Loving the Life that Is & Grieving the Life that Was (Part 2)Aug 01, 2023
Possible content/trigger warning: NO mention of child loss.
Even More Confessions of a New Mom
By Ilana Shapiro Yahdav
There are so many life changes when becoming a parent. And just when you get used to one change, there’s often another one right away. In our blog, Confessions of a New Mom - Grieving the Life that Was & Loving the Life that Is (Part 1), we discussed changes in identity, lifestyle, responsibilities, body autonomy, and body. Now, let’s focus on changes in mental state, emotions, relationships, and grieving as a parent.
Change in Mental State
Postpartum depression and anxiety are REAL and HARD. With my second, I struggled (and still am struggling to some degree though doing much better) with severe and debilitating postpartum anxiety (PPA). My focus was on caring for my baby and toddler, building up my milk supply, and surviving one day at a time (note: surviving didn't always include meeting any of my basic needs, but I was satisfied as long as the girls were fully taken care of). I barely had any energy for my husband, family, or friends. I felt so isolated and yet didn’t have it in me to connect and reach out to anyone for a while. This reinforced the isolation and it took a lot of effort and therapy to break out of it and still takes an intentional effort.
Building up a milk supply has many hormonal impacts that deeply affect the mental state. (Weaning also has just as many hormonal impacts that deeply affect the mental state.) The decision to breastfeed - whether it be to nurse or pump - or not breastfeed and give formula, is a deeply personal one. And, the amount our body does or does not produce, can have a profound impact on us. I always assumed I’d nurse my babies, naively thinking it just happened naturally. That was not the case with either.
With my first, trying to get her to nurse was so stressful - for both of us- that I ended up exclusively pumping for her. I grieved not being able to nurse for a long time. I thought there was something wrong with my body that R wouldn’t latch. Firstly, she was born prematurely, then I didn’t have any milk and couldn’t nurse. I was so focused on what went wrong that I forgot to focus on all that was going right! (Hello postpartum anxiety!) She was tiny, mighty, healthy, and opinionated! My body just needed a little extra time to build my milk supply and catch up with her. And build my milk supply I did! I am so proud that I was able to pump for 7 months so that she was fully breastfed. With my second, we are doing a bit of hybrid, but I am still mainly pumping and am now in the hard process of weaning at 7 months.
There were many many days that all I did was nurse/pump/feed the baby, repeat. Sometimes I got to shower and brush my teeth. I was lucky that I had help, but I constantly berated myself for needing it and accepting it. I compared myself to other mothers who seemed to have it all together and chastised myself that I couldn’t seem to pull myself together, especially when I did have help, and a lot of it. Comparing ourselves to others will never get us anywhere. Intellectually I know this, but in the deep throes of PPA, it’s hard to remember.
I am also very proud of myself that I pumped for both my girls for 7 months (still going with the little one). I’m proud that I sought support from mental health professionals, eventually joined baby groups, and reached out to friends. I worked to pull myself out of my cocoon and let others help me to do so. It was and is a struggle, but I am making baby steps and doing so much better.
The postpartum period, while glamorized and not talked about enough, is VERY hard, lonely, and isolating. It is not strictly this happy careful period of bonding and love, but can be some of the darkest times for new mothers. It can be filled with so many ups and downs. So many, "OH my gosh, how am going to survive getting up every two hours with the baby for another month?" and so many, "OH my gosh, the baby just did something new! I'm so in love." It’s normal and hard, which is totally- you guessed it- normal.
Change in emotions
I feel a love that I didn’t even know could exist. Sometimes I think that my heart will explode with all the love that I feel for these two tiny humans. I also feel worries that I never quite knew could exist. So many worries about the baby and the toddler. Are they eating enough? What to do when they get sick? Are they still breathing? What do the different coughs mean? Will someone kidnap them from the park if I look away for a minute? How to keep my girls safe in college (yes, they are not even in preschool yet and I have those worries)? How to teach about positive self-talk and body image? Protect from bullying? Teach them never to be the bully but to stand up for others who need it. The list goes on and on. Two extreme opposites entirely exist side by side.
I also feel so guilty admitting that sometimes I want - okay need! - a break from them. I need 5 minutes to myself with no one needing anything from me. I look at the clock waiting for bedtime so I can get a respite. But, as soon as both girls are asleep, I find myself looking at pictures of them or staring at the monitor because I miss them already. Oh, the roller coaster of motherhood!
Working again is also challenging. I'm lucky that I work for myself and have a bit of a more flexible schedule. However, the guilt that I feel for being excited to work again coupled with the sadness that I don't have that time with my baby is hard. I love the work that I get to do - serving grievers- and I know that I'm a better mom and wife by utilizing that part of myself. I also want to model for my girls that they can be moms and follow their dreams.
Change in Relationships
(There are so so so many changes, too many to fit in a blog, but here are some.)
A different relationship with husband/partner (intimacy can be hard due to many reasons - post-birth vaginal pain/exhaustion from caring for a baby/being 'touched' out). In many ways you can feel closer, you just created a life together! How cool is that? And in many ways, due to lack of sleep, and the myriad needs of a tiny adorable boss, bitterness, and resentment can sometimes creep in. I know my husband and I struggled in the early months with both of the girls. We fought a lot. I snapped at him a lot. There were days when I wondered if we’d ever enjoy each other again. Thankfully, for us, we are getting back to that place because we’ve been intentionally putting the work in. It takes time and effort. I do wonder, however, if we are even capable of having a conversation that doesn’t involve the girls somehow….. Maybe in 20 years? Doubtful.
It really is interesting how having a kid changes friendships. Navigating napping schedules. Tantrums. Meltdowns. Childcare and lack of it. Exhaustion. No energy to get the kids out and navigate crowds. All this makes it really hard to keep up with friendships, especially with those without children.
Before we got pregnant, I had a former friend tell me that once I had kids we would no longer be friends. Let's just say our friendship fizzled right then. I had another friend who removed me from all social media. I know that she was grieving infertility and wanting to be a mom, and my heart aches for her. My heart also hurts because I miss being her friend.
On the flip side, many friendships deepen. I have met many other mommies that are becoming closer and closer friends. I’m so grateful to be in the trenches with them. Having people to share laughs and tears with is so important. I remember in the early months with my first, I was so overwhelmed that even getting out of the house for a walk was hard. I was supposed to go for a walk with a new mom friend and told her I couldn’t. I was so frazzled and embarrassed. Her response was asking me what type of Jamba Juice I like and showing up at my house with it. Instead of our walk, we sat in my backyard and chatted. It meant so much to me. Another mom friend blew my mind by changing my daughter’s diaper in her lap in the time that it took me to look around, in a minor panic, and try to figure out where at Starbucks I was going to change her.
I’m still building my village and grateful for all the people that I have met and am meeting through my children. Having a kid cuts out a lot of the BS. There are days I still feel lonely and too overwhelmed to be social, but I’m giving myself grace and being okay that relationships may take a bit longer to cultivate and deepen. My village is forming slowly and strongly.
I think it is common for our parents to sometimes have an adjustment to no longer being the ‘parent’ or the authority. I remember my daughter screamed, “Mommy!” and both my mother and I responded. I had to remind her that I was the mother in this case.
There are times when I have to gently (okay, I’m not always successful in the gentle part) remind my mom that there are things that my husband and I want to do differently in raising our girls. There are many things that have changed since we were kids. Science and research have taught us a lot about child safety and rearing. The internet is a blessing and a curse. We know so much, sometimes too much. We have so many choices and are lucky to have options. But, we are also cursed with information overload. (Seriously, how many different types of bottles need to exist?)
But, truth be told, I still call my mom and ask her lots of questions and for advice. She will always be my mom and my safe place, just as I hope to always be that to my little girls.
Grieving New Milestones as a Parent
When I got pregnant and had my first, huge waves of grief came crashing down on me. My dad was never going to get to meet her. He would have loved being a grandfather. Instead, my daughter is named after him serving as a constant connection to him. (In Judaism, we only name babies after someone who is deceased). Each time my daughter learns something new, there is a pang of grief that I can’t share with him.
Father’s Day took on a whole new meaning once I became a mother. I wanted my husband to have that day to feel special. This meant that I could no longer zone out to Netflix and hide from all the Hallmark-in-your-face look-what-you-are-missing ads. The day is less emotionally charged with the changed focus of it now being on my husband AND I do wish more than anything that I still had my dad.
Becoming a mother, a parent, and a caregiver, is one of the most amazing and challenging things in the entire world.
There really is no way to describe it and fully capture the entirety of the experience. There are some of the highest highs and the lowest of lows and everything in between. And all of it, no matter how strange or out there, is apparently mostly normal. And, none of us really have any idea what we are doing despite how it may appear to others. We are ALL learning as we go.
Additional Blogs on Motherhood:
- Motherhood Challenges: Coping with Confusing Ambivalence in Times of Change
- Confessions of a New Mom: The Grief and Joy of Birth
- Confessions of a New Mom: Grieving the Life that Was & Loving the Life that Is (Part 1)
- Resources to Support Moms
Develop your personalized grief support action plan with our "Grief & Gratitude" workbook.
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