Welcome Home: Emotionally Preparing for New Motherhood

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Written by Kelly Couture, MEd, LPC-S

The idea of having a new baby can bring about many emotions; excitement, fear, joy, anxiety, and uncertainty, to name a few.  Many new mothers and fathers decide to take classes to prepare for their new family member or seek guidance from friends, family, blogs, and webpages.  Obtaining as much information as possible is definitely recommended prior to bringing a new child home in order to educate on basic care, “what to expect” and a wide array of other topics new parents may be interested in.  

Personally, I remember quite literally yelling, “this should be illegal!” when I walked through the door with my daughter,  a beautiful and perfect baby girl.  We had taken all of the pregnancy classes that were offered through our local hospital.  I had researched, had talked to as many people as I could and felt so prepared to bring her home before going home from the hospital.  The apartment was child proofed, we had the carseat tested and I aired out her mattress for months.

As soon as we actually got home, she started crying. I immediately sobbed, “WHAT DO I DO!???”  I began rushing around, looking for blankets, binkies, anything to help her.  Nobody had prepared me for that moment of coming home and what oddities would follow in the months to come.

We called her pediatrician.  Calmly he explained that she was likely hungry, told me to give her part of a tiny bottle the hospital had sent home, and said that I probably was not producing enough milk for her yet.  Guilty and hysterical, I found the bottle and prepared it just like the instructions told me to.  I didn’t know I would NEED those bottles!  Who said I would need bottles!!??  She drank and fell quickly asleep.  I was in tears.  I felt so unprepared, ashamed and inept.  I felt like a sham and that I had already let her down as a mom.  But, at the time, I didn’t know that was a common feeling.

When we are preparing to become new parents, we often read the books, take the classes and develop an “I can do this” attitude.  But, there is so much that people do not tell us.  Here are a couple of key points that I have found.  

1) When you give birth, you may look at your baby and not feel “something” immediately.  Many people are elated at getting to see their new family member for the first time.  However, many people may not feel that, which can lead to incredible self doubt and guilt.  Keep in mind, this is a tiny stranger.  They will be a new roommate you have perhaps talked to but never actually met and then “BAM”.  There they are.  It is common, especially after the trauma of birth, to feel some ambivalence.  Please do not judge or condemn yourself.  Allow yourself time with your new family member to get to know them, their quirks and developing personalities.  If you feel numb for a prolonged period of time, consider speaking with a therapist (especially if you are beginning to feel more than “blue”).

2) The average amount of disability time following an uncomplicated vaginal birth is 6 weeks.  Only about one in four parents may have access to paid family leave after having a child.  And, one in four mothers in the US typically needs to return to work within as little time as 10 days after giving birth, often due to finances. Returning to work is very stressful when you have a newborn, especially after the bonding has taken place! Many people do not talk about the guilt, shame and terror of returning to work when you want to spend more time with your child.  For me, it was very traumatic.  I was grateful that my boss was understanding and gave me a light load upon my return, 9 weeks after I gave birth to my child. But, I couldn’t concentrate.  All I could think of was her.  My message is that preparing for the return to work by talking with someone (a therapist or loved one) about your concerns beforehand is important.  Also, make some time to process after you have returned to work.  Everyone says, “it gets easier”. It does.  But, it takes time.  Be kind to yourself while you are in this period of flux.

3) If you are going to send your child to daycare, be prepared that you may feel anxiety and fierce, almost otherworldly, protectiveness that you never knew existed.  I interviewed many daycares before my daughter was born and picked one that I felt confident in.  But, after she began going to daycare, I felt suspicious of all of the workers.  I questioned if they had any mal-intent and if they knew what they were doing, despite being moms and working in a daycare for over 10 years each.  The first day I picked her up, she smelled WRONG to me, like the daycare. I took her home and wiped her off then snuggled her to me as though my life depended on it to get her normal smell on her.  We hear so much about “mama bear” instincts.  But, it isn’t often that we talk about otherwise seemingly innocuous things that will set those instincts into overdrive.

 

4) Your identity changes after you have a child.  I was no longer just “Kelly”, a therapist, a friend, a wife, etc…  I was my child’s mom.  Parents and teachers no longer called me by my name, rather, I was now “ mom”.  The loss of identity can be profound.  You may no longer go out with friends as much.  You may neglect self care in order to care for the baby.   I no longer watched the shows I enjoyed, but I knew all of the words to each Elmo cartoon.  If you decide to breastfeed, your life is determined by feedings and times you have to pump.   This is something to consider before your child is born in order to make that adjustment easier.

Here are some tips on preparing for bringing home a new baby for the first time:

1) Ask questions!  When caring for a child, there is absolutely no dumb question!  I asked people in the diaper aisle in Target about preferences and experiences and didn’t think twice about it.  Use every resource at your disposal!  If you will be returning to work, ask others who they use for daycare and look on your state’s daycare regulatory webpage for any infractions or legal action which may have been taken toward a center.  Tour day care centers unannounced if possible and a couple of months before the baby is due, and take a sheet of questions (ex: are the workers CPR certified/first aid certified, is there a background check/drug screening on workers, what are the fees, is there a wait list, are there cameras to watch what is going on in the classroom, etc?)

2) Reach out for help when you need it. Call your pediatrician when you have concerns day or night! Do not feel guilty about calling them at 3am if you have a concern you have about your child’s wellbeing at the moment.  The office should have a provider on call just for these reasons.  Call a friend or family member if you need a shower or just need a break.  They say “it takes a village” to raise children and it is much easier to get through the rough days if you are able to tap into your support system.  If someone offers to bring food, let them and do not worry about letting them know if you have any dietary restrictions so that you can actually eat. 

3) Trust your gut!  Use your “mother’s intuition”.  If you are concerned about something, the worst thing that could happen is you seek assistance and it turns out to be a minor issue. Remember, there are no stupid questions! So, again, call your pediatrician.  If the matter appears serious, take your child to the emergency department.  My husband took our 4 day old son to the emergency department because we had concerns he wasn’t urinating as much as we thought he should.  Luckily, the moment the doctor removed his diaper for an examination, he urinated like a champ.  We look back on this and would have done the same thing all over again because we were worried.  

4)  You do not need to be a superwoman.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like you need to get everything done while your child sleeps as you are very busy when your child is awake.  However, the dishes aren’t going anywhere.  After giving birth, the body needs time to heal.  If you decide to breastfeed, the body needs rest for proper milk production.  The mind especially needs rest as a new parent because sleep deprivation is a very real thing and can lead to anxiety, depression, irritability, etc.  

As much as you can, just be present in each wonderful, terrifying, messy, imperfectly perfect moment in this new chapter of life in order to enjoy the exciting new relationship you have in front of you with your new child.  Congratulations!  


Kelly Couture works at our Frisco and Dallas offices in Texas. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor (Supervisor). She has practiced in the field of mental health for 20+ years and has experience not only with providing direct behavioral health care to individuals, couples, families and groups, but also in supervising counseling interns and licensed clinicians.