The transition into motherhood is one of those transformations that shifts the very tectonic plates of your life. It’s one of those changes that changes everything.
And, despite the dominant cultural narrative of our times, it’s one of those transformations that makes your old self – your old jeans, your old dreams, and that way you used to drink hot coffee in the mornings – simply N/A. Not applicable.
And while I do the work I do as a doula and mothershift mentor because I see the immense possibility in all this, I don’t think it’s ever been harder to become a mother than it is, right now at our time in history.
We’re having more and better conversations about supporting newly postpartum mothers through the fourth trimester (and, when we say “fourth trimester” now, people get it), yes.
Matresence is a word now, yes.
And we, as a culture, are more aware of the postpartum mood disorders that are affecting a dramatic and rising percentage of women, yes.
But what I think has been lacking from this conversation is a critique of the culture and time in history within which we’ve all been called into motherhood.
Let’s have a look…
I wish, most of the time, that I didn’t have to use these two words together. But here we are, in 2019, and, the landscape of the way both mothers and babies start out their journey together is radically – radically – different than it was even just a hundred years ago. It’s even radically different than it was forty years ago, which was around when we started to see a dramatic increase in the use of epidurals and surgical births. And while age-old birth knowledge cultivated over oh, the last 10,000 years that humans have been birthing has been nearly obliterated in the Western world, we are also only just learning some of the impacts of the interventions that have replaced these practices. [Forty years is not, actually, a very long time to have developed a longitudinal understanding of the impact of a medical intervention: despite the fact that technology has changed at a rapid rate, humans still age at a rate of 365 days a year]. Some of the most profound evidence that is coming to the fore is highlighted by the brilliant Dr. Sarah Buckley, who has dedicated her career to understanding the impacts of modern-day birth interventions on women’s hormones.
While I’ll spare you some of the shocking details here (you can read Dr. Buckley’s research online), let’s remember that those hormones are what’s responsible for the vast majority of a woman’s biological and psychological experience of the postpartum period. With birth intervention rates skyrocketing into the 90% range for epidurals, the 30% range for cesareans and 20-40% for inductions, this impact alone holds a tremendous amount of responsibility for the way women navigate the early postpartum time.
Technology, in general
I joke with my clients when I’m talking about the stages of labour that you know a woman is in the active phase of labour because she puts her phone down. No longer interested in or able to text her mother to tell her she’s having this baby or take a photo of her perfectly appointed birthing room for Instagram, birth takes over the “thinking, planning and Pinterest” part of her brain and her process becomes ancient and mammalian.
I joke, yes, but it’s true. Technology is braided into our lives in way that has dramatically shifted even in the last ten years. We are almost never without our phones, and so many of us fill in all the gaps in our attention and activity with scrolling (yeah, me too).
In the postpartum period, this access can help women to find support and camaraderie, yes, but I would argue that, more often, women are deeply impacted by the ability that technology gives them to compare themselves and their mothering experience with other women (thank-you social media and celebrity pregnancies).
In my practice, what I often become even more worried about is when a woman outsources her intuition to Google. Being intuitively connected is one of our MotherPowers, as I call them, and so many of us have literally lost the skills required to use that powerful sense of inner knowing. What happens is marathon scrolling sessions (usually in the middle of the night) when the baby isn’t latching properly or when her poop looks different than usual, which typically lead to exhaustion and confusion before they lead to helpful answers.
That brings me to the next massive shift in modern women’s experience of the postpartum period: we have lost the village that used to support us when this mothering thing got hard, or confusing. We’ve lost our ability to socially reference our experience in a healthy, nuanced way (like, through conversations, not through Instagram). And many – maybe most – of us don’t have that extra set of hands present and available – those mothers and friends and aunties – to hold the baby so we can shower or go for a walk, to help with dinner or housecleaning, or just to be present as we speak words to the magnificent highs and chest-heaving lows of motherhood.
I often say that 10% of my postpartum support is pragmatic, and the other 90% is texts in the middle of the night saying “That’s totally normal. You’re totally normal. You’re doing this right. You are a wonderful mother. You’re beautiful. Good night. Call me in the morning. Yes, it’s normal. You’re okay. Call me in the morning.”
But so many of us have lost access to this, which is no less than a proferred sense of belonging to all the other mothers in the world who have also done this, who have also wondered if they’re okay.
Capitalism + Patriarchy
Yes, again. Capitalism and patriarchy are what is responsible for what I believe is one of the most powerful impacts on women’s early motherhood.
You see, there’s this thing that happens when a woman has a baby that I call The Big Slow Down. Days blur into nights and the healing process, a dramatically adjusted sleep schedule, and the massive learning curve of new motherhood means that not a lot else gets done during the first year of motherhood.
[Yes, the first year. Maybe longer. Stay with me here…]
In our capitalist society, people – and, arguably, especially women – are valued based on their productivity. What’s more, keeping the tiny humans alive, despite its fundamental importance of this work to the human race and the planet – thank-you patriarchy and the devaluing of women’s roles and motherhood – categorically does not count when it comes to productivity.
And so despite the healing and despite the breastfeeding and despite the sleeplessness, we hustle. Sometimes we just “try to keep busy” – in the name of mental health, perhaps. I usually see this as a red flag: what happens to your sense of self-worth, or even your sense of self at all, if you don’t or can’t keep busy? I also often see “keeping busy” as a woman’s way of coping with the dramatic identity shift that comes with motherhood in a culture that doesn’t even have the language, anymore, for what that means for a woman’s life. And so women try to hustle their way back into their old life, dieting so they fit back into their old jeans or busting out of the house to meet friends for coffee even after having only just gotten to sleep a few hours previous, for example, because it’s easier (and more societally acceptable) to do this than to allow oneself to completely fall apart for a while, and be born anew, as mother.
Okay my friends. I could write about this all day, which is really quite exciting, because I’ve spent my summer, thus far, sneaking moments to work on my next book, focused on the transformation into motherhood.
But, for now, I hope this gives you an opportunity to widen the lens on your own or your friends’ postpartum time. I think that a critical analysis of the way culture affects us in any realm of our lives, whether it’s in the postpartum period or in other facets of life, shifts the focus away from the things individual women are doing or not doing “right” or “well enough,” and contextualizes our lives in a way that brings, for most of us, I’d wager, a massive sigh of relief.
If this feels hard, mama, please know,
it’s not just you.
Get help when you need it, and know that this is not easy – in fact, I don’t think it’s ever been more challenging.
And so, what you’re doing – navigating what it means to be a new mother in the world right now – is heroic.
I see you.
The next season of the MotherSHIFT program begins on April 14, 2020. If you are a mama in your first handful of years of mothering (whether it’s your first child or your fourth), MotherSHIFT is for you.
MotherSHIFT is where you turn when your postpartum doula has packed up her magic Mary Poppins bag and your neighbours have stopped delivering casseroles…
MotherSHIFT can help you make sense of who YOU are, as a woman, now that you’re a mother.
It’s a place to receive guidance through the unknown, to be mothered as you mother. To know that your experience is real, meaningful, and okay.
MotherSHIFT will help you learn the skills and traditional wisdom that are your birthing-right as you traverse this rite of passage
and it’s a place to grow real friendships and receive wholehearted support.
Join me and an intimate group of mothers this Fall for an entire trimester of the support that you’ve been seeking.