MIA: Maternal Intrapersonal Anxiety
What is it? Does it relate to you?
So what IS Maternal Intrapersonal Anxiety (MIA)?
MIA is a term to make it easy for moms to talk about and share a complex set of feelings. “I think I’m MIA” says a lot in very few words, and moms get it, instantly. It’s no coincidence that the acronym MIA is also associated with the common expression "missing in action" because that’s how maternal intrapersonal anxiety feels.
“I feel like I’m missing from my own life.”
“Sometimes I wonder if anyone sees me. I mean really sees me, not because of what I do for them.”
“I looked in the mirror the other day and I don’t even know who was staring back at me.”
“Will I ever again do the things that used to really matter to me?”
“What happened to me?”
Real quotes from real moms.
Let's Break It Down
MIA is basically two things:
MIA reflects the experience of losing one's sense of self and the symptoms that reflect this experience. These symptoms look like, sound like, and feel like grief because it IS grief.
(physical, emotional, social, cognitive)
MIA is the unrecognized and unacknowledged grief that manifests when mothers perceive any undesirable change in their appearance, lifestyle, mood, income, relationships, personal goals, and self-esteem (or other changes) as a loss of something that was formerly valuable to them.
When this happens, a mom may grieve. This grief is generally obscured by the happy nature of childbirth, the many needs of young children, the better moments, society's unrealistic expectations of mothers, and the fear of rejection and sense of shame that surrounds the perception that loss could possibly be part of a woman's experience after having a baby.
"You should be happy!"
"You're lucky you can have kids."
"Are you saying you don't love your kids?"
"Sounds like you regret having kids???"
However, grief is normal and reasonable, especially when feelings of loss combine with the ever mounting workload, responsibilities, and demands of motherhood. This “collision course” creates the potential of an even greater loss:
a mother’s sense of self as she feels lost in motherhood, lost in the chaos, and ultimately unfamiliar and "lost" to herself.
The story of motherhood is vast, complex, exciting, overwhelming, and unique to each woman entering this phase of life. Although change is inevitable, and all women experience change to some degree, not every woman will experience MIA. Lots of factors contribute to this experience. But it’s time to recognize and acknowledge this phenomenon, validate the feelings that moms often describe, and help moms get through it. This begins with education, conversations, and compassion.
This is why we are here.
So, let's begin.
MATERNAL means relating to or characteristic of a mother.
INTRAPERSONAL means within the person rather than between persons as in the word interpersonal. In MIA, women perceive the loss of a pre-child identity (and aspects of their lives associated with that identity); it's an internal experience that perceives a former identity lost as the demands and responsibilities of motherhood expand.
ANXIETY means the core experience of grief. From a grief theory known as Grief as a Function of Separation Anxiety, anxiety is the underlying emotion in grief. Symptoms of grief are not separate from this anxiety but relate directly to it. According to this grief theory, anxiety exists at a primal level and is evoked when something of value is lost.
It’s normal to feel sad, to grieve things we valued that no longer “fit” into our new lives, either in the moment, for years, or forever. These feelings CAN and DO co-exist with the overwhelming joy, love, and gratitude women typically feel toward their babies; one doesn't negate the other. Most moms continue to mother in the most complete and satisfying ways despite the temporary distress they experience.
fatigue, low energy, palpitations, muscle tension, sleeping problems, oversensitivity to noise
irritability, depression, anxiety, abrupt bouts of crying, being self-conscious, lack of self-concern, decreased self-esteem
avoidance of others, strain in relationships, difficult having fun with loved ones, use of alcohol or drugs, sexual difficulites
negative self-talk, difficulty concentrating or remembering, distorted perceptions of self or others, absentmindedness
Missing In Action:
How Mothers Lose, Grieve, and Retrieve Their Sense of Self
by Anne Smollon, MSW
Read the chapters
Struggling to adjust?
Ways women experience loss
What grief looks like
The existential crisis
How we change
How MIA affects the family
How to keep healthy boundaries
Things you can do for your "self"
Relearn the world as mom
Download the first chapter
Emotional attachments to people, places, objects, images, beliefs, personal characteristics, abstract constructs, etc. are similar in the context of what most people value. We become emotionally attached to what we value, especially when they contribute significantly to our overall sense of self and wellbeing.
We can, and do, become emotionally attached to our sense of self. This being true, a mother may grieve aspects of herself and her life that she perceives as "lost" much the same way she would grieve more obvious losses or the loss of any other valued component of her life.; i.e., she is likely to exhibit symptoms of grief.