New motherhood can be accompanied by a hefty dose of anxiety, sadness, irritability and fatigue, and it’s important not to suffer in silence.
This is a tough one. It can be hard to know what’s “normal” in those early days of motherhood. Many moms—about 70 to 80 percent, according
to the American Pregnancy Association—experience the “baby blues,” which involves anxiety, sadness, irritability and fatigue in the first few weeks after giving birth. The more persistent and intrusive symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety are less common (but more serious). These disorders often go undetected and untreated, leaving many mamas struggling in silence.
Even when women don’t meet the criteria for these disorders, new motherhood can kick up an emotional dust storm. Many women don’t enjoy those early days—even though they’re told repeatedly to savour every second. “The feeling of inadequacy is really big for new moms,” says Elana Sures, a Vancouver-based clinical counsellor in private practice. “It’s partially just panic—like, ‘I don’t know what to do!’ But it can also hit those deeper guilt and shame emotions, which can take people to a dark place—as in, ‘I’m bad at this, and everyone else is doing better than I am.’”
Although postpartum mental health is getting more attention these days, it’s still steeped in stigma. Moms may joke about their new lives without showers and with copious amounts of coffee, but many struggle to talk about the complicated, messy feelings that accompany new motherhood. “I think it’s really important for new moms to have these emotions normalized, and to be told that what you’re seeing on Instagram is not the way things are,” Sures says.
Reaching out to a therapist, BFF or online support group is a great first step. The emotions you’re feeling need an outlet, says Sures. “Suppressing negative emotions is actually what makes people more vulnerable to depression and anxiety. It’s really important to explore the entire range of feelings—about the baby, motherhood, marriage and everything else.”