The physical changes that a woman’s body undergoes while creating a human being is nothing short of miraculous. It is during this transformation that we must remember it is not only the body adapting, but a woman’s heart and mind.
As a woman expecting a child, there is perhaps no greater time of anticipation, wonderment, and joy. You pour over every detail of the preparations: from the nursery decor to child birthing classes, and everything in between – the world feels saturated with information on how to best prepare for your coming baby. Despite all the wealth of knowledge available, it can do little to prepare you for holding your newborn for the first time and gazing into the face you have dreamed of for so long.
And in stride with the fast-paced nature of life, the world seems to go on unchanged. Even though as a woman, your life has been transformed from the inside out, there is little that can prepare you for what is to come: the fourth trimester.
What is the fourth trimester?
The fourth trimester is characterized by unmatched joys and unpredictable lows; navigating through the uncharted territory of motherhood is full of the unexpected. Yet for the countless women who may be faced with postpartum depression, the early days of motherhood may tell a different story.
Each year, an estimated 1 million women will struggle with postpartum depression (PPD) or some type of perinatal mood disorder following pregnancy, yet only 15% of these women will receive professional treatment. This paints a stark reality of motherhood for many women who are facing insurmountable challenges in the days and months following childbirth. An unspoken shame is often experienced with postpartum depression, as this disorder is stigmatized in a culture that would rather sweep it under the rug. Many mothers dealing with PPD may feel ashamed about their earliest experiences of motherhood: feeling disconnected, and unable to bond with their newborn during a time that should be blissful and joyful.
Why does it happen?
A stronger support system is needed.
As a society, we push our women along in pregnancy, adamantly forcing opinions on the should-dos and don’ts of child rearing; yet when pregnancy is over, mothers perhaps feel more isolated, confused, and overwhelmed than ever. When support is uniquivecatedly needed the most, new mothers are often left with their babies and with little encouragement for the journey of motherhood they are now embarking on.
Finding a new identity.
An unfounded fear of many new mothers is the need to shift their identity to that of a single role as a mother and caregiver. Reality sets in after pregnancy and childbirth that every aspect of life will be forever changed. Amidst the laundry piles, midnight feedings, and constant devoting ourselves to the needs of our little ones, many women believe that there is no “going back” to how things once were, and this unrealistic expectation often leaves women scrambling to pick up the fragments, trying to reconcile the pieces of who they once were with who they are now.
Self-care takes a backseat.
Becoming a mother does not mean forgetting yourself but rather, learning how to more creatively nurture your well-being to best nourish the ones you love and care for. On the contrary, the unhinging of motherhood brings with it the deepest sense of purpose and clarity that must be founded on self-care. This is much easier said than done, and an urgent sense of proactiveness is needed to keep yourself nurtured throughout your motherhood journey, particularly in the earliest days. For a woman experiencing PPD, self-care is perhaps even more important and necessary for the well being of the entire family. Prioritizing nourishment through healthy food and emotional support is the catalyst through which families can truly flourish during times of change.
Postpartum depression is a real condition that warrants more attention and concern, and a mind-body approach to both recovery and motherhood is essential during the earliest, most vulnerable days after childbirth. As a mother, you can flourish in your newfound role by the manner in which you nurture and cultivate your mind, body and soul. Cast off the cloak of shame and guilt you may be experiencing and learn to embrace yourself in grace and gratitude; for all that you have journeyed through to bring your miracle into the world, you absolutely deserve it.
“There’s no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one.” —Jill Churchill
Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC is a San Diego-based private practice dietitian helping others embrace their health for themselves and their loved ones. Focusing on maternal/child health and eating disorders, Crystal creates the nurturing, safe environment that is needed to help guide individuals towards a peaceful relationship with food and their bodies.