As we prepare to expand our family and bring a child into this world, whether that be through pregnancy, adoption or surrogacy, we must consider the logistical and physical preparations for parenthood. Nursery decorating, choosing an OBGYN and pediatrician, taking birth preparation classes, planning a baby shower and hopefully paid parental leave for you and your partner are all things we have on our to-do lists before the baby arrives.
All of that is standard and although overwhelming at times, they feel like steps forward in the journey. They are important steps that mark the transition AND make us feel we have control in some way.
The thing about parenting is that it is the antithesis of control. Whether it be trying to conceive, birth or postpartum, it is important to know that most of it won’t be what you expect. As a mental health therapist who specializes in pregnancy and postpartum (aka perinatal mental health), I am here to tell you that the most beautiful, most incredible, and most overwhelming parts of becoming a parent are understanding and accepting your utter loss of control.
Perhaps you are the type of person who has always worked hard, made plans and hopefully succeeded in some goals in your personal and professional life. That mindset is such an asset, especially in the work arena, but in parenting that planning part of yourself can detract from you being flexible, being attuned to your and your baby’s needs and it ultimately puts you more at risk to experience anxiety and depression.
I have some tips below to begin exploring what can help you prepare for the emotional transition you go through during pregnancy, birth and postpartum.
As a therapist for pregnant and postpartum people for many years, the one thing I hear time and time again when people have a second child is that they plan to give themselves much more grace and flexibility when it comes to parenting in general but especially high stress areas of parenting like sleep and feeding. I think if first-time parents could take those lessons learned from others and apply it to themselves, we would have lower rates of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs).
My number one guidance is for people to get used to the idea that your plans, wishes and desires for birth, postpartum and parenting most likely won’t pan out. Yes, that is uncomfortable to hear but by focusing on some core needs like connection and support as opposed to concrete expectations like what type of birth, or sleep approach, or feeding preference you may have, you are more open to parenting the way reality unfolds for you and baby versus your expectations.
Your choice of medical providers is an important decision for you and your baby and I encourage you to be intentional with your choice of OBGYN and pediatrician. Get referrals from friends who have similar values to you, interview potential medical providers and find providers that feel supportive and accessible.
Beyond your medical team, keep in mind that many other disciplines can become part of your care team. Mental health therapists, lactation consultants, doulas, massage therapists, pelvic floor therapists, psychiatrists and chiropractors are just some of the specialists that support women as they are pregnant and postpartum. Plan ahead for possible support you may need by having names of some providers in the community that friends, family or your OB have provided as trusted referrals.
Postpartum Support International (PSI) has a North Carolina chapter too that connects people to local supports and PSI at the national level has a long list of wonderful, free, online support groups for parents. Keep many of these contacts on hand in case you need them. You don’t want to be searching for support when you are in desperate need and don’t have the time or emotional capacity to find them.
Although you may be surprised to hear us use the word grief around pregnancy, birth and postpartum, it is important to know that many people experience grief as their identity expands to include being a parent. As your responsibilities increase and you adjust to the routines of a parent, it is common to grieve the simpler times before being a parent. It is important to allow yourself to feel and name those feelings in order to process the emotions.
It is okay to miss your old life, your old freedoms and the times before life revolved around your parenting. As you get more accustomed to the role, it is also important to find ways to just be you, separate from your parenting self.
A buzz word for a reason, boundaries are crucial to our emotional health. During the transition to parenting, boundaries may look like taking breaks from caretaking, stepping away from the sensory overwhelm of parenting, limiting visitors and making sure that you have supports that step up and prioritize your mental health so you can step back to regroup. Having a conversation with your partner about their needs too is important so you each can make sure that you are supporting each other as you navigate the massive transition to parenting.
Probably the best way to protect yourself from mood struggles during your parenting transition is having lots of self-compassion! That looks like during times of feeling inadequate, like a failure or mood struggles, extending yourself kindness.
By giving yourself permission to not know what to do, ask questions, ask for help and make mistakes, you will be more resilient as you navigate the normal ups and downs of parenting. Each day is a blank slate with our kids and if we extend the permission to ourselves to not always get it right, we will be more emotionally resilient.
These are just some tips on how to have a realistic, flexible and compassionate stance as you prepare for pregnancy, birth and postpartum. By doing so, you are more prepared for the roller coaster of emotions that you will feel as your mind, body and heart adjust to your new identity, lifestyle, and responsibilities.
If you feel like you need individualized support, please connect with a local therapist trained in Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs). Postpartum Support International has a wonderful national resource list of therapists with this specialty and at Anchor Perinatal Wellness, we offer free, walk-in mental health screenings, outpatient therapy as well as intensive-outpatient services.
For more information on those resources go to: https://www.postpartum.net/get-help/provider-directory/ and www.anchorperinatal.com
Veronica Kemeny is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) with a certification in perinatal mental health (PMH-C). She is one of the founders of Anchor Perinatal Wellness, a new perinatal mental health resource in Raleigh. She is originally from Connecticut and moved to NC in 2015. She is bilingual in Spanish and is passionate about supporting parents as they embark on the complicated and fulfilling journey of parenthood. She has a 7 year old daughter and lives with her partner and daughter in Raleigh. In her downtime, she enjoys impromptu dance parties, spending time with family and friends and attending concerts.
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