You’ve made it home with your new babe. You’re adjusting to the lifestyle changes and working through the hormones and the new everyday intensity that come along with postpartum life. You’ve possibly heard of “Postpartum Depression”, “Baby Blues” and “Postpartum Anxiety”. The trouble is, none of these searches online or discussions with your friends and loved ones fit the bill of what you are experiencing.
Maybe you’re feeling tired, a little sad, and worried about your new baby. You are told over and over this is the “average postpartum” experience, but you know there is something more happening for you. You are struggling to feel understood, wrestling with feelings of guilt and are worried about what all of this means for you and your baby.
So What the Heck is Normal Then?
If you are being honest with yourself, the hardest feelings to acknowledge are the intense feelings of frustration, anger and even rage. Sometimes toward your partner. Sometimes toward your family. And sometimes the frustration is toward yourself or little one. Your patience may be shorter. You’re not parenting your other kids like you know you can, or want to. There is a part of you that wants to ask for help, but there is a louder part that feels like no one can look after your baby like you can. You are feeling confused, angry, conflicted and overwhelmed.
You may be feeling hopeless and angry that no one is helping you as you need. Overwhelmed by the dozens of decisions you have to make, and defensive, because you are expected to be an “expert” at something that doesn’t feel second nature to you. You may feel scared to tell someone about this. Intrusive thoughts like, “I shouldn’t feel this way” or “this isn’t normal” fuel guilt and send us into a shame cycle that only furthers our silence. This internal dialogue is eating you up. Not to mention the worry about what others would think of you if they knew the truth.
Research has shown over and over again that the sooner we can support mom, the better we can protect and nurture the well-being of baby and the family. Experiencing a shift in your ability to manage your emotions, care for yourself, or recognize a change in your motivation or interests is scary. You are not alone in this, and you are not to blame.
Anger is an emotion just like any other emotion. It is inherently neither good or bad, it just is. It is important to abandon traditional notions of labelling our emotions either positive or negative. This will help you lean into the emotion and really feel it, free of the judgement that comes with labels. How we experience, process and communicate the emotion is where the skill comes in. The key here is in recognizing when the anger is more intense and less controllable than how you would normally experience anger.
Try this quick Anger Self Check to better understand what you are feeling right now.
Anger Self Check:
How often did you feel anger 6 months ago?
How often do you experience it now?
How did you manage your anger 6 months ago?
How do you manage it now?
How would you describe your anger? (ie. explosive, always boiling just under the surface, surprising, etc.)
Do you feel like you are constantly angered by things that might have only annoyed you before?
If there has been a shift in your level of anger from 6 months ago to now, you could most likely benefit from connecting with someone whom you trust for support.
Postpartum anger or rage can be a symptom of depression or anxiety, as well as OCD and trauma (PTSD). For some women, heightened symptoms of anger may be different enough from their norm to be considered a red flag. For others, the experience of postpartum rage can feel abnormal and frightening.
What is Postpartum Rage?
– Reacting quickly and passionately over small things (like a spilled drink)
– Heart races and blood pressure rises when you start to get upset
– You cannot stop thinking bad thoughts about someone who wronged you
– Feeling violent urges or imagining doing something violent to yourself or someone else
– Screaming or swearing
– Punching or throwing things
– Unable to “snap out of it” and needing someone else to intervene
– Inability to remember everything that happened during the outburst of rage
– Immediately feeling regret or a flood of emotions afterwards (Rapisarda, 2018)
Postpartum anger or rage is an emotional reaction that is often overlooked. Culturally, it is easier for women to discuss feeling sad than to talk about anger, which is why few women report it, and why there is limited research on it (Ou, 2018). Normalizing the conversation about postpartum mental health is a step in the right direction. Taking the risk to be vulnerable with those who are close to you will help you put words to these feelings and to receive support. It does get easier, the more you share and simply unload.
A study by Ou (2018), found 3 common themes for women experiencing postnatal depression:
(i) anger accompanying depression,
(ii) powerlessness as a component of depression and anger, and
(iii) anger occurring as a result of expectations being violated.
In other words, postpartum anger can happen when we experience postpartum depression or anxiety, or, it can happen independently. Postpartum anger can have negative effects on our relationships, our ability to parent, and our ability to take care of ourselves. Considering this, it is no wonder that postpartum anger can leave you feeling constantly overwhelmed.
In addition to our own internal dialogue around mothering and the guilt we may feel as a result of our anger, we may also be dealing with outside sources of information that may cause us to feel guilty, judged or alone. The societal pressure to be the idyllic self-sacrificing mother is harmful and not helpful, further isolating and silencing women. We receive these messages through the media, social media and even our family and friends. Challenging these messages is especially difficult when you are not feeling yourself.
Here are some tips for managing anger that you can apply today.
Tips for Managing Anger in the Moment:
1. Walk away. If you are feeling the anger start to rise and are in a position you can safely move yourself to another room, try to do so.
2. Take a deep breath, count to 10 and back down to 1 before responding
3. Ground yourself. Find a square and with your eyes, follow along the top of the square for 4 seconds as you inhale, down the side for 4 seconds as you hold, along the bottom for 4 seconds as you exhale, and repeat.
4. Communicate. It can feel scary to be vulnerable. Find a safe person you can talk too about what’s going on.
It can feel scary or daunting to ask for help. But remind yourself as big a risk as being vulnerable and opening up about feelings appears to be, the payoff is equally big. Sharing and receiving unconditional support is a gamechanger. If this is something you or someone you know has struggled with, talk to your doctor and connect with someone who can walk with you, nonjudgmentally, as you navigate this chapter. Therapists are the perfect fit for mothers who need support. A supportive, non-judgemental environment that focuses on you and your emotions is what you need to feel the support, understanding and tools to manage. You don’t have to do this alone.
Ou, C. H., & Hall, W. A. (2018). Anger in the context of postnatal depression: An integrative review. Birth, 45(4), 336–346. doi: 10.1111/birt.12356
Rapisarda, V. (2018, May 28). A Mother’s Guide to Postpartum Rage. Retrieved from http://runningintriangles.com/postpartum-rage/