Becoming a mother is an important rite of passage in the life of a woman. Preparing for motherhood and your postpartum experience can make a huge difference to your stress levels, mood and relationships during the first days, weeks and months with a newborn. It’s important not only for physical recovery, but also for your emotional health. Here’s how you can prepare for the birth of a new you.

“Giving birth does not automatically make a mother out of a woman.”

Dana Raphael

When I was pregnant with my daughter, all I could think of was her birth. I prepared for it like a marathon and was so focused on that one event that I omitted to prepare for what was coming next: the birth of me, the mother.

We had friends who had been there before us, so I knew there were many sleepless nights ahead, poo explosions and little opportunities to take a shower in those first months after birth. Yes, I was expecting some challenges but still, I imagined I would naturally transition into motherhood…after all, it’s what we, women, are meant to do, right?

Becoming a mother

The transformation that a woman goes through as she steps into motherhood creates seismic shifts. These shifts can be hard to navigate, particularly when you’re sleep deprived and confused about your new identity. As a result, it’s not uncommon, in our Western culture, for newborn mothers to feel isolated and overwhelmed. It’s certainly how I felt, a few months into motherhood.

These shifts may not all happen at once, but they will take place in many different areas of a woman’s life: physical, hormonal, emotional, social, spiritual, economic. This means that the transition into motherhood not only requires physical support but also mental and emotional support.

Many cultures have built-in postpartum traditions, which refers to the care that is provided to the new mother after birth. Here in Australia, if you want to make sure that you are supported after the birth of your child, you will have to create your own plan to make sure the focus is not solely on your baby, but also on you, the mother.

Preparing for postpartum during pregnancy

With rates of postpartum depression on the rise, giving some thought to what happens beyond birth, how you’re going to be supported in healing and getting adjusted to your new life, matters much more than you think. Postpartum care is preventative care.

If a new mum isn’t allowed to fully recover from the demanding requirements of pregnancy and birth, the aftereffects can last for years. Our Western culture has done mothers a great disservice by not honouring them on their road to recovery, giving them the time they need to adjust to the monumental changes in their lives.

Dr Oscar Serrallach

Learning about what changes to expect and how you can best prepare for them is easier to do when you have the mental space for it, during pregnancy. It’s the way it was done traditionally, when the wisdom was passed down from one woman to the next. Because of the deep sense of community that was prevalent in these days, we would have been involved in looking after a child well before we had our own and we would have heard mothers share their experiences while sitting in circles around the fire.

4 things you can do

1. Face your fears: leaving a world where you’re competent and efficient and entering one where you have very little experience can be confronting. You might be used to having a professional profile or identity and you may be scared to see it disappear or change. Acknowledging the fears, beliefs and stories you have around becoming a mother is a powerful step towards a smoother transition.

2. Lower your expectations: many fears about motherhood stem from the belief that you won’t be fit for the role. Especially when social media portrays the newborn mum as an efficient multi-tasker who shows off her flat belly 6 days after giving birth, while she parades in her super clean and tidy house. If you’re trying to measure up to this woman, think twice. Whatever you’re picturing, it’s likely not going to look anything like that—and that’s okay. Overachiever and perfectionist tendencies will only add pain to your postpartum experience.

3. Learn about matrescence: the term used to describe the transformation that takes place in a woman’s life when she becomes a mother, matrescence is a roadmap that can help you navigate motherhood with confidence. Like adolescence, it’s an awkward phase for most women, leaving you feeling out of control and disoriented. Dr Aurelie Athan says it best: “No matter how much you hoped, wanted, and planned for motherhood, this transition will, at times, be stressful. And the intensity of these feelings has nothing to do with how good a mother you’ll be, or how much you’ll love your children. Understanding that motherhood is the psychological and spiritual birth of a woman is the greatest story never told.”

4. Prepare your postnatal care plan: the same way you prepare your birth plan to highlight your wishes and inform your care providers of your ideal birth, it’s wise to prepare your postnatal plan to clarify how you want the first weeks and months after the birth to look like. What do you need to make sure you have time and space to heal, recover, bond with your baby and be supported in looking after yourself? If friends and family are not able to provide the type of support you’re after, consider hiring external help such as a postpartum doula.

It is possible to step into motherhood with confidence and a sense of empowerment. If you want to learn how to be adequately supported in the months after giving birth, how to take care of yourself as a new mother and manage your postnatal experience so it is the most nourishing it can be, I’m delighted to announce that the content from my in-person workshop for expecting mothers is now available online.

If you’re pregnant or in the first 6 months postpartum, this self-paced mini-course called The Birth of a Mother provides useful information and resources to support your mental and emotional health during this important transition time. It includes an introduction to the transformational insight of Matrescence as well as step by step recommendations to fill in your postnatal plan so you can gather the inner and outer resources that will make you feel held as you step into motherhood. You can find more information here.