How to support your mind, body, and spirit during this major transition
Tending to your body
Your needs will be different based on your situation. If you gave birth via vaginal birth or cesarean surgery, and especially if you experienced tearing, an episiotomy, or surgical intervention, your body will be in major recovery mode. If you adopted or are fostering, your body will still be adjusting to a new level of energy output and a new sleep schedule in order to support your health. There are several ingredients that support the body, specifically the post-birth body. These include: eating nourishing foods, bodywork, excessive rest, supportive and loving touch, and allowing your nervous system to come back to a healthy baseline.
The First Forty Days by Heng Ou, Amely Greeven, and Marisa Belger gives great information, comfort and nutritional support for your healing body. You can check it out at https://www.powells.com/book/-9781617691836
The Fourth Trimester by Kimberly Ann Johnson is a comprehensive guide to supporting your body in the transition to motherhood. Find her book at https://www.powells.com/book/-9781611804003
Healing physical wounding
Sexological bodyworkers and pelvic floor specialists are the people to see if you have suffered tearing, scar tissue buildup, incontinence, prolape, or prolonged physical pain. Continue to search for practitioners, even if your situation is minimized or normalized by physicians or other providers. You do not need to be in pain and there are practitioners who can help.
Keli Garza is the founder of Steamy Chick, a business that teaches, trains, and consults women on vaginal steaming, which has been shown to assist in fertility and postpartum healing. She offers inexpensive consultations. You can find her at http://www.steamychick.com/
Ariel Touchet is a local naturopath who specializes in women's fertility and health. She has been trained by Tami Lynn Kent, who developed a highly successful method for healing pelvic floor pain and imbalance. You can find her at http://drarieltouchet.com/
Alberta Qamar is a massage therapist who specializes in treating women in pregnancy, postpartum, and trauma. You can find her at https://rootwholebody.com/
Signs of traumatic birth
If your birth experience included extremely high levels of stress, real or percieved fear that you or your baby would not be okay, or significant physical distress or wounding, you may have residual trauma from the experience. Signs that trauma healing could be useful to you:
you feel like you can't relax, are always on "high alert," or always feel stressed
you feel heavy and/or frozen, it's difficult to move or function
have memories of the experience that are difficult and/or persistent
have intrusive thoughts about your baby or you being harmed/not being okay
startle when people touch you or when you try to have sex
you feel numb in your body
it is easy for your heartrate to go up race quickly, but difficult for it to slow down
you cry persistently and don't know how to stop, you don't feel comforted when given support
Healing traumatic experiences is best done with a combination of physical and psychological support. If you seek help, ensure that the practitioner you have chosen is "trauma-informed," which means they will have an understanding of how trauma affects the body and mind and have specific approaches to honor you and help you heal.
Eye-Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) and Somatic Expereincing practitionars are particularly useful for traumatic birth experiences.
Tending to your mind
Fear, grief, resentment, and loss are a natural part of the transition to motherhood. The "dark" side of motherhood, these experiences can often be kept secret, not discussed openly, or called abnormal and bad. If you ignore these experiences of motherhood, the feelings often get bigger, cause more anxiety, and create unnecessary difficulty in your life. Even if you are a mom who is ready and overjoyed to be entering the next chapter of your life and family, the transition into motherhood is dramatic.
Our concept of what it will be like to be a mother is based on our experience of our own family, observations of our community, and media depictions. These models can often limit or distort our image of what motherhood will be like, which can lead to shocking disappointment, fear, and confusion when we become mothers. It is important to get support; to have people around you who can understand, validate, and guide you through the experience. Support can come in the form of family, friends, or professionals.
Your particular feelings, thoughts, and moods will be different depending on your own personal experience. However, the following are several general themes you may experience.
Loss of self/transformation of personal identity
When you become a mother, your identity changes. You are now responsible for another life. You are now called to discover an ongoing strategy that allows you to honor yourself, your partnership (if you are partnered), and your child(ren). In this transition, you may find that you shed several things that used to feel important, people, or activities and priorities. You may feel lost and have to begin a self-discovery process of what it means to be you with a child. You may feel angry that your time is consumed by your child and not other things that you love to do. You may feel afraid to experience any sense of distance or space from your child for fear you will harm or "ruin" them. You may experience a resurgence of trauma, anxiety, or depression symptoms. This is all normal. The transition to motherhood is a dramatic storm that clears out what is no longer needed and makes space for the new, vital you.
Re-negotiation of partnership
It is common to feel distance between you and your partner in the initial weeks and months of becoming parents. As your identities, priorities, and relationship shifts, it can be difficult to feel grounded in your connection. After the initial transition period, it can be helpful to integrate new rituals for connection. Now that there is a new family member in your life, what time and space can you create to focus on your connection with each other?
Many women struggle to prioritize their own health and care once they have a child. While it is true that your life will change once you have a child, this does not mean that you are no longer worthy of deep and restorative nourishment, love, and support. If you are not thriving, your baby will not thrive either. What support people, activities, practices, and structures do you need in your life in order to maintain your own sense of well-being?
Life on hold
When you first become a parent, it is easy to fall prey to the high level of anxiety our culture prescribes for new moms. Watch too many commercials or daytime shows and you will begin to think that your life has to pause completely when you have a child. After an initial period of rest, however, there are many activities you are still able to do with your new little loved one. One of the best self-interventions is to follow people on social media or connect with folks in real life who are living the kind of life with kids that appeals to you. While your child may have a different personality or different needs, having a vision for how you want to be in your life with your child is very helpful. You must begin to draw even more strongly upon your own inner wisdom: what is it that me and my child need right now? Rest and introversion? Socializing and extroversion? It will be up to you to follow your internal compass.
Tending to your spirit
Healing past wounds
It is common in the transition to motherhood to experience a resurgence of previous challenges. Trauma symptoms, especially those rooted in childhood relational trauma, can resurface as we embark on our own journey of mothering. Often, wounds caused by our own family ask to be healed at this crucial juncture in order to set about a healthy foundation for your new family. The sooner you allow yourself to receive support for your mental health, the better off you and your family will be. Look for trauma-informed practitioners to help guide you through this difficult territory.
The way that you participate in many things can change when you enter motherhood. Make a list of the spiritual practices that kept you grounded and nourished before the baby arrived. Here are some questions you can ask yourself to map your new needs for spiritual practice:
How might you need to augment or modify these practices now that you are a mom?
Are there new people you need to bring in? New connections to make or places to visit?
What practices can stay the same with your baby?
What places and people are open to you participating with your child?
When your child is beyond newborn age, will you want to attend these practices alone or with your child?
Isolation is one of the most dangerous experiences for a new mother. Feeling alone and overwhelmed day after day is greatly harmful to your well-being. To protect yourself from this possibility, make a list of people who can keep you company in the following ways:
Who can you call if you need practical advice?
Who can call you during the days when you will be at home?
Who is willing to change their plans from meeting out to meeting in?
Who might be willing to do acts of service (cleaning, bringing food, etc.)?
Who will come and visit you?
Who do you not want to be around in this vulnerable period of time?
Who do you need to limit contact with?
Who will happily welcome you over with your baby/child?
When and how will you and your partner connect?
Who can provide loving touch/supportive touch to you?
Reclaiming sex in motherhood
It is common for sex to change once you enter parenthood. Not only is there a new life to tend to, but your body has (if you have given birth) undergone major change and your sexual tastes and needs may have changed. This may also be happening for your partner, so it can be difficult to connect in the midst of changing sexual needs and desires. Additionally, it can be easy to get caught in the care-taking trap, forget that you are a sexual being, and begin to lose desire for your partner. If you are experiencing physical pain during sex, seek help and healing! If you are having difficulty accessing sexual desire or connecting with your partner, consider hiring a guide who can help you tap back into vitality and intimacy.
You can find a brilliant interview by Kimberly Ann Johnson (author of The Fourth Trimester) of Jaiya on changing sexuality in motherhood at https://www.magamama.com/podcasts
Look for episode 45.
Entering motherhood is a portal, a threshold, an initiation. With the right support, it can be a beautiful, even healing, experience. Please share this article with anyone who may need support! I work with lots of mamas, so don't hesitate to contact me if you would like professional support in your own motherhood journey.