When I was pregnant with my daughter, all I could think of was the birth. I prepared for it like a marathon and was so focused on that one event that I omitted to prepare for what was coming next: the birth of me, the mother.
We had friends who had been there before us, so I knew there were many sleepless nights ahead, poo explosions and little opportunities to take a shower in those first months after birth. Yes, I was expecting some challenges but still, I imagined I would naturally transition into motherhood…after all, it’s what we, women, are meant to do, right?
“Giving birth does not automatically make a mother out of a woman.” Dana Raphael
Becoming a mother
Becoming a mother is an important rite of passage in the life of a woman. The transformation that she goes through as she steps into motherhood creates huge seismic shifts. These shifts can be hard to navigate, particularly when you’re sleep deprived and confused about your new identity. As a result, it’s not uncommon, in our Western culture, for newborn mothers to feel isolated and overwhelmed. It’s certainly how I felt, a few months into motherhood.
These shifts may not all happen at once, but they will take place in many different areas of a woman’s life: physical, hormonal, emotional, social, spiritual, economic. This means that the transition into motherhood not only requires physical support but also mental and emotional support. Things that are mostly absent from our postpartum care protocol, where the focus is solely on the baby.
Preparing for your transition
Many cultures have built-in postpartum traditions, which refers to the care that is provided to the new mother after birth. Here in Australia, if you want to make sure that you are supported after the birth of your child, you will have to create your own plan.
Preparing for your postpartum experience and your transition into motherhood can make a huge difference to your stress levels, mood and relationships during the first days, weeks and months with a newborn. It’s important not only for physical recovery, but also for your emotional health. Postpartum care is preventative care.
With rates of postpartum depression on the rise, giving some thought to what happens beyond birth, how you’re going to be supported in healing and getting adjusted to your new life, matters much more than you think.
“If a new mum isn’t allowed to fully recover from the demanding requirements of pregnancy and birth, the aftereffects can last for years. Our Western culture has done mothers a great disservice by not honouring them on their road to recovery, giving them the time they need to adjust to the monumental changes in their lives.” Oscar Serrallach
Pregnancy: the best time to prepare for the birth of you
Learning about what changes to expect and how you can best prepare for them is easier to do when you have the mental space for it, during pregnancy. It’s the way it was done traditionally, when the wisdom was passed down from one woman to the next. Because of the deep sense of community that was prevalent in these days, we would have been involved in looking after a child well before we had our own and we would have heard mothers share their experiences while sitting in circles around the fire.
If you wait for the reality of motherhood to hit you in the face after you’ve had your baby, the experience may feel more challenging. It also won’t be as easy to absorb new information when you’re tired and dedicating your energy to recovering and getting to know your baby.
4 things you can do
1. Face your fears: leaving a world where you're competent and efficient and entering one where you have very little experience can be confronting. You might be used to having a professional profile or identity and you may be scared to see it disappear or change. Acknowledging the fears, beliefs and stories you have around becoming a mother is a powerful step towards a smoother transition.
2. Lower your expectations: many fears about motherhood stem from the belief that you won’t be fit for the role. Especially when social media portrays the newborn mum as an efficient multi-tasker who shows off her flat belly 6 days after giving birth, while parading in her chic and clean house. If you’re trying to measure up to this woman, think twice. Whatever you're picturing, it's likely not going to look anything like that—and that's okay. Overachiever and perfectionist tendencies will only add pain to your postpartum experience.
3. Learn about matrescence: the term used to describe the transformation that takes place in a woman’s life when she becomes a mother, a roadmap that can help you navigate motherhood with confidence. Like adolescence, it’s an awkward phase for most women, leaving you feeling out of control and disoriented. Dr Aurelie Athan says it best: “No matter how much you hoped, wanted, and planned for motherhood, this transition will, at times, be stressful. And the intensity of these feelings has nothing to do with how good a mother you’ll be, or how much you’ll love your children. Understanding that motherhood is the psychological and spiritual birth of a woman is the greatest story never told.”
4. Prepare your postnatal plan: the same way you prepare your birth plan to highlight your wishes and inform your care providers of your ideal birth, it’s wise to prepare your postnatal plan to clarify how you want the first weeks and months after the birth to look like. What do you need to make sure you have time and space to heal, recover, bond with your baby and be supported in looking after yourself? If friends and family are not able to provide the type of support you’re after, consider hiring external help such as a postpartum doula.
It is possible for you to step into motherhood with confidence and feel empowered during this transition. If you want to dig deeper into the steps above and prepare yourself for the birth of you, join me and other mums-to-be at The Birth of a Mother workshop. You’ll learn how to take care of yourself as a new mother and manage your postnatal experience so it is the most nourishing it can be. Find more information and register HERE.
Author: Elise Clement, Life Coach and Wellbeing Consultant. Elise received her coach accreditation from the Human Potential Institute and is a member of the International Coach Federation. She has a diploma in Positive Psychology and Wellbeing and also studied Functional Nutrition. Elise has a special interest in helping women navigate life transitions with confidence: pregnancy, motherhood, return to work after maternity leave, promotion, career change. You can find out more about Elise and her work HERE.