Well-meaning loved ones try to protect soon-to-be-parents by not sharing the extreme nature of the changes ahead. Most of us remain in the dark until we are in the thick of it. Having a new baby requires a daunting and uncomfortable amount of expectation management, in addition to a complete overhaul of your pre-baby lifestyle. As an educated mental health professional with a background in child development, even most of my expectations were SO wrong! I love Dr. Elaine Aron’s assertion that with every change – whether positive, negative, or neutral – comes a loss, and every loss must be grieved. Grieve your limitations, your anticipations, the information and answers you wish you had, the mistakes you inevitably continue to make, the level of freedom you had before, the fact that your baby no longer fits into their newborn clothes, and the downtime you no longer have. Even in the best of circumstances, new parents experience endless unrecognized losses. It’s absolutely necessary to acknowledge, grieve, and honor the changes.
Many different causes contribute to postpartum mood and anxiety disorders; One large contributor can be the shock and inability to change course that comes with adjusting (or not adjusting) to a new baby.
This quote by Toko-pa Turner emulates the difficulty of understanding legacies and stories in our modern society, which leads to unrealistic expectations and painful reality checks:
“Too much is said about triumph, about the overcoming and rising up like a phoenix from heroic flames. What about the longest part of the story where you’re being cooked by the fire and, while the things you love are being burned down to ashes, you are all the way left behind by the world.
In the old way, you would have heard about what makes a journey an odyssey from your elders. You’d know that you come from a long line of survivors…
And eventually you’d come to know these stories by heart because they’d wriggle down into your bones and take life in the landscape around you — in the valleys and the lakes, and the mountains.
And when your time comes, as it does for all of us – to be cooked – you’d know that you aren’t the first chosen by the fire and it will hurt for as long as it takes, and the only way through is with your heroics humbled.
They say that after you lose something previous, the earth absorbs your grief and then, moist with suffering, new things begin to grown in your people’s likeness.”
We don’t live in a society in which our ancestors teach us. Most of us don’t have that village at the ready. We feel like we’re burning for a very long time in the drastically different early months and years of parenthood. It often and truly seems like the difficult times will never end. For most, inevitably it has to. As children grow, we morph in our own ways again and again.
By letting go of your pre-baby expectations and facing what is, moment-to-moment, you give yourself permission to grow and adapt. If your baby won’t nap according to that age-specific chart you saw in an “expert’s” book, let go of a stranger’s assumptions about your child’s biological rhythms. When it takes you 40 extra minutes to get ready for a trip to the park, don’t fight it; Pay attention to the parade of latecomers to any children’s activity and quickly realize you’re not alone. When the people around you complain because they can’t remember what it was like to succumb to a baby’s schedule, try not to force it and instead honor your and your child’s needs.
Through the struggle and the extensive transition period, beautiful parts of you develop. You may not know what they are for a very long time, but the most transformative construction projects require a slow process, often beginning with complete demolition. Your mind and body will feel chaotic for quite a while, but if you allow it, most people discover tremendous personal growth when they finally integrate parenting into their many personal roles.