7 eye-opening reasons why new moms don’t share their scary thoughts

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The awesome responsibility of caring for a newborn naturally warrants a heightened sense of vigilance. Sometimes this necessary state of watchfulness can be confusing. At every turn, a new mother believes a crisis is looming. Afraid of slipping and dropping the baby, she holds them extra tightly while she goes down the stairs. Afraid of a disaster in the night, she keeps herself awake to hear the silent sounds of breathing. If she falls asleep from sheer fatigue, she dreams of causing the baby harm through her own negligence.

Here are some reasons why postpartum women don't share these scary thoughts:

1. The ambiguity factor

One reason why postpartum women don't talk about the thoughts that are having is that they are not sure what is "normal" and what may be problematic. This is due to the overlapping experiences between women with postpartum anxiety or depression and women with no such diagnosis.

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For example: fatigue, loss of libido, moodiness, weepiness, changes in weight, sleep disturbance, and low energy can all be attributed to anxiety and depression, yet they are also considered to be within normal expectations for postpartum adjustment. Because moods and other internal experiences are expected to fluctuate following childbirth, women sometimes decide it is best to brave any discomfort and hope it goes away by itself.

Unfortunately, scary thoughts are not easy to ride out. What's more, without proper assessment, a woman's worry about these thoughts can rapidly disintegrate from initial concern to panic.

2. The critical inner voice

The shame that can accompany upsetting thoughts is unbearable. What is wrong with me? How can I be thinking these things? Good mothers don't think such terrible thoughts. Often, the only explanation that makes sense to a mother who is trying to reconcile this disturbing experience is that there is something profoundly wrong with her, something is broken inside. Maybe she is close to insanity. Or maybe she is not fit to be a mother. Either option, or anything in between, is a nightmare. This nightmare stuns many women into silence. They hope that if they can just hold their breath and carry off this role-play, their awful thoughts will somehow go away. In some instances, the thoughts actually do go away. Usually, they do not.

Other women tirelessly try to push the thoughts out of their minds, but are distraught when the thoughts return in full force. Some women can express the horror of their thoughts along with the abysmal shame that accompanies them, but, for many, the actual articulation of the specific thoughts, the words they fear would somehow make the thoughts come alive, remain locked inside.

Women say they are embarrassed, ashamed, mortified, humiliated and guilty beyond description. They say they feel hideously exposed, naked, repulsive, raw, nauseous, ugly and sickened by their own thoughts. Some say they feel so appalled by the nature of their thoughts that they feel inhuman, as if only a monster could possess and admit such atrocities.

An important point here is that high level of distress indicates that the scary thoughts are ego-dystonic, or incompatible with the woman's sense of herself. Although it is never easy to experience such high levels of distress, there is considerably more concern when a woman expresses no such distress or displays no strong affect attached to this worry. Thus, a woman's agitation is often a signal that anxiety is the mechanism at work and not something more worrisome, like psychosis. Knowing this can reassure both the distressed mother and her healthcare provider.

Shame-based barriers to disclosing one's thoughts can be fueled by the critic inside one's own head. With regard to the critical inner voice, mothers report they are reluctant to reveal scary thoughts because they:

  • Fear that they are the only mother who has ever felt this way and that no one could possibly understand.
  • Believe that the thoughts they are having are an indication that something is terribly wrong.
  • Worry if they admit this, they will indeed be crazy.
  • Worry they will be locked up or institutionalized.
  • Fear that saying it out loud will make the bad thought a reality.
  • Believe that good mothers don't think these thoughts.
  • Hate themselves for having the thoughts and remain stifled by intense shame and guilt.
  • May not be comfortable talking about how they feel, in general.

3. The sentencing

Many women say they are extremely apprehensive about being labeled or diagnosed as mentally ill. Although it's true that a number of women diagnosed with postpartum anxiety or depression express relief in knowing that it is a real medical condition that is treatable, most continue to feel burdened by what others might think. Any stigma attached to motherhood presents as an oxymoron of sorts; it weighs heavily on the heart of a mother trying to do her best and impedes postpartum healing.

Common barriers related to what others might think are:

  • Worry that someone will judge them.
  • Worry that someone will label them as bad mothers.
  • Worry that someone will take their baby away.
  • Worry that their partner or family will deem them incapable of taking care of the baby.
  • Don't think a health provider wants to know or can even help or may not trust them to understand and respond appropriately.
  • Don't see mental health issues as part of their provider's job description.
  • Have concerns about confidentiality and what may happen if they reveal what they are thinking.

The bottom line here is that if mothers are not careful, this propensity to condemn their thoughts or behavior in some way shifts the authority of these thoughts in the wrong direction, thereafter empowering the thoughts even more. Women need to speak on their own behalf, trust their inclinations to reach out for support, and worry less about what misinformed friends, acquaintances or healthcare providers might think.

4. The depression factor

Women with depression think negatively. Some theorize that biological factors influence negative thinking, which can lead to depression. Others claim that pessimistic or negative thought processes can contribute to the emergence of depression. Though this question of biology versus cognitive factors in depression is up for debate, experts agree there is a significant and constant correlation between the two.

When thoughts are distorted, perceptions become darker, scarier, and magnified out of proportion. Nerves are exposed, leaving women feeling hypersensitive and thin-skinned. This feeling of over-exposure can create a sense of mistrust in the outside world; women can grow suspicious of how others might respond to knowing the "truth" about what they were thinking and feeling.

Depression is a very self-absorbing illness. It can rob women of their desire to seek appropriate care and can interfere with any effort to even try. Depressive thinking can inhibit attempts to deal appropriately with scary thoughts by distorting or exaggerating the possible outcomes of disclosing. Making a good decision on one's own behalf is stymied when everything is perceived through the lens of depressive thinking.

5. The propaganda factor

There are tons of misunderstandings and misperceptions surrounding this phenomenon of scary thoughts during motherhood. This lack of knowledge spans from woman to woman, to healthcare professionals, and to society as a whole. Postpartum women frequently find themselves at the mercy of well-meaning, but often misinformed, family and friends. Family and friends can be incredible sources of support, but they can also unwittingly sabotage a mother's recovery with false information.

In addition, dedicated health care professionals are not always correctly informed and can react in ways that cause further difficulties for a struggling mother. Generalizations that are splashed in print or other media outlets may not be pertinent to a mother who is suffering, or, they may be totally irrelevant or erroneous. Internalizing more negative information can reinforce the inherent resistance to seek help. It is best not to place too much emphasis on unsubstantiated statements and always check out the sources of information that may be potentially agitating.

6. The community factor

The stigma of mental illness is pervasive. It remains steadfast, in spite of current wisdom and widespread attempts to inform and enlighten women and healthcare providers across cultures. Although we must be alert to specific cultural expectations that can impose high standards for mothers to meet, we cannot ignore the research literature, which consistently demonstrates that communities with strong social support provide shelter and yield lower rates of postpartum depression.

This dichotomy can send mixed messages to the mother who is trying to juggle her desire to comply with expectations from all directions. The message to new mothers should be for her to prioritize her social support, regardless of the pressure she feels from either a perceived stigma or cultural mandate. In many cases, and in many cultures, women claim that, despite ongoing and abundant support, the expectation to only express positive feelings attached to the mothering experience remains high.

The tendency for women with acute distress to suffer in silence persists, reinforcing the concern that social support systems, though crucial to postpartum healing, remain inadequate to some extent. Perhaps the greatest menace is the inability to accept the presence of negative thoughts and feelings during this time. Only when this takes place can we expect postpartum women to speak from their heart and break through their reluctance to disclose.

7. The 'what if' factor

The best way to summarize the anxiety-drenched roadblocks to disclosure of scary thoughts is to view them in terms of "what ifs." All or any of the previous-mentioned barriers culminate to create this ultimate deterrent: What if something bad happens as a result of my disclosure?

When you are in, or expect to be in, a potentially anxiety-provoking situation, such as disclosing your scary thoughts, you might respond by focusing on imaginary dangers. This is referred to as anticipatory anxiety which is typically characterized by what-if thinking patterns.

For example:

  • What if they take my baby taken away?
  • What if they call Child Protection Services?
  • What if they think I'm a bad mother?
  • What if they don't like me?
  • What if they think I'm crazy?
  • What if they put me in a hospital?
  • What if they think I could really hurt my baby?
  • What if I really do hurt my baby?
  • What if this means I really AM crazy?
  • What if my husband leaves me?
  • What if I never get better?
  • What if I can't really trust this person?
  • What if they can't help me?
  • What if they can help me, but I am labeled for life?
  • What if my friends/neighbors find out (and think I'm crazy)?
  • What if my mom (parents, family) think I am not a good mother?
  • What if someone at my other children's school finds out, and this affects my other children?
  • What if people at work find out, and it affects my career?
  • What if letting someone know how I feel makes it more real somehow.
  • What if I will always feel and think this way?

Imagine if we put all of this anxiety to good use!

It is possible, conversely, to have a list of what-ifs with a positive spin:

  • What if I talk about what I'm thinking, and I get the help I need?
  • What if my husband (family, friend, doctor) reassures me, and I am comforted by my decision to talk about this?
  • What if by talking about this, I get relief, and I feel less guilty?
  • What if talking about it frees me up to make room for other feelings, such as joy or serenity?
  • What if I trust myself and the people around me and take a leap of faith that I will get help or reassurance?
  • What if I discover that what I am feeling and thinking is not so bizarre and that lots of other women feel this way?
  • What if it's true that the way I am feeling is a common response to motherhood?
  • What if I believe this can and will get better?

Generally speaking, it appears that postpartum women appreciate being able to talk to a sympathetic and supportive listener, allowing them to express their fears and unburden themselves. Intervention at this level rests with efforts to increase awareness of their irrational fears, while establishing a context in which women can feel safe to express what they think and feel. Once this begins, women will learn to feel more confident about the process and will be better equipped to restructure some of their thinking patterns and begin to heal.

Adapted from Dropping the Baby and Other Scary Thoughts co-authored by Karen Kleiman and Amy Wenzel, PhD. Originally posted on Psychology Today.

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When it comes to holiday gifts, we know what you really want, mama. A full night's sleep. Privacy in the bathroom. The opportunity to eat your dinner while it's still hot. Time to wash—and dry!—your hair. A complete wardrobe refresh.


While we can't help with everything on your list (we're still trying to figure out how to get some extra zzz's ourselves), here are 14 gift ideas that'll make you look, if not feel, like a whole new woman. Even when you're sleep deprived.

Gap Cable-Knit Turtleneck Sweater

When winter hits, one of our go-to outfits will be this tunic-length sweater and a pair of leggings. Warm and everyday-friendly, we can get behind that.

$69.95

Gap Cigarette Jeans

These high-waisted straight-leg jeans have secret smoothing panels to hide any lumps and bumps (because really, we've all got 'em).

$79.95

Tiny Tags Gold Skinny Bar Necklace

Whether engraved with a child's name or date of birth, this personalized necklace will become your go-to piece of everyday jewelry.

$135.00

Gap Brushed Pointelle Crew

This wear-with-anything soft pink sweater with delicate eyelet details can be dressed up for work or dressed down for weekend time with the family. Versatility for the win!

$79.95

Gap Flannel Pajama Set

For mamas who sleep warm, this PJ set offers the best of both worlds: cozy flannel and comfy shorts. Plus, it comes with a coordinating eye mask for a blissed-out slumber.

$69.95

Spafinder Gift Card

You can't give the gift of relaxation, per say, but you can give a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and that's close enough!

$50.00

Gap Stripe Long Sleeve Crewneck

This featherweight long-sleeve tee is the perfect layering piece under hoodies, cardigans, and blazers.

$29.95

Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

Gone are the days of removing toasty gloves before accessing our touchscreen devices—thank goodness!

$9.95

Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

Make multiple trips to the microwave a thing of the past with a app-controlled smart mug that'll keep your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you prefer for up to an hour.

$79.95

Gap Flannel Shirt

Our new favorite flannel boasts an easy-to-wear drapey fit and a flattering curved shirttail hem.

$59.95

Gap Sherpa-Lined Denim Jacket

Stay warm while looking cool in this iconic jean jacket, featuring teddy bear-soft fleece lining and a trendy oversized fit.

$98.00

Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

Practical and stylish, this cozy scarf adds a pop of color—well, colors—to any winter ensemble.

$39.95

Nixplay Seed Frame

This digital picture frame is perfect for mamas who stay up late scrolling through their phone's photo album to glimpse their kiddos being adorable. By sending them to this smart frame to view throughout the day, you can get a few extra minutes of sleep at night!

$165.00

Gap Crewneck Sweater

Busy mamas will appreciate that this supersoft, super versatile Merino wool sweater is machine washable.

$59.95

This article was sponsored by GAP. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and Mamas.

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Going through infertility let me know that there are some things in life that I just can't control. For someone who already has a hard time relinquishing control in life (call me a bit of a control nut!), entering the world of IVF was not only hard physically and mentally, but it also was incredibly difficult because it showed me things about myself that were at odds with this journey.

I realized how much I had needed to be in control of my life, how much I took for granted that my life path most often "always worked out" the way I imagined it would and I also realized how impatient I was.

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IVF treatment strips away a lot of yourself. You are forced to give up control and forced to wait….a lot. In our case, both my husband and I had potential issues and the two of us pulled away from the rest of our friends whose sperm romantically found their partner's ripe egg and impregnated them the old fashioned way.

While we were undergoing a lot of things physically and emotionally in a dark, isolating world of blood labs, doctor's offices and at many times, what seemed like barbaric tests. Something made me very "hush-hush" about it and I'm usually a wide-open book about everything. I guess you could say I was ashamed, I felt like it was a weakness or a flaw.

I only opened up about our struggle with fertility when I, finally, had a successful pregnancy and realized that once you go into the world of IVF there's no turning back. I was now an "IVF person." I became really passionate about the world of infertility especially once I started talking to others who went through it. This was one of the things that I felt now defined me, I had an "infertility journey," I was a #ttcsister, and because of IVF, I became a mom.

I embraced it and became proud of it. I launched my business by sharing my infertility story and it was so much a part of who I was. It motivated me to start to form an in-person community of women, pregnant, trying to conceive, or already moms based on my struggles with motherhood... before they even started! All while pregnant and then giving birth to my daughter.

Then a year and a half later I accidentally got pregnant.

The truth is, I never went back on birth control after having our baby because I didn't want to go through getting off of it again. Some people might not be able to relate to thinking you can't get pregnant on your own. They can't imagine the idea that you and your husband's test results indicate that the likelihood of pregnancy without IVF is basically zero.

But somehow, one of my husband's sperm in the millions of sperms that were morphologically corrupt found its way to my egg at the perfect time. The interesting part is that one of the most prominent thoughts I had when this happened was that I now felt like an imposter. How could I just get knocked up?!

I was helping and advocating for infertility and it was actually approaching National Infertility Awareness Week. I spent several weeks hiding just like I did during my last pregnancy.

Then, one day at work, I felt so sick from morning sickness and I couldn't tell anyone why. I went into the bathroom and just cried. Not just because of how debilitating the sickness was, but because of how alone I felt. Here I was trying to bring moms together yet I was isolating myself.

I was experiencing every IVF veteran's dream and I wasn't happy. I was feeling badly, torn, upset and just irrationally guilty and I needed support. I picked myself up, walked out of that bathroom and told every one of my colleagues at work "I'm pregnant, by mistake, and I need help."

The truth is, I've realized that just because I dodged IVF and some of those hardships this time around and truly feel like I was given the biggest stroke of luck, it doesn't change what I went through to get my first daughter. It also doesn't change my passion for advocacy in infertility and fighting with all my might for motherhood.

Life

Can you believe it's already time to start decorating for the holidays? And this year, Target is making it easier than ever to create inviting holiday spaces that are still neat, organized and clutter-free. Whether your style is whimsical, traditional or rustic, there are plenty of neutral creams, frosty whites and touches of evergreen that will take you through the holidays and well into the new year with style.

This holiday also marks the 3-year anniversary of the launch of Joanna Gaines' Hearth & Hand with Magnolia line. The collection features nearly 300 new pieces from gifting and décor to entertaining. Oh, and this season they have faux Christmas trees!

Ready to create your own modern winter wonderland at home? Grab our favorite minimalist piece:

Joy wire Christmas wreath

Joy wire Christmas wreath

The word "Joy" isn't a holiday classic for nothing—it's sure to bring lots of smiles and laughs to any home. And when it's atop the garland in this festive wreath, it's an instant pick-me-up. Plus, for an extra twist: This comes pre-strung with white LED bulbs for a little light to brighten dark spaces.

$45

Mini cable-knit stocking

Mini cable-knit stocking

This stocking brings simplistic holiday cheer to just about any living space. This mini size is perfect for little ones or if you just want stockings that don't take up too much space.

$4

Faux white pine garland

Faux white pine garland

Bring the outdoors indoors with a garland that can be framed around your door. Or add holiday spirit to your table runner with a garland centerpiece. We love how realistic this one looks for such an affordable price.

$24.99

Whitewash advent calendar

Whitewash advent calendar

Let's be honest, advent calendars are nice, but some have gone a bit overboard in how complicated they are. But not this one. The cutout shape of a tree features rows of numbers, while a roaming wreath moves the countdown along. Simple, yet chic.

$20

Round tree skirt

Round tree skirt

No tree is complete without a beautiful tree skirt. This striped one is a must-have for a farmhouse-inspired atmosphere. Even better if you want a splash of rustic charm that matches your other holiday décor.

$39.99

Mini marquee star wall sign

Mini marquee star wall sign

Brighten up your living room with this attention-grabbing statement piece. Hang the star sign on your entryway wall to help welcome guests, or place it on your mantel, shelf or end table alongside other accents to add touches of holiday cheer in a minimalist way.

$8

Ceramic house decorative figurine

Ceramic house decorative figurine

This tiny house with windows, door and a chimney lends realistic, whimsical appeal, but the solid ceramic design allows it to be used from season to season. Place a small light inside to light up your mantle when standard candles won't suffice.

$8

Wood garland

Wood garland

Sometimes less is more! Upgrade your staircase or tree with this simplistic wooded garland. Pair with fresh cedar and grapevine twigs to create a striking focal point on your home.

$12.99

Joy wall decor

Joy wall decor

Create holiday cheer in a small way by adding holiday wall art that sparks a bit of joy.

For a refined look, the decor offers a hardwood frame and the sawtooth back allows for easy display on tiny spaces that need a touch of holiday spirit.

$9.99

Stocking holder

Stocking holder

Minimalists will rejoice for this multi-tasking stocking holder—acting as both festive signage and a holder for multiple stockings. It's simple, charming and will look great on your mantle for years to come.

$29.99
Holiday Shopping Guides

Madison Vining, mama of six, recently posted an honest message that went viral on Instagram. In it she described how we can't really have the full picture of someone's life just by what they post on social media. It's little fragments of their life, which probably leave out the really good moments when people decide to put the phone down to be present, and also the really bad moments they don't want documented.

The post, which has almost 12,000 likes and hundreds of comments, received a lot of praise from other parents thanking her for hitting the nail on the head.

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The post reads:

"Instagram stories. Let's talk.

If someone uses the maximum amount of stories allowed in a day (all the teeny tiny dots) guess what? All together, it totals less than an hour of their 24-hour day. Does that surprise you? It's true. It's a peek of 1/24th of their day. Furthermore, it's probably the calmest parts. After all, when was the last time you got into a fight with your husband and thought "Hang on, let me insta-story this!" or had your hands full of screaming babies and thought "Hang on... let me try and hold a phone, too!"

I really want to challenge you.

Before you look at her life and become jealous: you likely did not see her raise her voice as she struggled through schoolwork with her kids, or her picking up trash after the dog ripped it up and dragged it all over the driveway, or her doctor give her a terrifying diagnosis, or her son's preschool teacher call and say he's been a problem... Again. Or her crying because she hates her body and hasn't felt like herself in so long. Or her going to bed each day feeling guilty and like she didn't do enough for everyone. Or her husband being out of work. Or her dad who walked out on her as a kid and it still hurts. Or her burning dinner and yelling a swear word in front of her kids.

Yeah, you don't see all the bad.

But you know what? Before you look at her life and become critical, know that you didn't see her singing worship music and taking extra time as she changed her baby's diaper. You didn't see her driving all the way to recycle center when the trash would have been easier. You didn't see her close her laptop, close her eyes, and stop to pray for someone she doesn't know. You didn't see her tell her daughter, "Just keep killing them with kindness, baby" as she sobbed in her arms about a bully. You didn't see her give up "me time" to prioritize date night with her husband. You didn't see her take her oldest to lunch. You didn't see her anonymous donation.

You don't see a lot of the beautiful things that happen in her life and in her heart, because they're sacred and the first thought that pops into her mind isn't, "I should grab my phone right now."

You don't see it all. Be kind to one another."

Thank you for saying what many think, mama.

Life

Do you feel it?

That little spark ✨ in the air that only comes around this time of year is starting to buzz and pop around us. There's nothing quite like the joy and excitement that comes with counting down to the holidays—especially with your kids who think last Christmas was forever ago.

And what better way to count down to Christmas than with an Advent calendar? We've rounded up our favorites that you can use year after year, mama.

House advent calendar

It's perfectly neutral to go with any type of holiday decor, but is made to bring a spark of magic and fun as your kids rush each morning to find out what's inside the tiny drawers.

$55.30

Advent calendar wreath

This has to be the most unique advent calendar we've ever seen. We love everything about it: The simple metal hoop, the greenery and the 24 kraft boxes that can be filled with goodies for both adults and kids. It's so pretty, we might even leave it up past Christmas!

$35

Countdown to Christmas advent calendar

We love that you can fill this one with your own treats that can change as your kids grow. And it doesn't have to be sweets. It can be filled with stickers, little toys, handmade goodies and more.

$38

Modern farmhouse Christmas countdown

No treats required for this simple, beautiful sign.

$34.95

Metal advent calendar

This sleek metal sign comes with 25 small muslin bags and 30 cards you can tuck into each one. The cards have an activity or kind gesture you and your kids can do to celebrate the season.

$40

Ernie and Irene llama advent calendar

Add a touch of whimsy and coziness with this sweet calendar featuring a knit llama.

$128

DIY advent calendar kit

For the crafty mamas in the group, this sweet kit has everything you and your family need to create your advent calendar together. Once you've assembled all the houses, you can fill it with whatever treats your family will love.

$36

Customizable advent calendar

This sweet and modern fabric calendar can be customized with your family name or cherished holiday phrase. It also comes with a set of 24 activity cards you can pop into each pocket.

$107

Clever Creations traditional wooden Christmas advent calendar

Clever Creations Traditional Wooden Christmas Advent Calendar

This beautiful calendar is a showpiece. It lights up to create a cozy and festive scene.

$43

Light-up stacking house glitter advent calendar

Enjoy a tower of pre-lit cottages that will light up your home each day leading up to Christmas.

$149

My Kindness advent calendar

My Kindness Advent Calendar

The holidays are all about giving—and that doesn't stop with just material items. We can give in the form of kindness every single day, and this calendar helps us do just that.

$75

Blue and gray Christmas socks advent calendar garland

We love the twist on a traditional calendar with this sweet garland of 24 stockings.

$29.69

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