When I got pregnant with my first son, I couldn’t wait to become a mother. I thought I would be great at it—years spent working as a babysitter and in summer daycare jobs led me to believe that I was a natural with kids. If I loved taking care of other people’s kids so much, it seemed obvious that I would love taking care of my own.
Nine months later, I found myself home with a newborn baby—completely lost, overwhelmed and exhausted (and not in the typical “I’m a new mom and I haven’t slept in three weeks” kind of way).
I loved my son, but I was constantly desperate for time alone. Unlike my child care jobs, there was no clocking out at the end of the day—this gig was 24/7. I felt suffocated by my responsibilities. I hated being on demand, on call and on tap (hello, breastfeeding) every hour of every day. I craved physical and mental space away from him. The first time I had an opportunity to leave him at home with a babysitter, I got in the car and drove around for an hour: windows rolled down, radio blasting, no destination in mind. It was a kind of freedom I hadn’t experienced in weeks—my mind and body were mine again, at least for a little while.
I started to believe I was somehow defective, that maybe I just wasn’t cut out for motherhood, until I took a Myers-Briggs personality test (for once, taking Facebook quizzes during a late-night nursing session turned out to be beneficial). When I was done, the diagnosis was clear: I wasn’t defective, I was just an introvert—an ISFJ, to be exact.
What it means to be introverted “Introverts are frequently overwhelmed and uncomfortable [with] perceived ‘excessive’ interactions,” says Carly Snyder, a perinatal and reproductive psychiatrist in private practice in New York City. “An introvert would far prefer to contemplate things internally. They are generally reserved and prefer to engage with small groups, especially with familiar people.”
That description fits me to a T. But even though the personality test helped me understand my temperament better, it didn’t explain why parenting a newborn was so hard. After all, my baby and I weren’t really interacting yet. Plus, I had a built-in excuse to stay home all the time. Why was caring for him so emotionally draining?
When introversion and newborns collide As it turns out, parenting a newborn is a perfect storm of challenges for mothers like me.
There are the endless, around-the-clock demands on your time and attention that feel like constant socialization. There is the influx of decisions to make about your baby’s well-being, and high-pressure decision-making can send introverts into an exhausting tailspin of self-doubt. There is often also a spectrum of feelings of loss—of identity, privacy and personal space—that weighs heavily on an introverted mom.
“Infants ask for an incredible amount of mom’s focus and are not aware of her mood or how she is coping—they just need whatever it is when they need it,” says Snyder. “This can be difficult for an introvert, who may be used to having regular quiet time alone.”
As a result, many introverted moms describe feeling anxious, depressed or overwhelmed during their baby’s first few months. While these emotions can strike any new mother (even extroverted ones), the experiences tend to be heightened for introverts.
“I spent a lot of time crying,” says Shelsey Jarvis, an online business mindset coach and mom of two from Castlegar, BC. “I cried because I felt resentful and suffocated, and then I cried because I felt guilty for feeling that way. When they’re newborns, they need you for everything, and it’s hard for an introvert to be relied on so much [without].” In fact, after her second was born, Jarvis developed postpartum depression and felt overwhelmed and constantly needed.
Naomi Lieber, from Madison, Conn., felt similarly after her second son was born. “It was very overwhelming because it felt like he needed so much more than I had available to give,” she says. “His older brother was good with babysitters and happy to have his dad take care of him. But I knew my second son was screaming the entire time if I left him with anyone else. It was just constant for me and there was never enough time to recharge.”
For me, a lot of my stress came down to expectations. First, the expectation that I could constantly sacrifice my time and energy day after day without stopping; second, the expectation that as a mother I was supposed to enjoy making that sacrifice. When I couldn’t do either, I felt guilty and totally defeated. I needed so much more time alone than other mothers; how was I going to survive parenthood?
How to cope Introvert parenting is clearly an uphill battle. Are mothers like me simply doomed to suffer during the first several months of their babies’ lives? Thankfully, no.
“The good news is that while being an introverted parent can feel overwhelming at times, introversion also comes with many traits that make us uniquely strong as parents,” says Erica Layne, a mother of three from the San Francisco Bay area who teaches an online course on learning to thrive as an introverted mom. “We tend to be very aware of our environments and the feelings of those around us, so as our kids grow, we’re more perceptive of their emotional needs.”
Meanwhile, there are some things introverted moms can do right now—while their babies are little—to make the days less stressful.
Take a daily break Regular breaks are vital for the health and happiness of introverts, even as new moms. They can be short—even 15 minutes—and should consist of anything that recharges your batteries: meditation, listening to a favourite playlist, painting your nails, power walking around the neighbourhood, taking a hot bath or shower, reading one chapter in a novel or—like me—going for a spontaneous drive.
“You do not need to be the sole person caring for your child, and it is important to have time to breathe, think and unwind quietly on a regular basis,” says Snyder.
Learn to tune out the advice-givers Introverts typically struggle when confronted with opposing viewpoints, and this is easily heightened during the newborn phase, when conflicting information about how “best” to raise a baby can be found literally everywhere you look.
“[An] will likely find the many suggestions and unsolicited advice of everyone from Grandma to the mailman to be overwhelming, anxiety-inducing and a cause for self-doubt,” says Snyder. She recommends having a plan for addressing these comments: “Try not to internalize all suggestions as meaning you are doing things wrong. If you don’t feel comfortable disagreeing openly with someone on parenting choices, work on a one-liner that tells someone you are aware of what they are suggesting, like ‘Thank you for the advice,’ and leave it at that.” She counsels parents to remember that “no one is an expert on your baby except for you and your partner.”
Get whatever kind of help you need As an introvert, many of the common solutions prescribed to new moms may not work for you. For instance, it might sound like a great idea to set up a meal delivery chain, but if you dread the thought of random people showing up at your house to make conversation as they drop off their casseroles, feel free to pass. Think about what kind of help would actually alleviate your personal sources of stress and find someone to give it to you. For Jarvis, this meant hiring a cleaner once a week.
“That was an investment in my sanity,” she says. “It meant that I had more time to spend on me while the baby was sleeping, to recharge my batteries: zone out with Netflix, listen to music, write, whatever I needed.”
Personally, I was happy to do the cooking and cleaning during my downtime. I liked feeling productive and busying myself with physical tasks (i.e. getting up from the well-worn spot on the couch where I was breastfeeding around the clock). Getting babysitting help from my sons’ grandmothers—so I could get my work done without interruptions—was vital.
Find a confidante “A new baby brings a flood of emotions: love and joy and exhaustion. The extremes can be bewildering,” Layne says. “Because introverts tend to be deep feelers who keep small social circles, we may sometimes find ourselves struggling without close connections we can turn to to help us release and process those emotions.”
Identify someone you can talk to—ideally someone who understands your personality and won’t judge you for feeling unsure of yourself in your new role as a mother. (There are a lot of introverts in the world—you’re not alone.)
For me, discovering a few online communities of supportive moms was a game-changer. I followed mommy bloggers unafraid to reveal the daily hardships of parenting and joined Facebook groups that connected me with other introverts struggling to align their temperaments with their parenting responsibilities. Making virtual friends was a lot less stressful for me than keeping up with the demands of in-person social interactions, and knowing there were other moms like me out there—who loved their kids even while they craved some time to themselves—helped me feel more confident in my ability to parent through my introversion.