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Motherhood Unfiltered: A Q&A with Dr. Alexandra Sacks

I want to be an awesome mom. I want to wake up in the morning with endless patience. Meet all my kid’s needs. Be mindful and present as they grow up and help them feel empowered with each milestone. Pack Pinterest-worthy lunchboxes, be there for carpool and cheer them on at sports games armed with healthy organic snacks I whipped up straight from the garden. I want to cook wholesome homemade dinners, read books and help with homework. And SOMEHOW also find time to workout, blog more, date my husband and socialize with my friends. Oh, and just effing take a shower. 

As a woman, I feel like I’m constantly told that I can (and should) do it all, but the truth is I can’t. It’s an illusion I’m tired of chasing—which is why I fell in love with the work of Dr. Alexandra Sacks, a reproductive psychiatrist in NYC and co-author of the new book What No One Tells You: A Guide to Your Emotions from Pregnancy to Motherhood. She encourages women to share their struggles without shame and helps unpack the myth of “the perfect mother” while making sense of the massive psychological shift that comes with becoming a mom. 

While there are thousands of apps and books to guide women through pregnancy, childbirth and baby care, there aren’t a lot of good resources to help moms take care of themselves and navigate their new life. Dr. Sacks is on a mission to change this through her TEDTalk (a must-watch) and Insta account which is full of truth bombs and sage advice. She also started a binge-worthy podcast called Motherhood Sessions where real women share honest, authentic stories about their struggles to embrace a new identity. 

Dr. Sacks was kind enough to answer some of my questions about adjusting to #momlife, which I’m sharing with you all here. I hope you find it as helpful and reassuring as I did.

You refer to the experience of becoming a mother as “matrescence” – why?

It’s not a coincidence that the word sounds like adolescence. Both are transitions in hormones, in body, and in identity. And change is hard, right? So while we expect teenagers to feel awkward and out of sorts, we expect mothers to feel like their instincts are naturally guiding them and that’s unrealistic. Becoming a mom is a profound transformation – socially, biologically and psychologically – and it makes sense that moms feel things other than happiness. We need to normalize that.

That was me. I did all the hippie baby prep—hypnobirthing, supplements, midwives, doulas—and assumed the motherhood part would come naturally, too…it didn’t. I felt like I was learning a foreign language and took a long time to identify as a “mom.” You’re saying that’s common?

Oh God, yes. Our culture has idealized motherhood in a way that makes it difficult to talk about anything except the good stuff. Women are told that once they meet their baby it will be love at first sight and they will feel completely fulfilled being a mother. That’s just not the case for many women. You can love your child but not always love the job of parenting. Having a baby can be tough on your marriage. The birth doesn’t always go according to plan. Breastfeeding doesn’t always go according to plan. And so many things are out of your control. It’s natural to feel unsettled and even at times unwell when you’re going through so many dramatic changes.

What should more women know about motherhood?

A perfectly natural question is… “I had this feeling today that I wanted my old life back. I didn’t want to be doing this and I asked myself did I make a mistake having a baby? Am I not cut out to be a mother?” It’s a thought most new mothers have at least once, but are afraid to admit. Because there’s nothing more shameful than being a “bad mother” and only a “bad mother” would think that, so then it gets buried under a rug. Now she’s keeping secrets and artificially sharing with friends that things have never been better. And it’s a really upsetting experience for people to have to cover up those feelings of distress. 

What can we can do to make things easier?

Women need to share their uncomfortable emotional experiences around the identity of motherhood without feeling shame or that they can only talk about the good parts. Being a mom is hard enough. We shouldn’t have to pretend that we’re also perfect! There are so many different forces pulling on moms and so little support. We need to give ourselves permission to be human and the wonderfully complex creatures that we are. The more we are able to share what our lives are really like, the more we can reduce social isolation, stigma and relieve the tremendous amount of pressure on women so we all feel less alone. 

The fear of mom-shaming can make it hard to be honest. How can we overcome that?

We can all be more vigilant about not giving mothers judgmental messages. Motherhood is scary because there are no right answers. It’s hard to know what to do to help your child sleep at night. It’s hard to know what to do if you want to breastfeed and you can’t. It’s hard to reconcile questions about childcare and going back to work. But I think a common problem is that when we try to make ourselves feel better about our choices, we tend to say things like, “my choice is the best.” This implies to another mother that your choice is better. And that brings up a lot of shame and self-doubt. Try to speak from the “I” — I found this to be helpful or this works for me. And be curious about how other mothers do things without judgment. There is no one right choice for all of us in marriage or friendship and motherhood is no different. It’s important to convey a sense of inclusivity and support for other mothers, even if you’re feeling nervous about whether you made the right choice. 

How do we nurture our marriages when the kids take up so much time??

It’s hard to be interested in romantically connecting to your partner if the first thing you want to do is get more sleep or exercise—or just be alone. If that’s what you crave rather than your partner, then you probably need to be doing more of that first before you’re going to be ready to connect. And know that you can’t give all of your energy to the kids if you want to protect your relationships. Just because you’re doing the work of parenting together doesn’t mean you don’t still need to connect in other ways. 

It’s been easy to lose myself in motherhood. How can I stay connected to the “old” me?

You’ve had decades of your life prior to this moment of becoming a mother. Honor that. I encourage women to make a list of the experiences and activities they loved most before kids. Then figure out how to carve out time to keep doing them—whether that’s help from a babysitter, grandparent, spouse or swapping childcare with a friend. Remind yourself that self-care is not selfish. To give your children energy and empathy, you have to show up with your cup full. You only get there by taking good care of yourself. And that’s a good model for children to see! Taking care of your body and having independent interests and hobbies is a good model for children to have to take care of themselves. It also gives them breathing room to grow, which is ultimately what kids need. Perfection is not even good for kids. It puts too much pressure on them. If you love your child and are doing the best you can, that’s called good enough mothering and it’s all your child needs.

 
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18 Comments

  • Toniann

    This right here is why I love and admire you. I love when you’ discuss things like this and you’re so open and honest.

  • Kimberly Morgan

    I can relate to this all to much! As a mom of 6 daughters, with my oldest being 15, I have been all over the place with my emotions! Some days I feel like I got this parenting thing down, while others I have curled in the fetal position and cried! I’m still trying to figure things out as I go! I’ve gotten the parenting shame A LOT! I don’t do this with my kids or because I don’t act like that! I remember sharing how sad I was when I found out I was expecting my 4th daughter and I received so much backlash from my peers! I got many “you should be grateful that you can have kids no matter the sex!” Like I wasn’t allowed to have my feelings validated! Parenting is hard and it’s not like what tv or movies portray it to be. Then mix the outside world into it? Makes it even harder! I just try to stay focus, do the best that I can! At the end of the day, I get hugs and kisses from all my girls, so I must be doing something right! 🙂

  • michaela kilbride

    Love this Gen! Missed your blog posts but know you are juggling so much. You should realise that you are such an inspiration even to a single woman like me who is not a mother (hopefully some day) .As your words speak real, warmth, kindness and honesty and I love that as I want to know these things and learn from you. If I ever have the chance to become a mother these posts and words are golden for me. It is a very emotional subject for me as I put my career first. I have been single 16 years and went into a warm safe shell and now have no idea what to do. I fear my time is ticking away and I may very well lose that chance on motherhood. It makes me smile to see your lovely pictures and your funny words about your perspective and learning. Maybe we should start a conversation that even includes the male perspective of how their lives change aswell and how they feel in the relationship etc #wecan’tdoitallandthatsokay! It doesn’t mean we don’t get up everyday and try. Having the confidence to feel like okay today was just a fail big time. Tomorrow is a new day, a new perspective. I don’t always feel like that but I want to be more conscious and make the right choices for myself to allow me to grow for myself, so I can share that fantastic human with the other humans in my life or who I meet along the way. Love always Gen xxx

  • Misty

    I definitely have to buy this book. Between working full time and being a single mother I do sometimes feel like i dont measure up. It’s not always an organic, health lunch. Most of the time it is definitely not Pinterest worthy. I just have to remind myself that at least she ate and I cant ask for more than that some days. On the weekends she goes to her dad’s I feel guilty for enjoying my alone time. I miss her but feel guilty and like maybe I dont miss her enough.

  • Sabrina Travers

    I love this post and agree with it all! When I became a mother a little over 4 years ago I struggled with losing myself and my freedom I was so used to. It took me a long time to get over the mom guilt and exercise self care, the gym and dates with my husband. I’m still not completely there but getting there. Parenting is so hard and it helps knowing others don’t have it all put together either, even when their social media makes them look like they do. Keep up the great posts!

  • Krista mack

    This is so awesome! You inspire a lot of people probably more than you know 😉 I have struggled for 16 years being a mom and wife feeling like I’m a complete failure when I can’t do it all, being judged for not being perfect or raising my son The way everyone else raises their children. My son is 16 and is a high functioning autistic so I’ve been on my toes trying to do my best and struggle to be the best mom I can. With in the last 3 years I’ve become really sick and still to this day everyone has an opinion on what and how I do things. MS, lupus spinal stenosis and diabetes my son is my life and I try so hard to be the best mom I can, my husband doesn’t live with us so I guess I’m mom and dad and still try. Just always wonder does anyone else sometimes just wanna fade away. I try and I guess that’s all I can do. I wrote this because you are an inspiration to me. I love all the stories you post and pictures of your family life it’s a struggle but you got it girl:)

  • Marla Taylor

    This is great advice. My kids are 34 & 32, so those earlier parenting years are far behind me. Truthfully I think it was a little easier when I raised my children. Social media has played such a large part in pressuring moms to be perfect. You are doing a great job!

  • Tommie Lemaster

    Thank you!

  • Chantal

    It’s refreshing to hear honest talk about women and the pressures with which we often burden ourselves. Just because our biology allows us to bring a child into the world doesn’t necessarily mean we have all the knowledge and abilities necessary for raising said baby through every stage of their physical, emotional and psychological development. It’s not an automatic cerebral download once motherhood is attained!
    What strikes me as sad/maddening is that myself (because of life circumstances and personal choice) have not become a Mother and have also faced depression and shaming from the other end of the spectrum. If, as a woman, I don’t have children, am I less? Am I a failure? People have no problem demanding why I have no children.
    So I guess what I’m trying to say is that as human beings, both men and women, we need to accept each other’s choices and juste stop evaluating and judging. The inner critical voices you as a new Mom and I as a childless women suffered were born of outside influence. That voice was not a part of our belief systems when we came to our bodies as babies ourselves.

  • Kassidi

    This literally made me take a deep breath and settle into my bed a little easier. What a refreshing conversation. You always know what to ask, Gen! Thank you for bringing us moms a little closer together.

  • Adi

    Thank you for this, Gen. Any additional exposure to this subject is extremely important. I agree with the comment above me with respect to the fact that we should all honor and accept each other’s choices, be more sympathetic and most importantly, talk about the difficulties of motherhood at least as often as we talk about the joys of it, if not more.
    Ben is 3.5 and I was sure I was meant to be a mom and that I could handle all of the challenges. Boy, did I get a huge slap on the face when he was born… It should be ok to talk about everything without being judged or criticized – whether you choose not to become a mom, whether you become a mom and wish you could take that back, whether you want another child or not – these are all subjects that are almost always frowned upon and dismissed if not taboo to talk about. But they’re so important!! The validation and understanding can be life changing even. Just because you don’t want to be a mom doesn’t make you less of a whole person. Just because you miss your old life and sometimes wonder what it would have been like if you hadn’t had kids doesn’t make you a bad mom. Just because you’re content with one child doesn’t make you selfish or the worst mom ever. I wish more people would realize that. I think talking about these issues like this blog is a great start. So thank you again ❤️
    And just to be perfectly clear – I adore my son. And I wouldn’t want to live in a world where he doesn’t exist, because now I know what it’s like to have him in it. I feel like if we as moms learned how to not apologize for our choices and feelings in addition to having a more accepting environment – that would make us feel more accepting and forgiving towards ourselves. And consequently, possibly reduce our guilt as well…

  • Elena

    Love this post! It speaks to me very deeply.

  • Lillian E. M. Garza

    Thank you so much for sharing this with everyone, Gen. I have recently been struggling with this very issue, and my resulting frustrations convinced me that I’m a bad mom. This post helped so much. I love my girls, and I love my husband, now it’s time to remember what it feels like to love and take care of my self as well. I will definitely be looking into the work of Dr. Sacks. Thank you. You truly are an inspiration, and I aspire to be as candid, supportive, and caring as you. 💕

  • Suganti

    Hey Gen, thanks for this post! I have tried to type my comment twice now and it seems like it will be post of its own. So I am trying to keep it as short as I can. I have recently started thinking about the ‘old me’ and connecting with my before motherhood took every waking second of my time. I have no complaints whatsoever though. Love every second of it. But as they get older and in school and it’s almost a decade since I did anything ‘before’ it’s kinda overwhelming for me not know where to start. Because my interests changed during my motherhood that works around my kids. But I am trying, baby steps 🙂 As far as parenting goes, I stopped comparing myself with others or my moms’ really early of my firstborn. Our pediatrician used to say that as long as you babies are healthy and no distress, continue whatever you do. And I find that comforting. Since I am solely on my own. It has definitely been a learning curve and I still do as they grow older.

  • Jenny

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on motherhood. One thing that pops into my mind: If you don’t mind sharing sleep or exercise, it could be a good way to reconnect.

  • Belinda Neal

    I can relate to this often as I beat myself up about it a lot knowing that I feel I am letting myself down thinking that I cannot cope. I am disabled and don’t have children and look after my elderly father. I cannot stand for long periods of time because I have sciatica and a slipped disc in my back. So if you ladies have children I commend you as its so damned hard on your own let alone having kids to care for on top. Its interesting to read points from other peoples perspectives.

  • Lynn

    This is awesome! Thanks for the recommendation. One of my nieces just had her first child in May and I think this will make a great gift for her. 🙂

  • Jax

    I really love this. I silently read your blog often and follow you on instagram, but this post makes me want to comment. As a mother of two young children, I can relate. There is a struggle between saying goodbye to your past life and embracing your new one all while trying to remain the same person. It’s hard to have your whole world change and still feel like the same person. As a mother and a wife we lose a lot of ourselves – our bodies, our time, our thoughts, our goals, and even our last names. While it’s all something I would never change, it’s hard to grasp. I love the part where it says that we artifiically tell our friends how amazing life is. Life is amazing, we just don’t feel like it sometimes. Thanks for sharing and helping us realize we aren’t alone!!

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