New Moms: When You Don’t Feel the Joy
Hey, Momma. If you’re reading this, you may be struggling a bit (or a lot) with this season of motherhood. First of all, I want to say I’m so sorry you are feeling this way. I know it’s not what you expected or how you want to experience these days with your baby. Secondly, I’m here to offer help and hope. Whatever struggle you are going through, whether physical, mental, psychological or a combination of them all, there’s a way to move forward. You will not always feel this way, I promise!
Me Before Motherhood
Since there’s a good chance we haven’t met, let me tell you a little about myself. Looking back, I feel like my personality type made my postpartum challenges even more pronounced. I am and always have been a joyful, optimistic, energetic, fun-loving person. I envisioned motherhood to be a fun adventure full of sweet and joyous moments. All these traits created a naïve self-assurance that starting a family would be the next fun achievement I would excel in. I’m embarrassed to admit it now, but I never imagined motherhood would give me any challenges I couldn’t handle.
I watched my sisters nurse all their babies with such calmness and ease. I never even considered that things wouldn’t go smoothly for me, but that’s exactly what happened. Kane wasn’t latching well and my body was so tense that the milk wasn’t flowing. He’d cry because he was hungry, and I’d get even more anxious because I couldn’t fix the problem. In my mind, anything but breastfeeding was a failure. The expectations I’d put on myself were not being realized, and it was quickly dragging me down. People kept telling me that it would get easier, but that wasn’t happening. After about 6 weeks of constant anxiety around breastfeeding, we finally decided to switch to formula. Part of me felt an enormous sense of relief, but it was quickly followed by shame and guilt.
Throughout those first weeks of Kane’s life, my stress and anxiety manifested themselves in several ways. Like most first-time mothers, I was not getting enough sleep. When I would try to take a nap, I was nervous about Kane waking up and wanting to breastfeed. I wouldn’t have enough milk and wasn’t getting enough rest. I’m sure you can see how this turned into a vicious cycle. I’d lay in bed completely tense trying to fall asleep… and it wouldn’t happen. In my mind, the solution to the sleeping issues would be switching to formula. There wouldn’t be any more stress about breastfeeding and I’d know exactly how much milk Kane was getting. He wouldn’t be fussy anymore and I would get more sleep. Finally, there was a solution to the problem!
Here’s the thing about stress and anxiety, it doesn’t always go away the second you feel like you’ve got things under control. If it’s been brooding for long enough, your mind tends to find something else to stress about. That’s why it’s so important to reach out for help right away if you are feeling anything out of the ordinary. The sooner you get your thoughts out in the open, the easier it will be to manage your response.
A Cry for Help
Allow me to shed light into the dark, sad and scary thoughts that may be running through your mind. I’ll admit, during that time I was desperate for anything that would bring hope because I was feeling hopeless. I thought all of my problems revolved around the issues I was having breastfeeding and sleeping. Nothing else was on my mind. I was in a frantic survival mode. Because of this, I was having a difficult time bonding with my son. To be honest, I was almost afraid of him. He seemed to cry more when I held him than he did for anyone else, and it crushed me. I would feel an equal surge of relief and pain when I handed him off and he would settle down.
The real fear beneath it all was simply this, “Maybe I’m not good at being a Mom. He would be better off with someone else.” There were times I considered asking one of my sisters to take him. I’ve never admitted that, but I know it ran through my mind. If you told me I could go back to life before having a baby, I may have just said yes. Thank God that wasn’t an option because that baby brings me more joy today than I could have ever imagined then.
Do you feel like your whole world is spiraling out of control? Are you desperate to feel like some semblance of yourself again? I hear you. I felt the exact same way. And I decided enough was enough; I needed professional help. My pride and determination kept me from reaching out for far too long and I paid for it. Please don’t make the same mistake. Asking for help does not make you weak or inadequate, it makes you strong and responsible.
Light at the End of the Tunnel
I believe with my whole heart that God walks with us through all our trials. As promised in Deuteronomy 31:8, he will never leave you or forsake you. At this moment, you may feel like God is distant and not hearing your plea for help. Or if he does hear he’s not stepping in. Guess what you’ll learn when you get through this… it’s not true! Cling as tight as you can to God’s promises. He is good, faithful, and will lead you through this storm.
I also believe God will put the right people into your life at the right time. A dear friend who knew what I was going through recommended a counselor she used and loved. I immediately called and left him a voicemail pleading my cause. By the grace of God and my persistent nature, Dr. Irl accepted me as a patient. This man was truly sent from God to help me. Even though I was drowning in anxiety, a tiny spark of hope settled on me during my first session. But we had a lot of work to do.
We spent a lot of time working to uncover the root of what was causing me so much stress. In the meantime, he knew I would need more than just counseling sessions to pull me out of my depression and anxiety. Dr. Irl referred me to a psychiatrist a few hours away who could prescribe the correct medication to get my mind and body back on track. In the past, I may have fought against being medicated, but at this point, I was ready to try anything to feel better.
If I was a skeptic about taking medication for anything anxiety/depression related before postpartum, let me be the first to eat my words. Don’t let pride keep you from getting the help you need. More importantly, don’t let pride rob you of any more time enjoying motherhood! There are times in life when we need a little extra help. This may be your time.
Uncovering Lies and Embracing Truth
Do you have a counselor you feel comfortable sharing your thoughts and feelings with? If not, find one now! Dr. Irl explained that most anxiety and depression stems from fear of not being loved or accepted. He addressed it in the most compassionate and gentle manner, then asked if there was ever a time I didn’t feel loved. Immediately I got defensive and reinforced how wonderful my husband, parents, family and friends have always been. That couldn’t be my problem. He skillfully and sweetly reminded me of how hard it was to watch Kane settle down when someone else would hold him. We talked about the anxiety and panic attacks I experienced mainly when I was alone with Kane. Finally, he spoke the words that broke the chains of my heart. “Colleen, do you feel like Kane doesn’t love you?” As soon as he said it, tears burst from my eyes and didn’t stop for at least 10 minutes. Dr. Irl held me as months of pent-up pain released from my body through sobs and tears. That was it. I felt like my son loved everyone else more than his own mother. The thought hurt me more than I realized.
But guess what, that’s not the truth. If you’ve had the fear that your baby doesn’t love you, I promise you it’s a lie. Here’s another thought that new Moms are scared to say out loud, “I don’t love raising a baby.” I felt so much shame thinking that, but it was true. Just because the baby phase is not your favorite does not mean you don’t completely love your baby! I can tell you now, my personality is a little better suited for young kids, and that’s ok! We put so much pressure on ourselves to pretend every aspect of parenting is amazing.
After I had time to settle down, Dr. Irl helped shed some light on what felt like very dark questions… does my son love me? Do I love him? When your mind is overly consumed with anxiety and dread, the truth can be difficult to uncover on your own. Don’t believe every thought that runs through your head! Chances are you aren’t thinking logically. Here’s the truth, my son loves me and your baby loves you. God, the creator of all things, paired you two together for a reason. You are meant for each other even if it feels hard right now. Let that sink in. You are a good Mom and your baby loves you.
Another important fact to remember: this phase will pass. If you are suffering from postpartum anxiety/depression, things will get better! Don’t give up on yourself or feel like a failure. Give yourself grace, but also try to do little things each day to move forward. Even completing the smallest of tasks will give you a sense of accomplishment and control. Making a small, manageable to-do list turned out to be so helpful for me.
Joy Will Return!
Thank you for taking the time to read through my story; I know it can seem nearly impossible to stay focused on anything right now. My boys, Kane and Grant, are now six and four. They fill my life with light and joy… along with occasional panic and frustration, because let’s be honest, parenting isn’t easy. I can look back on my postpartum experience and see how God was shaping me into a better Mom, friend and wife. You may not believe it, but you are growing in ways you can’t see now.
If you struggling and need help, please reach out to someone you trust. If you’re in the TriCities please utilize our resource list to find a best fit for you. We also encourage you to join one of our support groups. If you need assistance finding a specialist in your area, we are happy to help or you can go to psidirectory.com.