I have sat through long dark nights, gripping hands, pressing hips, whispering mantras over and over and over. I have been with women as they have been in fear, in pain, in sadness. I always thought birth work was the perfect training for motherhood - the lack of sleep and imperative calmness seemed like the best practice that I could have. Which was true and not true. Nothing can quite prepare you for the loving, full and unrelenting days and nights with your own baby.
In conversations about parenthood we hear phrases like “fussy baby” and “anxious mother”; there are milestones and hormones and funky sleep. You can be “touched out” or “stressed out.” Sometimes the intensity of postpartum can make if feel like those days are extra dire.
But when it comes down to it, we’re all human, baby and mama alike, and we all have our days. This is the paradox of parenting: we are over-stretched and pulled in uncomfortable ways, we wish return to ourselves, we are angry at those in closest proximity. Then, in an ebb and flow rhythm, we come together again, humbled by the peace of a sleeping child and the depth of feeling in our hearts.
Here are a few tools for you, brave and strong mama, when you find yourself in those moments when you feel like you are drowning or utterly drained to help you return:
Take a deep breath. Breathe in fully through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Do it at least two more times. This forces you to slow down and helps transition your body from its “flight or fight” stress reaction to a calmer state.
Close your eyes. Name what you are feeling. “I am feeling ___________”. Naming brings us back to our rational brain and gives us more control over the situation. Then ask yourself what you need. Listen closely to that answer and think about what steps you can take to fill that cup, both in the short term and the longer term.
Grab a snack and a big glass of water. Often we forget to literally fill ourselves up. Especially when you are breastfeeding, your body needs more food and hydration than you may expect. Try to avoid the sugar and potato chip-y snacks (although when you’re sleep deprived those might be the most seductive to you!) and try something with protein and good fats (like a handful of nuts).
Go outside. It may seem like too much of a hassle to get a screaming baby out of the door or find your shoes after a night of no sleep, but it will be worth it. Being outside changes everyone’s energy. It gives you an opportunity to move your body, see the rest of the world and breathe in fresh air and sunshine.
Enlist a friend. Call that neighbor who has a kid your age. Sit in your building's lobby and greet the passing dogs. Text that mom you met at your moms group. Being social will get you out our your own head, will give you a chance to share stories and build your connection to your community. These early friendships with other moms are designed to last a lifetime.
Dance. Put on your favorite dance tunes and shake your booty. Music has the magical ability to alter our moods and movement brings out the body’s endorphins. Plus it might make you feel silly and is known to reliably make babies laugh.
Take a bath together. Warm water is a universal soother. It has the power of promoting relaxation for both mothers and babies. Add lavender essential oil which further enhances sensual receptivity to calmness.
Bake! It doesn’t matter your skill level or what you like to make, the act of creation will make you feel proud and like you were able to accomplish something from start to end (sometimes a very frustratingly rare feeling with babies and small children). The sensory processes engaged with mixing and smelling and tasting will bring your emotions to a different place. Wearing your baby will give you more freedom in the kitchen and might end up calming baby down, too. These are my favorite chocolate chip cookies, btw.
Sleep when the baby sleeps. Sleep deprivation is no joke and very much limits our energy, patience, empathy and positive mood. But, it also means you have to let go of some expectations for the day: things won’t get folded, tidied or cooked. Come up with a plan for you to get a chunk of uninterrupted sleep each day.
Ask for help. Step out of your comfort zone. Call your mom to come and take the baby for a walk. Tell your partner to be on baby bath duty so your can do something just for you. Hire a cleaning person to take some chores off of your plate.
*Please be aware, that these days typically come and go. If it feels like an all day, every day situation where you aren’t feeling happy or can’t quite find your footing, you need professional help. Feel free to reach out to anyone on the Postpartum Project and they will help you with a plan to begin to feel better.
There is a tendency for us as mothers to be our harshest critics. No one needs you to be perfect at this job and parenting challenges us as we have never been challenged before. In fact there is no such thing as a perfect parent- we all come with our very own bundle of gifts and flaws and that is what we are loved for. The best examples you can set for your children, beginning right from the start, is the gift of self-compassion and the ability to be vulnerable: to admit when things are hard, to say how were really feel instead of how we think we should be and to have grace in repairing any disconnect. You are doing a great job- I hope you know that deep in your bones.