Thankfully, these days we’re having more and more conversations about the postpartum time, and, as a culture, we have a better understanding about the physical and emotional transformations mothers traverse in the early days of parenthood. But there is still so much more that we have to learn, and so many of us still experience isolation and uncertainty in those first days, weeks and months. There’s a lot of conflicting information out there, and we can’t rely on “the village” in the same way our foremothers might have to help us to know what’s normal during this transformative time in our lives.
As a doula specializing in reclaiming motherhood as a rite of passage, here’s what I wish I could tell every new mom about the postpartum period:
1. It’s normal for your transition to motherhood to take waaaaay longer than you thought it would.
Your doctor or midwife might affirm the completion of your transition to motherhood at a six week check-up. Increasingly, we’re talking about “the fourth trimester,” which refers to a three-month period of emotional and physical healing and adjustment after your baby is born. But the truth is, the transition to motherhood takes two to three years. Yes, you read that right. Two to three years. That’s how long it takes to make the identity shift into motherhood known as matrescence. So if you’re three months, or a year, or even two years into motherhood and still feeling like your world has been turned upside down, welcome to the club. It’s okay. Your world has been turned upside down. And it takes time to reorient to, and feel fully embodied in, your new reality.
2. It’s normal to feel like you’ve lost yourself.
We talk about losing yourself in motherhood as though it’s the worst possible thing that could happen. But motherhood is a radical life transformation. It changes who you are. And so I often wonder: what if losing yourself in motherhood is not the problem but the point? In my 13 years of supporting women through matrescence, I’ve noticed that it’s those of us who try to recreate the circumstances of our pre-motherhood lives or who try to rush into the “new normal” that struggle the most. It’s totally normal to feel disoriented, like you don’t know who you are anymore now that you’re a mother. It’s really uncomfortable, and it’s a really great idea to get support during this time as you need it, but also? You’re not broken. You’re becoming.
3. It’s normal to really (really!) miss your old self.
One of the things we rarely talk about in the context of motherhood is grief. But, in fact, all life transitions—even the ones that are exciting and very much desired—ask us to leave behind some part of ourselves so that we can step into the new. The same goes for motherhood. And so, if you are feeling a sense of loss or grief for the spontaneity of your pre-baby life, or the experience of drinking your coffee while it’s hot, it’s okay to just feel it. Missing the days before you had your baby doesn’t make you a bad mother. It makes you human. Your feelings of sadness want to be felt, to be honored, and to be shared with trusted others before you can begin to release them.
4. It’s normal to feel like your whole life is changing.
Becoming a mother isn’t just about learning how to change diapers and make really strong coffee. And it’s not just that you’ve added a tiny human to your household, either. You, mama, are a complex being, with an entire ecosystem of identities, roles, responsibilities and relationships that shape who you are. And so it’s normal that the radical transformation of motherhood might catalyze other changes, too. Motherhood very often causes us to reorient our priorities, to rethink everything from our careers to our relationships to our home decor. If you feel like motherhood is changing everything about your life, you’re not alone.
5. It’s normal for motherhood to open up an entire world of possibilities for you.
This is motherhood’s best kept secret. Honestly? I think this is what our patriarchal culture fears the most, and tries to keep from us in messages that devalue or convince us to deny the messy reality of our motherhood. Time and time again, I’ve seen that when women feel more supported through the radical—and often challenging—transition into motherhood, that their whole lives flourish. Motherhood has the potential to become a crucible that burns away all the parts of us that are inauthentic or unhappy or misaligned, and allows us to become laser-clear about who we are and what matters most to us. It’s a time when we often become more deeply compassionate and resilient. We can learn to listen to our bodies as powerful sources of pleasure and wisdom, to build a stronger community around us, to renegotiate the terms of our intimate partnerships, to quit our jobs and follow our passions, to pick up pens and paintbrushes again. Motherhood is a time of complete and utter transformation, and it can also be a time of incredible power and potential, if we allow it.