I never thought I would be grieving (my old life) after having a baby

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Everything I had observed before having a baby (movies, TV shows, commercials, my own mother) convinced me I would be happy after having a baby.  Sure I expected to be exhausted, but nevertheless, happy.  I knew my life would change, but I just figured I would love being a mother and therefore wouldn’t miss my old life.  

I couldn’t have predicted just how much I would look back and grieve my old life. I yearned for the freedom I had to wake up on a Saturday morning after sleeping in a bit, sipping a hot cup of coffee and enjoying a quiet morning while my husband usually slept in longer. I loved the weekends and used to look forward to them. My husband and I would do fun stuff like dine out, hang out with friends, or have a lazy Sunday enjoying some adult beverages at our favorite restaurant patio. This was the life! I was truly happy with it all.

Weekends now looked much different. When I was still breastfeeding, in addition to middle of the night feedings I would be up around 6:00am for another feeding and to start my day. Caffeine was not allowed because of breastfeeding so a hot cup of coffee was out. Instead of relaxing while waiting for my husband to wake up I was now consumed with caring for an infant which probably included a few diaper changes, rocking, bouncing or some sort of soothing and another feeding. My husband would wake up around 9:00am, 3 hours after I had already been up and had conquered half the day.

The rest of the day would have to be worked around my baby’s naps which started at three naps a day, then dropped to two naps at six months and finally only one nap at eighteen months. What did it matter though? Where were we going to go anyway? We did do our best to get out of the house with the baby however it always felt like more trouble than it was worth. Having this baby was taking away from my life not adding to it. I grieved the loss of my freedom, my relationship with my husband and most of all my happiness. I wanted it all back! 

Because I was not prepared for this grief and didn’t even know this was a possibility for my postpartum experience, I felt so much shame and isolation for feeling this way.

Today, as a postpartum therapist I’m on a mission to end shame for struggling mothers who are experiencing a lack of joy in their new role. I strive to support and normalize a grieving process that can occur after having a baby.

As part of my mission, I’m so excited to be publishing my book next month on Amazon POSTPARTUM HAPPINESS, What to do when you love the kids, but hate the job.

Don’t guilt-trip yourself

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The list of messages and questions we receive as parents from well-meaning friends and family is pretty long. 

·        Breast is best

·        Motherhood is the best time of your life 

·        Enjoy this time now because it goes by so fast

·        Are they reaching their milestones? 

·        When are you having another baby?

For a new mother this can be very overwhelming. This can often lead to selling out or in other words doing a lot of things we really don’t want to be doing. I found myself doing things out of guilt or pressure. I wanted the best for my baby and didn’t realize I could do things a different way, be happy, and still be give the best to my baby. 

I’ve stumbled upon more and more articles talking about mothers who made a choice to either stop breastfeeding or never to start.  The mothers in these articles identified what breastfeeding cost them emotionally and made a choice to stop. The message is that sometimes breast is not best. I love the mothers that dared to come forward to share about their decision to stop breastfeeding and how that decision was right for them. 

When I work with mothers, I listen to what they really want or don’t want. This often requires a lot of work exploring limiting beliefs and clearing out the gunk in their heads (shoulds, guilt, obligation, etc.) One mother felt tremendous guilt for taking time away from her baby to have fun with her friends. Another mother believed that her role as a stay-at-home mother meant she was supposed to do all the cooking and cleaning even though she despised how much time she spent in the kitchen. 

Once we cleared away whatever story was playing in their heads about why they needed to continue doing what they didn’t want to do or not doing what they wanted to do, a true desire emerged. Then the fun begins when I invite the possibility of that desire becoming a reality no matter how impossible it may seem to them at first. I also propose the idea that a happy mom is worth so much more to her baby than a mother who is burdened with “shoulds” and obligations.

Seeking control + new baby = A harsh dose of reality

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I so badly wanted to have a natural birth (per my well written birth plan) followed by a blissful postpartum experience. It never occurred to me that this wouldn’t happen because I had approached pregnancy and motherhood like any other aspect of my life. 

I didn’t realize this at the time, but my past successes and achievements, thriving on always finding a way to be on top of my game, would work against me. There was a false sense of control that just because I had wanted it and prepared for it (natural child birth, successful breastfeeding, bonding time with baby, soothing the baby easily, predictable napping and eating schedules, etc.), I could achieve it, the same way I had studied for a test and got an ‘A’ or reduced my calories and lost weight. Having a baby hit me hard in the face with the realization that I had no control no matter how hard I worked.

In preparation for my natural childbirth, I took the Bradley method classes. Again, this was a false sense of control believing that I could prepare for the childbirth experience I wanted like so many other classes I had taken to achieve something I wanted in life. 

The pregnancy continued to go well until I was diagnosed with cholestasis at 36 weeks and induction around 37 weeks was highly recommended. This was devastating to me. I was planning on a natural birth with no drugs. An induction was not part of this plan.

I remember the items on my birth plan being eliminated one by one, all the way down to the last item on my list when the doctor cut the umbilical cord which was around my daughter’s neck rather than having it pulsate for one minute as recommended by the Bradley Method. I’m not mad at the doctor for making that call to cut the umbilical cord I’m just disappointed that so many things went wrong. Having my childbirth experience go so differently was so sad for me.

I don’t fault myself or any mother for planning I just wish I had kept my sense of control in check and had more of a surrendering attitude. When I work with mothers that have had similar birth experiences I witness such disappointment and questioning what went wrong sometimes blaming themselves. I can relate to them so much.

I wish I had sought out help and support sooner to share about my birth story as well as the postpartum depression to follow.  Unfortunately, the messages we receive as new mothers say we should just be happy and grateful to have a healthy baby and a “Congratulations” is in order, but those kinds of messages just made me feel worse. I needed a safe place to talk about what I was really experiencing. I needed to know I was OK for feeling this way and that I wasn’t alone.

Why do we compare so much as mothers?

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There is no such thing as “normal,” but there is such a thing as social norms. We all want to fit in with the tribe and the only way to know where we fit or if we fit in at all is to compare ourselves to others we interpret as being in the same category; mothers of similar age, mothers of the same religion, mothers who work or stay at home, my own mommy friends, and maybe even the random mothers on social media. These comparisons may be subconscious until some form of internal conflict arises.   

I see it time and time again as a postpartum therapist. Inadequacy emerges because of some thing I want or need that is different to my comparisons. “I feel guilty for wanting help because a lot of moms I know seem to be handing it all by themselves.” “Every mom in my mom groups seems so happy and I’m not” or my own personal comparison that most moms I’ve met went on to have a 2nd or 3rd child, so “what’s wrong with me that I didn’t want that.”

It’s time to ask ourselves what we want, what we deserve, and to love ourselves no matter the comparison. We either redefine the norm (because we can) or find the moms that are similar. It is tough to shake off feeling inadequate or different, but the more confidence I mustered up in myself and in my decisions (by shifting my focus to thoughts of fitting in and feeling a part of) the more I realized moms just like me were all around. The result was a new mom norm in which I fit in and that I felt good about.

The healing power of hearing “me too”

Most women are familiar at this point with the powerful #MeToo movement in Hollywood. Though my “me too” is about postpartum depression or a mother daring to tell the truth about her lack of enjoyment with motherhood, I am promoting the same notion that hearing or saying “me too” can be incredibly empowering and healing. 

I am that mother daring to say I did not love being a mother. My lack of enjoyment for motherhood showed up as postpartum depression. I strongly believe to some extent my depression could have been prevented had I been able to connect with other mothers who felt like I did. I would not have felt so alone and so defective. I would still need to learn how to regain my sense of self and happiness, but removing the “what’s wrong with me?” question/label would have allowed me to accept my situation with compassion. I could have moved into solution much quicker instead of feeling so stuck and broken.

The famous singer Adele has spoken openly about having postpartum depression.  According to statements she made in an interview (today.com Oct 31, 2016), Adele said she worried that she made "the worst decision of her life" after she had her son but talking honestly with other mothers about her postpartum depression helped end her feeling of shame. Adele was able to hear from other mothers saying those powerful words “Me too.”

“For me, just hearing other moms say that being a mom sucks sometimes made me feel better.” – Anonymous Mom

I am on a mission to support mothers in speaking their truth and making positive changes to support their happiness as mothers. Please join me in this mission. Let us be that voice daring to speak the truth and to say “me too.” There are so many moms out there who need to know that they are not alone in their struggle and that their shame can be lifted. You can love your child without loving the job of parenting. Let’s let go of the labels and judgment. Let’s all be the best moms we can be, each in our own way.

Documentary about Maternal Mental Health

I just attended a local viewing in Orange County of this documentary on Perinatal Mood Disorders; which includes postpartum depression and anxiety, for professionals in my Community. The documentary explores the lack of maternal mental health awareness and resources for moms and the consequences this is having. As a therapist specializing in postpartum adjustment, local events such as these make me happy that awareness is spreading and efforts are being made. This film is available to rent or buy on itunes and Amazon.

“I’m fine!” How I lied my way through postpartum depression

I can relate to this article so much. Did anyone else lie about their postpartum depression or anxiety during their postnatal OB visit? I am wanting to offer tips for OB's and Pediatricians on how to better detect a perinatal mood disorder. Would this have helped you?

  • Don’t be deceived by looks – symptoms of depression and anxiety may be camouflaged by flawless appearances.
  • Be sure to go beyond just looking at the results of the postpartum self- assessment and take the time to talk about it during the postpartum visit.
  • Even if they report everything is going well, ask them what isn’t going so well (all mothers can identify with this and it will open up a door to what may really be going on.) Or ask them what could be even better. Know that moms may feel guilt and embarrassment if they don’t report being happy during this time. Give them permission to voice their struggles or unhappiness.
  • Have the conversation. If you are a parent yourself, use this opportunity during the postpartum visit to connect with them about the challenges of bringing home a newborn or if you are not a parent, use your awareness of the many challenges this transition can have to open up this conversation and connect.

1 in 7 mothers will experience a perinatal mood disorder

 1in7 Postpartum Support

The number one complication of childbirth is a perinatal mood disorder (postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety.)  Up to 1 in 7 women will experience a perinatal mood disorder during or after pregnancy.  I was one of them following the birth of my daughter in 2013.  My obstetrician did administer a postpartum screening assessment, but at just 6 weeks postpartum I was not yet ready to face my depression following what was supposed to be the most joyous event of my life, so I was not honest about what I was feeling.  This is an unfortunate reality for many mothers struggling with a perinatal mood disorder.  Up to 85% of these women will not get the help they need.  Efforts are being made to improve screening and detection to include pediatricians who will see the mother/infant dyad several times during that first year.  If I had been screened at one or several of the well child visits that first year as suggested by the American Academy of Pediatrics it could have saved me from one of the worst years of my life.  I am joining efforts with the California maternal mental health collaborative by helping to spread the word and improve screening and detection.  I want to help close the gap in maternal mental health by improving screening and education for mothers.  For more information visit www.2020mom.org and www.thebluedotproject.org.

Marissa Zwetow, LMFT
Postpartumhappiness.com
949-424-3034

Postpartum Happiness: Myth or Reality?

I was shocked when my own mother shared that one of the happiest times in her life was after she gave birth and was home taking care of  her newborn.  She also stated that it was one of the hardest times in her life.  This confused me.  As we spoke more, she clarified that yes it was the hardest, but she was the happiest.

I struggled to believe this.  It was so different from my experience.  And if this is true then somehow I got robbed.  I find that mothers who experience a negative postpartum adjustment of any kind, me included, want to believe that all new mothers are lying if they say they are really happy.  Are they in denial? Do they have a live in nanny, a chef, a baby nurse, and a super hero husband?

So, here I was, home with my new daughter, unhappy.  What went wrong?  Why wasn’t this as easy and as smooth as my mother’s experience?  I was so depressed and embarrassed to let anybody know how I truly felt.  Not happy at all.  The whole experience of having a new baby was overwhelming, exhausting, and not at all what I had hoped, anticipated, and expected.   
I realized that I needed to get help.  I attended postpartum support groups offered through the Community and the hospital where I delivered and unfortunately they didn’t give me the help that I truly needed. Then, I found a really great therapist who not only helped me personally to overcome my postpartum depression and anxiety, but also helped my marriage by improving our communication and supporting me in asking my husband for help. Research shows that it is the first year after having a baby that is the hardest on the marriage, not the first year of marriage. Additionally, support groups that were offered through my therapist allowed me to meet other mothers that were experiencing similar feelings. I felt such relief in learning that I wasn’t alone.

If left untreated, postpartum disorders can last up to two years.  Postpartum depression and anxiety can be so cruel because of the timing; a time in a mother’s life when she really could be the happiest. In hindsight I wish I had sought help earlier.  I now know that postpartum happiness was mine for the taking.  As a licensed therapist I am committed to doing just that; helping mothers find their happiness. 

*Marissa Zwetow is a licensed marriage, family therapist, owner of Postpartum Happiness in Orange County, CA.  www.postpartumhappiness.com