As we look to celebrate Mother’s Day on Sunday, it is important to acknowledge that for some motherhood does not always go as expected. While motherhood can bring joy, it can also bring difficulties and changes that we never expect to encounter.
Often women hear explicit and implicit messages about what it means to be a mother. Some of these myths arise from statements from our own mothers or friends, comments on social media, and messages in advertising and television.
These myths include:
|To give birth naturally without any medication or epidural makes you a better mother.||There are multiple ways to have a baby whether vaginally, cesarean section, through a surrogate, or adoption. There is no trophy for having a baby in one way over another, and all will make you a mother.|
|Being a mother is the most important thing. If you do something for yourself, you are selfish.||Being a mother is one role a person has in their life, but that is not the only role of a woman! In order to take care of others, you have to take care of yourself. Spending time on self-care or hobbies does not take away from what you can give to your children. Often it is necessary so that you can feel refreshed and equipped to then give back to them.|
|Motherhood is the best, most rewarding thing you can do.||For some, this is true! But not for everyone. Motherhood doesn’t always feel rewarding, and there are other aspects of life that might feel more rewarding than motherhood and that is okay.|
|Women are meant to be mothers- it’s unnatural if you don’t want to have kids.||Women are more than just mothers and can choose if they would like to be parents or not. Being a mother or not does not change your worth as a human.|
|If you complain about motherhood, that means you are ungrateful or don’t love your kids enough.||Motherhood is hard! It’s okay to acknowledge the struggles associated with motherhood and that does not mean you are any less of a mother or do not love your children.|
One important part of breaking down motherhood myths is to acknowledge that the experience of motherhood is different for everyone.
There is a cultural myth that having a newborn is nothing but joyful, miraculous, and wonderful. Anyone who has a child knows that this is not true all of the time. The transition to motherhood begins with a painful recovery, an overwhelming life transition, and an intense fluctuation in hormones that can all lead to postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression or PPD is a mental illness sometimes known as the ‘baby blues’ that affects 1 in 9 women. PPD is caused by changes in the levels of estrogen and progesterone. These hormones are extremely high during pregnancy and the drop back to normal levels can cause depression. PPD can actually begin during pregnancy, or not present until a year postpartum.
Symptoms include mood swings, feeling sad, anxious, and overwhelmed, crying spells, loss of appetite, and trouble sleeping. If these symptoms last longer than 3 to 5 days, it is recommended to seek treatment. Treatment can include antidepressants, and therapy that specializes in women’s issues and depression.
Effects of Parenting on Mental Health
Not only can the changing hormones cause postpartum depression, but the toll of parenting a newborn on the mother’s mental health may contribute to PPD. Not only is the transition to motherhood overwhelming, but the physical recovery from labor and exhaustion from lack of sleep has a significant impact on one’s mental health.
Many women experience grief about the loss of their identity they knew before. As their body changes, doubt and fear about motherhood sets in, and anxiety about the baby’s health and wellbeing take up more prominent space in a mother’s mind, they often may feel that there is room for little else and fight a constant battle with a sense of overwhelm.
Additionally, the perpetuation of the ‘motherhood myths’ can cause guilt and shame about not being able to meet standards that are in actuality, unrealistic.
All of these factors can contribute to depression and anxiety and it is important to develop coping skills, strategies, and a support network to maintain mental health and wellness throughout parenting.
It’s important to acknowledge that these motherhood myths are just that- myths. These messages received from society, families, or communities do not apply to everyone and it is important to avoid internalizing unrealistic standards of motherhood.
Being a mother is an opportunity for joy, struggle, and growth all at the same time. It constantly requires adaptation as you face each new season of life. Even when it turns out to be nothing like you thought, there is still opportunity for growth and learning in your daily discovery of what it means to be a mom.