“What have we done?” I remember thinking a couple of days after giving birth to my first. My pregnancy was planned, we were excited to become parents, I enjoyed (for the most part) being pregnant and giving birth so I thought that I would be nothing but happy when our son arrived into the world. And I was at first but after a couple of days the Baby Blues set in and I thought “OMG we made a mistake having kids, can’t I just put him back for another week so I can just adjust to the idea of having a kid”? And at the same time my heart was bursting with love, it was a real mind f*ck!
The Overwhelm of Having a Baby
It’s hard to really understand the magnitude of the responsibility of having a baby until you welcome a baby into your own world. You are now responsible for this little human who is completely 100% dependant on you and that realization can feel very overwhelming. All new parents experience some level of anxiety, which I think worries some parents because they then think that something is wrong and they’re not coping. The anxiety is there to alert you to possible dangers in your environment so that you are extra careful with baby. For example, you might worry about dropping the baby down the stairs, so when you carry baby down the stairs you hold them a bit tighter. In this example, the anxiety and anxious thoughts are very effective because you took action to keep baby safe. Anxiety, and intrusive thoughts are very common, and we don’t need to fear them or think something is wrong with us if we have these thoughts. If they are overwhelming you though, reach out for help.
Welcoming a new member to the family (not only the first baby but also the 2nd or 3rd or beyond) is a massive transition for everyone on the family level as well as the internal system level. Our family or couple or individual routines change, we usually have less time for our own self-care and hobbies and there is often grief in missing our “old life”. We can’t just get up and go whenever we want or without bringing a bunch of supplies with us! Things can seem harder, more complicated or to take more time. And our family has to adjust to this new baby. Siblings have to share their parents, their space, their time. As parents we are getting to know this new being, they’re likes and dislikes, their sleeping and eating patterns and their different cries (or different ways of communicating). All of this is a big learning curve for a family system.
Integrating Your New Parent Parts
On an individual level, we all have different parts to our internal system; we have the Self, our employee part, our partner part, our funny part, our manager parts that like to keep tabs on the system, our diagnoses parts like my ADHD part, and on and on (these are just examples, we are all different). We have many many parts, and they all try and function in a cohesive system with the Self in the leadership role (more on “parts work” in a later post). And when we become parents our new parent parts have to develop and integrate into the system. This is also a big learning curve and an adjustment for our inner system. This can take time and when a new part comes into the system all of the parts have to shift to accommodate this part and that’s when we feel things like grief and sadness and anxiety. We can take time to develop our parent parts in conjunction with our true self. Our self holds our values, our likes and dislikes and so developing our parenting parts with our values as the anchor can help us to settle into this new role.
How Do We Adjust and Stay Sane?
I think what can be really helpful is acknowledging how tough this transition is for parents. Even if you wanted to be a parent your whole life and you were super excited to welcome this baby into your world, you will still have to adjust to this new role and it’s ok if and when you make mistakes (because you will) and it’s ok if you feel other feelings besides pure joy (because you will) and it’s ok if you feel grief for your old life (because you probably will). If we acknowledge how hard this is with compassion, we can get through this transition a little less stressed.
Another way to cope with this change is to talk and share with friends or family or your partner about what you are feeling and asking them about their experiences. Having these conversations can be so helpful in normalizing the feelings and experiences that we actually have in the perinatal period. So often we worry that our experience isn’t what it “should be” or “what other parents experience” which can weigh heavy on us and make us feel like we’re not coping or we’re doing something wrong. Those types of thoughts can cause us a lot of distress in an already vulnerable period in our lives.
And lastly, if we can anchor in our values, and remember that we are trying our best with the skills we have, we can survive this transition period. Trusting ourselves that somehow we will figure it out, and that when we make a mistake or face challenging times (because we will), we can also figure it out; can be some very powerful coping thoughts.
Let me know in the comments what was an unexpected difficulty in your transition to becoming a parent!