Dealing With Postpartum Emotions
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|When Baby Comes Home
The addition of a new person to the family and the task of taking on the role of primary caregiver can unleash a host of emotions - some good, some confusing. Inexplicable sadness and weepiness (baby blues) is just as common as excitement and joy and is attributed to the rapid adjustment of hormone levels after childbirth. In some, sadness can lead to more serious problems like postpartum depression. But for most, the emotional issues of becoming a new mom revolve around loss of self-identity, fear, self-doubt and stress in relations with other family members.
Are you gripped by feelings of inadequacy or panic? Don't worry, you are not alone. Most first time mothers experience self-doubt about their ability to care for their child and question if they have natural maternal feelings. You may take some comfort in knowing that no woman is born with the knowledge of how to change a diaper, sooth colic or give a bath to a slippery baby. These skills, like everything else in life need to be learned. Be patient (and kind) to yourself.
In the first weeks and months of motherhood you may find that for the first time in your life you are ignoring your own needs completely. Sleep, meal times and social life are put on a back burner as your day revolves around your baby's needs. You spend entire days bustling around the house, all the while feeling you have accomplished nothing. Routines have been tossed aside. Taking time to shower and apply makeup in the morning, reading a newspaper over breakfast and lingering over a meal in the evening become next to impossible. Hobbies, career plans and friends are submerged by the needs of the baby. You may fear that you are losing your identity as an individual and that you have become nothing more than a generic mother. Of course it doesn't help that magazines are full of stories of 'perfect Hollywood mothers' who drip with enthusiasm for their mothering experience, making the rest of us feel inadequate. What they forget to mention is the line up of home-help, nannies, cleaners and cooks they have access to. The only consolation is that within 6 months the same celeb will probably be recovering from a nervous breakdown after her nanny quit or the cook ran off with the husband (we are wicked)! The good news is, most of these feelings about identity resolve when you learn how to manage your time and establish some routine. In the meantime, don't be afraid to talk to other mothers in support groups. And remember, even the most organized mother will still have moments of angry feelings towards their baby because of their unceasing demands. It's normal. The only time to worry is if you become seriously depressed or have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby. Talk to your doctor immediately in this instance.
After a couple of weeks when routine has been established, you may notice that feelings turn to boredom. The baby has been fed, the house has been cleaned from top to bottom, the dinner is cooked and you still have time on your hands. This may be more a problem for women who worked outside of the house before childbirth, although it can happen to all mothers. After the thrill of the flowers, gifts and congratulatory telephone calls have passed you can start to feel isolated from other adults. Accustomed to regular social contact through a job, it is normal to feel lonely spending all your time with a non-verbal little person. You may find it helpful to join a local playgroup and meet other moms in the same situation.
If you choose to stay at home and mind your baby, while your partner continues to go out to work, you may find that your interests start to drift apart. Maybe hubby shows little interest in junior's pediatrician visits and you start to find his accounts of office politics trivial. At the same time he becomes jealous of the devotion and interest you show in the baby while you may become jealous of his continued achievements in the outside world. Communication is the most important way to deal these feelings before they cause serious problems. It's a good idea to make adult time for each other where possible - for example organize a babysitter once a week and have a date night.
Other Postpartum Issues
Caring for a newborn is much easier second time around (although you might be surprised how quickly skills are forgotten!). Yet, a new set of challenges can arise. Many mothers feel guilty about neglecting older children by putting the needs of the newborn first. Or conversely, they may feel guilty for thinking that they can never love the anonymous new person in the same way as their amazing older child. Frequently older children can become jealous of new babies in the home. Although they may not express this directly it can manifest in them fighting more with each other. If you have older children, start preparing them for the baby before the homecoming by reading them stories about other children with new siblings. Ask older children to help with diaper changing and feeding when the baby comes home, this can do wonders to prevent a feeling of rejection and jealousy.
Physically it is probably best for the mother to avoid returning to work until at least her 6 week postpartum checkup. Depending on the outcome of this checkup, her doctor may recommend staying home longer (if she is suffering postpartum complications). Of course many women have no choice but to return to work as soon as possible for financial reasons. Ideally you will have given some thought to work and childcare arrangements before your baby is born. It is a good idea for example to book child care in advance (particularly if quality minders are in big demand) - if you change your mind and end up staying at home longer - you can always cancel it. Finding a good carer last minute is stressful and often next to impossible. Even if you lose a deposit by canceling it, you will have peace of mind.
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