This week, I’m excited to feature Emily Griffin, MSW, LICSW, LCSW-C. Emily is a therapist with experience in perinatal mental health and parenting. Below are her insights on some of common challenges new parents face that often catch them by surprise.
I work with new and expecting parents in my private practice. Here are a few common difficulties that parents express when I work with them. I share this in hopes of helping someone else know that they are not alone and to help expecting couples understand that there are proactive supportive discussions that can be had to prepare for the postpartum adjustment. These are some of the things we talk about in my Prenatal Self-Care class.
- The impact of sleep deprivation. Lack of sleep makes you feel depressed. Your body aches. Your brain is on delay or foggy or both. Your patience is short. It’s hard to muster energy to go out and enjoy what YOU want to do, let alone, what your partner wants to do or whatever else you need todo[EB1] . Giving the benefit of doubt to each other is difficult, but very important when sleep deprivation is ever-present. Making big decisions when you’re in this state is a bad idea because the rational part of your brain can be harder to access, and you’re more emotional. Many parents have a hard time considering a postpartum doula or night nurse (most often due to cost), but they are an invaluable resource to help with getting our basic needs met during this critical time when we’re feeling vulnerable and sometimes depleted.
- The frequency of communication required around logistics and navigating challenges related to baby. Moms quickly learn, in many cases, that infants don’t sleep as easily as they thought, breastfeeding isn’t as seamless as their friends make it look, and it’s not as easy to find time, strength, energy, or desire to get your health or body to “bounce back” as celebrities make it seem. In short, there are so many things to think about and talk about with every facet of life when you are recovering from birth, caring for an infant, and adjusting to the role of parent and caregiver. The stakes are high and the pressure of this huge responsibility seeps into day-to-day conversation in frustrating ways. As we navigate these challenges, we seek input from the internet, the doctor, our friends, neighbors, and family. All of this information can be hard to reconcile with our own feelings and the feelings and opinions of our partners. Weighing out the information and views from these well-intentioned sources can make it difficult to even find how you really feel about what’s going on and what you should do. Finding the time to talk through all of this with your partner? That’s an additional challenge in and of itself. Bills still have to get paid. Be honest about where you’re struggling and seek specific support from your partner. Try to listen to their complaints and updates without judgment- a team approach is necessary but difficult to maintain when your partner (or you) feels attacked or unsupported.
- How much life slows down with a baby. It takes AT LEAST 5 times as long to prepare to leave home with a baby who has no health concerns. Add in complications for mom or baby and many outings nixed before they begin. Many parents reevaluate their maternity/paternity leave plans and career path during the postpartum period due to how much the pace of their day changes (in addition to how they feel about the baby, how fulfilling their jobs are,etc[EB2] .). It is not uncommon for parents to be on different pages about how to cope with this change of pace and new questions about life plans. How you internalize your ability to navigate these demands/shifts may lead to feelings of inadequacy, falling short of real or perceived expectations. When you feel like you’re not a good mom, it’s easy to be hard on yourself and not very connected with your baby or your partner.
- How much you need to depend on other people. Many of us are used to functioning independently. But when you become a parent, you realize how much that “village” is required. Some babies relax enough to allow a tired mom to take a shower when no one else is home, but there are lots of new parents who quickly see the need for someone to step in to cook a meal, take care of the pets, go grocery shopping, hold the baby so mom can take a break, or just provide a listening ear. Enlisting your support team prior to delivery to discuss who is willing to help in specific ways is a great first step. Then considering other supports like a therapist, lactation consultant, postpartum doula, or housekeeper when appropriate is the next layer of support and important to engage before you feel like you’ve hit your lowest point.
Entering into parenthood is a great adventure with lots of unknowns that can shake any relationship. With the right tools and a perspective that allows for reasonable expectations, this transition can be a solidifying learning experience that has positive ripple effects for decades.
Emily Griffin, MSW, LICSW, LCSW-C is a native Washingtonian, wife, and mother of four sons ages 3-17 in a blended family. She is the founder of Happy Parents, Happy Babies, LLC, a private practice specializing in perinatal mental health and parenting support for individuals, couples, & families. You can contact Emily at [email protected] or learn more at www.happyparentshappybabies.com.