Scripps Ranch and Bankers Hill Therapist Sara Cole.
By Sara Cole MFT, San Diego Therapist
It feels like a conspiracy to keep new parents completely in the dark. Do we think they can't handle the truth? The truth that there may be difficulties and struggles ahead. That they can't handle the tools that could help them be prepared for the hard times?
When I was pregnant, not one person mentioned postpartum depression, prematurity, sleep deprivation, overwhelming anxiety or any of the other things I got to discover on my own. They didn't talk about the strain it has on a relationship. They didn't talk about how your body isn't completely healed for as long as a year after giving birth. They talk about how exciting it will be and how beautiful the baby will be and how you will just naturally be a wonderful mother.
Well, not to toot my own horn, but I am a wonderful mom and it has been a journey. My daughter was born at 30 weeks and stayed in the NICU for 6 weeks. Her dad and I also spent every day in the NICU holding her when we could, changing diapers when we could, feeding her when we could and watching all of her monitors track her breathing, heartbeat and oxygen level. No one had ever spoken the word NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) until my daughter was being taken there. I was shocked at my level of anxiety and depression. It was a situation that would be stressful for anyone, but I was stressed to the point of being irrational. I knew nothing about prematurity. In my head I was trying to prepare myself for losing her. People wanted to bring gifts but I refused. I didn't tell them why, but it was because I thought it would be too painful to have to get rid of all the lovely baby things when my daughter died. In the hospital no one thought to mention that she would almost certainly survive. That seems like something you would want to tell a stressed out worried parent...
Why do professionals not prepare us for the possibility of something going wrong? Even when you do go to birthing classes, it's just assumed that none will have anything, but a perfect birth. It feels like sending women off into the wilderness blind. If I head out into the wilderness, I will prepare for bad weather or getting injured, because someone warned me of the possibilities and how to be prepared for them. What's that saying? "Hope for the best and plan for the worst".
You don't necessarily expect the worst but it's nice to at least have it in the back of your mind.
They could include a peek at the NICU when you tour the hospital. They could talk about Postpartum Depression and Anxiety and tell you what to look for. It would even be nice if we as a society normalized the need for help with a newborn. That is not a one woman or one man job.
When I am talking with a mom to-be, I always hesitate before talking about the hard parts. I hesitate because I don't want to cause her more fear than she may already feel. But then I remember how I would have felt so much better knowing that my circumstance was one the hospital was prepared to handle. It was one many other women have had and will have.
As for the mom and dad relationship, a little heads up would also be nice. To really get into this I will have to write a seperate post. At my follow-up exam the doctor told me "be sure to pay plenty of attention to dad". That was the whole conversation. Not, dad mey feel left out because of the bond mom and baby have, and if sex is his way of feeling connected, he may feel very rejected. You will not feel like having sex for a while and that's normal and ok. In some ways the couple will need to redefine their relationship. This is all normal. It doesn't mean the relationship is over. "Give yourselves a good year before making any big relationship decisions. " It may take that long for the dust to settle and for thing to start to stabilize. That's a long time and I think it would help for people to have that expectation going in, especially dads.
Dads don't have the physical and hormonal changes. They are not breastfeeding. Their lives change but not in the same way it does for the mom. If no one tells him, there's no way for him to know. And he will be left to come to his own conclusions, which can be dangerous. Like I said, too much to get into all of it here.
Becoming a parent is the most amazing, beautiful thing that has ever happened to me and I would not trade it for anything. Having some warning, education and information about what was to come, would not have changed my decision to have a baby. It wouldn't have scared me away. It's time we give people some credit and stop keeping them in the dark. When some or all of these things do happen, you are left feeling alone and broken and sick because you don't know the same thing is happening for other people too. You don't know that it is an outcome we can prepare for and if everything does go just right, you can celebrate how very lucky they are.
Sara Cole MFT Specializes in working with new moms as they adjust to motherhood. She helps women get through Postpartum depression and anxiety. She helps new parents with their very unique relationship struggles as well. For more information visit her website at www.saracolemft.com or call (619) 316-3171
Sara Cole has been providing mental health services in San Diego for 15 years. Sara specializes in working with women and teen girls to overcome trauma and major life changes, including postpartum depression and anxiety. She is also passionate about providing treatment to those whose lives are affected by the addiction of a loved one.