But wait, before we proceed, we need to clarify something. There are feelings, and then there are feelings with a coating of judgment slathered on. Sometimes it is a thin coat, sometimes it is a heaping pile, but feelings with judgment have an extra stink to them.
Another way to think of it is that the facts of a situation trigger a reasonable feeling wrapped up in an irrational feeling.
What causes the irrational feeling? Usually it is a “story” you tell yourself. (A story, a fiction—something that is not true.)
First, something happens; these are the facts of your situation. Then, you feel something, a rational feeling resulting from the facts. Next, you tell yourself a story, twisting the facts into a fiction. The twisted facts lead to irrational feelings, and then you wrap your rational feelings in the irrational feelings so that you are only feeling the stinky, judgey, irrational feelings.
Something Happens: The Facts
My baby isn’t latching. I try a bunch of different methods to get him on my breast, but half the time he ends up freaking out and it becomes harder and harder to get him to latch. Then we are both sitting there crying.
What your brain does with these facts depends on a lot of things, i.e. how much sleep you’ve had, how you were raised, how connected/disconnected you feel from others, etc.
You Feel Something: The Rational Feeling
“I feel frustrated and disappointed that my baby isn’t latching.”
Totally reasonable. It can be very frustrating and disappointing when your baby won’t latch.
You Try To Make Sense Of Your Situation: The Story That Twists The Facts
Sometimes your brains start to fight you. This is especially true in parenting because of the intensity of your feelings; they are so big and so deep in a way that is new and difficult to manage.
So, we know the facts. Here’s what our brains might do with those facts:
- The “something’s wrong with me” story. My baby isn’t latching. I’m not doing it right. Something’s wrong with me. They taught me how to do this at the hospital. I’m probably doing it wrong. I suck. Then we’re both sitting there crying. I’m so bad at this. I really don’t want to be a bad mom. I’m already showing I’m a bad mom. How stupid to cry about it. I’m so stupid.
- The “I’m in danger/my baby’s in danger” story. My baby isn’t latching. This is really bad. He’s not going to gain weight. I’m starving my baby. I tried everything they taught me at the hospital/lactation consultant/10 internet blogs I read. I can’t trust that other people can help. I’m all alone in this. Then we’re both sitting there crying. It is not cool to be crying right now. I can’t let my partner see me cry. He will think I can’t take care of the baby.
- The “I’m powerless/out of control” story. My baby isn’t latching. I’m totally helpless. Everything is out of control. I tried everything they taught me at the hospital/lactation consultant/10 internet blogs I read. I can’t trust myself to do this. Then we’re both sitting there crying. I can’t handle this. I’m out of control.
You Judge The Facts: The Stink
These stories lead to ‘feelings wrapped in stink.’ This process is so automatic that a lot of times we accept these thoughts and the feelings that come with them without even questioning their validity.
When you notice you are overwhelmed/embarrassed/sad/anxious, see if it’s possible to slow down and be curious with yourself if one of these ‘stories’ are showing up for you. Curious, not critical.
Notice: how often do you hear these stories?
Then, if the irrational feeling comes along right behind the story, be curious about that, too: “Hmm, I wonder why this thought comes back again and again.”
Once you gain awareness of the ‘stink’, see what it feels like to offer some compassion and care for that feeling, just as you would do for a best friend or your child. This will look and feel much different than fighting the ‘stink’ with more ‘stink’ i.e. Feeling out of control is stupid. (That’s stink on top of stink).
You Reframe Your Feelings: The Compassion Story
My baby isn’t latching. Of course it makes sense to be feeling overwhelmed and scared. This is really hard. I will try the methods I learned, but half the time he ends up freaking out and becomes harder and harder to get him to latch. It is so tough when the baby is freaking out. We’re both new at this right now. Then we are both sitting there crying. It makes sense to be crying right now; we’re both exhausted and I care about my baby, so of course I’m upset when he’s upset.
Tone of voice is key when offering compassion to yourself or someone else. Do you sound kind in your head?
- Notice the story you’re telling yourself.
- Slow down by taking a few deep breaths.
- Identify the feeling you have within that story.
- Offer some compassion to yourself.
- Write some affirmations down when you are calm or ask a friend for affirmations (maybe they have already sent you an encouraging text?) that you can refer to when you are feeling upset.
You are a good parent. I know this because you are trying so hard. You deserve the same love and kindness you give your child. Take good care of your baby’s parent.
Sometimes these feelings and stories get really scary and really out of control. Postpartum depression, now called Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder (PMADs) can occur anytime throughout pregnancy through the first year postpartum.
If you are worried that you or someone you love is suffering with PMADs, please know that you are not alone and you are not to blame. Help is available and you will get better.
Call your midwife or OB and tell her you need help. Visit Postpartum.net to find support near you.