When I became pregnant with my first child I thought I was prepared.
I was a researcher and graduate student and just knew that I would be able to master birth and parenting. I devoured legitimate research, but also spent my downtime browsing content from search engines, forums, online due date clubs, apps, and message boards. Every other waking moment that wasn’t spent buying cute baby clothes and decorating a themed nursery was spent reading ALL the books that other parents recommended and suggested for me. Who knew there were so many “experts” on babies? I became an infant “expert” without yet having a newborn to call my own. I had my swaddling technique down and a variety of cloth diapers that were ready for action. My breast pump and parts were ordered. I had taken a local childbirth class at the hospital where I was planning on delivering, and I thought I had figured out what style of parenting I was going to use too. After nine months of research I knew that I was going to ace giving birth and that becoming a mom was going to come naturally.
I was prepared, or so I thought, and nothing could stand in my way.
My birth story didn’t go the way I had wanted it to and I was sent home with a newborn feeling mentally broken, sleep deprived, swollen, and with the recommendation to feed every 2-3 hours around the clock.
No one explained to me that this was just until baby was determined to be gaining weight and so I set alarms to wake myself up every 2.5 hours for weeks.
This new baby demanded every moment of my time. I wasn’t sleeping, eating enough, or even able to find time to breathe in this new reality. My identity shifted entirely and it was different from what I thought it would be. At times I felt like I wasn’t cut out to be a parent. The books made me feel like if I just did things “correctly” my baby would sleep better.
I went to new parent groups where I compared my baby to their babies and my reality to their realities. Everyone seemed to be getting a hang of this parenting thing, so why couldn’t I? I felt alone and sad and that’s when the anxiety crept in.
I would wake up in the middle of the night and check to make sure my first born was breathing. Because I was breastfeeding I felt like no one else could take care of her so I didn’t leave her, at all, not even for an hour or two. One time my baby slept 4 hours in a row, so I decided it must have been the particular rhythm of swaying and bouncing, song I was singing, and style of pajamas she was wearing. From that point forward, I decided she should only have full-footed pajamas for bed and I would obsessively sing the same song over and over again. All the books said to set a routine, so in my postpartum haze, I attempted the same crazy bedtime routine every single night. My lack of sleep turned into anger, and while I would have never harmed my own baby, I would scream and slam doors in order to find some sort of control in my life.
Looking back, I should have been utilizing what time I did have to adjust and heal myself physically and emotionally, but I felt forced to push through and be a martyr of sorts. When I asked others what I was doing wrong, people told me that I could no longer be selfish and my job was to put all of my baby’s needs first. While I don’t believe people meant to say such harmful things my adjustment period, combined with postpartum mood changes, made me say no to anything that remotely resembled putting myself first. In my mind, in order to be the best parent I could be, I had to erase my own needs and make everything in my life be about my baby and their future. After all, I was in charge of a living breathing human and I had to do everything perfect. Friends and acquaintances on the internet would throw out the term “self care” but that seemed impossible for me to personally find time for and to access. I know that my introduction to parenthood was harder due to various postpartum mood disorders, but It was such a trying time for me, and it’s part of why I am passionate about preparing new parents for the realities and expectations of welcoming a baby.
While I feel pretty good about my parenting now, I had to work through a lot to become the confident mom and person I am today. Through starting and moderating postpartum groups, finding compassionate friends who understood, further education and training as a doula and therapy, I am still not perfect but I am no longer suffering with the anxiety that crippled my early months of parenthood.
If you or someone you know is having a more difficult than expected time with adjusting to a new baby, please look into additional resources. I wish I had addressed my mental health sooner. Postpartum Support International has a listing of mental health professionals located all around the country, and many local doulas, midwives, and providers, can serve as community resources for referrals.
Other postpartum support groups in the Portland area: