Recently a comic by French artist Emma circulated wildly among parenting circles on the internet, depicting what she describes as the predicament of the “mental load” that women are often burdened with. While many mothers read the article and nodded with great enthusiasm or forwarded the comic to their partners in the hopes that it would be read, some disagreed with the comic’s message and implication that men (and specifically fathers) don’t also chip in or suffer from their own mental loads.
Regardless of your position on the article, one thing is certain, and that is we are living in a period of time when more and more people report high levels of stress and feeling as if there are not enough hours in the day to get everything done. We feel constantly on the go, having a long list of chores, errands, tasks, or things to accomplish. Adding children to the mix can exacerbate these feelings, and leave many parents feeling as if they are spinning their wheels.
For many mothers, the journey into parenthood begins with stress. It may be a happy stress–that positive result on a pregnancy test, and for others it may be an overwhelming stress–that positive result on a pregnancy test. Test aside, work, everyday life, high cortisol, and little free time are just a few common stressors that are present for many women before even conceiving. Emotional stress in relationships, social stress, and the expectation of others can be additional and burdensome sources of stress. Even if we exercise and eat right, many of us are over stressed and under rested. It’s sucking our energy before we even conceive–and that’s not even considering the conception process itself, which for some can be years of hardship and struggle (and yep, stress).
Now add the physical stress of pregnancy for ten months. Follow that with the physical stress of birthing a child. No matter how your baby comes into the world, it is physically stressful and taxing to give birth. Vaginal births require a lot of hard work from the body and a c-section is major surgery that takes weeks and possibly months to recover from. We do not give women enough time to recover physically or emotionally postpartum from either ten months of pregnancy, nor birth itself.
In addition, we have self-imposed and culturally imposed beliefs about what we should and should not be capable of doing postpartum. Clean houses and bathing suit ready bodies are blasted all over the internet with pride. Pinterest dinners and exquisite plating presentations of meals are shared with pride. Social pressure increases the “should” phenomenon, and many are left wondering what’s wrong with us that we can’t be doing the same. Two weeks after having a baby.
This can leave women feeling compelled to handle everything or take care of everyone and impart that burdensome “should.” Life stress prior to pregnancy, possible stress of conceiving, stress of pregnancy, stress of birth, stress of postpartum expectations. STRESS.
New mothers may not know what they need or how to ask for it. Help may be available, or it may not. Family and friends may be present and willing to lend a hand, or perhaps a new mother does not have that social support. Lack of sleep, lack of self care, and emotional and mental stress in addition to the physical stresses all add up can all contribute to postpartum mood disorders.
While it’s difficult to take a moment to oneself with littles, good self care is necessary to helping women recover postpartum and adjust to their new role as mother (to one, two, or more). A partner or spouse lending a hand, family helping out, friends or neighbors giving support when possible, or seeking parenting groups can be immensely beneficial to women postpartum. Prioritizing self care, getting good nutrition, recovery appropriate exercise, a break to do something enjoyable for yourself, fresh air, and an active ear to share with will help in supporting during the unavoidable stress of the postpartum period. You do not have to do it all, nor should you. If there’s one word I’d love to eliminate from the vocabulary of all of my new mom clients it’s “should.”
It may be hard to let go of some of that mental load, but it is necessary. Women may certainly be capable of doing anything, but women certainly shouldn’t do everything.
Let’s lessen the load.
Wishing you wellness!