There is an expectation that every new mother should be happy. Why wouldn’t she be? She just welcomed a child into her life. She has become a mother to that child. She is blessed to have the opportunity to mother, and love and care for this other human being. It is the greatest gift ever. Sure, she’s exhausted, overwhelmed, figuring out how to actually do this whole mothering thing and may have no clue if she’s doing anything right, but she should be HAPPY! Anything less than sheer bliss in this new role is viewed suspiciously. What sort of woman wouldn’t be thrilled to bits in this new role?
In reality, many women struggle greatly when transitioning to becoming a mother. All of a sudden, there is this child who depends on you to love them, nurture them, raise them to be contributing members of society (and keep them alive!). Your life is no longer your own. Your relationship with your partner changes. You’re not sleeping, meals consist of the nearest packaged food that can be devoured in 3 minutes flat, you’re covered in spit up and a 10 minute shower is considered the height of luxury and pampering (or maybe that was just my maternity leave?). Being a new mom is hard, and what can make it harder is the expectation that we are supposed to love every minute of it and the fear of judgement if we share our struggles.
The combination of unrealistic expectations and shame about our own experiences can push new moms into putting on the “mask of motherhood”. She hides her struggles and shows the world a version of herself that she feels is expected; calm, happy, a little tired but coping well. She talks about her child; their sleeping, eating, activities, behaviours, development. She replies to strangers in the grocery store “Yes, he is a good baby. Yes, she is sleeping through the night. Yes, I just love being a mom.” Every day she puts on her mask, even trying to hide from herself how she truly feels.
Putting on this mask, and hiding how you are feeling, can have significant consequences. The mask may prevent others from knowing that you’re struggling. It may make you feel more isolated and alone. It may prevent you from developing relationships with other moms, who may be a valuable support system. It can even lead to symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety. While it can definitely be scary, allowing yourself to reach out to someone and telling them how you feel, can be a huge relief. All new moms need support. All new moms struggle at times. Put down your mask, let go of unrealistic expectations and reach out. We want to see the real you.