By Alexander Sacks, MD + Catherine Birndorf, MD| May 9, 2019
Photo: Michelle Kondrich
"Thoughts like these are completely normal, but many new moms feel ashamed of having them. Here’s how to let go of self-judgment and too-high expectations, from reproductive psychiatrists Alexandra Sacks and Catherine Birndorf.
I’ve have been working in women’s mental health for the past decade and my mission has been to educate people about the identity shift that occurs with motherhood, a phase called “matrescence.” Like adolescence, this developmental transition is hormonal, physical and emotional — all at the same time. But unlike adolescence, this transition hasn’t been part of the public discourse, and new mothers often end up judging themselves for these natural feelings. Of course, this conversation also includes the transitions of fathers, partners, and non-birthing parents. To cover the experience of matrescence from pregnancy through motherhood, I coauthored (with reproductive psychiatrist Catherine Birndorf, MD) the new book What No One Tells You; below is an excerpt.
If you’re interested in learning more about the subject and hearing real women’s stories, I invite you to listen to my new podcast “Motherhood Sessions,” where I sit down with mothers and share therapeutic conversations about guilt, perfectionism and many other human struggles. My hope is that by reducing stigma and shame around these topics we can all start to better understand the mothers in our lives — whether it’s yourself or someone you know and love. —Alexandra Sacks, MD
We often hear moms whisper in hushed tones something they’d never tell their friends or partner: “Sometimes I wish I had my old life back.”
Or they wonder, “Am I a bad mother because sometimes I’d rather take a nap than nurse my baby?” These ambivalent thoughts are completely natural, yet many moms feel ashamed of them. We call this the push and pull of motherhood — sometimes you’ll feel pulled toward your baby’s needs and your identity as a mother, and sometimes you’ll want to push it all away.
Motherhood, like all complex experiences, is a mix of both positive and negative.
Loving your child doesn’t change the fact that sometimes the work of caretaking is not fun. Yet for many moms, admitting that there are moments, days or weeks when you want a break is scary, because it can make you ask yourself: “Am I trapped with this feeling forever? What if I made a mistake? Does this mean I don’t love my baby?”
Ambivalence comes up when you find your attention is pushed away from your baby to care for yourself and others in your life, and you don’t know how to make it all work.
With every choice, someone gets shortchanged. How are you not going to feel guilty about leaving a meeting at work to go to the pediatrician? Or sleeping an extra 15 minutes while your baby is fussing, only to find him lying in spit-up? And what about when you’re with the baby but really thinking about returning a friend’s call, replying to a work email, eating dinner with your partner, or sleeping?"