This is, perhaps, the myth that is most voiced and de-bunked early on in my work with new moms. Moms who are struggling with postpartum depression feel so much guilt for not being well. They judge themselves up and down and around the block for dreading the night time feedings, for questioning whether or not they “should have done this,” for feeling claustrophobic when holding their babies all day, for not enjoying breast feeding, and for wanting – more than anything – a full night’s sleep. Each mom who comes to see me for support postpartum is afraid, at least initially, that I will think she is not cut out for motherhood and that she is a “bad mom” for not loving the early weeks and months to pieces.
It is so easy for each of these moms to assume that they are the only ones who feel frustrated and (yes, I will say it) often devastated by the new responsibilities and life changes that come with being a parent. And yet, truly, most moms do feel this way at some point. In fact, a number of experts out there have described childbearing and becoming a mother as a psychic trauma, and an existential crisis. I mean, this shock to the system is real for almost everyone and is especially severe for those women who are struggling with postpartum depression or anxiety.
No matter how much they love their little ones.
So, try this on for size: you can absolutely love your little nugget to pieces and also not love being a mom right now. You don’t have to love changing diapers at 2am, muddling through the often unpleasant trials and errors of breast feeding, and bouncing your baby at all hours of the night. You don’t have to feel appreciative every moment that your baby fusses, or cries, or screams for the umpteenth hour in a row. You are allowed to wonder why the heck you did this. You are more than welcome to wish you were on a peaceful tropical island far away from all of your responsibilities. You are allowed, most certainly, to be afraid and to wonder, how on earth, such a little being has the power to control the lives of one or more competent and well-meaning adults. You don’t have to know what to do, or how to soothe, or which baby rearing books to believe. None of these things cancel out your love for your baby. None of them. Moms who are struggling postpartum love their children just as much as those who are not.
I know that I am preaching to the choir here.
But still, no matter how much the moms in my office know within themselves that they love their babies, they still wonder if others will doubt this. It is a sort of either-or mix-up. As if the rule stated that you either love your baby and everything about being a mother, or you don’t love motherhood and therefore must not love your baby. And how unfair and inaccurate this is!
So, my friends, this holiday season I am hopeful that you can be kind to yourselves and allow a bit of fairness back in to your perception of what you are going through. You get to choose whether or not early motherhood resonates for you and, even if it does not, you can be thankful for that baby who rests (or cries) in your arms. Love most certainly DOES exist in the time of postpartum depression.
- Kate Kripke, LCSW