5 Things No One Told You To Expect After Having A Baby
By Lindsay Harris, LCSW
Most new mothers will tell you that by the time their baby bump was barely showing, they already had a handful of people tell them to “sleep while you can.” It’s no secret that one of the most difficult aspects of being new parents is the lack of sleep. Many other aspects of new motherhood are commonly discussed as well, such as all the messy diapers, frequent feedings and fussy “witching hours.” But day after day when I am in counseling sessions with new mothers, they are often in tears when they tell me, “no one ever told me it was going to be like this.”
1). Why do I keep having such scary thoughts about something happening to my baby?
We are biologically wired to respond to our babies needs. Oftentimes this increases our awareness, and we have a heightened sense of vigilance. It can be hard to “turn down the volume” on the intensity of this hypervigilance, especially while also experiencing lack of sleep. As a result, our brains can be flooded with really scary “what ifs.”
“What if I slip when walking down the stairs and I drop my baby?”
“What if I take my eyes off the monitor and my baby stops breathing?”
“What if we get into a car crash and my baby flies out of his car seat?”
These thoughts are extremely common, but because they are so disturbing and distressing, new mothers often do not talk about it or share these thoughts with anyone. According to Postpartum Support International (PSI), 90% of women experience these intrusive thoughts. If you are feeling overwhelmed by intrusive thoughts, please be reassured that it is quite common and it does not take away from the love and concern you have for your baby. According to the book Good Mom’s Have Scary Thoughts by Karen Kleiman, “scary thoughts include any negative worry, rumination, thought, obsession, misinterpretation, image or impulse that feels incompatible with how you usually think and causes you distress.”
Although these unwanted thoughts can be distressing, it is important to have a safe person to talk to about it, whether it be your partner, your best friend, a family member, or a therapist. Speaking about these scary thoughts can help reduce the power they have over your emotions as well as practicing coping techniques that can help you feel more grounded.
2). Why do I keep crying and feeling so sad?
Most women expect for motherhood to be full of smiles, joy, and happiness. And yes, there are many moments exactly like that. Unfortunately, though, the image of motherhood that is often portrayed on social media is not always accurate. The perfectly curated pictures with a Pinterest worthy nursery, ideal lighting and newborn angelic poses do not adequately capture the intensity of what it is like to take care of a newborn. Yes, holding your newborn baby is magical and full of special moments. Yes, the overwhelming flood of emotions and love you feel for your baby is unlike anything you have felt before. But the reality of caring for a baby 24/7 that is fully dependent on you, is bound to bring some sadness and overwhelming emotions as you transition into your new role.
Oftentimes, mothers who come talk with me will say “I’m usually such a happy person. I’m not used to feeling sad or even crying this much.” It can feel disappointing to have these feelings of sadness, especially during such a happy time. The key to balancing these opposing emotions, is to make room for ALL of it (the good and bad). We can be happy AND sad. One feeling does not discredit the other. It is also important to remember to give grace to yourself and realize that you spent 9 months growing a human and then faced the intensity of delivery. Not to mention, the dramatic drop in your hormones that takes place after giving birth. So much of what is happening during this time frame is out of your control. Instead of dreading the tears, realize that crying can be a good release and help you reset.
You will find your smile again and the tears will lessen. Improving sleep, having time to adjust to your new role, and developing a rhythm to your new life will all help make room for more peace and contentment.
3). Why is there so much tension between me and my spouse?
Maybe you and your spouse have enjoyed a few years of wedded bliss and were so excited to add to your family. You had full confidence that you two would be wonderful parents and looked forward to this time with great anticipation. Although these things are true, now that the baby is here, it seems like there are barely enough minutes in the day for the two of you to connect….and when you do interact, it is just regarding logistics about the baby or what take-out you are ordering for dinner. Another difficult time is the tension that comes up between the two of you when you are exhausted in the middle of the night and dealing with the baby. It can be unsettling to have such tension and the new parental roles can also bring up resentment.
Women often report feeling resentment because of the imbalance of responsibility with the baby or the inequity of who gets more sleep. It can also be easy for women to feel like they are the only one feeling the intensity of postpartum emotions, but it is important to also recognize and validate that your spouse is adjusting too and experiencing many of the same emotions and difficulties. You are on the same team. Sticking together can make it easier to get through these unchartered waters.
It can also be helpful to be intentional about openly communicating and working through issues as they arise. It is also important to remember to laugh together and have time to do things that help you connect with each other outside of just being parents.
4). Why do I feel like I am constantly trying to control the uncontrollable?
Stressful situations, AKA parenthood, have a funny way of revealing our faults. The need to be in control is a common feeling, especially in response to a new situation that feels uncertain. When we perceive that we are maintaining control, it makes us feel safer and as if we are minimizing risks. It’s the game we play to try to feel a sense of normalcy and have a better idea of what to expect.
Feeling a sense of losing control can easily take over when you have no idea moment to moment what your baby is going to need from you. It is especially difficult when you do not know how much sleep you will get each night or how many times your baby will wake up. These uncontrollable scenarios can spark anxiety and an even greater sense of needing to “take control.”
Some mothers have tried to manage their control issues by following a schedule for their baby which can help bring some much-needed structure. However, flexibility is the key word when trying to maintain a schedule with a newborn. A good mantra to remember during this time is “this is only temporary.”
5). Who said breast is best?
Many women report that they love the bonding experience between them and their baby when breastfeeding. Many women feel empowered by the opportunity to supply their baby with “liquid gold.” However, many will admit that the first few days or weeks of figuring out breast feeding was quite difficult. Cracked and bleeding nipples. A screaming baby that won’t latch correctly. A hungry baby because she isn’t getting enough. Clogged ducts or infection. And let’s not forget the frequency of having a baby or a breast pump attached to your boobs.
Figuring out the kinks of breastfeeding can feel extremely overwhelming, especially because of the major societal pressure to make it work because many will tell you that “breast is best.” Many women report feeling like a failure for not being able to successfully implement breastfeeding and this can lead to a dark hole of guilt and shame as well as feeling like a “bad mom.”
The social media “highlight reel” of a baby perfectly perched on their mother’s bosom does not reveal the steps they took to get to that point. Yes, sticking it out can be worth it and it is encouraged if it can be done without compromising the mother’s mental health. There is freedom to make choices in parenthood, and as long as you are feeding your baby what he or she needs, it doesn’t matter the means by which they receive that food. “Fed is best” and that can be hard to reconcile for many women who put pressure and expectation on themselves to make breast feeding work.
Whether breastfeeding, pumping or formula feeding, please trust your “mom gut” and do what is best for you and your baby. When a baby has pumped breast milk or formula, it opens the door for a lot more hands-on support from your partner or family members that can help feed the baby. This also opens the door to longer sleep stretches for mom which can be transformative for the healing process (mind, body, and spirit).
Reach Out Today To Start Postpartum Counseling
If you are a new mom and you related to some of the things discussed in this blog, I hope you have felt validated and encouraged. You are not alone. Motherhood is messy AND beautiful. It is rewarding AND challenging. It is continual moments of failing and forgiving yourself. It is feeling lost and rediscovering yourself in new ways. It is full of moments that take your breath away and make your heart overflow with gratitude. And it is also okay to admit the days when all you can think about is running away and having a few moments of solitude. As a society, it would be beneficial if we could normalize the hardships of motherhood, especially in those early weeks with a newborn, because it would better prepare women and reduce some of the shame associated with the struggles.
If you are struggling and want someone to process with you, please reach out and email me today. I look forward to hearing from you!
Lindsay Harris, LCSW, has a passion for working with mothers in the postpartum phase of life. She has extensive training and personal experience with Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) and desires to share this important knowledge to normalize and validate the experience of new moms. Lindsay offers individual and group postpartum counseling services to those who live in Georgia and Florida.