Why Does New Motherhood Sometimes Feel Like Losing Yourself?

How a little DIY Therapy can help you deal via alexandrasacksmd.com

No matter how much you hoped, wanted, and planned for motherhood, this transition will, at times, be stressful.

During pregnancy and your first year of new motherhood, you’ll face changes in your routine, relationships, social life, body, work, finances, sex-life (pretty much EVERYthing.) So how can you stay grounded through this time of total flux?

We recommend you begin by reminding yourself that matrescence, like adolescence, is an awkward phase for most women, leaving you feeling out of control and disoriented. No matter how much you hoped, wanted, and planned for motherhood, this transition will, at times, be stressful. And the intensity of these feelings has nothing to do with how good a mother you’ll be, or how much you’ll love your children.

Even when life is changing for the best, change is hard for most of us. One woman told us this story about how pregnancy changed her social routines:

“I’ve always been a social butterfly. For as long as I can remember, I’ve spent Saturdays visiting friends and running errands, but in the third trimester my legs started to swell more and I was easily wiped out after an hour. It was really frustrating — I wanted to run around, but my body just wouldn’t let me. I felt like I was letting down my friends, and honestly didn’t know how I would occupy myself alone at home without losing my mind. To lift my spirits, I decided to focus on making a Pinterest page for baby clothes and food, even articles on sleeping and breastfeeding, and invited my mommy-friends to weigh in on my brainstorm. Of course it wasn’t the same as hanging out in person, but it was a way to keep me busy and in touch with my friends.”

For some of us, the changes of a new routine can leave us feeling lost, even overwhelmed enough that our mood dips. Here’s the good news: there’s a form of therapy that can help you deal with or even prevent your mood from crashing during these times of identity change, or “role transition.”

Inter-Personal Psychotherapy (IPT) is a targeted treatment that has been developed just for this reason, and if you want to save time and money before going to a therapist’s office, you can try it yourself first to help with stressful changes.

IPT is most helpful for those moments when you’re feeling sad or frustrated by how your pregnancy or new life as a mother is requiring you to change in ways that feel more bad than good. These moments may happen a little, or a lot, again, each woman is different. But there are ways that we can all benefit from using IPT techniques for some DIY therapy to address these feelings before they snowball into depression.

Give yourself some time to work through your feelings…

Without realizing it, the woman above did a great job using an IPT-style approach to manage her disappointment of having to slow down her socializing. Here are the IPT steps she used that you can try when you’re feeling stressed around an adjustment:

  1. Name what is bothering you (“In the third trimester my legs started to swell more and I was easily wiped out after an hour.”)
  2. Consider the change — how is your distress related to the recent change? How does this change impact you specifically and conflict with your familiar identity? (“I wanted to keep running around, but my body just wouldn’t let me.”)
  3. Acknowledge the feelings related to this role change (“It was really frustrating.”)
  4. Come up with a constructive plan, when you’re ready to accept new circumstances to make this change work for you (“I decided to focus on making a Pinterest page.”)
You have to first acknowledge the feelings of loss when you let go of one way of living to begin another…

Most importantly, give yourself some time to work through your feelings — sometimes when we feel blue, it’s not obvious what’s upsetting us. It took this woman several weekends before she could accept that her usual pace wasn’t realistic any more. As the IPT steps show, you have to first acknowledge the feelings of loss when you let go of one way of living to begin another before you can emotionally move on and make a plan. As helpful as IPT is to prevent depression, it simply cannot protect you from the grief you’ll feel when saying goodbye to pre-motherhood experiences that you’ll never be able to recreate.

Ironically, by giving herself permission to be sad, this woman actually helped herself feel better. For most of us, it’s the bottling up and denying of our feelings that is a greater trigger for depression than letting out the sadness. Rather than pretending nothing has changed and forcing yourself to “power through it,” IPT teaches you to first acknowledge that the changes are first and foremost, a bummer. But once you’re able to really face this fact, you’ll have more bandwidth to figure out how to find yourself again in your new maternal routine.

It’s the bottling up and denying of our feelings that is a greater trigger for depression than letting out the sadness

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