I hate the arguments that women shouldn't be president/boss/considered human because their hormones make them do crazy things, but I do think it's important to acknowledge that hormones are powerful. That doesn't mean they make us into impulsive zombies or anything, but hormones can change the way we look at the world, the way our bodies feel, and the way we function.
And it's not just pregnancy or PMS. Being a person with a uterus and ovaries and breasts means that life is full of hormonal changes. I'm almost two and a half years past childbirth, but since I'm still breastfeeding my son, this whole time has been a roller coaster of hormones. We recently started the process of weaning, and, let me tell you, it is a huge hormone clusterf*ck.
I barely remember this from last time, when I weaned my firstborn, but that is actually understandable. First of all, every child is different, and every postpartum body is different, including my two postpartum bodies with my two different children, which, it turns out, have wildly different reactions to the hormonal phases of motherhood. I don't remember feeling exhausted and nauseated and sad when I weaned my eldest, but, and here's the key, we also block out a lot of bad sh*t about motherhood. Why else would we have second or third children? It's evolutionary biology — we have to block it all out!
I don't remember feeling exhausted and nauseated and sad when I weaned my eldest, but, and here's the key, we also block out a lot of bad sh*t about motherhood.
So lately, when I've found myself feeling bloated and weepy and tired and grumpy (and definitely not pregnant, thanks) I could not figure out what was making me feel so out of sorts and disconnected from my body.
My husband said, as he often has to, in the gentlest of ways, "Do you think it might be connected to the totally normal yet not-insignificant side-effects of the hormonal changes you're no doubt experiencing as a result of weaning?" He has to phrase this carefully, we both know, because I don't like being told that the 'mones are making me cray, even when we both know it's the case.
You'd think that would have been the light bulb moment, but, like most things in life, it required both my sister and my BFF telling me the same thing in the subsequent days for me to finally believe that I wasn't just insane or sick or lazy. Once I'd made peace with the idea that something that seems so minor as stopping breastfeeding was actually pretty major for my entire body, I felt somewhat better. Then, I had to decide what to do about it to make myself comfortable for this part of the journey.
Here are some tips for when hormones are affecting you.
1. Get smart
I am not suggesting you go down the Google hole (though I've done that!). I'm just saying that a little research might go a long way to making you feel a little less alone and a little less out of control. Once I googled "Weaning and Exhausted" and found about a zillion hits, I gave myself permission to just be tired and cut myself a break. I stopped judging myself for being tired and stopped punishing my body for doing something other than what I wanted it to.
2. Move your body
I'm not a big fan of treadmills and gyms, but to each her own. For me, it's all about long walks in nature and taking a dance class to get my body moving. My weekly Zumba class is where my brain does its best thinking, and the sweating and heart-pumping doesn't hurt, either.
3. Find other ways to connect
Weaning my son is so bittersweet. He's growing up — talking in full sentences, gaining independence, making me laugh all the time — but he's also my last baby. I know I don't plan on having any more, and thus, deciding to stop nursing him is sad. I will miss the closeness, the intimacy, the tear-stopping magic of nursing. I will not miss the middle-of-the-night wake-ups and sore nipples and untrimmed toddler fingernails, except for that, in a few years, I bet that will all seem like sweet memories, but I know — for a dozen reasons I won't get into here — it's time for me to stop nursing.
So, at the advice of a few trusted friends, I'm finding other ways to get close to my baby. Now that it's not just about my boobs 24/7, we're getting to know each other in new ways. This morning, after washing his hair in the bath, we made a tent on my bed and cuddled. I scratched his back gently and sang to him. All of this is new — in the years past, we would have nursed in this situation, which was — and is — great. But I am learning to appreciate these new options, and it's giving my son and me a new aspect to our mother-child relationship.
I'm also finding other ways to connect with my husband and older child. Though I'm not weaning either of them, this does change aspects of our whole family's life. It means I'm not so completely touched out at the end of the day, so my husband and I are cuddling more. It means I'm not glued to the couch for hours each day, nursing my son, so my daughter and I have more time to read books together. I'm finding the pros when it feels like the cons of giving up nursing are heavy.
4. Talk about it
Have friends? A sister? A mom? Find someone who has been there and done that, who can reassure you that you're not making this sh*t up. Somehow, in the four years between my two kids, I forgot how weaning made me feel. Luckily, both my sister and my best friend were around to remind me that a) they went through similar symptoms, and b) they were there for me going through similar feelings the last time around! It's totally normal to block out some of the unpleasantness about motherhood, so if you've forgotten — momentarily — talk to a friend who is in a different phase of parenting. Likely, she'll remember what you're blocking out and give you some real talk.
Even if your BFF isn't a mom, talking to a friend always makes things seem less scary. And if you need to talk to a professional, remember that there's no shame in that. Therapy is amazing, and other kinds of health professionals can be great resources, too. Your OB or midwife will have great insight, and your spiritual leader or community organizer of choice is certain to offer advice, perspective, and ways to get involved in the outside world and put your troubles out of your mind for a bit.
5. Forget about it
While talking it out is awesome and important, it's also good to occasionally put hard stuff out of your mind and escape. Watch TV (maybe not The Handmaid's Tale at this particular moment!) and get lost in something funny or romantic or in someone else's problems.
6. Remember: this, too, shall pass
The biggest constant is change, right? Just like with your newborn, all phases — good or bad — usually last about two weeks. So if you feel like hormones are making your body save up water like a camel in the desert, relax and lean into it. It'll probably change in a week or two. Nothing lasts forever, and you'll do yourself a huge favor by remembering that. No matter how low you feel, how out of control it seems your body is, whatever the issue, remember you won't feel like this forever. Say it with me (this is how I coach my kids through temper tantrums, too!): "This feeling won't last forever. I won't always feel this way."