Stress, Anxiety and Hormones.
Having a new baby is hard! It’s stressful and exciting! It’s heartwarming and nerve-wracking all at the same time. “Normal stress” is a relative term; it varies from person to person. If you are someone who tends towards anxiety, it is not abnormal that you would experience increased anxiety, especially at a time when your body has recently been flooded with hormones and you have dealt with a combination of emotional highs and lows. Even if anxiety isn’t something that you normally struggle with, bringing home a tiny human can result in increased worry and anxiety.
Too much anxiety is classified when your worry, doubt or lack of assuredness begins to compromise your functioning. For example, are you thinking that your baby’s hunger cries are an indication that they are sick with an incurable illness, so you check on them incessantly? Do you feel guilty that going to take a shower and leaving your baby in their crib for a few minutes will lead to a tragedy, so you don’t take a shower? Are you too preoccupied with the thought that you won’t be a good enough parent, so you are avoiding your child all too often? These are warning signs that you may need some help.
Similarly, any mood changes that signal to you that you are not yourself are a sign to check in with someone who can be trusted to provide you with an objective assessment of how you are faring. Increased sadness that is overwhelming and/or distracting, uncontrolled worry and doubt that is all consuming and/or paralyzing, and even heightened anger, rage or irritability that cannot be shaken are all signs that you likely need the support of a professional.
Hormonal imbalances and fluctuations typically last 1-2 months postpartum. Changes related to breastfeeding can last as long as lactation does. If you worry that your mood shifts erratically or have been unbalanced for too long, please communicate with your OB/GYN or clinician about your concerns.
Preparing for Your Child's Arrival.
Although you cannot prepare for every aspect of the postpartum experience, you and your partner, or if you’re a single parent, you and your village can try to anticipate what a tentative schedule might look like for getting basic chores and responsibilities handled. Regardless of your relationship status, knowing that someone can handle some of the daily living tasks can relieve so much pressure. Who can be in charge of meals for those first few weeks? If no one can actually make meals for you, can they have some meals sent to your home? Can they get simple things that you can whip up in a few minutes? Who can help you with transportation? Can your partner agree to be the primary caregiver at a specific time everyday or a few times per week? Thinking of the things that would make you comfortable and trying to arrange for them is a good way to bring support in when you need it. Anticipating what you would like, discussing that with your partner, and advocating for it will help you prepare for the first few weeks. Discussing things of that nature ahead of time is a good way to better ensure that things run smoothly in the early stages.
Similarly, having a discussion before your family gets larger about how to handle tension is good preparation. Discussing when the best time to disagree would be and/or what words could be a warning that a time out is necessary are good conversations to have ahead of time. Setting up a regular post-baby or post-new addition check-in is a great way to be proactive about the adjustments that are necessary; sometimes knowing that you have a
pre-appointed time to discuss the hard things will make any tensions easier to deal with as they arise.
Asking for and Accepting Help.
Think of the things that you do everyday that you believe would be more difficult while juggling a newborn and adjusting to being a new parent or parent of an additional child. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. If someone asks what you’d like, tell them honestly. Maybe it’s grocery shopping, or picking up an older child from school. Asking for help from trusted people is a way of garnering the support that you need. If you’re not sure what to ask for before you bring your new family member home, simply say “I’m not too sure. Can I let you know in a few weeks when I have a better sense?” This gives you time to figure out what your needs are.
The truth is, being a parent is hardly a one person job. Even if you are single, you will need help and there is no shame in that. Learning to recognize your needs and to bring in assistance when you first recognize them is key. If you are not sure how to ask for help, a therapist can help you learn how.
The Challenges and Excitement of Returning to Work.
Going back to work can be extremely stressful. It can also be a relief. You may feel a mixture of things, guilt as well as excitement. This is all normal. Talk to your friends and family members about the transition and what they felt. Ask what helped with the guilt and see if that resonates.
But also, know that in addition to being a parent, you are entitled to have a job or a career. You are entitled to earn money, whether it be a necessity, a desire, or both. You have a right to pursue what interests you and what you feel passionate about whether it be professionally or recreationally. Becoming a parent doesn’t erase or replace your hopes, dreams and aspirations that may not be centered around your role in your family. Being a mother and a career person are not mutually exclusive. Can it be hard to find that balance? Yes. Is it impossible? No. Can you enjoy your role as a mother and a professional? Absolutely, and you deserve to.