As you get closer to becoming a mother…

Dear Soon-To-Be Mother (through birth or adoption),

Becoming a mom for the first time was shockingly hard for me. I didn’t expect it to be. I was determined to leave full-time work, and even tried to resign before having my first daughter. Thankfully, my boss wouldn’t let me and kept me on an intermittent employee. But prior to giving birth, I envisioned my new life as a stay-at-home mom. We had saved for years so I could stay home. I imagined working in my garden, my baby babbling on the blanket in the yard.

After she was born, I immediately experienced anxiety which soon developed into depression. I felt like I was watching a movie of someone else becoming a mother. I sought the help of a counselor at 4 months postpartum and was determined to only use counseling to treat my issues. By eleven months postpartum, I knew I need additional help. I had a kind doctor who let me know it was okay to take Zoloft and breastfeed, and two weeks later, I felt like my former self. I had NO idea how much I needed it, and I missed out on enjoying that first year because of my stubbornness regarding using medication.

Now, 8 years later, I feel like I have a big handle on what happened. I had several risk factors for postpartum depression (I heard recently an expert say we need to call it “emotional complications in the childbearing year” because women experience it throughout pregnancy and adoption planning and after the baby’s arrival), but I think the biggest was my immediate postpartum anxiety and unrealistic expectations about what my life would be like afterwards. I teach a lot about these two things in my childbirth classes, because of my experience.

I recently attended the annual conference of the National Perinatal Association, an inter-disciplinary group of professionals including perinatologists, neonatologists, therapists, psychiatrists, and doula (I was the only doula there).  Talk after talk revealed to me what I experienced after my first pregnancy was so, so common and so, so treatable. I was dumbstruck after hearing one psychiatrist say, “We screen pregnant women routinely for pregnancy-induced hypertension, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia.  Yet those complications occur in only 5-6% of pregnancies.  Emotional complications during the childbearing year, for both birthing and adoptive mothers, occur as much as 20% of the time.  Depression and anxiety are the most common pregnancy complication, and yet we do not universally or routinely screen for them during the prenatal period or the postpartum/post-adoptive period.”  The lack of routine screening for anxiety and depression in expectant and postnatal moms is infuriating, and another blog post for the future.

In our culture, motherhood is this ambivalent concept. Women are told we can have a career, a family, kids..everything. We are told, and I believed, that motherhood is the greatest thing ever, the most important job ever, and we experience the greatest love we’ve ever known. All of those things are true, but they aren’t true ALL of the time. It’s a big myth that is perpetuated in books, magazines, movies, etc.

A more realistic view is that we are meeting this person, this soul, for the first time and getting to know them. We are bonding with them. What we feel and when we feel it is different for every mother-baby pair. After my first daughter came, I felt numb, and that frightened me. I felt like I was not doing a good job, I wasn’t keeping the house in order, I wasn’t perfect, and I wasn’t a good mom. I was afraid my daughter would know these things about me and that I’d never be good enough to be her mom.

It wasn’t until months after she was born that I realized I never looked her in the eye. I never told anyone because I was ashamed. It seemed that I had this inner voice in my head while taking care of my baby girl in that first year: it was the voice of my own mother, my mother-in-law, and everything I thought to be true about parenting. I also think that the way she was born (a planned c-section b/c she was breech, so my body was not hormonally prepared for birth and bonding) affected how I bonded with her immediately, and at that time, I did not know how important skin to skin time was as soon as it was possible (so I teach this also!). Life was not as I had expected, and I didn’t know how to deal with that.

I had a totally different experience with my second child, and it was so healing. I love the mom that I am now to both of the girls and laugh at my flaws (there are many!). The second time around, I was ready to revise my expectations of myself as a mother of two. I stopped listening to the voices of my mother, my mother in law, and every other mom around me. I listened to God and my kids. What freedom that was, and still is!

Always remember this: there is no other baby out there like yours. Your mother, your sister or sister in law, your mother-in-law, your aunt — they have never given birth to or adopted your baby. There is a word for it, actually — the “mother-baby dyad.” Those other moms have never raised your baby. They will have opinions, and so will every pseudo-child expert and teacher out there, but they have never parented your baby. YOU are the best mother to your baby. In some way this baby has chosen you to be her mom, and God has approved. There are a lot of different opinions on parenting out there, but I always say, if there were one way to do things, there would be One Baby Book. There simply is no other mother-baby team out there like yours. You have to do what works for you, whatever goes with your “heart” knowledge.

And you have that. You have everything you need to do this well (and yes, even the mistakes are considered doing it well). You will never be perfect. Your emotions may not be what you expect. That is okay. Thank goodness, you will make a lot of mistakes, because that is how you learn to do things better!

Also, understand that this baby is his/her own unique person. This child has a personality and a soul that is totally independent of its parents. I did not know this in the beginning. I thought I was to mold and shape my child into who she would become. It was a frightening thought, because what if I didn’t do it right? What then? How arrogant of me! It is not our job as parents to control our children. It is to love them, make them feel safe, teach them, but value them as individuals, while accepting their personality and allowing them their emotions.

And so I leave you with many blessings for an easy transition and birth into mothering. And remember, YOU are the best mom for your baby.

With love,

Strong Mama Birth

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