The Emotional Benchmarks of New Motherhood

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“Congratulations,” they say. “It’s the best thing ever,” they say. The birth of your first baby is a huge milestone and right of passage- I knew that going in, but I didn’t know just how deeply it would affect me. How could I possibly know?

After reflecting on my transition into parenthood, the progression sounded familiar. Without realizing it, I was grieving the loss of a life I had known, as the birth propelled me into a new life so completely foreign to me. It was a new lifestyle, with no breaks to be had. It was baby care around the clock.

Based loosely on the 5 stages of normal grief by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying, is a list of The Emotional Benchmarks a mom might experience as she enters new motherhood. This journey won’t be the same for everyone, and they might be experienced out of order and in different ways. But for me, it was spot on. It all started with #1: Shock.

1) SHOCK. You just had a baby. After 9 months of preparing and getting ready, the moment comes when the baby actually comes out. And that is that- no take backs!

When my son was newly born I would wake up at night to his feeding whimpers. I would open my eyes to be relieved that he was REAL and he was still there and the whole labor and birth wasn't a dream. This happened every night for a least the first week. I suppose after so many dreams during pregnancy of my baby being born, it was hard to believe it was true when he did arrive. It all had to sink in.

Shock also comes in the new change of lifestyle. Hello interrupted sleep! During labor all I wanted was a full nights sleep to rest and recover from the 4 nights of contractions. It’s been three months and it still hasn't happened.

2) Anger/postpartum rage: The shock of new life with baby brings us to the next step: Anger and/or postpartum rage. It happens to the best of us. The anger might come from lack of sleep or never being able to take a break if you're breastfeeding because the baby eats every 1-2 hours. Or the rage might come from the fluctuating hormones and someone eating your toast.

I experienced that front and center when my husband did anything that might slightly annoy me. I must note that under normal circumstances these things would not bother me, but as a new, extremely HUNGRY (read: hangry) postpartum mom it was a big deal when my husband drank MY blueberry soda. I usually don't even drink soda! But it didn’t matter. My new postpartum hunger, could not handle anyone taking my soda. Similar effects if my husband didn't make my toast fast enough when I was mid-feed and had been stuck in bed cluster feeding all morning and my stomach was suddenly and painfully empty. The rage erupted.

3) Bargaining: This stage is a big one- when the dust begins to settle from the immediate postpartum, maybe after the first 3-4 weeks, you start to gain confidence and get some mama legs under you. The bargaining happens like this- you think, I’ve got this. I've SO got this. Life can go back to how it was before the baby was born- except we'll just fit a baby into it. You'll make plans with friends, and encourage your husband to go back to his hobbies and socializing. It'll work for maybe a week or two. Until it doesn't which leads to…

4) Depression, reflection or loneliness: Okay you tried to go back to your previous life. You did it, it felt clunky and ungraceful but you were there...until the baby had a melt down, you had a melt down, and everyone was too tired to do anything other than eat and sleep.

For me, this revolved around work. The postpartum hormones had me feeling like super woman and that I could conquer the world. Until it became too difficult to balance newborn care AND working from home. This leads me to number 5.

5) Acceptance: I accepted that I couldn't do it all. I need help, probably in the form of a part time baby sitter or assistant in my business. I gained acceptance that I won't be able to keep up with my previous social calendar. My baby will not be happy if I drag him around New York City at my previous pace. Because now I have him, and his needs matter. I’ve accepted that I can't move as quickly through the day or accomplish projects at the pace I was accustomed to. But it's okay because now I can ask for help. And I can prioritize what projects to focus on and what to commit to because this whole new parenthood thing is super hard, and super awesome.

 Even though new motherhood is very challenging and a huge adjustment, I wouldn’t trade it for a thing. There will always be tough days, but they don’t last. So I try and let the good days soak in deeper. I’ve got this very sweet being snoozing on my chest in the baby carrier as I type this. And it’s really the best thing ever. 

Jen Mayer