The reality of the emotional roller coaster associated with pregnancy is of course widely researched and accepted as part of the joys and challenges of impending motherhood. From sleepless nights worrying about the health of their babies, to dealing with uncertainties related to the changes in their bodies, to the angst some might feel about becoming mothers, the stream of consciousness that can berate women from all backgrounds can seem endless.
It turns out that the emotional changes associated with pregnancy are largely neurological. A lot of course changes, but for new mothers in particular some of the starkest differences are also the most intimate and life reorienting. Even before giving birth, pregnancy begins to transform the very structure of a woman’s brain. Behavioral changes in new mothers have definitively been connected to what is happening in her amygdala, prefrontal cortex, parietal lobes, midbrain and elsewhere.
Regions that control a woman’s social exchanges, anxiety, empathy and compassion all begin to increase in activity. Offset by a number of hormones that begin to shape the perceived and lived new worlds women begin to exist in during pregnancy and the postpartum period, all coincide to create that fierce bond between mother and child. If you want to witness science fiction’s take on how distinct and powerful a mother and baby bond is, check out A Quiet Place, and see the limitless tenacity of a mother in an apocalyptic world.
However, it’s not just the seemingly unbreakable bond between mother and child that is fostered during this period of heightened brain activity and transformation; a woman’s emotional responses to the world around them is also forever changed. I just can’t stop weeping. I weep when watching commercials, I weep when watching the news, I weep when watching one of those atrociously over-stylized “talent” shows, and the other day I caught myself welling up when watching an overwhelmed contestant on the British Master Chef receive good feedback!
This, apparently (and thankfully), is all very normal and I’m not alone. The almond-shaped neuron cluster known as the amygdala, which supports memory processes and is the main driver for emotional reactions, such as fear, sadness, anxiety, and happiness, increases in activity and the amygdala grows quite substantially in the weeks and months after giving birth. This expertly explains why I have become the emotional glug of goo that stands before my child, husband, family and friends. Researchers believe that this growth correlates with how a new mother behaves – an enhanced amygdala can make a new mother hypersensitive. Phew! I’m not going stir crazy and neither are you.
Remember that there are also other reasons why new mothers cry. Complete elation is of course one of them, but sleep deprivation, feeding issues, sleep training issues and hormonal imbalances that can lead to postpartum depression can also co-exist alongside the more positive attributes of increased hypersensitivity.
New and seasoned mothers slay even when they think they’re not. Perfectly sane mothers weep, rejoice and feel anxiety. We give birth to life, nurture, and love, affirm and deeply surrender ourselves to the little people in our lives. There is no love or sacrifice like that of mothers. Yes, motherhood does make you more emotional and we should embrace this season of emotional highs and lows, which for some can last longer than others.
My compassion and empathy for others has become heightened and I also grieve for losses and pains that an individual who has no connection to me might be experiencing, but perhaps these emotional reactions have created a hybrid sense of self. In this unknown territory and season I can grow as a person and so can other new mothers. Weeping at the drop of hat? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!