I remember so clearly being pushed in the wheelchair while my husband carried our tiny, less than 6-pound first-born daughter down to the car as we prepared to leave the hospital after her birth. I waddled over to the car, managing both my c-section pain and the largest pad I had ever worn. As we left, the nurse said, “Enjoy her!” Enjoy her. The words still echo through my head. We smiled and waved and thanked her for her help. Enjoy her. Little did she or my husband know that in my head I was thinking, “How can I possibly enjoy her? How am I going to do that when I’m trying to figure out how to keep her alive?!” She seemed so fragile and small.
When we walked through the door of our apartment, I burst into tears. So much of what we prepare for when we approach having our first baby is the pregnancy and the birth, but nothing (not even many siblings or a long history of babysitting) truly prepares you for the largeness of becoming a parent.
For many, the experience is a shock, and women (and men) have a wide range of totally normal emotions, including joy, confusion, resentment, abounding love, sadness, and many more. The nurse had great intentions, but what I wish she had said was, “I know that this is scary, but you can do this. You are all she needs. You are doing great. And it’s okay to be scared.”
We have to give ourselves permission to feel a range of emotions from one minute to the next. It’s all normal and okay! As a therapist working with women during pregnancy and parenthood, I find one of my most important roles is to simply validate their experience.
Of course, there are times to be more concerned with one’s thoughts and feelings. If you are feeling very detached or that things aren’t real around you. If you have thoughts of hurting yourself or the baby. Or if you are having hallucinations or paranoia symptoms. These are times when you should alert your spouse or partner and speak to a professional right away. Other signs that you may need to get help include not being able to sleep or feeling that you don’t need much sleep while also having a lot of energy. If any of these things are happening to you, go to www.postpartum.net to find someone who can help you in your area or call the hotline to speak to someone right away. If you live in Fairfield County, click here to find resources in our area.
It’s okay if you aren’t deeply in love with your baby from the moment you set eyes on him or her. It may take you a bit of time. Looking back on my first postpartum period, I realize that I was really struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety and did not get any help. I was frequently anxious and tearful. Being tearful is often a part of typical “baby blues” postpartum. However, if these symptoms last more than 6 weeks, it is likely something that you should talk to a professional about. Unfortunately, many health professionals are not well versed in what to look for in new moms (and dads) and how to help. However, in the 9 years since my first baby, I do feel that things are improving.
A couple of days into our hospital stay with my first child, A nurse came in to find me crying. Her response was to tell me, “You should be happy, you have a healthy baby, there are other mothers on this floor with babies in the NICU right now.” Wow. She didn’t ask if I would like to talk to someone like the hospital social worker. Instead, she shamed me for having a relatively typical emotional response to both major surgery and becoming a mother. I was careful not to cry in front of any health professionals again during that postpartum period.
To all the new parents out there, whether it is your first baby or your fifth, please know that you are not alone. Seek out a community. Find other parents to connect with. Try a postpartum support group or one through your pediatrician. New parents need each other to normalize this experience.
Slowly but surely, I fell in love with my baby. At one point in the first three months, I remember telling my husband through tears that I loved her so much; I even loved dressing her and changing her diaper. Now that is love. Crying about how much you love wiping another person’s bottom.
And yes, I did and do enjoy her. Enjoyment of our children goes without saying, but it doesn’t negate the challenges we face as parents. Let’s give ourselves permission to acknowledge the challenges. They make the rewards that much sweeter.