The day your pregnancy is confirmed is so special. Whether you already have kids or it's your first pregnancy, a confirmation of viability is validation that there's progress towards another chapter in life.
A common response to a confirmed pregnancy falls within the range of surprised to ecstatic. After the initial excitement calms down, stress and fear tend to be waiting to creep in. It can feel impossible not to get caught in a forward-thinking stress trap when you are pregnant. Once you are giving an estimated due date, everything on your calendar suddenly hinges around that day. A deadline is set.
Some things in life can be figured out and resolved before your baby's birthday, but other things can't fully be addressed until after the baby is born. Unfortunately, our brain doesn't always differentiate between the two. A mental trap during pregnancy is getting caught in a feedback loop of thinking about things that must get done, even things that aren't capable of being done anytime soon. We can obsess over the meticulous details of completing a task, but if the it's not
It's a waste of mental and emotional energy.
I'm convinced that as a culture we don't breathe. I should begin each therapy session with a deep cleansing breath, but I, too, forget to breathe throughout the day. A majority of my appointments involve me stopping a client mid-thought to remind her to pause and breathe. The response is always the same: at first there is some hesitancy and slight embarrassment that I've caught her powering through her day without much room for air, and then there is the sigh of relief that comes from taking in the much needed breath. I wonder how much better our country would be if everyone stopped to breathe every now and then. On a microlevel, how much better would our families be if we paused to breathe throughout the day?
It's easy to neglect breathing because it comes so naturally. We tend to only notice it when it takes effort. Breathing is one of the simplest, yet most important actions of our day. It brings the oxygen to help us function and the rhythm to move us through the day. Don't allow your day to be thrown off by holding your breath and throwing off your natural rhythm.
A good way to connect with your breath is to practice a quick one-minute meditation. Meditation allows you to physically and mentally create space for you to approach the day how you would like to, rather than living in a reactionary state.
Take a moment each hour, or when you recognize that you are holding your breath, to get in touch with your breath and reclaim your rhythm.
I know it's cliché, but parenthood is exhausting. I very naively thought when all three of my children started school full time this past August I would recharge all my energy stores that have been abused and stretched over the past seven years. I spent the final weeks of summer counting down the days until the kids started school. I had visions of reclaiming my creativity, energy and identity the moment the school bell rang the first day of school. In my visions, my focus and effectiveness would flow through me effortlessly.
My summer plan was that Fall 2017 would be about getting back into shape: mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I not only had a dream for this to happen, but I had what I thought was a clear plan for how to enter into this new, free stage of motherhood.
Things did not go as planned.
No major life incident threw my plan off course, except life itself. Yes, six hours a day of school is a nice chunk of time to get the wheels of progress in motion, especially compared to the past seven years that have included two hour blocks of non-working, child-free time a couple of days a week. On paper the time the kids spend in school seems like it would give me space for a complete personal renaissance if I wanted.
By the end of the first week of school my brain still felt like mush. I couldn't account for how I used the hours I spent months planning for. I recognized it was a little ambitious to assume that years of being in the daily grind of little kid world would turn into a new chapter so quickly. Instead of readapting my perspective to be a longer marathon, I again naively assumed that I would enter into the newer, less demanding, stage of motherhood after a couple of weeks of school.
A couple of weeks came and went.
Then a couple of months.
Now we're in November and I still haven't truly found my flow. My schedule still demands that I coordinate childcare when I work. I somehow still end up grocery shopping with all three kids in tow more often than not. My daily and weekly schedules still get hijacked by doctor appointments, school activities, sports.
Life is still happening.
While the kids are in school during the day they aren't going into a vacuum. They don't disappear to give me rest and then reappear as they were before. Each day at school they are building bigger, more complex lives. I play a major role in these evolving lives, so it's no wonder I don't feel the lightness and clear thinking I imagined. I don't think I will ever get the ability back to do what I want to do, when I want to do it. I may not be able to start a project and finish it as quickly as when I was in my early 20s. And I may never again have the freedom to be as spontaneous as I once once.
As I've checked in with myself over the past months I have found that there have been some really content moments, some encouraging times, some discouraging experiences, and some really foggy days. Basically, even though on paper my schedule could look less motherhood-time demanding, I am still experiencing motherhood.
I know it may seem absurd that I have been so caught off guard by the ongoing demands of motherhood, even when my kids aren't around. I know I am not alone, though. I recently ran into a mom who is a few years ahead of me and she mentioned it took her a full school year to adapt to the new lifestyle, how to use her day effectively. Her side comment was a testament to how validating off-the-cuff comments can be for moms in transition.
I signed up for motherhood, and I love it. It does take constant readjustment, though. We are constantly shifting to meet the needs of our growing children, our broadening schedules, and our limiting time. The dynamics of motherhood are remarkable.
During my most recent personal motherhood check-in, months after my anticipated renaissance, I didn't judge myself for not accomplishing as much as I anticipated, or not using the school hours effectively every day of the week. I took note of my naivety about this season of parenthood, and I recommitted to making it a priority to find my flow.
Yes, being with small children all day definitely disrupts productivity, but what's even more disruptive is not having a personal flow to adapt to the demands around us. Finding my flow doesn't mean I find the perfect schedule for my family. No matter how hard I try to plan my week, life is still progressing and mixing up whatever schedule I plan. That's life. It's happening. I can find my flow by building in space and time during the day for me to ground myself, so that I may adapt to whatever may happen during the day.
The best I can do at this point is not to strive for a personal metamorphosis, but to lean into the chaos and find a flow.
Over the past decade we have become more comfortable than ever sharing details of our lives. Sometimes our sharing culture has led to over-sharing, but for the most part I believe the cultural shift from secrecy and shame to openness and acceptance has been a very good adjustment. One area that has seem immense growth in vulnerability is mental health.
For far too long depression has been held in secret. The secrecy of depression fosters feelings of shame, guilt, and self-doubt. I am always happy to see depression, especially postpartum depression, openly discussed in the media. Recently the New York Times published an article that gave voice to the fact that dads can experience PPD, too. For years I've ended my childbirth class with a PSA about postpartum mood disorders. Admittedly, closing the course with the heavy topic of how and when to get help if you're not loving parenthood may not be the best move for a childbirth class, but it's as good of a time as ever, I guess. In my PSA I always remind couples that it's a real thing if dads experience PPD after the birth of a child. The news usually comes as a surprise, but interestingly it also often causes the men in the room to breathe a sigh of relief - I let them off the hook for believing that they have to transition into parenthood perfectly, with no less than grateful and ecstatic emotions connected to parenthood. Feelings of postpartum depression don't indicate a lack of love or gratitude for your child; they are symptoms of a life transition.
Once moms and dads are allowed to let go of the expectation that they should feel perfectly happy in parenthood the dialogue opens about how everyone is actually feeling. Admitting that parenthood doesn't feel like you expected, or maybe isn't going how you wanted, or has adjusted your life in ways that you aren't happy about doesn't may you a bad parents, it makes you an honest parent. There are some men and women who gleefully transition into parenthood, but for everyone else, there is power in being open and vulnerable.
For too long the stigma of depression, and even more so postpartum depression, has kept women silent about their experiences. The silence breeds shame, fear, and guilt. So often I speak to women with PPD who use every ounce of their energy to carry on as though nothing is wrong. They carry on at their jobs, in their play groups, at church, with their families - they manage to smile through everything, even. But inside they are holding on by a thread because they feel the weight of disconnection and silent suffering. What they are presenting to the world doesn't match the heaviness inside.
Women report that they won't tell anyone about their PPD because they believe it reflects on their ability to be a mother. They feel guilty that during this given season of life they aren't enjoying motherhood like they thought they would, or should.
"Good mothers don't feel this way," becomes their mantra. Many women with PPD try to act like what they think "good mothers" should act like.
It's easy to get lost in the act and to get caught in the 'cycle of should'.
What should I be doing?
How should I be doing this?
I should have have that differently.
Ironically, the incriminating should list doesn't help women become the great mothers they want to be. Instead, the should list creates an unattainable goal that becomes a distraction from engaging in the present moment of motherhood.
The should list forms into a 'cycle of should' as a mom gets stuck on the mental loop of thinking about what she should be doing, judging herself over her lack of performance, and then feeling heaps of shame, guilt, and a lack of self-worth over her abilities.
The 'cycle of should' is utterly exhausting and will never produce feelings of validation or confidence, which are lifelines during motherhood.
Anyone can get caught going down their personal should list and end up in the 'cylce of should'. Transitions into parenthood - whether it's parenting your first or fourth child - cause stress for everyone. Sometimes the 'cycle of should' is one of the more overt symptoms of PPD and anxiety. Some women find it difficult to distinguish what is typical stress and what has become PPD or anxiety.
If you notice you are shoulding yourself on a regular basis, take a moment to do a personal checkin with how you are doing overall - physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. When you find yourself shoulding all over yourself. Take a pause and breathe. Find your breath. Connect to your breath. Decide what you want to do and who you want to be; rather than who you should be.
Instead of shoulding all over yourself, try embracing healthy motherhood looks like for you. Burdening yourself with shame over not being good enough is never a characteristic of healthy motherhood. Healthy motherhood is defined by boundaries that are realistic and validating for you and your family.