This post is dedicated to my good friend Melissa Dichter who is a first time mom, awesome friend, and all around incredible woman. She is the new mom of an adorable 6 week old little boy and is really “in it,” and has been so helpful in relaying some of her thoughts on this challenging time because I too have a bit of Postpartum Amnesia (don’t worry, you’ll learn more about this as you read). Thank you Melissa, for your valuable insights!
I sometimes think that the realities of the postpartum period (which I like to think of as the first year after you have your baby, not just the first 3 months) are one of the best kept secrets of parenthood. I speak to new moms all the time who say that no one ever REALLY told them it was going to be like after they had a baby. What follows are some of the reason why being a new parent is so hard and why we are often unprepared for this abrupt change in your lifestyle.
The myth of the sleeping baby
Many people are under the impression that newborns sleep all the time because that is how they are seen out and about: asleep in the car seat/stroller, asleep in a carrier on their mom or dad. Those of us who have survived this stage know that the reason for this is partly because the motion of the stroller or the coziness of the carrier is what is keeping the baby asleep and the other reason is because no one wants to take their screaming newborn out in public. Much of the fussiness and crying takes place in our homes. What ends up happening is that the myth of the sleeping baby is perpetuated and so new moms everywhere are blind-sided by the fact that newborns cry and they often cry a lot. Babies cry. This is normal but it can be difficult to get used to. Also, babies do sleep but not the often in the ways we want them to. It’s rare when I come across a new mom who tells me that her newborn always sleeps in his/her crib. More often I hear that their baby only sleeps in the swing or the car seat or on them. They are often thinking about the big “transition” to the crib. I feel that there is nothing wrong with a baby, especially one that is in that 4th trimester when all they want is to be snuggled-in and cozy, to sleep wherever it is that they actually can stay asleep. But that is probably just because I have survived this stage and am not longer in it.
We’ll get you through the birth but then you’re on your own
These days, there are many assorted professionals that help you give birth to your baby. From the very beginning, if you are having fertility issues, you may even have a doctor that helps you get pregnant. Then your doctor or midwife follows you throughout your prenatal care, checking in with you, asking how you are doing, how you are feeling. Everyone is very focused on your physical and emotional well-being. We spend much of our time and energy when we are pregnant concentrating on whatever discomforts we might have. When you are pregnant with your first child, your time is your own so you can get yourself that prenatal massage or spend hours surfing pregnancy websites to figure out how to manage your indigestion and nausea. You can take childbirth education classes to help you prepare for the birth of your child and even newborn care and breastfeeding classes to at least make you feel prepared for your baby’s arrival. You can hire a doula to help you attain the birth experience you are hoping for. However, once your baby arrives, there is a dramatic shift from all that focus on the mom to the baby. Now life revolves around meeting baby’s needs for comfort, nutrition, changing, sleeping… Now as the mom of a newborn, you grab quick opportunities to eat whatever’s handy (no cooking as you don’t know when your baby will summon you next), you wear the same spit-up stained pants from yesterday (you haven’t had a chance to shower anyway), and you have learned to pee and brush your teeth within the two minutes in which your baby will peacefully sit in the bouncy chair in the bathroom. And sleep… what’s that? Not to mention the fact that all those doctor’s visits that were focused on you with your OB or midwife are now focused on your baby at the pediatrician, a physician trained to be looking for all sorts of red flags with your child’s health but rarely looking at how the mother may be coping. It’s no wonder that the postpartum depression rates are so high. And let’s not forget about our own parents who are now so enamored with their new grandchild that they rarely even give you a “Hello” when they walk in the door. It’s just straight to the baby, who you have probably just gotten to sleep.
Why no one tells you about this
I think there are a lot of reasons that no one tells you how hard it will really be or if they tell you, it doesn’t necessarily resonate that it will be that hard for you.
- Many parents who have survived the first year have amnesia. Let’s face it. If we remembered exactly how hard it really was, we might never have any more children. I should lobby the American Psychiatric Association to add Postpartum Amnesia to the DSM IV as a real diagnosis.
- When you are in your state of pregnancy bliss, so to speak, is it really possible to hear that what comes next could be anything less than joyful? Come on, you wanted this and this is going to be the greatest thing you ever did, right? And it will be, eventually. But at first it is hard. It is okay to ignore the pressure to be in love with your baby the instant he or she is born. Many of us have the expectation of a “love at first sight” experience with this baby that we have just spent the last 9 months carrying and sustaining. The fact is, however, that our newborn requires a lot of giving. Giving of food, energy, sleep, etc. Initially, in return, you don’t get very much back other than you will see your baby growing but this, in and of itself, doesn’t really provide instant gratification. This will finally come when you baby begins to smile but this doesn’t happen until when you have worked nonstop for 6-8 weeks. Years ago when my daughter was about 8 weeks old and I was on maternity leave, I went to visit my coworkers. I ran into a doctor that I worked with and he asked how I was doing. I told him that things were getting a bit better now that she was smiling. His response was, “Yeah, right when you are about ready to drop kick them, they start to smile.” So true.
- Whether you are a business executive running a Fortune 500 company or you work in retail, especially if you have waited a while to have children, you probably feel that, by this point in your life, you are fairly competent at what you do. You have a pretty good grip on managing your day-to-day activities. It can be hard to believe that one small baby can throw you for such a loop. I always refer to having a first baby as “The Great Equalizer.” No matter who you are, how many friends of yours have already had babies, or what skills you posses, having a first baby is very likely to be different from your preconceived expectation and will try you in ways your never knew were possible. Still, when you are pregnant, it is sometimes hard to believe that this is what it will be like for you, someone who is generally an on the ball, functional, showered (ha!) individual.