A colleague once asked me: “Where do you find your strength?” and it has been a useful question for me throughout my life. I think it is a question that can be really helpful for new mothers, as when you become a new mum, you might find that many of your familiar coping mechanisms aren’t available to you. During our lives we find ways of coping with stresses and strains, but when we become mothers we might not be able to use these so easily.
For example, if you are someone who likes routine, then the chaos of being ‘dictated’ to by the needs of your baby might feel overwhelming. Or if you are used to being able to get out and exercise when you need some headspace, it might feel really hard not to be able to get out so easily, especially when your body is recovering. Other people can find it hard not to be surrounded by the companionship of colleagues at work, and might find being a new mother to be a very isolating experience.
Whilst you are adjusting to this new situation, it can be very disconcerting and hard to recognise that part of what you are feeling is due to not being able to access these supports that you previously had in your life. Many people also think that they ‘should’ be able to manage OK, especially if everyone else around them seems to be doing fine.
Recognising what you’re missing is an important part of finding yourself in your new role as a mother. It helps normalise some of the feelings you might be having and can give a clue as to what kind of support you might want to access. Stepping outside your situation and assessing it can be hard, as it is such a mammoth leap, so talking with others who understand and sympathise is a big help.
It can be useful to look at the psychologist J. William Worden’s Four Tasks of Mourning when we are looking at how to adapt to becoming a parent:
- Accept the reality of the loss (things HAVE changed).
- Work through the pain of grief (this might not happen immediately).
- Adjust to an environment which cannot be the same (at least not for a while).
- Find some way of connecting with what you have lost in your new stage of life.
Working through these stages puts you in a better position to figure out what aspects of your life that you enjoyed before giving birth that you can incorporate into your life now. The clearer you are about what it was you have lost, the better position you are in to come up with ideas as to how to move forward.
For example, if you find that you discover that you miss the daily interaction with your work colleagues, it could be that you join or set up a group with other mothers so that you can get that kind of peer-support and regular contact.
Or else you might miss doing sports or other activities that help bring you into more contact with your body, but actually find that doing baby massage or mother and baby yoga can provide some elements of sensual satisfaction.
Other people discover that their creative side can be redirected into organising photo books, or enjoying the weaning process, or taking classes with their baby that reflect their own interests.
Grieving and adjusting takes time, and sometimes we need to talk with others during the process. Don’t expect yourself to ‘get it’ immediately, but allow things to percolate. You will get there.