Let’s Talk About Expectations Surrounding Motherhood
A personal perspective on the transition to motherhood and what this writer wishes she would have known before stepping into the role.
Depression and disappointment – who invited them to the birthing party? Dirty little expectations did. I have an invitation for all my ladies. Join me in planning a better party…one where we unburden ourselves from expectations and their strangling hold. My battle cry: Stop expecting! Not as in stop procreating, if that’s your jam. Stop, as in, modulate your expectations if you are expecting a tiny human so that you can set the stage for a far more joyful postpartum party.
I believe that dark and isolating seasons, riddled with feelings of guilt, worthlessness and hopelessness, can benefit from being genuinely brought into the light and discussed. I write what I wish I could have read and truly heard 2.5 years ago.
Like many women, I tried for more than 72 hours to bring my first – a 9 lb. 2 oz. baby girl – into the world vaginally, only to be met with a core-level feeling of utter failure when it ended in a traumatic and jarring C-section. Following that joy ride, we took her in for mouth surgery at seven days old and then experienced months of failed breast-feeding attempts.
I should have taken the Rolling Stones more seriously when they reminded me that, “You can’t always get what you want.” As a result of the way I got my motherhood “party” started, I experienced severe postpartum depression, PTSD associated with my emergency C-section, and trauma and grief with my perceived “loss” of bonding through breastfeeding.
My daughter is now two years old, and to this day I cannot even see a beautifully generous mother breastfeeding her child without experiencing a grief-induced panic attack. I applaud them and have absolutely no issues with breastfeeding in public. I just have to look away because it still brings me such sadness and feelings of failure.
I’ll never remember the moment they laid my new baby on my chest. I’m doing the work to convince my heart of what my head has finally accepted: I am not a failure as a mother. And so, with that, welcome to the “uphill-iest” battle I’ve climbed in my 36 years.
But first, a few trigger warnings. They are some here about depression, birth experience and motherhood challenges. Proceed with care. But friends, isn’t this kind of the point? In whatever capacity we are able to listen or share the ugly things that we don’t want to bring up at happy hour, we must. Some topics cannot be ignored.
The hardest part about sharing anything like this is my awareness that these are “first world problems” and how exposed it makes me feel to know that many people could roll their eyes at the very real depression I’ve lived. There are, at this very moment, far worse things happening in our world. These aren’t the worst problems. They are simply my problems. And I share them in the hopes of raising awareness. With that, the top three (there are way more) expectations I wish I would have unburdened myself from before becoming a mother:
Our Birth Will Be Vaginal And I Will Be There For It
OK, obviously my body was physically “there” when my daughter was very forcibly pulled out of my birth canal. But the rest of me, the soul part, was exhausted, numbed and elsewhere. Thank God for my Doula and her pictures, because that’s all I have. If you’re new to this dance, ask yourself, what would it look like for you if a vaginal delivery does not happen? Sit down and get really (like, very favorite fall scarf) comfortable with this.
All of my Type A’s, listen up: Your birth “plan” HAS TO be renamed – like today. Call it your birth “hopes” or “birth Leprechaun tears” because mama, I don’t care if everything in your entire life up to this point has gone to plan. THIS MAY NOT. Choose your birth team wisely. Stop spending all of your time reading about how to breathe and push during delivery. The professionals will tell you what to do. Invest your time in understanding the many ways birth often has to happen. There are exponential variables and you often control zero of them. If this is the only paragraph you read and observe, you win.
Postpartum Depression Will Not Affect Me
After all, I’m a very happy person; you know – me and Mary Poppins with that “cheery disposition.” But, motherhood is the great equalizer. No one is impervious to the choking strangle of postpartum depression. National Center for Disease Control research shows that as many as 1 in 5 women have struggled with it. I closed my eyes to the things I didn’t want to see for a while, but after time even my Mary Poppins umbrella couldn’t help me fly.
I didn’t want to feel the things my heart insisted that I did: “I am a failure.” “My kid keeps getting sick because I can’t deliver milk to her, let alone produce enough in one 45-minute isolating sitting.” “I am an unloving mom because I want to go back to work.” Chatter in my head…on and on. Of the 60,000 thoughts I had in an average day, 59,000 of them centered on one word: Failure.
Walking out of depression is a lesson in steadfastness and there are no shortcuts. I checked. There is only therapy, honesty and hard work. Be open to these things if your path leads you there. Share with close friends. Journal. Meditate. Yoga. Sing with your kid. Recognize when your bonding method shows up, and embrace that a music class might work better than breastfeeding for you and your kid.
Proactively seek out a postpartum counselor and motherhood support groups. Have the numbers handy and talk with your partner about options beforehand. You’ll be too tired and busy with a newborn to prioritize your emotional health in a time when you will need nothing more. For me, it has been harder to get back into my pre-baby soul than my pre-baby jeans. Stop hiding early, so that you can get busy healing.
Working Part-Time From Home Will Create The Perfect Balance For Me And My Family
I transitioned away from 15 years in the corporate world to start my own business after having my daughter. That sounds all neat and tidy. As my husband, mom and best girlfriends can attest, it wasn’t. I trudged through lots of “I’m not what I do” mud and depressing isolation. For this extreme extrovert, wearing all my hats under the same roof 24-7 with very little adult interaction was a recipe for emotional disaster.
If you plan on adjusting your career scope, working location and shaking up the little snow globe you live in, I recommend you practice accepting a few facts that I wish I had seen out my front window, instead of in the rearview mirror. Figuring out your new work-life flow will take awhile. That’s OK.
If you thrive with human interaction, realize that working from home may not be all that it’s cracked up to be. Sure, for some people it is a glorious transition greeted with the Braveheart cry of, “FREEEEEDOM.” But, for some of us, working from home in our Athleta (or lulu, if you prefer) pants is luxurious and special for precisely five weeks and then “You’re just a girl, in the world” in her pajamas. Consider looking into co-working spaces. Mine saved me.
There is nothing new under the sun. The circumstances and depression I faced are very common. Let’s widen our circle of concern and run full-speed toward one another…because nothing can be changed until it’s faced.
Stephanie Sanstead is a student of marriage, motherhood and music enjoying the journey of a lifetime alongside her family and friends. She earns her bread by writing PR, marketing and social media words. She spends her bread on concerts. Speaking of bread, she likes breaking it with the people that make it all worthwhile.