I know, it sounds like crazy advice. You’ve got a new baby at home. THERE IS SO MUCH TO DO! AND IT JUST KEEPS COMING! HOW CAN YOU POSSIBLY JUST “BE”?
I recently wrote an essay about my three months of maternity leave, and how I wish I had a re-do. New moms, I don’t want you to feel the same. So I’m going to pass along a few thoughts for your consideration. Then you can go back to doing (or not doing.)
Deal?Just the fact that you’re reading this is a good sign. It means you’re taking the time to consider your own well-being amidst the disorientation and dislocation that is new motherhood. And I know, there’s incredible love and joy in it, too. But it is disorienting, isn’t it? Like nothing you’ve ever felt, in all the best (and maybe even the worst) ways.
Postpartum symptoms have a myriad of causes. Sometimes it’s hormonal and chemical; sometimes it’s about adjustment to such radical new demands and a struggle with life identity; it can be temperamental, or emotional; or it could be related to a lack of support from others, or a rocky partnership. It could be all of these, and you might want to start by talking to your doctor and/or therapist.
But what I want you to know is that your struggles are normal, understandable, and fairly common. IT IS NOT A SIGN OF A CHARACTER DEFECT, A PERSONAL FLAW, OR A FAILURE TO LOVE YOUR BABY. And it is temporary and situational and treatable.
A key thing to realize is that motherhood is not a game you can win. It is not scored. It is not a to-do list that can be completed. That’s hard for a lot of women, especially ones who are used to being very successful in their professional lives, who look for external benchmarks to measure themselves.
As much as there is to do as a new mother, there’s so much more to be. By which I mean, allowing yourself to sit quietly and just take it all in. Notice this miraculous change in your life. Yes, let it change you.
Mindfulness skills emphasize the need to just be. It’s not something that comes easily to many of us, not in this culture. We tend to want to tackle our problems by doing. Sometimes that doing comes in the form of extensive mental effort about things that can’t be solved, that can only be lived with. That’s very distressing for many.
But the ability to shift about from your doing mind and into your being mind is invaluable, especially for a new parent. Here’s a good place to start:
When you find your mind wandering to all the things that need to happen, when you feel your heart rate accelerating and the fear mounting and the self-criticism beckoning (“am I doing this right? what’s going to happen if I don’t do EVERYTHING?” “I’m a bad mother!”), gently and compassionately bring your mind back to the present moment. Say, “I am here now.” You don’t need to judge the moment or declare it good; you just need to be in it.
It’s remarkably soothing to say, “That’s for later, and now is for now.” Sure, there are some things that can’t wait, like feeding your baby, but recognizing that there are others that can (like doing laundry) in favor of just being can make for a real shift in your experience.
Get centered, and you’ll be able to really feel that emotional bond you’re forming with your baby. You’ll be able to revel in it.
And remember, not everyone loves the baby phase. A lot of amazing moms are much more into later stages in their children’s development. You’re doing just fine. Presence is everything, and not just for your baby, but for yourself.