Baby Identity Theft
Who am I? What am I? Am I doing this right? As a new mother is navigating responsibility for a completely vulnerable human being, her own identity is in transition. Her focus shifts, putting aside many activities that she once thought defined her, and that isn’t easy. While friends and family and perfect strangers are fawning over baby, it can feel like how mom is doing is getting dismissed. She may be feeling lost in the baby abyss, another victim of baby identity theft.
Mom’s smile may be radiant and it may become weary with worry, anxiety, guilt, resentment, and an odd sadness. Feeling conflicted during the transition to motherhood doesn’t make a woman a bad parent. During “matrescence,” a term anthropologists use for the process of becoming a mother, there are some normal challenges. In “The Birth of a Mother,” Alexandra Sacks, M.D. says “Even when the focus remains on the child, understanding the psychology of pregnant and postpartum women can help promote healthier parenting. Mothers with greater awareness of their own psychology may be more empathetic to their children’s emotions.” (The New York Times, May 2017)
This mixed bag of feelings that seems to come with the new mom territory isn’t unusual. However, some of these feelings can increase and intensify and lead to more serious depression, interfering with daily life and the bonding and attachment between mother and baby. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 9 women experience depression before, during, or after pregnancy. Depression goes beyond feeling sad for a day or two. Symptoms and levels of depression vary from person to person. Symptoms include a lasting sadness or “emptiness,” irritability, difficulty sleeping, having feelings of hopelessness, guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, or even thoughts of suicide. The good news is depression is highly treatable. Reaching out for support, for some self-care, may be the hardest part of being a new mom, but it can be a necessary part of the transition to motherhood.
VALIDATING THE FEELINGS
Dr. Sacks has identified four key things than can help validate a new mother’s feelings. Following is the “nutshell” version of these four validations (read full versions):
Changing Family Dynamics
Having a baby is an act of creation. Pregnancy is more than creating a new human, it’s also creating a new family. A baby is a catalyst that will open new possibilities for more intimate connections as well as new stresses in a woman’s closest relationships with her partner, siblings and friends.
The British psychotherapist Rozsika Parker wrote in “Torn in Two: The Experience of Maternal Ambivalence” about the pull and push of wanting a child close, and also craving space (physically and emotionally) as the normal wave of motherhood. Ambivalence is a feeling that comes up in the roles and relationships a person is most invested in, because they’re always juggling act between giving and taking. Motherhood is no exception….Most of the time, the experience of motherhood is not good or bad, it’s both good and bad.
Fantasy vs. Reality
A woman’s fantasies of pregnancy and motherhood are informed by her observations of the experiences of her own mother and other female relatives and friends and her community and culture. They may be powerful enough that reality disappoints if it doesn’t align with her vision.
Guilt, Shame and “The Good Enough Mother”
There’s also the ideal mother in a woman’s mind…Most women compare themselves to that mother, but they never measure up because she’s a fantasy. Some women think that “good enough” (a phrase coined by the pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott) is not acceptable, because it sounds like settling. But striving for perfection sets women up to feel shame and guilt.
Becoming a mother can be complicated, at first. It’s a process as mother’s find their new identity. During this time of critical transition, how mom is faring is just as important as how baby is doing. Baby is counting on his/her mother’s healthy transition and Sacks says, “Knowing the causes of distress and feeling comfortable talking about them with others is critical to growing into a well-adjusted mother.”
GET SOME MOM SUPPORT
Healthy Babies Program (Shasta County) 530) 225-0350