Why is Motherhood So Hard?
Social Media lied to me about Motherhood. I couldn't wait for my one year "vacation" called mat leave. I'd have three gourmet organic meals on the table every day, the house would be an immaculate pinterest haven. I'd be dressing myself and my little one up in flowy floral dresses, frolicking in fields of wheat with sunbeams piercing through my perfectly curled hair. We'd be rolling around on the ground, giggling, so in love.
My first year postpartum was nothing like that. I struggled. A lot.
I deeply mourned the loss of my identity. Before being a mother, I was doing something important, I was "saving the world". As a Social Impact Leadership & Business Coach, I measured my worth and progress in life by my title, my job description, how much I made in a paycheck, the projects I accomplished. And then all of a sudden, those metrics, that societal measuring stick was striped away. I was up day, and night, no paycheck, no promotions, no praise, no fancy title. Cleaning poopy diapers and spit up, I felt like I'd been "demoted". I didn't want to be "just a mom".
I had no idea HOW MUCH work a tiny little human would be. She cried a lot. I could never put her down, I felt trapped by my own baby. I could barely feed or shower myself. The days felt so long, and even though I was doing so much for my baby, I felt like I was getting "nothing done". Just getting out of the house felt like an uphill battle. The days and nights melted together, and being home alone, in the four walls of my apartment, trying to "do it all", I felt desperately lonely and isolated, waiting at the door like a sad little puppy dog, for my husband to get home.
Was I crazy? Was I the only one feeling this way? I thought Motherhood was supposed to be the most magical time of my life. With so many people posting cute, smiley baby photos online, I felt like I was failing. But I was wrong. Society failed me.
80% of mothers experience the baby blues.
EIGHTY PERCENT. How could this be? Why was this happening? Surely it wasn’t meant to be this way. Here’s what I’ve discovered:
IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO RAISE A CHILD. I had no idea that couldn’t do it all on my own. You know the saying "It takes a village to raise a child"? Well it ACTUALLY DOES (6+ people)! But when we live in a village-less society, the workload (cooking, cleaning, laundry, groceries, naps, activities, birthday parties, appointments, crafting, socializing) that is supposed to be shared with a tribe of people (your village), falls on the shoulders of mostly the mother or the main caregiver. Today, being a mother is 2.5 full time jobs with the average mom logging 98 hours per week "mothering". If we were to get paid, we'd earn close to $200K per year (think about it: day, night, weekends, holidays, overtime), and that doesn't even factor in the immeasurable value of unconditional love and safety, critical to growing a happy and healthy human. Mothers are exhausted, stretched and max’ed out.
SOCIETY VALUES INDEPENDENCE. We've grown up in Western society learning to be independent, to be self-sufficient, to do-it-yourself. And this can serve us really well in many ways, until you actually need the help (and were never meant to do it alone). When asking for help is seen as "weak" or "burdening", we often don't know how to ask, or don't even know to ask at all. Our need to “do it all”, “control”, “do it the right way (my way)” has resulted in a lack of partnership with even our spouses. Our village probably used to consist of older kids taking care of younger kids, Aunties and Uncles sharing the child care, women mothering the mothers, grandparents in arms reach, food always on the stove, non-mothers helping mothers. But today, our village is caught up in the rat race, too busy to support, or living in another home or far away, rendering motherhood an isolating and overwhelming journey.
LONELINESS & ISOLATION. Human beings are wired for connection. It’s actually critical for our survival. A child will cry when they are left alone, and closeness and connection is necessary for their biology to thrive. Each and every cell within our body can only function in collaboration and connection with other cells for the greater functioning of the whole. When a cell deviates and goes off to do “their own thing”, that is what is called a free radical or in other terms, a cancer cell. In our current day society, we can even be surrounded by people yet still feel so disconnected. Ever go to a baby-mommy class, and go home still feeling lonely? And when we use social media to compare our real lives to the highlight reel of perfect feeds (not reality), it only perpetuates our sense of inadequacy, depression, anxiety and separation. Deep, authentic, oxytocin-releasing relationships, conversations and connection is what we are so greatly missing and craving.
IDENTITY PLACED IN CAREER AND MASCULINITY. From a very young age we are asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, as if our career is the most important thing we can ever do in life. Be a doctor, be a dentist, make enough money, buy a car, get a house. Societal’s measuring stick of “success”. Being a mother is not a career! You can’t make money being “just a mom”. I mean, what do moms do all day with their free time anyways??? (sarcasm) Our generation of women were taught that being a woman is weak, and if you want to get ahead in life, then you need to act like a man in a man-made world. When a woman becomes a mother, the gender pay gap increases from 20% to 30%, passed up for promotions and advancement in their careers. With the exact same resume, a man is 500x more likely to get hired than a woman who is a mother. When we become mothers, we no longer know how to measure our self worth and even get penalized for it. We are supposed to turn into these feminine, nurturing, caring, intuitive, heart-felt emotive beings, while all our lives we’ve been told that being emotional is crazy, softness is weak, slowing down is lazy, and our intuition isn’t real.
CULTURE OF SUPPRESSING PAIN. When we get hurt, we are told to brush it off and get back up again. Stop crying, get yourself together. We are taught to suppress, avoid, stuff down any challenging or “negative” emotions. We even tell our children when they are upset: “Don’t cry, shhhhhhh”. But in many Eastern cultures, it is normal and recognized as healthy to be with the pain, work through the pain, express the pain, and as a result release and heal the pain. This is usually done with your tribe, your support system, the people who love you and are there to be your shoulder to cry on, until there are no more tears left to cry and we are ready to move on. In our Western society, so many women are suffering in silence, without a support system, and no outlet to be released. And so the pain remains in our bodies and minds. As Brene Brown says: “Secrecy brews shame”. I tried to keep it all together, ignore the crisis within, and “be present to the precious moments”. But then I hit rock bottom and couldn’t hold it in anymore: I was mourning a huge loss- the death of the old me. It came to the point where I had to face my pain.
SLEEP DEPRIVATION. I’m not a sleep expert. All I know is that sleep deprivation is used as a torture tactic, with the average parent losing 44 days of sleep in the first year of a baby’s life. Coupled with trying to “do it all myself”, my exhaustion got so bad I was in and out of hospital with mastitis, various illnesses, vertigo, on the verge of collapse. It came to a point where I wasn’t even thinking sane thoughts: “If I just drove off this bridge, I’d finally sleep”. I am not suicidal. But subject to such extreme circumstances (500+ sleepless nights during the first 1.5 yrs), my mind and body was desperate for solace; the lack of sleep was becoming a danger to me and my child. In many other cultures, night shift is shared with grandparents, aunties, and older siblings. If our lives were synced with the natural rhythms and needs of motherhood, with your village’s support, daytime naps (with a warm cooked meal waiting for you when you wake) would actually be a thing.
Love and safety is the foundation of a child’s wellbeing. But when a mother is frustrated, anxious, overwhelmed, and resentful, the child feels this energy. I didn’t hate my child but there were many frustrating sleepless nights I resented and resisted motherhood. The impact on my child is that she didn’t feel loved or safe- hence waking up and always screaming for what would have her feel loved or safe (me and my boob). And the moment I surrendered, my energy shifted, I became more relaxed, and my child immediately responded. She started relaxing and we all started getting better sleep.
Shout out to Lara Rabb of Heavy Eyes Happy Hearts Sleep Consulting for saving my life (using NURTURING attachment parenting founded in love and safety … no cry-it-out!!).
GENERATIONAL TRAUMA FROM THE PATRIARCHY. This is not a man-bashing statement, because even men are suffering. A long, long time ago, we used to live in a peaceful time where the Matriarchy (Feminine) and Patriarchy (Masculine) were equally honoured. But we are out of balance: mothering the mother, reverence of the mother, mother as the queen, has been lost over the past 1500+ years. The significance of “mother” has been bashed, diminished, and erased. Females, being the portal of life, were seen as a threat to power to the church, resulting in many centuries of women being killed for practicing, gathering and celebrating one of the most significant roles: Motherhood. Many gathered in secrecy or hiding. Those who were caught were deemed as witches then tortured, burned and killed: midwives, medicine women, healers, doulas, intuitives, or even women who seemed mildly seductive. Hundreds of thousands of children witnessed their mothers’ massacres. Witch hunts only just ended in my great grandmother’s era, and we can carry trauma for up to seven generations.
LOSS OF WISDOM. Because women’s enlightenment was seen as a threat to power, generations of maternal wisdom has been deliberately destroyed or lost. Intervened by corporate agendas for profiting (notice how expensive children’s stuff is?!), smear campaigns against midwifery and the natural ways, instilling fear around birth or mothering, mothers today are left to their own devices (usually riddled with anxiety) to “figure it out” or turn to Dr. Google. Many many moons ago, when we lived in tribes and the earth and its inhabitants followed the natural cycles of life, this undisturbed maternal knowledge would have been shared amongst each other for mothers to thrive.
No wonder the transition to motherhood is hard.
Ok. That was a lot. If you need to scream in a pillow, cry, run outside, journal, call a friend, do it. Allow yourself to be with your pain, and let it out in whatever way feels right. When you are ready, put your hand on your heart, bring compassion, and reconnect to who you truly are: pure love.
A Reclamation of Motherhood
It’s time to reclaim the joy and magic of Motherhood, leveraging this challenge as one of the most incredible transformations of a woman: the birth of a mother. In 2017, I started gathering women for some real talk. To my surprise, everyone could relate to my story in some shape or form. Out of it, A Mother’s Movement was born. We started sharing our journeys, releasing our struggles and reclaiming the honour and importance of motherhood. I mean, we are only just raising the entire future and foundation of humanity. That is a big deal. And birthing a baby, no matter how your birth went, THAT is a super power. "If I want society to value me, then I have to first value myself as a mother". We shed diminishing stories about being "just a mom", and build an empowered identity. We release mom guilt and mother with confidence. We reframe our "accomplishments" and know that who we are being and what we are doing as mothers is worth celebrating and acknowledging. We learn how to speak our voice, truth, and needs in order to ask for help, build a village and commit to self-care. We get present to how motherhood has and is expanding our greatness, our patience, our connectedness, our love, our compassion, our empathy, our fierceness- embracing the feminine. We learn how to work through our struggles in the presence of a deeply connected, nurturing and authentic community. Now, thanks to this community, I have emerged as more powerful, confident, and beautiful than I have felt ever before.
Mothers need just as much attention as a newborn, because they too have just been born.
What you can do:
Talk to a mama friend: Not just surface level chit chat, share deeply and truly your joys, your sorrows. Ask them to hear you, no advice giving, no condolences, just hear you until you have emptied your bucket.
Embrace the pain: Journaling can be a really powerful tool, but if you don’t have any hands free, hold your baby and close your eyes and feel the pain. Let out a cry and allow your baby’s embrace to hold you. Keep being with the pain, exploring it, identifying it and releasing it until you feel grounded. Look for the life lessons in the struggles: How are you meant to grow through this hardship? Rinse and repeat.
Ask for help: friends, family, neighbours. Release any feeling of rejecting help or feeling that you are a burden. Know that when people help you, they also feel good from being a contribution and making a difference for you.
Join THIS supportive community: All of this and more is explored in depth in our Global Empowered Mother’s Program. A monthly gathering for real talk and tools to support you in this incredible journey of motherhood. Learn more here.
In 2018 over 300+ mothers have been to one of our life-altering gatherings, workshops, or events. If you are ready to create an empowered motherhood, join our Global Mother's Movement launching January 2019. If you already are empowered in motherhood, join the movement and be a beacon of light and inspiration, and allow your community to celebrate you!
If this resonates with you, comment, share with your friends, and take action in empowering you by joining this movement. We are all in this together. You are not alone. And you are magic.
Stephanie Miranda Jhala