“You’re different.” These words from my husband cut through me like a knife. We were out to dinner after my son’s two-month checkup. I was swallowing the concern about him sleeping soundly after his shots, out in public at the height of flu season, trying to be cool and normal for my husband, and even more for myself. I’m not different, I thought...screamed... In my head. I’m still me!! Please don’t say that. I’m just living in a completely alternate universe, with a lot more housework to do, and a tiny baby whose quietest sounds can wake me up from the depths of the kind of sleep coma you can only fall into if you’ve been deprived of sleep. In another room. Because I’m his Mom.
In the first week or two after bringing my son home, just before waking up, in some sort of strange dream state, my son’s face would zoom into my sight and I’d wake up with a startle, my heart beating out of my chest, and gasping for air. One time, my husband was trying to wake me very softly, but in my sleepy haze, I envisioned him putting the baby in my face and snapped out loud “don’t ever wake me up like that again.” My eyes opened and I could see the confusion and a little hurt in his face. He was trying to be gentle. He didn’t know what I had seen. It wasn’t his fault my brain waves and emotions were firing all over the place.
Sometimes I would wake up and, panicked, wonder where the baby was. As if someone had taken him somewhere or he’d disappear into thin air while I was sleeping. He, of course, was peacefully asleep right where I’d left him with my husband keeping an eye on him.
I was unsettled and anxious and feeling guilty. SO VERY guilty. All the time. Guilty for not leaving the house. Guilty for taking him out of the house. Guilty for not knowing what he needed. Guilty for not having gone to the infant care class. Guilty for not being able to produce enough milk. Guilty for not knowing how to entertain him. (I now know you can’t really “entertain” a newborn. He just needs to learn how to eat and sleep.)
GUILTY FOR SLEEPING. (Really.) Guilty that my husband thinks I’m different. Guilty for feeling lonely all day while my sweet baby that I prayed for and longed for and begged for was right there beside me. Guilty for not feeling like dressing him in every cute outfit and taking pictures of him and posting them on Facebook. Guilty for the 20 unanswered text messages and phone calls waiting on my phone. Guilty for not being on a schedule. Guilty for not being able to get control of my irrational feelings.
I didn’t fully understand the changes my brain was undergoing at the time. This article, Motherhood brings the most dramatic brain changes of a woman’s life by Chelsea Conaboy in the Boston Globe recently brought it all into the light. I was aware as I must have heard about it in passing. However, in my new mom haze, it didn’t really cross my mind or provide me any comfort.
This article is a MUST READ if you are trying to become pregnant, are expecting, or have had a baby in the last two years - or ever.
Perhaps with more information, I too, like Conaboy states, would have felt less guilty, or perhaps, at least less guilty about feeling guilty. Perhaps my husband would have been less confused. Perhaps I would have been less panicked about my weird visions.
Maybe I am different. I certainly am feeling out of alignment lately. Is it all because I’m a new mom? Is it that “simple” of an explanation? It appears the research is not yet done on this one.
This expert from the article, quoting pediatrician and child development expert T. Berry Brazelton, does give me reassuring perspective:
“You’re frightened and you don’t feel adequate and you’re working very hard to pull yourself together, to start facing this child that you’ve fallen desperately in love with for the first time in your life, and you realize what a major responsibility that is and what a turning point in your life it is. . . . I see getting disorganized and thrown into a frenzy like that as a major opportunity to reorganize yourself and pull yourself back together and become the new person that you want to be.
Brazelton said that had been his philosophy since he began practicing in Cambridge in 1951. “At that point, everything that went wrong with the child was blamed on the parents. And the parent was already feeling inadequate and guilty, so it re-enhanced the feeling of failure. It seemed to me that was the opposite of what we ought to be doing. We ought to be building up a mother’s self-esteem, so she can pass that on to her child.”
What's incredible and uplifting is the idea that new motherhood is an opportunity to reorganize ourselves and become the new person we want to be. What an exciting time! How different our lives would be if we were prepared for such a major change in this way. When all the newborn dust and the hormones and brain changes start settling, who do you want to be? THIS is a conversation I’m incorporating into my coaching programs immediately.
But first, moms-to-be and new moms, please know you are not crazy. Please do not get down on yourself for the flood of confusing emotions you feel. According to Jodi Pawluski, a researcher at University of Rennes 1 in France, who is quoted in the article, you’re going through “one of the most significant biological events...you would have in your life.”
And to all the partners out there, if I can offer you one single piece of relationship-saving advice it is this: tell Mom she’s doing a good job. Repeat it until you’re blue in the face. You’re welcome. ;)
Are you an expecting Mom or a new mom? Has anyone discussed with you the changes that happen in a woman's brain from birthing a child? And how about that #momguilt and anxiety? Please share in the comments below!