“We had to give her formula since you aren’t producing milk and the baby is underweight.”
“Wait, what? Um, okay. I guess that’s fine.”
Less than 24 hours after birthing a beautiful baby girl, this mama is already experiencing it…Mom guilt. A common assailant that sneaks up on you very quickly after a baby is placed in your arms. A cruel little voice that tells you that you aren’t good enough, that you are failing, that you should be doing more. My friend heard these words about formula-feeding from a nurse during her first day at the hospital. She had spent hours pushing out the sweetest little miracle whom she had fought for and carried for over 9 months; and her first thought was, “Why can’t I do the thing that I’m supposed to do? What’s wrong with me?” Her instant response was guilt and shame – she was beating herself up for something she had zero control over.
Another friend of mine recently had a baby and had to be put on pain and allergy medication after the delivery due to several factors outside of her control. That first night, she opted to have her baby stay in the nursery – being brought to her regularly to nurse and snuggle. She chose the nursery because she had been going over 24 hours without sleep and she felt too out of it to know which side was up. Her first statement, however – “Am I a bad mom for putting him in the nursery?” Guilt. Shame. Within just hours of having her sweet little baby boy.
And then there’s another Mom, whose babies are a little over a year apart. She’s still nursing her second yet SO ready to be done and to have her body back to herself. The guilt of getting pregnant so soon with her second, which caused her milk supply to dwindle with her first and have her stop breastfeeding way sooner than she had intended, keeps her breastfeeding her second because she doesn’t want to look like a failure or a quitter, or to be selfish; all the while feeling angry and resentful on the inside, to keep appearances up on the outside.
With the rampant participation on social media these days, the opportunity for “Mompetition” and comparison is RIPE. You can’t help it. You see a Mom’s post on Facebook, or some beautiful picture on Instagram, and it looks like they have it all together, or are doing it better, or just doing whatever they’re doing and posting about it (which, by the way, may all just be the same kind of thing – trying to make it all look ok when that Mom is struggling inside, too) and it instantly makes you feel small, unworthy, or like a failure. The self-doubt and criticism kick in and the chasing of an ideal that doesn’t actually exist, begins.
Any of this sound or feel familiar?
It’s all too common yet not commonly talked about. Those feelings of self-doubt, self-deprecation, anxiety, fear, hopelessness, anger, loneliness, depression – that come either during pregnancy or after a baby is born (or both). Too many women suffer in silence, because to admit their struggle adds to the guilt even more. “I should be able to handle this.” Right?
But I’m here to tell you, mamas, that you do not need to endure this struggle alone. Did you know that approximately 1 in 5 women experience Postpartum Depression? With another estimation showing ~50% of women experiencing symptoms don’t report them, so the number is likely much higher. And did you know that Postpartum Depression is an actual mood disorder diagnosis along the same lines of Major Depressive Disorder and Bipolar Disorder?
So let me first say this to you – you are not alone. You are not weak for struggling with this. You are not a bad mom for feeling anxious, for needing to walk away from your baby to collect yourself, for accidentally letting your baby pee on his own face while changing his diaper (yep – that one was me!). You are an amazing, strong woman who is undergoing one of the biggest life-altering events to date. Not to mention the hormonal changes, sleep deprivation, sore nipples, expensive formula, diaper blowouts, and so on….
So if there is any one thing to begin with as you continue on your journey to healing, it is this.
Please, oh please, give yourself grace to be imperfect.
You are doing the best you can. If today you were able to keep your baby fed and semi-content, you did your job well. If today you did a half of one load of laundry before your baby’s hour nap turned into 15 minutes because someone rang the doorbell, you are an excellent mom! Give yourself a high five because you, my friend, are enough. Those lying voices that make you doubt and compare will get quieter and quieter the more you fight back with truth. And here is the truth.
You are a good mom.
You are doing a good job.
This is hard and it’s okay for it to be hard.
You need help and it’s okay for you to need help.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of PPD – reach out to someone for support today. Call a friend, a counselor, a pastor, your doctor. Women should no longer have to endure this very real and debilitating struggle alone. Together as mothers we can help normalize this problem so more and more women can get the help and treatment they need to feel like themselves again.
Come join us at Breath of Life Birth Center on the first Monday of every month, for our Normalizing & Removing the Shame of PPD. This is a group for all women, and those who may be experiencing postpartum mood disorders or similar symptoms, are curious, or just want to connect with women on this wild ride we call Momming. Click here for event details.
Courtney Ellis is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor providing confidential, spiritually-sensitive therapy to the Tampa Bay area. Learn more about her at www.healinghurtinghearts.com.