The Birth of A Mother: Coping With a New Identity, Experiencing Grief & Loss and Practicing Self Care.
Written By: Lisa Azzopardi, CYC, MSW, RSW
Clinical Social Worker & Psychotherapist
Adjusting to life as a New Mother presents a wide spectrum of emotional experiences. It can leave many women questioning their identities in their roles as new mothers, while grieving the loss of the familiar, including their professional accomplishments, their romantic partnerships, and their connections with friends and family. Acknowledging this loss can be destabilizing, particularly in a society that romanticizes the idea of “having it all.” Grasping onto the familiar, as a survival strategy and coping response, is real. This is when we begin to notice our collisions with anxiety and depression. With the unknown at its peak, and any form of predictability at a distance, New Mothers often find themselves emotionally and psychologically overwhelmed.
One of the most significant life changes has just occurred. It is no wonder that up to 20% of women suffer from postpartum depression (PPD) worldwide (World Health Organization, 2003). This statistic is likely higher in 2019. Early detection and early treatment can improve feelings of isolation and stigma that women with PPD experience (Chabrol et al., 2002). These are a few reasons why the development and implementation of a Maternal Mental Health Group in Toronto has been so meaningful to many New Mothers. This community outreach program, conceived over a year ago in Liberty Village, is changing the landscape of women’s health in Toronto. A validating environment presents women with the opportunity to share their post-postpartum experiences, and gain comfort in their vulnerability. The social networks that women create in the group begin to de-stigmatize their mental health experiences and normalize their challenges. Additionally, when the mental health needs of parents are attended to, their infants, children and families benefit.
Generally, we are quite familiar with self care strategies including: getting quality sleep, eating nutritious foods, exercising and so forth. These are all self care activities that contribute to and support mental health and wellness in the post-postpartum period.
Beyond these strategies, self care on a cognitive and emotional level requires work. This involves taking the time to sit and notice our internal experiences, including the voices saying, “I’m not doing enough,” or “I’m such a horrible Mother.” Gaining awareness of thought patterns and emotions is essential in achieving longer lasting changes. This is a component of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), a treatment approach that many New Mothers appreciate. Using replacement thoughts, a tool in CBT, can support a decrease in the symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety. If you experience distressing thoughts, or urges to harm yourself or your baby, I encourage you to seek medical attention.
Wondering what you can do right now?
- Sit with your feet planted on the ground. Begin to turn your attention inwards. Ask yourself, how is my body feeling right now? Hot? Cold? How does my heart feel? Open? Light? Heavy? Tight? What thoughts are taking up the most space in my mind right now? Worry Thoughts? Judgemental Thoughts? Obsessive thoughts?
- Go for a walk. Exercise continues to be one of the most under-utilized tools for decreasing depressive symptoms.
- Watch a funny movie, or a short clip of something humorous online. Engaging in an activity that elicits pleasurable emotions has a snowball effect.
- Call a friend, even if it’s just for 5 minutes.
- List 3 things that are positive right now and notice your feelings of gratitude. Practice being present and in the moment with these feelings.
Navigating through the distressing thoughts and emotional overwhelm is doable. And, working through a massive identity change is also possible. One of the gifts of connecting with such resilient women is this- witnessing the transformation of the self, and observing the sheer success in their new skin. Leaning in and accepting change is a developmental task essential to growth, and to the Birth of a Mother. You’ve arrived, take your time as you get to know your new world. And remember, be easy on yourself.