Knowing what is happening physically during the immediate postpartum period provides an insight to what is happening emotionally.
Your body has physically been stretched to its limits over the past nine months, growing and sustaining precious life. Just when pregnancy is getting physically overwhelming you give birth to your baby. Here is where your hormones peak- and as they fluctuate on their way back down, they take your emotions with them on a roller coaster ride.
You might be feeling exhausted, exhilarated, amazed, on a high, in love, robbed, stricken, in shock; everything and anything possibly all at once like you have never experienced before. To add to this, you will be experiencing lochia (postpartum bleeding), you might have major surgery to recover from, stitches that are healing, be experiencing after birth pains, your breasts may be tender and sore, your arms may be so heavy with weariness from what you have experienced.
Hormones are flooding your system. Three common hormonal influences include oxytocin (the love hormone), adrenalin (think fight or flight) and prolactin (the milk maker). Many women report not being able to sleep for the first night after delivering their baby- even though it is typically the time when a baby sleeps for a longer stretch- you can likely thank your adrenalin for that. Adrenalin is not all bad though- it is wonderful for exhausted mums who need a surge of energy during the second (pushing) stage of labour.
Then your oxytocin will fill your heart and body with love like you never knew existed and you think you might just burst. As the oxytocin levels decrease you are effectively withdrawing from that intense state, leaving you feeling emotionally raw and in the depths of emptiness.
On the heels of oxytocin's decline, prolactin levels increase, which, as the name suggests helps with lactation. It also helps to gear a mother's actions towards protecting her baby. The increased instinct to protect a baby in breastfeeding mothers means that they are roughly twice as aggressive as bottle feeding mothers (think mumma bear effect).
Is it really any wonder then, with all the fear, love, joy hate, desperation, determination, and deprivation (sleep) that a new mother has the need to express these feelings? The expression of this depth of emotion is unpredictable, but the inevitability of strong emotions should be expected and prepared for.
'Lean in' to these huge emotions often expressed in the form of crying, yelling or strong feelings of helplessness and/or joy. Open yourself to really feel the pain or happiness or fear- push the feeling further. Be in the moment, accept it for what it is and feel with intention and awareness what your body, mind and spirit are telling you that you need to express.
Here is a strategy that may help you 'lean in' to your post-partum emotions (you may find other strategies that work for you):
- Close your eyes, take a deep breath and imagine your breath moving to the part of your body where you physically feel that you are experiencing this emotion (e.g. heart, stomach, chest)
- Name the emotion (e.g. I am feeling sad) and then tell yourself that it is OK to be feeling this way (e.g. I am feeling sad and I'm going to let myself feel sad. I don't need a reason to be feeling this way at the moment. It's OK. I am just going to feel it)
- After the main emotion has subsided, count (mentally or out loud) to ten to re-centre yourself. If you can't make it to ten, maybe there is still some residual emotion to address
By doing this, rather than opening Pandora's box of emotions, you are using them, feeling them, relieving the need to express them in other ways. In other words, you are avoiding repressing them.
Repressing emotions is culturally typical and often deeply ingrained in both a mothers psyche and in those surrounding her. This can make experimenting with such a depth of emotion an awkward, uncomfortable or even scary experience. It is beneficial for the post-partum mother to be surrounded by people she can trust and express her emotions in the presence of. Planning prenatally to include only people you feel emotionally safe with during the first few days and weeks post-partum can assist in creating your safe space for post-natal expression.