Becoming a parent is probably one of the most significant transitions you will experience in life. For many, it is a time of excitement and magic, but for most parents, this stage also holds a great deal of anxiety and stress. Here are some of the most important things you should know before your baby is born:
The first few weeks are hard. Very hard!
When I was pregnant with my first baby, I spent hours online, searching for information about raising children and becoming a mother. Most resources focused on the joy and wonders of becoming a mother. None of them really prepared me for the challenges. The reality is that the first few weeks can be very overwhelming. There is a pretty good chance that you will be going through a physical and emotional roller coaster. In addition, you might experience a lot of confusion regarding the baby’s needs, which might also affect your mood and self-esteem. And above all that, you might experience a constant sense of lack of control over your life, which might be very daunting. The reason I am telling you all this is simply because most people will not!
For some reason, we are expected to have only positive feelings about the delivery and our newborn. That is probably the reason why so many women experience feelings of shame and guilt over their negative feelings around this transition. The reality is that most women get to have a wider and more complex range of feelings around this experience; some have a hard time overcoming a traumatic delivery, while others struggle with the lack of sleep, or experience challenges in breastfeeding. I personally think that any feeling about this transition is normal, and therefore, it is important to allow yourself to experience them all, name them and verbalize your thoughts about them, as part of the healing process.
What can you do?
- Try to get as much sleep as possible - anytime you can.
- Look at the big picture - things do not have to be perfect right now - some unfolded laundry or some mess in the kitchen won’t kill you - it’s temporary, let it go.
- Remember - Newborn babies cry; you can’t prevent it entirely. It takes some time to figure out their needs, you’re doing the best you can!
- Stock up on your favorite foods, healthy snacks and pre-made meals before the baby arrives. You may not have the time to cook for a while - and you will get hungry, very hungry.
- Set boundaries - Some family members and friends might want to visit you and your newborn right after the delivery. Some parents love the attention, while others need space and time to adjust. It is important you do what is right for you, and therefore, do not hesitate to set your boundaries on this matter and communicate your needs. At this point in time - you and your baby are what matters most.
- Ask for help - from parents, siblings, friends and even professional help. You do not have to go through this alone - get help.
Your relationship with your partner will change.
According to a research conducted by the Gottman Institute, 69% of new parents experience conflict, disappointment and hurt feelings after their first child is born. It is not surprising. After all, the demands of parenthood make it so easy to focus exclusively on the baby while putting your needs as a couple aside. Most couples report having less time to communicate with each other and less energy for sexual closeness. The good news is that there is something about having created a life together that fosters a new bond between you and your spouse; something that is exclusive to you and that is magical to share. In addition, there are several practical things you can do in order to strengthen your relationship and foster baby’s development during this challenging time.
What can you do?
- Adjust your expectations - Do not expect your love life to get right back on track. Things are probably never going to be the same. However, different doesn’t necessarily mean bad. Find the time to talk about your feelings and expectations from each other. The better you are able communicate your needs, the more you’ll know what to expect.
- Make time - I know, it seems impossible. However, you do not need to spend hours with each other. Try to find a few minutes each day to talk about your day, your feelings and your worries. In addition, whenever you feel ready, find a reliable babysitter, and go out on a date. As much as it seems challenging, it will boost your relationship and give you time to connect with your other half again.
- Share responsibilities - Sometimes new parents get jealous of each other because the baby takes up so much of one of the partner’s time. They may feel like a third wheel, which could trigger feelings of resentment and anger. One way of coping with this issue is sharing child care responsibilities. This will allow both partners to bond with the child, and may even leave some extra time to spend together as a couple.
Love, love, love…
Most cultures believe in birth as a celebratory event, and mothers are expected to immediately “fall in love” with their newborn and be happy and joyful about everything that has to do with parenting. The reality is that for many parents, “falling in love” with their child takes time. Most parents don’t talk about it because they feel ashamed or guilty about it, and because we are socialized to believe that having a baby is the most exciting and joyful experience we will ever have. I personally think it is important to allow a dialogue which explores the full range of feelings involved in welcoming a newborn in our life. Many parents struggle with mixed feelings about their newborn, and it is important they know that they are not alone.
What can you do?
- Accept that you may have all sorts of feelings towards your child.
- Seek professional assistance - to explore and make peace with some underlining feelings you might have.
For some reason, many people have the tendency to think that you absolutely want them to share everything they know about raising a child with you. I used to think that it is a common thing amongst certain cultures, but I soon realized that this is a cross-cultural issue that concerns many new parents. The reality is that there is more than one way to raise children, and that there isn’t really a “right or wrong” way of doing things. Therefore, for many new parents, being bombarded with advice can be confusing and overwhelming.
What can you do?
- Set boundaries - I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t listen to anyone. Some people may have great tips and ideas on raising children. However, you can politely ask people to refrain from making comments and suggestions if you feel the need to.
- Trust your instinct - you can definitely try to incorporate some of the suggestions you get, however, remember - what worked for one baby will not necessarily work for another. Babies, just like grownups, have different characteristics and needs. If you begin implementing a suggestion and you find that it is not right for you - trust your instinct - you know best.
Parenting changes you in unpredictable ways. Your values, perspective, and habits get reevaluated and adjusted to your new you. Your relationship with your partner changes, and so does your relationship with your relatives and friends. This is an exciting and magical journey throughout which you will discover many new things about yourself. You will become stronger as a human being, and also more vulnerable in a sense too. Whenever you feel discouraged and overwhelmed, remember that most new parents experience a similar emotional roller coaster, so you’re in good company. Do not hesitate to seek help of any kind as needed, and above all - remember you are doing the best you can, and that’s the most important of all.