So you're about to become a mother... what kind of mother do you think you will be? Maybe it is something you have always considered: you've always cared for children, or you've idealized a mama from your past, or you are literally just hoping that you're not “that mom” on the news.
Whether or not you know it, you have a mama archetype in your toolbox already. She's in there with all of her quirks and good graces. She's just waiting to hatch when your baby does.
Nothing to worry about? Not so fast.
Your mama archetype carries with her all sorts of good, but she comes with a shadow-side, too. It's worth peeking under the hood to see what she might look like before she arrives. How?
Consult Your Mama Baggage: We all have mama baggage. Some of us have small, day-trip bags. For instance, your mama always made you take off your shoes immediately when you came in the house. She insisted that franks and weenies be served exclusively with canned corn? Do you do the same thing now? Um hum. These are quirks. They are funny, annoying, and may possibly result in tears. But they are like day-trip baggage.
Some of us have larger bags, like mamas who had what may have possibly been diagnosable psychological conditions. If you can recall your mother seeming totally withdrawn, or yelling at you, your siblings, or a host of individuals only she could see, it is worth talking about this with a therapist before you become a mother yourself. Perhaps you've already processed the difficult situations you grew up with, but you have a new lens. Prepare now.
Some of us have second homes. Mama baggage isn't necessarily bad things your mother did, they may be bad things that happened to her. Perhaps she passed away when you were young, or perhaps she abandoned your family. This doesn't mean you don't have any ideas about what it is like to be a mother... you may have more ideas than are physically possible in one lifetime as you assembled a mother-figure from family members, friends, and media icons. You may have set a standard for yourself that is completely unattainable.
If you have the resources (like time and money), you can certainly chat with a counselor or therapist about your relationship with your mother. They might help you release the grasp on the “right” way to pack a lunch, help you anticipate any predisposition you might have for postpartum mood disorders, or support you as you build up or whittle down your idea of motherhood.
If you're not sure, you can spend a little time journaling. Write down your ideas of what it means to be a mother, great mother stories, and other relevant details. Talk with your friends about their experiences becoming mothers and what surprised them. Begin to write your own story of what the motherhood journey will look like for you.
Nothing makes people smile like pictures of babies and baby animals, right? We go nuts for the big eyes, the tiny fingers, the various forms of baby fluff. There are whole galaxies of the Internet devoted to kitty porn because I firmly believe it is the only known remedy for the tragedy in the daily news and boredom in the corporate office.
So why oh why aren't new mamas the Happiest People On Earth?
First, Grumpy Cat doesn't cry, poop, or make your nipples bleed. So there's that. Second, there are some truly incredible things that have to happen in order for two people to make one more. These things involve hormones.
Most of the time, the making hormones are awesome, otherwise we would have gone extinct long before slicing bread. The hormones of breastfeeding and morning nuzzles are equally awesome. But this hormonal hootenanny can leave mama awash in a brave new world of ups, downs, and fun-house-mirror-sideways.
You've read about postpartum depression, but (like most things) what you've read through the popular medial lens is... um... not fully accurate. Before you stop reading and go back to the kitty porn, here are a few things I think you might like to know about postpartum depression.
It Ain't All Sad: technically, postpartum depression is one of many postpartum mood disorders. Even those diagnosed with this condition aren't necessarily sad in the sense that they are weepy, withdrawn, and no longer interested in joyful activities. More women experience anxiety and hyper-vigilance than overt sorrow. It is normal but you don't have to buck up and take it. If you know you're prone to anxious thoughts, or you start to make rules about how many times grandma must wash her hands before touching your little one, it's time to make a phone call.
Crazy Ain't Likely: most women who struggle with postpartum mood disorders avoid seeking treatment because they are afraid that someone will take their baby away. There is a mood disorder called postpartum psychosis, which the media have lovingly mis-labeled postpartum depression in some famous cases. This is certainly terrible, but the overwhelming majority of women with a postpartum mood disorder do not fall into the category of postpartum psychosis (that said if you are ever in a situation where you think you might be a danger to yourself or your baby, please call a friend and keep calling until someone answers, or call 911).
Don't Hold Your Breath: for whatever reason, we think of the postpartum period as the first six weeks after baby is born. If you make it through this time with just a little case of the baby blues as your hormones readjust to pre-pregnancy style, groovy. But that doesn't mean you're out of the woods. Postpartum mood disorders can creep up on you later in the first year of life.
Treatment Helps: learning that your feelings are normal and that there are ways to cope with them (other than laminating everything in your house or crying alone in the bathroom) is empowering. I think it is wise to connect with a therapist every three months even if you're feeling jolly as an elf. There is always something they can offer you, even if it has to do with your romantic relationship, your family, or your future.
Get Out of the House: the secret-agent aspect of Mom & Me yoga? You get to meet other mamas, especially those you've known from prenatal yoga. You get to learn what other mamas worry about and support one another. The instructor can also give you a little guidance and support if it looks like that's what you could use most.
The first year of your baby's life might be totally joyful, but you're likely going to experience some bumps as well. It's kind of like four-wheeling*. Sometimes the bumps are fun, and sometimes they are more than you are equipped to manage on your own.
*I know literally nothing about four-wheeling.
I'm one of those people who loves making your life easier (and I believe in you). I am an experienced registered prenatal yoga teacher and a lactation educator.
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Thanks for inviting me to be a part of this process with you. You're stronger than you think you are.