When I had my first child, I spent a lot of time thinking about and preparing for the birth. When the baby finally came, I was mildly depressed and out of sorts for a while, at the same time feeling guilty that I wasn’t overflowing with an abundance of selfless love and joy. I realized that every second of what had been plenty of personal space was now taken over by a baby that would require all of my attention and more.
These overwhelmed and depressed feelings took me by surprise. Wasn’t this supposed to be bliss, everything I had wished for? Well yes, it was definitely what I wanted, but it didn’t seem to come as full of natural joy and maternal ecstasy as I had imagined.
I have heard similar stories from a lot of other new parents. Postpartum, they can feel lost, isolated, and sometimes depressed. I am not talking about full-blown clinical depression, just a kind of existential sadness coupled with overwhelm, and to top it all off, guilt that these feelings even exist.
For most of us, this can be a bad combination, often creating self-criticism and feelings of isolation. We tend to judge ourselves and then judge the fact that we are judging ourselves. How can we let ourselves fully enjoy this amazing experience when there is all that self-doubt inside?
Here are a few points to contemplate that are helpful in caring for yourself while addressing however you may be thinking or feeling in this moment:
Ignore Interference From the Outside Except When it’s Helpful
We need to protect ourselves from what others’ preconceived ideas are about parenting. When we take in what they (the mass media, extended family and friends) tell us is the ‘right’ way to think or behave, it can make us feel especially bad about our state if it doesn’t fit in with what their idea of ‘normal’ is. It can contribute to our tendency to compare our own unique circumstance to everyone else’s outer presentation. Remember the saying – ‘don’t compare your insides to everyone else’s outsides’. We need to remember not to criticize our own unique experience, no matter how others say we should be feeling or behaving. We can choose to surround ourselves with positive, accepting people that will support us in this transformative, exciting process.
There is no Normal
There is no “normal” in terms of what it should feel like to be a new mother. We are all so different, and the path we are following varies greatly from our best friends, relatives, and other parents around us.
So most importantly – forgive yourself for being so hard on yourself. Along with your baby, you deserve loving kindness from yourself and others. No matter what is going on, whether you’re feeling extremely overwhelmed, confused, or angry at your new responsibilities and circumstance, it’s ok, it does not define who you are as a parent or as a person. You are just right and your feelings and thoughts are only what you are experiencing right now. They may not feel ideal, but they are your reality, and ironically, the sooner you can accept them, the faster they will transform into something else.
Love Yourself as You are
Unfortunately, the phrase “love yourself” has become such a cliché that it can be associated with a kind of forced and thereby false idea of ‘self-love’. Rather than being rigid about ‘loving yourself’, focus more on acceptance of and enjoyment of you as you are. You are not trying to change into some kind of all-loving perfect creature; rather, you are focused on honoring yourself even at your darkest, and learning to embrace those thoughts and feelings. Ironically, this ability often leads to authentic self-love and joy.
As Jack Kornfield, a famous psychologist and Buddhist often describes — bow to your inner critic, bow to whatever you may be feeling and thinking about. Accepting yourself and your darkest thoughts and feelings will just help them sail through you like clouds on a clear day.
When you judge, hold onto, or try to change negative thoughts and feelings, they become more entrenched. If your inner self can dispassionately observe them and treat them with compassion, without trying to dispel them, they have more of a chance of simply moving on. Stand back and watch your thoughts and feelings, dispassionately observing them. They are not you, but just labels that you have created about yourself. And they deserve to be accepted like any other thought or feeling you happen to be having.
Take walks outside with your baby or child if you can. Notice the leaves, breathe the air, and feel your child against you. Try to tune into his or her steady rhythm of breath. Connect with her in the moment, experiencing life through her body and breath. Let your baby teach you, feel what it is to be fully in the present. See nature as a healer, giving you its rejuvenating energy, infusing you with steady acceptance and love. Take it all in with your breath. Let yourself receive what nature and your child have to offer; they are both great teachers. Take as much time for yourself as possible. When your child is sleeping, don’t worry so much about cooking and cleaning, spend more time on self-care. Take a bath, get a foot massage, or take a nap. When your partner or a caregiver is watching the little one, take short walks by yourself or get some other kind of nurturing exercise for your body and spirit.
New mothers and fathers go through a major right of passage when having their first child. Everyone’s experience will be slightly varied, and we can appreciate our own for its unique aspects and hidden teachings. When we have ‘negative’ thoughts and feelings that don’t feel comfortable, they need to be honored. When we can do that, these experiences become transitory and thereby transformative. They often become positive, and lead us to more genuine, extraordinary aspects of ourselves. Not only are you your child’s first guide in this life, he is there also to teach you some things you may not have known or understood about yourself.
About Katharina Sandizell
Katharina Sandizell, MA, MFT, PDHom is a Psychotherapist and mother of 2. She works with individual parents and couples on relationship and parenting issues in her Bay Area office and online over Skype. She is also a Classical Homeopathoffering first aid prescribing classes online and in person. She works with parents from all over the world. The rest of the time she can be found romping with her kids at the beach, meditating, or singing with her husband. You can find her at www.ksandizell.com
Image Credit: Sam Pullara