Let's talk about motherhood in a sincere way: making the invisible visible
The goal of this article is to help demythologize the mother figure, to promote thinking based on real data and experiences of parents of our time, and to help those who can feel alone in the uniqueness of their experience, to understand that difficulties related to the period perinatal they are more common than you might think.
One of the frequently encountered problems is, in fact, a silence generalized on many problems that are not socialized, "which nobody talks about". This does not mean wanting to "warn" against becoming parents, on the contrary! A good information that provides adequate tools, is powerful and useful for making choices in a serene way, even if it is often really difficult to foresee the unpredictable that life holds for us, especially the reactions to such important events as the birth of a child. We can identify two categories of difficulty which new mothers have to cope with: di psychological nature, hormonal and physical on the one hand, and of psychosocial and economic nature on the other, linked to role expectations, career impact, mental load. In this article we will focus on the psychological part to soon address the psychosocial one with another article.
Making room for the new identity of mother
Daniel Stern (1999) talks about the challenge of creating a new one space in the mind of the new mother, which will take on different shapes and proportions depending on the period and needs, but which will accompany a woman's life forever and which will radically change her way of being in the world. A concept that can help understanding this process is that of Matrescence. Developed by the anthropologist Dana Raphael, it refers to the revolutionary phase of life which, as in adolescence, profoundly changes identity, hormones, appearance, roles and emotions. This transition it can be really difficult for some women, and from clinical (but not statistical) experience, it can become a particularly hard obstacle for professional, working, independent women. With the maternity, the world suddenly becomes very small and reduced to a few spaces in a new and often unnerving routine. Independence is lost, even for small things previously taken for granted such as a shower or the privacy of going to the bathroom, and this can be very significant when the support network struggles to identify and support certain needs.
In these stages, while learning to take care of the newborn and himself at the same time, he creates what Stern calls a new mental attitude, which will make you look at the world with different eyes, will refine the sensory system, will change the way you sleep, the scale of values, relationships with people, choices, roles occupied in family history and much more.
The emergence of problems, disorders and difficulties of various kinds therefore fit into this context, and probably one good information regarding such processes could help many new mothers overcome the guilt and shame associated with them. Our society tends to focus all attention on the birth of the child, while we forget the titanic effort made by mothers, which should instead be celebrated, understood, supported and accompanied.
A brief mention of the most common perinatal mental disorders
Among the various "surprises" that a structured disinformation helps to deny, there are then all perinatal disorders from which both mothers and fathers can suffer in different ways. Among the most common is the postpartum depression, where among the most common symptoms we find:
- inability to enjoy the present
- a sense of detachment from the world
- not feel "yourself"
- inability to feel a deep connection with the child
La postpartum depression it can present itself in many different ways, and usually up to a year after the baby is born. It is often difficult to identify when focusing almost exclusively on the baby, or as other emotions prevent understanding, such as the aforementioned shame and guilt.
“I should be happy”, “I should feel madly in love with my baby”: la postpartum depression it becomes even more a trap in which women feel isolated, lonely and "wrong".
If on the one hand they do not feel that ardor and that maternal love socialized in the media and in public discourse, on the other they are unable to return to pre-birth activities, to the life before maternity, to relationships, to work, to life as a couple as we knew it before.
The flip side of this disorder is something much less shared, thepostpartum anxiety, which can lead to a destabilization that is difficult to rebalance, especially considering the difficulties of taking care of oneself in the first months of a newborn's life. Among the various symptoms we can identify:
- feeling of constant worry
- physical, mental and emotional activation always in a state of alert
- insomnia, or difficulty in falling asleep / interrupted sleep
- low immune defenses
- difficulty concentrating
Here too, the role of society and the context in which the experience of maternity are fundamental. In a world where constant activation is rewarded, where productivity becomes synonymous with value, the sacredness of rest and time, patience and understanding of emotions are never sufficiently valued. L'postpartum anxiety it comes easily minimized, and once again does not take into consideration the emotional universe of the woman who, as expressed in the previous paragraph, finds herself immersed in a profound revolution that touches all aspects of his life, and can understandably react anxiously with no clear prospects, not knowing how to behave, not feeling sufficiently supported in her new role.
Mental disorders are never disconnected from the person's context of belonging. If we think, for example, of the consequences of the pandemic on mental health (as told in a previous article), the effects of prolonged isolation, the lack of socialization, the fear of others and of contagion, we can imagine how much this panorama favors the emergence of anxious reactions, which are not only understandable, but also functional, as they require a higher activation level in response to a potentially threatening environment, an unknown enemy, an unknown path ahead, both for women and for their children, who must be protected at all costs. L'equilibrium between fear and trust, between activation and rest, it is a delicate cog in constant change that can easily swing from one side or the other, thus creating more relevant problems.
Depending on the intensity of the symptoms and their persistence, consulting a specialist can make a difference, but much more can help restore well-being. Socialize the difficulties for example, it can help enormously, possibly with other new mothers in a similar situation, sharing anxieties, problems and solutions to endure and overcome the most tiring moments. Psychotherapies or focused treatments, and in some cases accompanied by drug therapy, can provide valuable support in the most critical periods, but the search for personalized solutions, things that work for the specific person, at a specific time in their life, should be encouraged. .
It is important in these stages to try to find new balances, with the knowledge that they will be precarious and that they will need adjustments along the way, especially in the first years of the child's life. In short, there is no definitive solution, but being aware of it can make the difference to navigate the most impetuous waves in a more serene way, knowing that there will be moments of calm and stormy, and that with the right support and taking care of themselves, they will be able to face them in the best possible way.
Raphael Dana (1975). Matrescence, Becoming a Mother, A “New / Old” Rite de Passage
Stern Daniel, Brushweiler-Stern Nadia and Freeland Alison (1999). Birth of a mother. How the experience of motherhood changes a woman.
The Hug Support Group CIC, (2021). “The Hug Parent Guide for Barking & Dagenham (and surroundings)” - will soon be available online at www.thehugsupportgroup.com
* Notes on the author: Valeria Giannuzzi is Clinical Psychologist and PhD in Social Sciences with Specialization in Migratory Studies. He is one of the founding members of PsyPlus Onlus, with which he currently collaborates remotely. Founder and director of The Hug Support Group, she currently deals with mental health and parenting support for families in the multi-ethnic neighborhood of Barking, London.