Did you struggle with your own transition to motherhood? On this episode of Mind Over Motherhood, I sat down with Betsy Laughter, Life Coach for Moms to talk about the transition to motherhood and how to make it easier.
Prefer to listen rather than read? Head over and listen to Episode 13 of the Mind Over Motherhood Podcast!
Betsy is a Life Coach for New Moms and has been a social worker for the past 20 years, working specifically new and postpartum mothers. I had the pleasure to speak with Betsy about easing the transition to motherhood and how we can best support new moms in this exciting and emotional time.
There are few experiences in life that have the potential to turn your world inside out like becoming a mother and Betsy knows this first-hand.
Betsy has devoted her energy to educating and supporting women as they transition to motherhood with realistic perspectives and a sense of humour. She combines her own experience with that of her 15 years supporting new moms on postpartum units as a social worker to help moms adjust to motherhood.
EASING THE TRANSITION TO MOTHERHOOD WITH BETSY LAUGHTER
“I KEPT WAITING FOR THE RAINBOWS AND UNICORNS.”
Betsy always dreamt of being a mother. As a young girl playing with dolls, she always knew that she wanted to be a mother.
As an adult, she became a social worker and worked with new mothers on postpartum units adjust to new motherhood, to ease their experience with premature birth and navigate the early days of life as parents.
She felt that those experiences had prepared her well for the birth of her own first son, but that was not the case. She recounts the early days of her own transition to motherhood:
“When my son was born, I remember they handed him to me and I looked at him and it just felt, it felt surreal. It did not feel like real life.
You know, I was excited and I was in love with him, but it wasn’t what I had imagined in my mind that it would be like…There were no unicorns or rainbows, which I kept waiting for. “
THE TRANSITION TO MOTHERHOOD: “I CAN’T EVEN REMEMBER A LOT OF THOSE EARLY MONTHS.”
Betsy shares that for months, she didn’t even recognize that her postpartum experience was not “normal.”
“Part of the first couple of months, if you were to ask me what it was like, I don’t remember all of it, just because it was such a cloud, just a fog.
A lot of new moms experience that [of course] because of the sleepless nights, adjusting and all of that. But about nine months after my son was born, I was in a real funk and really struggling just to feel connected to anything in life.
It was my very brave husband who kind of approached me carefully and said, “Something just seems off. You don’t seem like yourself.“
I fortunately did not respond negatively. I actually heard what he said and I realized it was time for me to go and maybe seek some help.
I was never officially diagnosed with postpartum depression or anxiety, but I am certain that that is exactly what I was dealing with.”
Betsy’s story of walking around in a haze, not feeling like herself and not being able to feel joy in her early postpartum period really resonated with me and maybe resonates with you also.
WHEN YOUR TRANSITION TO MOTHERHOOD IS HARDER THAN YOU EXPECTED
Too often, there is a depiction in social and popular media that the early days of the postpartum experience are blissful and full of love, when in reality, it’s often much different.
Both Carly and Betsy reflected on their individual experiences with those initial raw postpartum days.
The reality is that the majority of women are shocked after birth and in the early postpartum months. Betsy and Carly describe this phenomenon as “postpartum shock.”
More often than not, those first few months are HARD. Women struggle with loss of their identity, physical pain from recovery from labour, marriage disruption and emotional distress. The experience can be even further complicated if one or both new parents are also struggling with postpartum mental illness.
First-time mothers are often hit the hardest with postpartum shock. Without knowing that this is a common experience, they can easily fall victim to the belief that they alone struggle in motherhood. They may believe that their experience is “wrong” or that they are “not able to hack it” as a new mom.
It’s important to let new mothers know that feeling “postpartum shock” is normal and can be managed with the right supports, help and rest.
THE MOST COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS MOMS HAVE ABOUT THE TRANSITION TO MOTHERHOOD
“I SHOULD KNOW WHAT MY NEW BABY NEEDS AUTOMATICALLY.”
“When I’m meeting with moms, I explain to them the need to remember that although you have created this new little human being, you really just met them.
As weird as it may sound, it’s no different than if I just randomly walked up to some person on the street, and [looked] to the mother and said, “Here, take care of this random person.”
It is common that new mothers expect that their “maternal instincts” will kick in automatically after birth. They often expect that they will be able to understand, anticipate and meet all of the needs of their brand new baby. This expectation can be very damaging to the self-esteem of a new mother because it is not realistic. Inevitably, she will have moments when she has no idea what she is doing or how to soothe her baby. If she has the belief that she “should” know, it can cause her to feel as though she is failing as a mother.
Furthermore, it is not realistic to expect a mother to bounce right back from birth with all of her wits, knowledge and energy available to her. It’s important to remember that both the newborn and new mother have just been through quite a dramatic event. The mother is adjusting to her new identity, healing from delivery, struggling with sleep deprivation and climbing a steep learning curve. For the newborn, she has essentially just been evicted and is now adapting to a bright and unfamiliar outside world.
“There are two people who have just gone through a tornado, and there is this expectation that they’re both just going to instantly bond [and know each other].”
“I really encourage mothers to realize that the delivery is not the finish line. It’s actually the start of the entire journey.”
“THIS PHASE IS GOING TO LAST FOREVER.”
Each phase of new motherhood is intense and feels as though it will last forever. Both Betsy and Carly shared stories of their own experiences and how important it is for new mothers to always keep in mind that nothing lasts forever in motherhood (even the difficult phases).
“When you’re really in the thick of it, it sometimes feels terrible and you’re thinking, how am I ever going to get through three more months like this?
Or I can’t do motherhood if this is what it’s like.
I remember thinking these exact same things.
I wish I could look back and tell myself now like that those hard phases will go by quicker than you think. It will feel super long at that time, but it will pass. It will not always be this hard.”
Carly and Betsy share that mantras can be very helpful during those early days when everything feels so hard.
Try using mantras such as:
This is going to get easier.
Each day won’t always be this hard.
It’s not always going to be like this.
THE MYTH OF THE FOURTH TRIMESTER
Betsy shares how the concept of the “fourth trimester” can serve to create expectations in new mothers that can be damaging.
This concept suggests that life will settle back to “normal” in three months after the birth of a new baby. In reality, each new phase of a child’s development comes with more change and requires more adaptation and adjustment. Adjustment to motherhood is ongoing throughout the life of the child, as how one mothers is constantly changing based on a child’s growth and needs.
By ascribing to the concept of a defined “fourth trimester,” new mothers may feel that they are failing if they have not “adjusted” to motherhood after the first few months. In reality, most mothers are still struggling or having an adjustment at 6 months postpartum and onward.
MORE OF THE GOODS:
- All about breastfeeding challenges and that it is actually MUCH harder to breastfeed than new mothers are often led to believe.
- Betsy shares her perspective on birth plans and her own birth story.
- The importance of figuring out who is the “planner” and who is the “go-with-the-flow” person in your relationship, and how to lean on the “go-with-the-flow” person more often during labour, delivery and the early postpartum days.
- How to help an expectant mother without forcing advice on her.
- The importance of letting new moms figure things out on their own while being there as support when she needs it.