by: Kim Hammans, PLPC
There are times in life that invoke extreme emotion and their impact tends to leave us forever changed as people. The birth of a child is certainly one of those times.
Having just come back from my own maternity leave, I find myself reflecting on how intense these past few weeks with a newborn have been. I have experienced all-consuming joy. Looking into my new little one’s eyes and cradling his little body brings thankfulness and awe into my heart. But there have also been painfully lonely feelings, too. Some moments I have been so tired I cannot think straight and so overwhelmed with emotions that I am not sure which one is accurate and which one to trust.
As women, we often feel we must get back on our feet, returning to “normal” as quickly as possible. Taking the time to heal— physically and emotionally— can feel like a luxury we cannot afford ourselves. So when the emotions hit us (and who can escape the hormonal roller coaster after giving birth?) we often feel a lot of pressure to get it under control and make it stop. I think we do ourselves a disservice when we treat ourselves this way.
During my own recovery, I was reminded of Brene Brown’s technique of writing yourself permission slips when doing something that is scary. Brown is the author of several books, one entitled, The Gifts of Imperfection. She hosted an e-course based on this book, in which she invited her students to write their own permission slips as they face doing something new. I applied her wisdom to my postpartum recovery. Some of these “permissions” were easier for me to believe in the moment than others. But through time I have found all of them to be true.
If you are about to welcome a baby into your life, or support someone who is, I offer the following list of permissions to you:
1. It’s okay to cry.
For some, this is easy. Tears just come. But for others, tears can be a source of shame. Your feelings and your emotions during this time are real, and holding them in will not help you in the long run. After my first son was born, I remember a guest coming to my home to visit both of us. I burst into tears when she asked me how I was doing. She embraced me and simply said, “This is normal and this is real life. It is okay to cry.” I experienced such freedom from those words. This truth helped me to embrace my tears and I actually felt lighter after getting some of the tears out.
2. It’s okay to ask for help.
You need to focus your energy on recovery and on bonding with and enjoying your new baby. Lean in to the people around you. Let !them help you. Let them cook you meals, fold your laundry, play with your older kids, and worry about the dishes, bills, and other chores. When people ask you what you need, don’t be afraid to accept their help. Raising a baby takes a community, and this starts from the very beginning. If you don’t have people immediately able to help you, consider hiring help: a housecleaner, a babysitter, or a postpartum doula are good people to consider.
3. It’s okay to rest.
Taking time to sleep is essential for your healing. There is no shame in allowing your body to relax and doing nothing but caring for yourself and your new baby.
4. It’s okay to enjoy the newborn phase.
If you are a mom who loves babies, enjoy it. Soak up every yawn, every adorable face and amazing sound your baby makes. Snuggle and enjoy every aspect of your baby.
5. …And its okay if you don’t enjoy this time so much.
If on the other hand you are finding it hard to enjoy the baby, relax. It is okay. It does not mean you are a terrible mom. This phase is hard. The sleeplessness and the newness to everything can be exhausting and terrifying and completely overwhelming. There is nothing wrong with you if you do not enjoy this phase.
6. It’s okay to not know what you are doing.
Ah, competence. I don’t think I knew how much I relied upon feeling competent until I felt utterly incompetent in the presence of a new little life. It is normal to not know what you are doing. It is okay. Breathe.
7. It’s okay to focus on your needs.
New mom, you matter. Your healing matters. It is okay to take breaks, to find time for yourself, to take an extra long shower, and to do things to help yourself recover. Do not neglect yourself: eat meals. Sleep. Rest.
8. It’s okay for things to be imperfect, messy, and incomplete.
Speak kindly to yourself as you enter a whole new phase of life. It will not be perfect. Things will be messy and hard. Your relationship with your partner will probably be strained. You may not be able to care for your other kids in the way you typically do. It will be okay. This is only a season, and it is okay for it to look messy— both literally (there is stuff on my kitchen floor that has been there for weeks!) as well as relationally and emotionally.
9. It’s okay to seek professional help.
When the feelings become intense, when the fears consume, and when the pressure feels palpable, it is okay to reach out for help. Talk to your doctor. Find a therapist. Do not go at it alone.
What permissions would you add for yourself?