12 Myths of Pregnancy and Postpartum
Myth # 1. When you are pregnant, you will feel better than you have ever felt. In fact, you will glow! Fact: While some women describe pregnancy as wonderfully full- a time when they felt more energetic than ever, when they felt the glow that others commented on daily, and a time when they felt happy and alive, this is not, actually, the norm. Most women go through stages of incredible difficulty during their pregnancies. Many women feel uncharacteristically fatigued and irritable. Many women feel more exhausted than they imagined they would feel. Many women feel nauseous throughout the 9 + months when they share their bodies with their little ones. Many women never, actually, "glow" and instead feel deeply depleted. I need not remind you, Dear Readers, that even the women who most detest being pregnant love their babies to pieces.
Myth # 2: Feeling anxious and overwhelmed is just a part of pregnancy, and moms should just get used to this.
Fact: While it is absolutely true that all women can expect to feel anxious and overwhelmed about being pregnant and/or becoming a parent, this does not mean that women need to suffer through these periods. While not every pregnant mom needs therapeutic support, most women who are pregnant will benefit from reaching out to others when she feels this way. Having the space to talk about your feelings and conflicts is incredibly important for the wellness of every woman, and by no means to women simply need to push through periods of vulnerability.
Myth # 3: Women's bodies are made to birth babies. Women give birth all the time. Everywhere. Therefore, women should not have a need for any sort of pain support during childbirth such as an epidural.
Fact: Yes, women's bodies are made to birth babies. Yes, women do this everywhere. However, this does NOT mean that a Mom should feel shamed by asking for an epidural or other system of pain relief during her childbirth. Each woman has an absolute right to ask for what she needs throughout this process.
Myth # 4: It is ridiculous for women to try and birth their babies "naturally"- We are a country in which many aids for pain are safe and available. Why put yourself though something you need not?
Fact: Yes, we are fortunate to have many systems available for reduction of pain. But, again, there is no one fast rule for how women "should" choose to birth their babies. In communities where it is common to give birth to children without interventions, women succeed in this time and time again.
Myth # 5: Women feel an unrelenting rush of euphoria after delivering their babies. Instantly, "mommy-ness" kicks in and the bond and attachment happens all at once.
Fact: Well, no, not necessarily. Many women do get the wonderful opportunity to have this experience after delivery, but many, many women also feel what is described as a "delayed response" to being a Mom. Some of the women who have this initial experience of uncertain emotion will go on to develop a postpartum mood or anxiety disorder, but many will not. For some women, this deep connection with their babies just takes time.
Myth # 6: Competent, high functioning women should expect themselves to be able to handle the many emotional and logistical pieces that come with caring for a baby all on their own.
Fact: (This one both angers and amazes me- we all do this!!!) In many cultures, the idea of "it takes a village" is a literal reality for women who birth babies. In many cultures, new mothers are fed, bathed, pampered, and kept in community for months after they give birth. In other cultures, it is expected that this new mom will be assisted by many, many others as she transitions into her new role as Mama. And yet in ours? It is an unspoken expectation that women should do this all on their own- gracefully, happily, and with total acceptance. And what happens because of this is that women become deeply dissapointed in themselves when they are unable to do so.
Myth # 7: Breastfeeding comes naturally.
Fact: Perhaps this one is true for some women, but for most of my colleagues, friends, and clients, this is not the case. In fact, I think it is probably fair to say that breastfeeding is difficult, at least in the beginning, for most mothers. Be it nipple pain, difficulty in latching, over or under production of milk, or difficulty in settling into a "hold" that works, many many women go through significant challenge when beginning to breast feed. Working with a lactation consultant can be valuable for many of these women. And, still, some will either decide or find that the challenge of breast feeding is just too difficult to see though. There is absolutely no shame in this, and my hope is that all women feel empowered to make a decision around breast feeding that works best for herself and her baby. Babies most certainly benefit from breast milk. But what they need even more than this is their mothers.
Myth # 8: The Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression are the same thing.
Fact: Nope. Many people refer to PPD as "the blues", but these are two entirely different challenges. The Babay Blues affects around 85% new mothers and lasts for no longer that 2-3 weeks. The Baby Blues are considered a "normal" part of the postpartum experience because they are so common. PPD, However, affects about 15-20% new moms and, while symptoms may be similar to the Baby Blues, they can become much more serious over time. The Blues usually go away on their own, while PPD usually requires professional support and treatment.
Myth # 9: All mothers are sleep deprived. All mothers are emotional. All mothers are anxious and irritable and overwhelmed. Its just part of the journey.
Fact: Yes, having a new baby makes it much more difficult to get the sleep that your body needs. Yes, tranistioning to motherhood can be hugely overwhelming. However, as with myth # 2, being anxious, overwhelmed, tearful, and unable to sleep most of the time is NOT a "normal" part of new motherhood. New moms can expect to have moments of all of the above, but whenever a mom finds that she is feeling this way more times than not, there is probably something else going on Too many women wait out months and months of suffering because they believe-or are told- that it is just the way it is and that she should get used to it. This is neither true nor fair.
Myth # 10: Moms who love their children also love the responsibilities of being a Mom.
Fact. Ahhhhhh. Hmmm. Nope again. The amount of love that you have for your baby has nothing to do with the amount of love (or patience) that you have for dirty diapers at 4am, bouncing and rocking all hours of the day, breastfeeding with bleeding nipples, and trying hour after hour to soothe a baby who seems unable to be soothed. Love your baby all you want, Moms. But please please please work hard not to judge yourselves if you are having a difficult time transitioning into this new role. Simply put, it is hard.
Myth # 11: Nobody understands.
Fact: I know that it can feel this way. However, there is an entire army of women out there who struggle postpartum and you just might find that when you are ready to talk about your challenges with postpartum depression or anxiety, people who have had the same experiences will come out of the woodwork. In addition, many of us involved in raising awareness about postpartum mood and anxiety disorders are training doctors, nurses, midwives, and educators all over the world so that many more appropriately informed and trained providers are there to support you.
Myth # 12: My postpartum mood disorder will ruin my baby.
While we do know that untreated or under-treated PMADS can have lasting negative effects on infant and child development, we also know that women who do seek help get well... and their babies thrive along with them. As you learn more about how to take good care of yourself, find happiness, and be more present, your little ones will reap the benefits. You may just find that your postpartum challenges- once treated- actually lead to more present, healthy, and happy children. When you are your best, they will most likely be too.