Motherhood is Every Shade of Blue
How to let go of expectations and embrace all the emotional shades of motherhood.
I experimented with my watercolors last week for a collage project. I left four abstractly painted papers to dry in the basement.
Once the paper corners curl, I know it's dry and I can survey the final results.
My eyes scanned the maze of spotty, saturated, splattered paint; an image caught my attention. I recognized two figures: mother and child. I saw a mother's attentive face, a breast, a drooped belly, and a baby reaching and wanting.
The fluidity of blues, water, motion, and depth felt evocative of the maternal experience: a mother's role, sense of self, expectations, life rhythms, and integration of her past and present is a fluid, ever-evolving process. It is sometimes intense, sometimes invisible, but the mark is made.
And I was startled and moved, holding something that felt so vivid, made completely by accident.
Maybe we see what we want to see. But I believe anything that gives us pause is worth exploring.
The emotional experience of motherhood is particularly prescient in my mind for reasons beyond the fact that I am a mother myself. As I'm working towards my Marriage & Family Therapy degree, I have decided to complete extra training in postpartum mood disorders and parenting struggles.
My graduate reading material investigates the maternal psychological phases of adjustment, reckoning, despair, and acceptance throughout the process of this profound role change.
I also volunteer for the incredible Postpartum Support Virginia organization and have the privilege of hearing mother's stories, their fears, their thoughts, and their triumphs.
This heightened exposure to the maternal experience led to an inevitable result:
I abandon the narrow expectations of motherhood and embrace the full range of experience. It can be both harrowing and heartwarming, and everything in between.
Fear dissolves with the acceptance that it may not be what you thought, but that is OK. And you and your child will grow together.
This integration and acceptance is my hope for fellow mothers.
So much of a mother's pain comes from the loss of what we'd imagined and hoped for. But love gives us the strength for resilience and acceptance.
Karen Kleinman, a social worker and expert on perinatal mood disorders, says that "depression emerges at a time when both the demands and stakes are high...this makes everything more dramatic, more precarious..." Mothers are often consumed with self-judgment because, again, unrealistic expectations for herself and her experience have been thwarted.
If you find yourself in a loop of negativity, disappointment, and self-criticism, start with observing your thought patterns. Consistent observation without judgment will help you notice, rather than react.
Attuned attention literally changes our brains- we can train ourselves to change our instincts- both mental reactions and behavior.
Once you are regularly noticing your thought patterns, recognize the fear driving those thoughts.
Then counter that fear with acceptance and the knowledge that you are growing with your child.
One of the most profound pieces of advice I've ever read comes from mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zin who said we must build the skill to speak to ourselves the way we would speak to our children. Why are we any less deserving of love, empathy, and encouragement?
New mothers need as much nurturing as their babies. Infuse your inner voice with compassion, warmth, and support.
And please, do not hesitate to seek help from mental health professionals or hotlines if you are feeling overwhelmed.
Postpartum Support International offers many resources for support wherever you live.
Let the process of reflection bring you peace.
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