Our birth culture in the United States does an excellent job of preparing moms for childbirth and labor (that is, if you have the time resources and access to the classes that can help guide you). What we don't do a great job of is preparing new moms for the time after baby is born.
I can't tell you how many students have related to me the story of having their baby handed to them at the hospital or at the birthing center and walking out the door thinking:
"They're just going to let me take this baby home? I have no idea what I'm doing!"
We may be prepared for the pains of labor, but the "oh shit" moment that comes after we take the baby home is one we have been sorely under prepared for. Sure we do a good job of talking about how to change diapers, what the best stroller is and what the safest car seat is, but we don't talk to moms about what happens to their bodies and minds after the baby is born.
Here are some reasons why it's OK to feel like you're losing your mind:
Hormones, hormones, hormones...
Immediately upon the birth of baby, and all throughout labor in fact, the body is doing a massive hormone dump. Hormones are being released into the system to combat pain, to keep the labor progressing and then when baby is born this sweet little hormone cocktail commonly referred to as the love hormones are released to help facilitate bonding between mother and child. We might ride this hormone high for the next few hours or even the next few days. And then suddenly, its gone. The joy, elation and happiness that we might have been feeling are gone and we go from 100 miles an hour to a dead stop and it's no wonder that we can feel sad and withdrawn without this amazing a mix of hormones flowing through a bloodstream.
Pulling those All Nighters
And then there is the lack of sleep. Having pulled a few all-rnighters in college myself, I know the very quick impact that losing sleep can have on the body and the mind. When baby first comes home they can be eating as often as every two hours. and It becomes nearly impossible to ever get a four hour stretch of sleep, the amount of time that we need to hit REM sleep and feel rested. The sheer level of exhaustion can be overwhelming not to mention the impacts on memory thoughts and body functions as a result of all of the lack of sleep (need some sleep assistance? go here for help!).
Aches & Pains Oh My
Don't forget the body discomfort. Whether we have had a vaginal birth or cesarean births, there is a great deal of healing that the body needs to do. It can hurt to sit down, it can hurt to get up from laying down, and it can even hurt picking up and holding her baby. And this doesn't even address all of the aches and pains that happen as a result of all of the weird shapes that we put our bodies in in order to hold, comfort, feed and allow our new baby to sleep (don't forget, postnatal yoga can really help with some of these aches and pains, all it takes is 5 minutes!).
You layer all of these things together and it begins to look like you've signed yourself up for your own personal brand of physical and mental torture. And yet the most insane thing about all of this is is that when we look at our baby (and granted this need not be every time, as there are those 3am feedings that are simply exhausting!) there's a sense that all of this is worth it. How many other situations in our life would we put up with all of these impacts to body and mind and say "Yes I would absolutely do this again"?
This article is not meant to address postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is a very real thing and there are amazing resources out there to help you. If you think that you are experiencing postpartum depression please contact your care provider as soon as possible. There are people out there to help and this is not something that you need to go through alone. If you or someone you know is suffering from postpartum depression you can start getting help by visiting www.postpartum.net.
Wisdom and insight with a dash of humor to help guide you on your journey through motherhood.