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Becoming A Mother And The Transition To Motherhood
The transition to motherhood is a profound step in a woman’s life. One day she is “just a woman” and then literally overnight, whether she gives birth or adopts, she becomes someone’s mother. She enters this new territory with a concept of what “mother” means, based on her own childhood, perceived expectations from others, and the media. For nine months, a pregnant woman “plays” with the idea of what it will be like when the baby arrives. She imagines what she will be like as a mother, maybe idealizes a little. He vows not to make the mistakes he sees others making.
Then comes initiation – birth. Adoptive mothers also experience a moment of truth when the baby is in her arms and she is now a “mother”.
Even the marriage changes suddenly. There is this other person, father or partner, who is going through a crisis of their own inner identity. They both live under the same roof and sometimes have conflicting ideas about what should be done from minute to minute. During the child’s first night at home, reality hits. Just as our new mom falls asleep, still exhausted and recovering from childbirth, the baby cries. “Do I really have to get up now?” wonders the new mother.
Ups and downs
Having a baby is of course a time of joy and celebration. However, certain losses are also associated with this. The new mom has lost her old self and may lack confidence in her new role. The word “freedom” takes on a new meaning and is desired. If she doesn’t have someone to watch over her new bundle when she goes out, she’ll find she can’t just walk out the door like she used to. There is no such thing as “I’ll be right back, I’m just going to the corner” anymore. Now it has become a big production out of the door. Pack the diaper bag, pack the baby. . . wait, change the diaper first and now wrap the baby. Pull the stroller down the stairs….”Is going out worth it?” She definitely doesn’t. What happened to the productive woman? She was able to squeeze three errands into less than an hour, complete a work project, cook dinner and clean the bathroom. Now she’s a bit confused and disorganized – not a pleasant feeling for most new mums.
Although becoming a mother is instantaneous, it really is a process. The new mother is tested to her limits and beyond. Sometimes she gets it right and is overjoyed – and sometimes she gets it completely wrong (but hopefully she can laugh at herself, along with the baby).
The haves and have-nots
At first, she longs to hear her child call, “Mommy!”, but after a few years, she wants to run away when she hears “MOMMY” one more time! Suddenly every kid in the mall calling “mommy” sounds like her. Now there is a new divide between our new mom and her childless friends. There’s a bit of tension in the air as the guy without makes all sorts of great suggestions. When Mom tries to explain that there is a downside to motherhood, “the one without” absolutely refuses to believe it. A mom might be tired, exhausted, and a little depressed, but her childless friend will say, “You should thank your lucky stars that you’ve been blessed with such a beautiful baby.” And yes, she does it every day, but sometimes she secretly hates it and thinks, “What was I thinking?”, unable to share those thoughts with anyone but another mom. Now the introduction to the mommy club begins.
To know what it feels like
I recently had a conversation with my son who is learning to drive. When he was young and in the backseat, he would babble away and I would miss most of what he said because I was focused on the crazy streets of Brooklyn, trying to keep us safe and alive. He always complained, “You didn’t hear anything I said,” and I tried to explain it; but he pouted and refused to repeat a word. Now that he was learning to drive, he became tense and I couldn’t resist saying, “Now you understand why I never heard what you said when I was driving.” “Oh yeah, but you could have explained it to me,” he protested. My answer? “I tried, but now that you’re driving, you really understand. That’s how it is with friends who don’t have children. Unless they’re dealing with what our new mom has to deal with, they really can’t imagine how hard it is.
What is normal, what is not
The transition to motherhood is also sometimes a long and arduous process – especially if there is no support available. Regardless of expectations, a new dad probably doesn’t live up to mom’s standards. Whatever parents thought parenting would be like, the demands are usually far greater than they ever imagined. Only with time does she begin to believe that she is a good mother and begins to create an identity for herself that she really is.
It is important to recognize early warning signs and seek professional help before the situation worsens. New mothers flock to each other, but sometimes it’s hard to find like-minded souls. Sometimes when she finds them, mom’s experiences don’t feel the same as theirs, and she can feel isolated in her feelings. If there is excessive crying, increased fighting with the partner or a feeling of detachment from the child, seek help. Don’t let these common difficulties get out of control by not seeking supportive counseling. Sometimes couples therapy is helpful during this time as well. Discuss your issues with a trusted friend and try to get a referral to a therapist who will be sensitive to what you are going through. It’s also important to connect with other mothers during the years when your baby is growing. Try to make those connections and keep them.
Be easy on yourself!
Finally, relax a bit. Perfectionism doesn’t work with motherhood. We may have wished our own mothers were different, but now we see that it really isn’t that easy. Be gentle with yourself as you learn to be a mom—and forgive, forgive, forgive.
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