On February 4th, at 6:09 in the morning, I became a mother. Isla is a bundle of smiles and joy, and now that she has been around for six months, she is becoming more active and energetic, filled with life and feistiness. Her vivacious personality was noticeable from a few weeks in. I focused a large percentage of my time on our bond, staring into her hazel-grey eyes, smiling at her and holding her close. I like to think this helped her become the happy, loving baby she is. Whenever I’ve felt like I’m at the end of my rope, with her, or with external circumstances, I remind myself that I am a good mother, and if she is unhappy, there is something else bothering her like a growth spurt or some other development, not because I am being inattentive or a bad mother. I’ve also been able to arrive at this manner of thought with the help of several weeks of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a method of changing the patterns of thinking, or behaviour, which are behind people’s difficulties, and so change the way we feel; in essence, changing the behaviour of our cognitive functions. Negative thinking can lead to anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and many other mental illnesses. Often, there is a chemical imbalance involved too, but while that can be effectively managed with proper medication, thought patterns can take a little more work to adjust.
In my CBT sessions, we’ve focused on analyzing the triggers of whatever our ‘icky’ feelings are, and reprogramming the thoughts from something negative and catastrophic to something rational and reasonable. For example, if Isla is crying, instead of the thought “I can’t do this, I’m a bad mother.” I have learned to instead think, “What is the evidence of me being a bad mother? She is a baby, and I have met all her needs. Babies cry, she is likely going through a milestone in her development.”
We have also spent time in our weekly sessions doing mindfulness meditations, to check-in with our thoughts in the present moment. Anxiety is associated with a fear or stress about a possible future, and depression is often a spiral of overthinking the past until you become immobile, unmotivated and defeated. I have found an effective way of escaping this spiral to be meditating. Spending a few minutes focusing on the present, whether it’s counting breaths, or doing a mental body scan- attuning oneself to various parts of the body and the sensations they are feeling- can help clear the mind of dwelling on the icky “what if…” and “why did or didn’t I…” thoughts.
In May, I participated in a stroller walk for Maternal Mental Health awareness, because although I recognize my own mental illness is not associated with childbirth, postpartum depression and anxiety effect as many as 1 in 4 women. I’m lucky to have a supportive husband who pushes me to be and feel my best, and to seek professional help when his words aren’t enough to get through to me.
I have a long way to go, but I am proud of how much my mental wellness has improved this Summer. It was especially noticeable for me when I could put on a bikini after having a baby, look in the mirror and say “Hey mama, not bad.”
feature photo by Diana With Love Fine Art Photography