The physiology of motherhood fascinates me. This is likely why I became a Midwife. There are so many things that happen in your body when you give birth that affect you immediately and in the long term. Here is just one example that is relevant for most mums and the overwhelm we are feeling right now, no matter how old your children are.
A Bit of Maternal Physiology:
During your pregnancy, your body develops hormone receptor sites in preparation for birth. Then when you go into labour, a flood of hormones connects with these sites. One of these hormones is oxytocin, often referred to as the hormone of love. Oxytocin has several receptor sites, including in your brain, meaning that, when you give birth, your brain is bathed in oxytocin. This is often experienced as a hormonal high, and the effect is falling deeply in love with your baby as well as having an overwhelming desire to protect it. (This is probably one of the biggest benefits to having a natural vaginal birth—the uninterrupted shower of this hormone through your body.)
Dr Oscar Serrallach (author of The Postnatal Depletion Cure) talks about this experience beautifully when he says:
These pregnancy-specific upgrades leading to increased neural connections within the mother’s brain are what psychologists refer to as being learner ready.
He also says…
These changes in hormones and brain wiring are intended to make a mother hypervigilant to protect their new baby.
He refers to the experience as an ‘Emotional Upgrade’. The parts of your brain that normally create obstacles to your intuition are quietened down so that you can become more intuitive to your child. Sounds kind of great, right?! Sadly, however, we see this as a negative; we talk about it as an inconvenience, or ‘Mum Brain’.
What does this mean for us today?
So, thanks to oxytocin, we have mama bears that are fiercely protective of their babies, seeking to nurture them and keep them safe. Enter COVID19 (and the bushfires just before that). Our world doesn’t feel very safe at the moment. We have a health pandemic, an economic crisis, and before that, the escalation of climate concerns. In the midst of this, our brains have been primed to keep our children safe, our emotional upgrade that is designed to lend strength to our parenting is in overdrive right now. We are maxed out feeling like we can’t protect our families from the crazy circumstances right now. Do you feel that?
It is not because you are less able to cope. It is not because you are a weaker person. It is not because you are less intelligent. It is not because you should be doing things differently.
It is not because you don’t do enough self-care (thought that might help a bit). Your ‘Mum Brain’ is not a weakness as it is usually depicted to be. It in fact lends profound strength in motherhood, should we choose to see it.
I just want to encourage you that maybe, just maybe, the physiological changes in your brain—the ones that enable your maternal superpower to be intuitive to the world around you and protect your kids—might, in fact, be hyper-attuned to the present dangers in our world and might also be overwhelming you.
What do we do with this?
First: have some grace and kindness for yourself. It is full on right now, bu you feel it even more because you are a mumma!
Second: feel it. Yes, it is uncomfortable and confronting, but denying it is not a solution. Let yourself feel the discomfort and then trust that that the emotional upgrade is what will help you navigate it. Maybe turn off some of the noise that is adding to the volume of stress. Be informed, but not overwhelmed.
Third: lean into it. This upgrade is meant to be our superpower. Let’s see what our emotional intelligence is saying by listening to it.
I could talk about this so much more, but I hope this is enough of an encouragement to someone, somewhere.
Be kind to yourself, these are difficult times indeed!