The emotional side of the 4th trimester - interview with Zelma Tolley

Pre and post natal

The first few months after giving birth, also known as the fourth trimester, is a crash course, sink-or-swim, best thing ever but ohmygosh-it’s-hard introduction to motherhood. 

Here at The Pelvic Hub we speak a lot about honouring your body through the fourth trimester as it changes and heals. And the importance of prioritising pelvic health, recovery and listening to your body’s needs in this period. 

Recently we sat down with Zelma Tolley from The Postnatal Project, to talk about the emotional side of becoming a new mum that’s not often spoken about. Zelma is a social worker, mother of two and founder of the multi-award winning online movement that is The Postnatal Project.

She has a special interest in the emotional experience of the mother and is passionate about supporting the fourth trimester, breastfeeding, gentle parenting birth trauma and postnatal depression. 

We were super lucky to get some time with Zelma and we hope you enjoy this interview as much as we enjoyed pulling it all together!

Em: What made you start the Post natal project?

Zelma: The Postnatal Project was all up in my head for about six months prior to launch. I was suffering from some pretty debilitating postnatal depression and finding myself as a mother after a traumatic birth and some pretty intense breastfeeding difficulties. 

I was actually struggling to get the support that I craved and, for a long time, I thought it was me; that I was the problem.

Until I realised that I couldn’t possibly be the only one struggling to access a broken system. And I decided to do something about that. 

I’ve never been one to keep quiet about social issues and my passion for helping others was also a driving force. I’m a social worker and I realised that I had the skills, the resources and the WHY. It’s been a winning combination.

Founding The Postnatal Project was actually very therapeutic also. As I built The Postnatal Project, it built me up too.

Em: What are the 3 most common concerns for new mums in the fourth trimester period?

Zelma: Firstly, SLEEP! Most parents are worried about sleep in some capacity. So please, know that you are not alone in this. The truth of the matter is that babies need a lot of you during this time. Night-time is no exception. Do what you can to support yourself and ask for help whenever you need it. Go to bed early and leave the dishes in the sink. That’s the next visitor’s job!

Secondly, the shift in identity is often challenging for parents. The lack of complete freedom is often underestimated and parents can sometimes feel like they are suffocating between the four walls of the nursery with less adult stimulation than before. I always talk about grieving that sense of loss with parents and really validate that experience that they are having. It’s very real. You are not selfish for missing your old life. It’s just time to find some balance. I work with parents to achieve this.

Finally, relationships can be under strain during this time.

“Sorry for what I said when the baby was crying!”

I do my best to educate parents about clear communication when things aren’t so peachy as well as expressing appreciation and gratitude wherever they can - this often goes a long way.

Em: What is some advice you would give to women who are expecting a baby or are new mamas to help them transition into motherhood/this fourth trimester period?  

Zelma: Surrender.

There is nothing more valuable than letting go of the ‘shoulds’ and surrendering to what is.

Think of this time as an investment in attachment with your baby and a lesson in acceptance. Your world may feel like it’s being rocked. But you have everything that you need within you to ride the waves and survive if it feels like a storm.

Think of yourself and your baby as a team. You are working together to get to know one another and figure out this new life together. This way of thinking can ease any resentment that may build when struggling with things like feeding, changes in sleep and any feelings of loss that come with this new season of life.

And on that, remember that this is but a season. It’s the biggest cliche there is but whatever you’re going through right now will eventually pass. You don’t have to savour every moment. But you do need to be aware that you’ll never get it back. So, seek the support that you need to thrive. You don’t need to simply keep your head above water. You deserve to enjoy motherhood. It’s your time too. 

Emma: We could not end without bringing it back to pelvic health. As you know The Pelvic Hub is all about loving your pelvis. This is hard and doesn’t always come easy. It takes work. Do you have any advice for women that have just had a baby and are perhaps feeling like loving their pelvis feels so far from where they are at? 

Zelma: Having a baby is massive. Emotionally and physically, it takes a toll. I hear from a lot of parents and mothers in particular who feel as though their body has failed them - either during pregnancy, birth or postpartum as they recover.

My advice would be to seek support. Don’t put up with pain and things that don’t feel right in your body just because there is a culture of your body being “doomed” now that you’ve had a baby.

You are not “doomed”. And you are not alone. You deserve support. Continue to advocate for yourself and you will get there.

Zelma Tolley can support you during the fourth trimester. Visit her website for information on digital products available worldwide, face-to-face consultations and group therapy sessions.

Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia is also a fabulous resource. Their helpline and informative articles are a must for all new parents.