This picture of my oldest daughter was taken minutes after she was born and perfectly sums up the way I felt after both of my pregnancies. You see, for the majority of my life, I imagined that giving birth to my children would be like the opening scene of The Lion King where Rafiki the monkey triumphantly holds up baby Simba and presents him to the Pride Lands while “The Circle of Life” blares in the background.
It was nothing like that for me. My first daughter, Arden, was a week late and, after 36 hours of labor (that included me showing up for work that day not knowing I was in active labor but wondering why my lower back was killing me) and a night of zero sleep, by the time she came, I was mentally and physically exhausted, incapable of experiencing any emotion other than than shock. “And now I’m supposed to breast feed?” My second daughter, Elle, was also a week late, and in the true spirit of an impatient diva who needed to plan everything, I insisted on an induction. Be careful what you wish for. Because my epidural could not keep up with the Pitocin, I felt every last bit of childbirth. I screamed and begged for more drugs, and two more epidurals later, nothing dulled the pain. Before I knew it, I was 10 centimeters dilated and needed to start pushing.
Oh you can feel that? Too bad. You have to PUSH.
I’m pretty sure everyone who was working on the delivery floor at the hospital that day is treating for some time of PTSD for the out-of-body-lunatic experience that they witnessed. I’m sorry. Really sorry. When Elle arrived only a few hours after I was admitted, I was mentally and physically in shock, just like I felt after my first pregnancy.
While both of my pregnancies were completely different, something remained constant: one week after delivery, The Gremlins arrived. The Gremlins are my name for the surge of hormones that came after childbirth when my body was trying to get back to its pre-pregnancy self. Looking at my body in the mirror really upset me too and was another reason I started to resent everyone around me. Friends recommended looking at things like mommy makeover in Newport Beach, CA but at the time I just couldn’t bring myself to do anything about it. As I’m already an emotional person without being pregnant, The Gremlins made my life a nightmare for a couple weeks after delivery. They kept me awake at night. They caused hot flashes resulting in a drenched bed. I could have literally wrung my clothing. They caused my hair to fall out. They made me hate my husband. They caused me to resent my then two-year old. Worst of all? The Gremlins caused me to feel like a terrible mom and person.
What’s wrong with me? Why didn’t I have the Lion King moment? Why is changing a diaper in the middle of the night (while I’m not sleeping anyway) a chore instead of a privilege? Why am I not singing ‘Kumbaya My Lord’ while shedding tears of joy at the thought of the life that I created?
These feelings can be crippling, but are common. Studies from Mental Health America show that up to 80% of new mothers experience the baby blues, with 10% to 20% of them rising to the level of postpartum depression.
I think The Gremlins are magnified by all the “mom shaming” that goes on these days. If women feel ashamed that they aren’t breastfeeding, putting their kids in cloth diapers, and giving them organic foods that are grown in a backyard garden, then they surely aren’t going to admit when they aren’t feeling good about their kids or about themselves. The Gremlins have become the proverbial Scarlet Letter that nobody wants to talk about.
It is critical that we not be ashamed to talk about The Gremlins and to reach out to experts and our inner circles for the resources on how to overcome them.
Therapist, Ann Witt, has experience providing services to women who are coping with The Gremlins, both before and after delivery. She has developed a C.A.L.M. approach to helping women to defeat The Gremlins:
C= Cultivate Collaborative Caregiving
Open up 30% to 40% more time in your schedule by creatively working within your budget and timeline to identify people who can help, both before and after the pregnancy. What commitments can you delegate or eliminate as you re-prioritize? What can you simplify in preparation for the 24/7 demands that will soon become a reality? The goal is to slowly create a greater sense of balance by doing less with more; more nurturing support, more guidance, and more mentoring!
Knowing that my stress triggers would become stronger when I returned to work after having Elle, I hired a Mother’s Helper to assist with household chores. The impact has been tremendous, and it’s worth the extra expense. Read about her here.
A= Achieve Accelerated Awareness
Sometimes we don’t really know what we need in order to feel content. Awareness is the key to identifying your needs and wants, to include how much sleep you need, what triggers your stress, and how you can best manage it. Remember, just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it. Knowing when your shoulds are terrorizing you is critical. For instance, are you comparing yourself to a friend whose pregnancy seems much easier than yours, or who seems to cope much better than you? Do you feel like you won’t be perceived as a Superior Mommy-to-Be unless you do this or that?
This is where self-awareness and compassionate self-observance is critical to growing and developing along with your baby, in a way that invites peace into your life. Research shows that people who practice mindful awareness and stillness throughout their pregnancy are able to better manage stress, fluctuating moods, and the pain and discomfort of childbirth. To help with self-awareness, find a coach who can introduce holistic ways to practice it.
L= Leverage Lessons Learned
It’s critical to apply best practices and benefit from others’ lessons learned. There are a million different websites and available resources, but which ones provide information you can actually trust and put to good use? Below are some sites that offer tons of mindful birthing resources:
Ann has graciously volunteered to donate a copy of Nancy Bardacke’s book, Mindful Birthing: Training the Mind, Body, and Heart for Childbirth and Beyond to three randomly-chosen individuals who comment on this blog post by April 30, 2015.
M: Mindfully Manage Motherhood
Aside from the fact that you will nurture and grow a beautiful person inside of you for months and then withstand hours of labor and delivery, the expectation is that you can and will seamlessly transition into your 24/7 role as a new mother! How have you conditioned yourself to go the distance now and after the pregnancy? Making healthy, mindfulness-based practices a priority in your life will serve you well when you have to rely on your “reserves” to get through the intensity of the first days and weeks of motherhood. Building a strong internal guiding system will help you navigate motherhood with grace, resilience, and a sense that “knowing” that you already have the answers. Cheers to you, your new baby, and the magical celebration of life. And if you’re like me and the initial step into motherhood wasn’t exactly “magical,” then know that you’re not alone.
Ann Witt, MS, LMHC, is the founder of PieWise Living in Tampa, Florida. Her coaching and counseling is premised on the knowledge that within each client lies the solution to his or her concern. Her role as a collaborative coach and therapist is to help clients identify their strengths, build strong coping and resiliency skills, and advocate for themselves in ways that help them feel empowered and fearless when addressing life’s milestones and challenges. Ann is a bilingual licensed mental health counselor, life coach, and peak performance consultant with over 30 years of experience. She integrates decades of knowledge in mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques with eclectic, evidence-based, theoretical orientations to customize solution-focused client interventions. Ann is certified in qigong, food healing, and aromatherapy, offering clients holistic alternatives. She is a published author, international keynote speaker, and expert on PTSD, anxiety disorders, and leadership peak performance. Ann is married, a mother of twins, and passionate about helping others.