I was so excited to have my first baby nine years ago. The pregnancy was planned and desperately wanted. I remember excitedly folding baby clothes and putting them away in the nursery, eager for the day to come when I could dress my baby in adorable outfits. I diligently counted each week of my pregnancy, happily comparing the size of my baby to various fruits and vegetables. He started as a blueberry, and now he’s a squash! I loved feeling him kicking in my belly, a tangible reminder of the way my life was about to change.
As excited and prepared as I was, I was not ready for the complete shift in identity that I was about to undergo. I did not anticipate the incredible toll that chronic sleep deprivation would take on my mental health. I also did not expect to grieve the loss of the life I had before and to wonder why on earth I had decided to give it all up. I felt as though my world had turned upside down, and I could not find my bearings in my new role. I loved my baby completely, but I was overwhelmed, exhausted, and lonely.
Perinatal mental health is such an important topic, and yet it is not talked about enough. Mothers may feel ashamed of their experience as if it lessens the power of their love for their baby. Partners may be confused or unsure of how to support their partner, or they may be experiencing difficulty themselves.
As prepared as I was for the birth of my baby, I wish I had been more prepared for the confusing (but totally normal!) emotions that I experienced. If you are expecting a baby or in the trenches of new motherhood, or if you love someone who is, here are some ways you can support your emotional well-being as you welcome your new child:
1. Say things out loud. Shame thrives in the darkness and shrinks in the light. When we share our internal experiences with others, we may find that we are not as alone as we thought.
2. Take time away from your baby. Get outside for a walk or grab a coffee with a friend while your partner or a trusted family member watches the baby. Remember what you liked to do before you had a baby, and try to find a way to fit it into your new life.
3. Find ways to connect with other parents. This may be a mom-and-baby yoga class, swimming lessons, or a community playgroup. Reducing isolation is crucial in maintaining your mental well-being.
4. Say yes to help. Accept any and all offers of prepared meals, and childcare so that you can catch up on sleep, or help with the laundry. We are not meant to do this alone.
5. Reach out for extra support if you feel that you may be experiencing depression or anxiety. If you are experiencing chronic feelings of sadness or worry, and these feelings are making it difficult to participate in your life and care for your baby, there is help available. Reach out to your doctor and/or a therapist to get the support you need.
You’re not alone – so many have walked this path before you. You don't have to have all the answers - in fact, no one expects you to except yourself.
Therapy can be a wonderful opportunity for new parents to sort through their complicated emotions, develop new strategies for coping with stress, and feel less alone in their struggles. If you are having a hard time adjusting to parenthood, consider seeing a therapist for support. After all, the most loving thing we can do for our babies is to work towards our own well-being.
If you are worried about your mental health, please visit BC Women's site HERE for more information on common perinatal mental health concerns.