in different scenarios, specifically my mom and my mother-in-law. Any suggestions on how to take advice without getting overwhelmed? I'm super appreciative of the love and support, but I just plan to parent a little differently than them.
Valerie: Oh man, you're speaking my love language here. This is one of my very, very favorite topics, which is this idea of identity development. Motherhood is the prime ground for us to learn how to do this. Identity development is this learning that while we can appreciate the input of others, we learn to have a really firm and solid sense of self. Meaning, we can take in what others offer us in the loving ways that they offer it to us, but also not get overwhelmed and not even feel guilty about disagreeing and choosing to mother differently.
This is hard personal work. So unfortunately, if you want me to give you like a “one, two, three”, I'm not going to be able to give that to you. But what I can say is that I want you to do the hard work of discerning, listening, and taking in, but then weeding out what doesn't feel true to you. And that's really, really tricky for us as young mothers, especially because yes, we're insecure! Yes, we pretty much don't know what we're doing, and there's only one way to learn. And there's only one way to grow into our own selfhood, whether it be professionally or through motherhood or through any other realm of our own development. This means that we take in the thoughts and feelings of others and then we choose for ourselves what we want to be, who we want to become, how we want to parent.
Sometimes I think the hardest part of all is that some well-meaning loved ones impose on us a “mandate”. They may not say it, but they kind of want us to be little clones of them. And as we develop a firm sense of self, and we get stronger and stronger and more and more able to say, “I appreciate your input, but” , or “my partner and I, my husband and I, we're choosing to do something a little bit differently”, they get hurt.
It takes somebody who is also really doing a lot of good soul work and self-development to learn how to live outside of the validation of the people that they love the most. Sometimes that really pressures the growth of the relationship, but I can guarantee that as you do it [set boundaries] in a way that is respectful and loving, but also where you're really standing your ground in a very loving way, that the loving and respectful people, who are also trying to grow themselves, will move into a stance of having to respect you, and your boundaries.
And if they don't, then that's really not your problem. That's on them. You're going to notice that sometimes as we grow, it makes things more difficult for others, but oftentimes if the bond is strong enough, they will adjust and it will actually be pressuring their growth too. So again, not a quick fix, but it's something that I think we all have to learn because the alternative to not learning it is actually far more damaging to our own development, and even to our parenthood. If we feel like we're having to shape-shift into our mother when we're with our mother, and then our mother-in-law and with our mother-in-law, we're actually not being very true to ourselves and we're not modeling for our children what it means to trust our own instincts and our own intuitions. That's what growing up in mature development looks like, and motherhood is a great sandbox for us to learn how to do that. And, we'll probably all get pressured to some degree, with helpful parents in the mix it's right on schedule that you're struggling with this.
I have every confidence that you can discern what you want, and what you don't want, and how to create kind and loving boundaries around who you want to become.
Q: I have a 13 month old and I'm struggling to find time to be “me”. I feel like I'm a mom, the planner of the house, a wife and a friend, but I'm not feeling like I can find the original me. I can't get out of this loop and would love any advice.
Valerie: I wish you were my client! I love this work because it is so important. I want to first compliment you and say that I'm really, really grateful that you're noticing this because I can't tell you how many people I spend time with who, 10, 15 years down the road, wake up one day and notice that they've completely disappeared, that they have just been in the service of motherhood, or of serving and loving their families.
Of course that is a beautiful thing, but we cannot let go of who we are as women and our own passions, our own sense of self, and our own growth and development.
Sometimes in our culture, there's a very strange misconception that letting yourself go, forgetting who you are, is somehow virtuous or doing good by your children or your partner. I could not disagree more. I believe that the very best gift we can give ourselves, and consequently to those people that we love most, is staying true to our own development.
So what does that look like? I would make it a high priority to make time for yourself consistently. Now, what does that look like? It's going to look different for every human being, whether it be consistently cultivating a hobby, getting outside and doing something, going out with friends, picking up a little side job, etc.
Do something because you just simply feel the joy of it, and be pretty persistent about it. Sometimes we do have to be creative with what that is - sometimes schedules, or maybe income doesn’t really allow too much for it, but in my opinion, it's something that cannot be compromised because our own development and our own capacity to feel like we're growing is so important to our mental health, to our sense of peace and to our capacity to even show up in healthy relationships, whether they be married, intimate relationships or in our parenting.
Interestingly enough, it's almost like a paradox that the most important thing we can do in the service of those outside of us is to actually take care of the woman that we look at in the mirror every day.
Figure out what those passions are. If you don't know what they are, then I want you to really take a pause and just remember back before you were in this life and in this relationship, what things lit you up? And if you don't know because maybe you've never discovered that, then go out exploring. Take some classes, go online and start discovering what your passions are, and then have the courage to pursue them.
Even if sometimes it feels like you may get some feedback, whether it be external feedback or feedback in your own head that says “this is not okay”, plow through that because as you stay true to your own development you will find that you're going to feel more joy. You're also going to learn that the very best gift we can give to our children is living our lives, and living it with joy, and giving ourselves the gift of taking care of ourselves and putting ourselves on our list.
If we don't give them this gift, then sometimes they feel this obligation that our identity is based on them. They have a hard time growing up imagining themselves, because they feel like they're having to sort of be in the service of our lack of development. We don't want that for our children, so go out there and find something that you love and that you're passionate about, and pursue it.
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