When a first baby is born, so is a new mother. The transition to motherhood can be a tough one that is impossible to be fully prepared for. As you become a mother, you take on an entirely new identity. It is a new phase of life that comes with new challenges, emotions, and growth.
As a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit occupational therapist, I find that I take care of the mothers just as much as I take care of the babies. If not most mothers, many are prepared with the tangibles: a place for the new baby to sleep, clothes for the new baby to wear, bottles, and diapers. But it is impossible to fully prepare for the emotional transition that takes place. New moms are met with a little baby who is completely dependent and a barrage of new and different emotions that you may not fully understand.
The Transition to Motherhood Rewires Your Brain
Many moms will admit that they expected to immediately fall in love with their new baby. But it doesn’t always happen automatically. It can take time for the maternal instinct to develop, and mommies do not have to pay an emotional price for this. New moms absolutely should not feel shame or guilt associated with this. It is more important than ever that you give yourself some grace as you navigate all the new feelings and emotions associated with becoming a mother.
Studies show that structural changes occur in a new mom’s brain because of the release of hormones after giving birth.1 This results in an increase in the volume of grey matter in the parts of the brain that are associated with empathy and mom’s sensitivity to the baby. These structural changes may actually help mommy bond with the baby. This may be an unfamiliar sensation as the brain is being rewired. Some experts have likened the transition to motherhood as a “phase” of life, like adolescence, where significant changes occur. There’s a lot of emphases placed on the transition to adolescence, such as books written on the topic and many supports in place. But there is very little support provided for the transition into motherhood!
Beware of Unrealistic Expectations
Many mothers would say that they entered into motherhood with unrealistic expectations about what they would be able to accomplish in a day. This results in frustration and feelings of helplessness and loss of control. Moms also admit to experiencing guilt associated with missing their independence and the time they used to have for themselves. This is all part of learning a new identity, just as we did during adolescence.
It is important that you do not place unrealistic expectations on yourself, resulting in self-judgment and feelings of despair. These expectations can easily turn into baby blues and be confused with postpartum depression. If you suspect you are truly depressed, please check with your healthcare professional.
Becoming a Mother in Times of Uncertainty is Even Harder
Becoming a mother right now comes with a new set of challenges. Babies today are being born into a world with a lot of uncertainty as we all adapt our lives in the time of COVID-19. Many families may be experiencing job loss, food insecurity, changes in home situations, and even sickness in the family. There are a lot of stressors and unknowns. It is more important than ever for new moms to give themselves some grace.
My baby was born just after 9/11 into a different world of uncertainty. I felt like the sadness of 9/11 took something away from the joy of my pregnancy and bringing home a new baby. I mourned for that loss as I tried to feel safe and provide safety for my new baby and my three-year-old. New moms during the COVID-19 pandemic need a lot of support from friends and family during this difficult time. Most of all, moms need to give themselves some love. These are not the conditions parents expected when deciding to have a new baby and start a family.
Motherhood Requires Grace Upon Grace
Try to remember that becoming a mother is very different for everyone. So let go of expectations, try not to compare yourself to other new mothers, and ask for help when you need it. Experts make many suggestions, such as keeping a journal, resting when the baby sleeps, and getting fresh air, among other things. But being honest with yourself about your expectations goes a long way.
Acknowledge that your whole life is new and unfamiliar. It will take time to fall into a rhythm and a routine. Give yourself as much time as you need to feel comfortable and get to know your new baby. Try not to bring guilt or shame into the equation; only kindness and forgiveness toward yourself.
Having a baby is a joyful experience, of course! But sometimes, you need to acknowledge the stressors as well. Remember that you are learning to be a mother! It is a process, and you are doing an amazing job!