by Jenny Everett King- Childbirth Educator and Prenatal & Postpartum Yoga Teacher
Recently I asked a group of mom friends, “What do you wish you had known about parenting before your baby was born?” Here are just a few of their responses:
- That when your child is born, especially first children, the whole world shifts (it’s a bit like the way it shifts when someone dies – only the outcome is more positive) and it’s normal to feel like everything’s tilted, like in those V8 commercials, for awhile until you adjust to the HUGE change that just happened.
- You will scare yourself by how much you worry about your baby, and while you will continue to worry more now than you ever did before you were a parent, the scary-obsessive worrying will subside enough that you feel halfway normal again.
- I wish someone told me how crazy my hormones would make me! Everything made me cry the first few weeks. Commercials, cards in the mail, looking at my baby sleeping, being home alone with the baby for the first time.
A common thread runs through these responses as well as many others I received, namely, a feeling of being completely overwhelmed. Perhaps more than anything else, what characterizes the early weeks (and often months) of parenting is a feeling of being in WAY over your head!
I can remember taking my daughter home from the hospital, amazed that the staff would just let us walk out the door with such a tiny, vulnerable life. When I thought about the fact that my husband and I were the two people in the world ultimately responsible for her, I was terrified. I see this same fear reflected in the face of nearly every new mom I work with. It’s there regardless of age, income, or relationship status. It’s there in women who have had years of experience with small children. It’s there in the families who have spent years trying to conceive as well as those who were shocked to learn they were pregnant. To an outsider, this kind of fear in a new parent may be concerning. New parents often feel like they have no idea what they are doing! However, personal and professional experience alike have shown me that this feeling is a fundamental part of becoming a parent. Just like the intense sensations of childbirth, the majority of the time, the emotions of the early parenting weeks are normal, natural, and healthy.
For the mother, physical recovery from pregnancy and birth are a lengthy process. Her body must literally transition from “pregnant” to “parent.” The uterus takes weeks to return to its non-pregnant size, the joints of the hips may take weeks to mend, the uterus bleeds daily as the placental site heals. In the meantime, her breasts go through dramatic and amazing changes to provide continued nourishment for her baby. All of these processes are generated by sharp changes in hormone levels, which affect the emotions as well as the body.
Partners also experience their share of strong emotions in the weeks following birth. Many have just witnessed the person they love most endure the difficult, ecstatic, life-changing journey that is birth. But more than the that, the profound responsibility of having a child can weigh heavily on fathers in particular. It is crucial to remember that partners go thought their own transition to becoming a parent, and like any change, emotions may be mixed. Anatole France writes, “All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.” Many parents experience a sense of loss over their lives prior to having children, and why shouldn’t they? The days of sleeping late (or a full eight hours), of acting spontaneously, of leading a self-determined existence are long gone. If feelings of loss surface, it is important to acknowledge them personally, to have a support network of friends and family, and to speak with a professional counselor if the feelings become overwhelming.
What do new parents need to thrive during the major transition of the postpartum period? First, the basic needs must be met: adequate fluids, nutritious food, and as much sleep as possible. (Of course, it’s highly likely that no amount of sleep will feel sufficient!) In addition, the whole family needs support from other responsible, understanding adults, who can help with cooking, cleaning, and baby care on occasion. It is helpful if parents recognize in advance that the postpartum period is challenging for everyone, and that feeling overwhelmed or fearful does not mean you are a bad parent. A support group of other new parents can help normalize these feelings, as well as offer friendships with other mothers and fathers at the same life stage. And of course, help keep the whole family healthy with natural wellness care! Planning for the changes inherent in the postpartum period will help the whole family thrive during the amazing journey to parenthood.
Healing Hands Chiropractic offers many treatments to build health during pregnancy and postpartum, including Webster Technique chiropractic care, Mother Massage®, Mama Prenatal and Mama & Baby Postpartum yoga, and a free weekly support group, Mommy Connection. We partner with Elliot Hospital’s Postpartum Depression Task Force to raise awareness and offer emotional support to new families.