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Managing Postpartum Challenges As An Introvert

 

There is a lot that is wildly hard and unpredictable about motherhood. Not only are we immediately tasked with caring for another human 24 hours a day (with no end in sight!), but we're also going through our own rapid physical and emotional transition. New moms are basically never alone and barely sleeping. We can't recharge. Managing the postpartum period carries a unique set of challenges, then throw into the mix the nature of being an introvert, those who inherently need quiet alone time to rest and recover energy, and the walls close in tighter.

It's been a tough two years and I wish I'd known someone who could have told me all of this because it is all normal, natural, okay and really, really hard.

You may already be familiar with the circumstances of my miscarriage, immediate next pregnancy, traumatic delivery and subsequent time in the hospital with my son, who was in the NICU for a week. Yes, that was all really hard, but that tested me in a different way than the realities of postpartum life.

The postpartum period challenges every mother in a myriad of ways. The most common issue of postpartum depression or anxiety, which affects one in nine women in the US, is becoming more and more accepted as a condition.  It can be hard to get accurate numbers as the criteria for diagnosis is always changing (and the drugs for treatment become more and more ethically questionable), but my guess is that more women are being diagnosed and medicated than need to be, and less women are accepting that they may be experiencing a more mild case of it and so endure it alone and in silence.

No matter what our circumstance may be, the first year with a new baby is rough. You don't get a day off, time to decompress, regroup and come back at it as the person you pictured you'd be when your little one arrived.

How Does The Postpartum Period Uniquely Affect Introverts?

As I outline in my post about being an introvert in an extrovert world, "The main differentiating factor between introverts and extroverts is where we gain our energy. Extroverts get it from being out in the world, socializing, stimulating that brain reward centre in big ways, and having those interactions. Introverts re-energize by being alone. Even better for us – being alone in nature."

As a new mom, or a mom to more than one, in that first year, we have no time to be alone.

When I wasn't with my baby, I was working. And if schedules aligned, and my husband could take the baby out after the first feeding of the day, I was hopefully sleeping. I found sleeping really hard. I always do. There were many nights when my son would wake up for a feeding and I wouldn't fall back to sleep before he was up again a few hours later. My days were so full that between being a mom and running my business, the middle of the night was about the only time I had to be by myself and process my thoughts.

The spiral began.

I was, as most moms are, excruciatingly exhausted. I qualified a good night as one that included a single four-hour stretch of sleep and maybe another hour in the morning. I wasn't getting enough sleep and so I didn't have the energy or motivation to exercise. I know enough about health to know that if I took on any regular intensive physical exertion in this condition, my adrenals and thyroid would likely be the next to be compromised. Any subtle noise would make me jump thinking it was the baby crying. I felt constantly like I was a step behind. The depletion, lack of motivation, and waning ambition ran deep.

This isn't at all unique to my own experience. This is common.

The Challenge With Support As An Introvert

We're often told to ask for help, being reminded that it 'takes a village'.

What many mothers do to cope is often to call on a support network of friends and family, invite someone over to lend a hand.  I couldn't. I didn't have the energy. The thought of having anyone over, even family, felt like more effort at times. It would mean making conversation that I just didn't have the energy to make.

Some moms find solace in joining mom and baby groups. Acquaintances who had babies around the same time as me would ask if I was going to story time at the library, if I'd signed Finley up for this music class or knew about this other program, or if I wanted to meet for a playdate. I had not and no, I didn't want to. I couldn't – I just didn't have the capacity for any extra social interaction, more conversations, smiling, and engaging. I didn't have the energy.

As an introvert, this creates a strange conflict.

We are too exhausted to socialize, and yet the sleep deprivation increases feelings of loneliness. I was recently listening to this podcast and it clicked for me. It wasn't just that I was an introvert and being anti-social. Studies have been done on this. The podcast episode referenced a study that demonstrated how a lack of sleep causes specific changes in the brain that creates a cascade effect on behaviour and emotional wellbeing. Furthermore, this change also affects the functioning of the immune system (which I've written about here). The result of this mechanism in the body is that when we're sleep deprived, it's built into our DNA to avoid social interaction. In turn, those in our lives may stop making the effort and now a cycle has been put in place.

In regular terms, introverts typically shy away from a heavy load of social interaction. Add sleep deprivation to that and we go to extremes. All anyone tells you about that postpartum space in life after having a baby is not to be afraid to ask for help, to get out and meet other moms, to be part of the mom/baby scene. But what happens when reaching out feels even more overwhelming and lonelier than hiding within?

"You Make It Look Easy". Ha!

Isn't that what we all do? I recognize that I do have it 'easy', all things considered. I have just one child and at the most basic and most important level, I have all the resources I need to support the health and safety of my son. I also have a husband who is as active and attentive to our baby as I am. He cooks, he cleans, and he does whatever is needed. And we have childcare which allows both of us to work.

On a daily basis, I wonder how single parents do it, or how parents of two kids or four kids manage. I wonder how parents of a special needs child manage. I wonder how a friend of mine, a single mother of twins who works full time, can ever brush her teeth and take a shower.

I see women out with their babies and fancy strollers and diaper bags and the moms have their hair washed and might even have a spot of make-up on. It often felt like everyone else has it figured out.

Not once in the last two years have I felt like "I got this". I still forget his diapers when we go out. I don't even have an actual diaper bag. l feel like a superstar if I remember a snack and his bottle of water. If we leave somewhere and I haven't forgotten some crucial item of his gear, it feels like a miracle.

We see each other online and we all make it look so easy. Here I am with my baby travelling for work. Here we are on a road trip. Here we are having brunch at a restaurant. Here we are out shopping.

What we don't see or share are the tantrums (the kids' and maybe our own bout of exhaustion-induced tears), or the 5am wake-ups, the middle of the night wake-ups, the no-nap days, the refusal of a dinner you spent time making and this list could go on a long, long time. We don't share how we beat ourselves up for how we look after having a baby, or what we regret saying or doing when we are too tired to be mindful.

Parenting is hard.

I think it's simply that we learn to manage. That being a mother means we adjust to the circumstances we are in and we do our best. But I don't believe it's truly easy at every moment for any of us. We just try.

How Did I Manage?

To be honest, I'm not sure that I did that well. I would text with friends and we'd make loose plans to meet up and when the day came and went, I'd be relieved they didn't happen. I'd genuinely want to catch up with people and talk about having them over for dinner, but when I thought about using every nap break on the weekend to make a big dinner, the deal was off.

My Sanity Preserving Strategies:

  • I consciously declined as many invites as I reasonably could.
  • I set a one-activity per day limit. If we went somewhere for brunch, that was our one outing.
  • I protected my son's nap times fiercely. I could not give up a weekend nap for him to nap on the go in the car or stroller. I needed that nap break for self-care to sleep, or do yoga, or do absolutely nothing.
  • I was disciplined in going to bed on time (for me, in bed by 9:30).
  • I limited what I took on with work to just what was essential to keep things moving smoothly and serving my school's Culinary Nutrition Experts.
  • I was mindful about going out at night. If I went out for dinner with friends, I needed time to decompress from the stimulation before going to sleep, or I wouldn't sleep.

Finding The Light

My son is now nearly two. It has taken this long for me to feel like myself again, or at least feel strong, energized and fully engaged in my life, in my business and to have the desire to socialize and connect in meaningful ways with others. I have a hard time remembering specific moments from the last two years. I can't really remember what my son was like as a baby. I can't remember how we passed that time. I know we played and made him giggle, but I also remember how desperately I just needed a moment.  Though it's hard to admit it, mostly what I remember is feeling just overwhelmed and tired.

One part that is so challenging about this postpartum period is that we are in it, and because of the exhaustion, our cognitive function is so heavily impaired that it becomes impossible to see through to the other side. To even consider that it will pass and that one day we might wake up with energy, feeling inspired to move and create and engage seems like an absolute impossibility.

I am a healthy woman. I know what to eat, and eat it. I know I need to exercise and after what feels like a lifetime, I am over the moon excited to say that it is back in my life 4-5 times a week. I am now sleeping better than before I got pregnant. I am excited to go into work in the morning, I'm inspired to take on new projects and be challenged. And I am most excited of all to come home and see my little boy's sweet smile, his happy dance, and try and make sense of his toddler babble description of his day. It's taken a lot to get here.

Photo: Catherine Farquharson

21 Responses to “Managing Postpartum Challenges As An Introvert”

  1. Gina said… April 23, 2019
    I am not an introvert and I felt the exact same way. I’m also super honest about these things and I feel like people respond like no didn’t feel like that for me! Like it was just harder for me ( well my daughter was NOT an “easy” baby. None are easy but she was on the extreme of not easy). But either way, I feel like people just aren’t honest like you were in the article and I’m like dammit moms like be real this is how it is! Lol. I was super strict with nap time and friends and family were so judgemental. They’d say you can’t let your baby control your schedule, she doesn’t need a nap, why can’t she sleep in the stroller (because my baby just will not). My daughter Needed her naps and what baby doesn’t? They need the sleep so why deprive them of it? Also, heck yes I want the break! It’s not fun being out with a baby allll day (especially if breastfeeding) who is fussy because the baby didn’t have a good nap. It wasn’t easy even if there was a nap! Like why would you want to do that? Lol. My daughter is a little over two now and the same. Finally feel things are easier and can focus on personal things as well.
    • I hear everything you are saying! The comments like "Your baby isn't in charge". Actually, right now he kind of is because if he doesn't dictate the schedules and what not, we all suffer!I regret ever questioning friends and their baby's schedules in the past. You don't know until you're in it, and in it with your own baby. My son only napped for 20 minute stretches until he was 9 months old. There was no way I was messing with it!
  2. Delia said… April 23, 2019
    Always appreciate how honest and insightful your posts are. Even though my son will turn 20 next month and my daughter is almost 17, I remember those early days very well. Too bad you aren’t at the teenager phase yet 😉...I’m sure I’d appreciate your insights on that too!! Thanks for sharing!
  3. Juliette Lacroix said… April 23, 2019
    I hear you on so many levels and can relate to so much of what you have said here. Parenting is by far the hardest job I will ever have, and being a fellow introvert (something I only discovered about myself during the parenting process) has posed its own unique set of challenges. I feel as though I am only just coming back to myself and my son will be 7 next month! I too am lucky to have an incredibly supportive partner, but it’s still tough. Learning to say no and set boundaries for myself (and for us) and learning not to do everything, all the time (which took 3 kids and a whole lot of burn out, if I’m being honest) has been crucial. Thank you for sharing your reflections here, I feel less alone in what I have experienced/am currently experiencing, and it’s so helpful to know I am not the only one.
  4. Chris Kramer said… April 23, 2019
    I completely understand where you’re coming from! My kids are older now (20, 18, and 14), but I still remember how I felt after my first child. She was born right before Christmas and I felt like I was run over by a truck most of the time. My second child came 18 months later and I literally don’t remember him being a baby. I wish I had known then what I know now. But I made it through somehow. I can tell you there’s light at the end of the tunnel! Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m sure so many people can relate.
    • 18 months apart -- Even with one I don't remember most of what went down. I don't know why we think all other moms are just doing cartwheels in the after glow sleepless nights and crying babies!
  5. Jill said… April 23, 2019
    The timing of this post is impeccable, even a little eerie! I’m due with our second a week from tomorrow & one thing I’ve spoke to my partner about is the need I will have for 10 minutes to myself, every day. If I get 20, fabulous! But 10 minutes, alone, to lay there, meditate, stretch, walk, whatever. Just 10 for me. I know this will be instrumental in my being a good mom, partner, person. I was literally just thinking about how hard we’re going to have to try to implement this (& not feel guilty about it) when I sat down & opened my email to this post. If that is not a message from the universe, I don’t know what is! Cheers to all the tired mamas & papas out there, & to my fellow introverts :)
    • Good for you for setting that up in advance. My husband too is always happy to divide and conquer as needed to give me a moment of downtime, but it's my own discipline to take those moments that needs work. Sending you much love as you bring another little being into the world!
  6. Thanks for writing this! My kids are 20 months apart so I don't feel like I had much time with my first before my second came along. It was honestly *fine* until my daughter turned 1 and then it went a bit downhill from there. I was at home full time with both of them. I'm sure I suffered a bit of depression in hindsight. My daughter was LOUD. Loud cryer loud yeller and I too am an introvert. It definitely takes its toll. The cloud for me finally started to clear when my daughter was 4 or so... They are 6 and 7 now and never a dull moment, but so much easier at the same time (they can get their own breakfast while I shower!). It takes time for sure. Thanks again for sharing.
    • Wow! Two babes 20 months apart is unimaginable to me-- but as moms we just do what we do. A caregiver at Finley's school told me I needed to have more babies. She said that when you have more, your house is always like a party. I told her I prefer my house to be more like a library. Shhhhhh. ;)
  7. Thanks for sharing this and being so honest! As an introvert myself, I can totally relate. I still feel tired and exhausted most days and my youngest is almost 6! I don't think I got a full night's sleep until he was 4 1/2. My husband also helps out a lot at home and with the kids, which I am thankful for. Being a parent is tiring, and I've learned the hard way that I need to just let go of the non-urgent things and appreciate the joy of missing out.
  8. Gessica said… April 23, 2019
    What a great share! I think as a mom, it’s nice to know that most of us don’t have it all figured out, especially those we see online. This is the toughest gig out there. Yours and my son are only a couple of weeks apart and I found myself gravitating towards you and other people on the gram who were in my same situation, with kids around the same age. It made me feel slightly less alone. I’m now about to birth my second baby any day now and I have so many feelings around it because it’s a new dynamic as I’ll have not only a newborn to care for but also an “almost” 2 year old. The good things is I have more help this time around and I also have some idea of what to expect. In any case, I think it’s important for this topic of postpartum to be discussed as much as possible so thank you for sharing your experience!
    • Wow! You are a braver woman than me. Wishing you all the best and so much love in bringing your second babe into the world. Your family is lucky to have you!
  9. Tara Randell said… April 23, 2019
    Meghan, everything you've said is natural, normal and really, really hard. My daughters just turned 5yrs old and 7 yrs old and I am only now just feeling the "I got this" vibe. I just came out of the tunnel, a tunnel of never, ever putting myself first and giving everything I had, to the last drop, to my husband and my girls and still caring for everyone else in our lives as well (this includes gift giving, cooking, hosting, organizing social plans, trips etc...). I'm exhausted just thinking about the list and sadly, my husband has just asked for a separation. The news was very shocking to me and all I could think about was how much effort and energy I have poured into my family and the truth is, I took care of them at the expense of myself on more than one occasion. Parenting changes you and changes relationships in our lives, even when we are too sleep deprived to notice. I think our society projects a very high expectation of what a mother 'looks like and does' and we have to keep working at changing this perspective. One of the biggest issues I had as a yogi was practising mindfulness. How could I be present and breathing deeply when my toddler would dangle off the staircase in an instant and my 4yr old would spill paint all over the floor? Or the one winter when both of my girls were sick off and on for what seemed like forever. I tried to be zen in these moments but really I was constantly buzzing on mid to low level stress and anxiety. It made me feel unwell, drained, a lot of the time. Recently, I've started giving myself permission for little things, such as, taking less photos and enjoying the magical moments when they are actually happening (instead of searching for my phone in a panic of "how will I ever preserve this special moment if I can't find my phone"). I will remember more of these moments if I allow myself to live them, to enjoy them, to be present, with all of the imperfections. As I enter into this next messy phase of my life I have to practice mindfulness and grace more than ever. This means I have to take immaculate care of myself and that I'm going to mess up, a lot. My girls are going to see my strength, my commitment, my dedication, my imperfections, my tenacity, my love for them. All this to say, it is going to get easier. It happens in tiny, tiny increments. I've found parenting to be incredibly humbling and of course, rewarding. I'm sending you my positive thoughts and I want you to know that you're not alone, that IT IS natural and normal and "you've got this!"
    • Oh Tara, that is hard to be going through. I can't even begin to manage the challenges of juggling two. When people ask me about when I am having a second, I explain that I can only keep so many things healthy at one time. I too have those "where's my phone, I need to capture this" moments. When the reality is that when a weekend goes by and I haven't taken a single photo, part of me feels like I actually did something right (or more right, or you know)... You are strong. One step at a time and we keep moving forward.
  10. Sara Phillips said… April 23, 2019
    Thank you so much for sharing this so openly. I’m 3 months postpartum with our first and you’ve been able to put words to what I’ve been going through as a fellow introvert. I’ve felt more like a failure in these last 3 months as a parent than I have about anything in my life. Just a constant sense, like you said, that I’m a step behind watching as other first time moms handle things so fluidly, or so it seems. The thought of being social at work (or just smiling at people in general) drains what little life I have left in me. I am getting better at asking for help and just saying no to social engagements for my sanity. I learned very quickly that I just can’t pour from an empty cup. I am happy to know that I’m not alone and that things’ll get easier. Thank you!
    • You are most definitely not alone (and see the other comments for proof!). I remember so clearly that when I had to get back to work 3 months post, it was actually something of a relief. Yes, my eyes were on fire with exhaustion but I felt comfort in sitting down at my desk and knowing- THIS! This is something I know how to do, and do well! :) Just know that there is a light. You're in the throws of it now. One day at a time and we get through it.

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