Five years ago I was struggling to recover my energy since the birth of my second child, my daughter, who was almost 2 years old at the time. Despite getting as much sleep as I could with two young children, receiving a ton of support from my husband, feeling loved by my friends, exercising regularly, eating nutritiously, having time to myself, and minimizing my work load—you know, all the shit you’re supposed to do—I was still deeply exhausted.
I was eventually diagnosed with an autoimmune condition, and later with adrenal fatigue. (Both are treatable and I’m well on my way to a new sense of well being).
I’m not alone. It’s increasingly common today for mothers to struggle with their health post partum. Think depletion, exhaustion, overwhelm, burn out, brain fog, wired and tired….haven’t we all been there? If you do any research on these health issues, it seems like modern motherhood itself is a risk factor for developing some form of autoimmune condition or hormonal imbalance that greatly affects your mood, energy, and quality of life.
Why is this the new story of motherhood? Why are so many of us dealing with post partum depletion, autoimmune conditions, and adrenal problems, just to name a few? Is it possible that pregnancy, birth, and raising our children has gotten harder on us in spite of our modern privileges?
When I’ve talked to my parents about the health struggles so many mothers experience today, they look at me like I just said I was going on the next mission to Mars. Their shock and disbelief make sense, especially when they think about how we should be benefiting from the enormous work done on behalf of women’s rights, women’s health, and women’s access to education and career options. It seems that making gains in women’s rights hasn’t solved the particular challenges that mothers face day in and day out today. It’s possible our societal progress has helped us in some ways, and made our lives more complex in others.
First of all, modern life in general is faster, more demanding, more complex, and less compatible with our bodies than ever before. The amount of technology, information, systems, and roles we are all navigating is unprecedented. Our nervous systems have not adapted to this modern lifestyle. Many of us enter motherhood already having been running full speed for years, pushing ourselves hard—through exhaustion, injuries, burnout, mental and emotional stress—to achieve our goals. Many of us spent years doing as much as we can, on our own, before we begin the physiological overhaul of pregnancy and motherhood.
There are staggering statistics on the growing rates of autoimmune conditions in women (post partum especially), as well as other health related stress symptoms that women experience more so than men. It seems that women especially are bearing the brunt of a society that values us overriding our feelings, sensations, intuition, and other essential elements of being embodied humans. This alienation from our human nature makes us less resilient than ever to cope with all the additional demands, pace, stimulation, and pressures of today’s world.
Then, a woman enters motherhood and a maternal social system that allows no job security, little to no parental leave, and few decent options for childcare or flexible work schedules that would allow us some breathing, recovery, adjustment, and integration time: something women need mentally, emotionally, and physically after giving birth.
And boom, we have a modern day woman’s health crisis.
Our bodies are speaking loud and clear. Trying to keep up with the mounting expectations all around us on every level is a losing battle. In fact, it’s making us really unwell. Add on to that a society that doesn’t acknowledge the enormous life event of becoming a mother, yet continues to bombard us with pressure, expectations, and judgment every where we turn. No wonder women’s bodies are breaking down.
Before becoming a mother, I advocated for women’s rights by working hard at my career, establishing my financial autonomy and career security, and helping empower women individually everyday through my work. Today, I also advocate for women’s (and everyone’s) well being by slowing down, having stronger boundaries, and listening to my body.
I feel revolutionary when I choose to move at my own pace, informed by my own values. It’s as if I’m engaging in a feminist act of resistance when I refuse to over caffeinate, over work, under sleep, go it alone, push beyond my limits, or believe “I have to” about anything. When the point of those behavioral efforts is to try and stay afloat in a society women didn’t build and doesn’t respect how human bodies and beings actually operate, it’s only going to hurt me to try and play by “their” rules.
When my daughter is struggling with something, be it a swim lesson, a friendship, a task I have asked of her, you know what helps her? Knowing she has choices, yes. My care and support, definitely. But also, encouraging her to move at her own pace. Once she has permission to listen to her body, and move at her pace, she is fine. In fact, she is capable of tremendous things. Often her momentary stress is about perceiving she needs to go faster or move in some way that goes against her own knowing in that moment.
I think the same is true for me as a mother. If I want my body to support me in having children later in life, while I also have a meaningful and abundant career, along with other endeavors outside of mothering, I have to do something different. I can’t wait for this world to wake up and stop depleting me through overstimulation, over scheduling, and excessive demands on my precious energy and attention. I have to stop agreeing to live in a way that is in direct conflict with how I feel inside. When I feel the pressure to alter my pace, meet some perceived expectation, or do my life in someone else’s way, it is up to me to say “no thanks.
I choose to move forward, and to listen inside, at the same time. How I do that is going to look different than how you do it. The more room we make for ourselves, for every woman, for every mother, and every human, the better this whole world is going to be. And I think that through the wisdom we gain in mothering, we can help balance this craziness out: inside us and around us.