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When a mother silently fades into the background…
Pregnancy brings a lot of attention, love, recognition and support- especially for a first time mother. She works hard to nourish and nurture the being in her belly.
Via a mixture of cosmic and physical miracles, her baby grows. She then births her baby and the nurturing and nourishing continue.
Such an important role, such an important outcome.
Suddenly however, all eyes are on the baby. And rightfully so. The baby is 100% dependent on the care and connection with its doting parents and extended community.
Next, the mother fades into the background. She is no longer in the spotlight. She tirelessly continues her new role with less and less recognition or appreciation. Even her postnatal check ups dwindle and she is left to keep on keeping on, oftentimes alone.
In western society, we don’t tend to honour the woman after birth.
I know from my own experience. We entertained too many well-intentioned visitors way too early. Our visitors enjoyed the ‘best and easiest’ aspects of our new baby, while I got on with making coffee and cooking meals for everybody!
Yes it was my choice and I am a grown person with a voice- but the oxytocin was coursing through my body! I would have signed any contract you put under my nose!
I said ‘yes’ to almost everything and everyone and in essence, I was high!
At the time, I felt like I could rule the world. And maybe I could have… with a little bit more attention and rest.
I needed an advocate to say: “STOP! You have single handedly grown a human being… you have just given birth… your body is producing life-giving sustenance for the baby… You need to rest and do nothing but focus on your baby.”
In many traditional and indigenous cultures, a new mother is not to leave the house (and sometimes indeed the bed) for at least a month. She is fed nutritionally dense food and attended to with almost as much attention as the new baby. Her only (and incredibly important) task is to look after and feed the baby.
Why this doesn’t happen in post-industrial nations is due to a variety of reasons, but lack of community, knowledge and support are a few that come to mind.
As with all things though, when education and funding is taken away at the crucial core/early stages of anything, problems always pop up later down the line.
In this case, in the form of Postnatal Depletion identified by Dr. Serrallach or Depleted Mother Syndrome originated by Dr. Rick Hanson. According to this article, which included an interview with Dr. Serrallach, some of the symptoms are:
# Tiredness upon waking
# Brain fog or ‘baby brain’
# Loss of libido
# Chronic fatigue and feelings of exhaustion
# Emotional instability or numbness
# Feelings of hopelessness
# Turning away from family and friends (even though you need them most)
# A Sense of guilt, shame and sometimes fear about the role of mother
# The feeling of being unenthusiastic about the things that thrilled you in your former pre-baby life
# Constant hunger or carbohydrate cravings
At one stage or another, we have all felt it. All normal and expected feelings that women have experienced for generations. Sometimes I have felt guilty about expressing these feelings to other women and indeed my own mother, as the general response is something to the effect of “well I survived (with many more kids) so why can’t you?”
The symptoms do overlap with postnatal depression, but it is now being recognized that postnatal DEPLETION can be a precursor to postnatal depression. A woman can experience one or the other- or both.
Why does postnatal depletion happen?
- The process of growing a baby takes a significant toll. In the later stages of pregnancy, the placenta passes up to 7grams of fat per day to the baby. Then the baby also needs and takes essential vitamins and minerals such as iron, zinc, B vitamins, and omega 3 fats and proteins. Apparently our brains DO actually shrink by 5%!!!!
- Childbirth is hard, no matter which way you do it. It is hard work.
- Lack of sleep (that for some with unsettled babies goes on for years).
- Constant vigilance or ‘baby radar’, which is a part of the ‘reprogramming’ of the brain. It makes mothers somehow intuitively aware of their child’s needs such as hunger, cold, touch etc. A mother is constantly on high alert. Without the proper support, it can lead to sleep problems and ‘over work’.
How can we begin to address Postnatal Depletion in a practical, actionable way?
This is not another to-do list… just a gentle list of suggestions to help scratch the surface of your depletion:
Find some time to rest.
Of course this might sound simplistic but you HAVE to do this. If you have a partner, ask them to care solely for the baby for a period of time so you can recharge. Or ask a willing parent, or a trusted friend. You will have a better chance of making micro changes for the better if you come from a space of rest. There were lots of excuses that I thought of when people offered to help or care for my baby.
Breastfeeding? Even two hours of dedicated ‘mother time’ is better than nothing.
Can’t trust anybody else to look after your child as well as you? Probably true, but this is also good reason to practice ‘letting go’ and allowing others to step up.
A break from the physical stresses (however short) can prime you to implement some crucial micro changes to replenish your stores. You can do it!
Acknowledge and accept this awful, depleted moment.
Comfort yourself and get comfort from others. Realise that a mother’s journey is challenging at times and it is ok to say so. Accept what is happening- and then take action.
Do one thing that is good for your body- then try to do it again tomorrow.
Just one thing is a good thing. Is it possible for you to take a bath, lay down for 5 minutes, have a relaxing uninterrupted chat with a friend, go for a walk alone…? Arrange this one good thing. Don’t expect somebody else to do it for you.
Take your pre-sleep routine seriously.
Even if you are co-sleeping and expect to be woken throughout the night, there are some aspects that you can control. Dim the lights, banish smart devices from the room, ensure the room is dark and cool. Go to bed at a reasonable hour.
Start a restorative relaxation routine.
Many people feel stressed at the thought of relaxation and at first it can be challenging to ease into. Start with 5 minutes of mediation, body scanning, gentle yoga, sound therapy per day and see how it makes you feel. Try a few different things and settle on a technique that works for you.
Go to your preferred health practitioner and get a thorough check up.
You will most likely need to refocus on better eating and perhaps take some supplements for your body. Omega 3s and 6s, which are good for brain health, are a good start.
Postnatal depletion. Who knew that it was a thing?