Before I could close my gown after delivering my baby, I had a room full of family members and friends “awing” at the sight of my baby girl. It was at that moment, I realized it was no longer about me. After asking several members in the room for some water without any response, I finally gathered the strength to lift myself up and get the water myself. This was the start of a very different role in my life.
The shift from being pregnant to becoming a mother happens in a matter of seconds and yet, few people emphasize the importance of preparing new mothers for this change. Sleep deprivation, 30 pounds of unwanted weight, cracked nipples, and a screaming baby make it nearly impossible to filter and organize one’s thoughts in the days, weeks and months after giving birth. At a time when a mother needs the most support and attention, she is often ignored and has to overcome her own pain, worries and thoughts and take care of her infant. However, there are ways to mentally prepare you and your family for such a shift before the chaos begins.
First: It is essential to have a plan for the first few weeks at home with your baby. Most new parents can’t imagine life with a newborn while pregnant so planning for it is nearly impossible. From my experience, I believe that each family should have an “emergency list.” Ideally, the list should consist of professionals who could help if/when you begin to feel overwhelmed, emotionally or physically or both. Having specific resources lined up before delivering will give you the security you need when you first come home from the hospital. It is important to have a lactation consultant, psychologist and nurse on your list of people to call. When searching for help, make sure to choose individuals you feel comfortable stripping down to nothing in front of, both physically and emotionally. New mothers often stretch themselves thin before asking for help. Remember, you are not a bad mother if you ask for help, but you could be a happier mother if you do.
Second: Writing down your thoughts, questions and worries can be life altering. Writing is very therapeutic and extremely useful in order to keep track of your baby’s busy schedule. After coming home from the hospital I felt overwhelmed, as my mind would race with questions and worries. I was unable to be present with my baby because worries about feeding, pooping and sleeping were bombarding my thoughts. Once I began to write everything down, I came to realize that the same worries and thoughts were often repeating themselves and I was able to conquer them more readily. In addition, I began to feel in charge of my baby and myself. As you begin to write you will learn how powerful your thoughts and fears can be and you will begin to take control of them.
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Finally, during a time when you have very few opportunities to sleep and rest, exercise may be the last thing on your “to-do” list. Although exercise is not recommended until 6-8 weeks after delivery, light exercise such as “strolling” is vital for your physical and emotional health. Since close to 75% of women experience some kind of postpartum blues after having their baby, exercise can be the best treatment for this. Taking a stroll outside with your baby or by yourself each day will provide you with time and space to clear your head. Soon enough your daily strolls will turn into lunches with your child and playdates with your friends.
Two weeks after having my daughter I remember my own mother bringing me a sandwich into bed while I was attached to a breast pump. She slowly lifted the sandwich toward my mouth and said, “chew.” I remember feeling irritated and thinking, “I am 28-years-old and my mom is force feeding me.” I was unwilling to accept the help even though I needed it terribly. My most important piece of advice to all new mothers is to accept help in whatever form it arrives, because new mothers more than anything need to be mothered.
Marianna Strongin is a co-founder of Parenthood Psychology Practice, a mental health practice that specializes in supporting new and expectant parents. She has a doctorate in clinical psychology and has been dedicated to studying all aspects of parenthood including infertility and perinatal mood disorders. Dr. Strongin is also a mother and resides in Manhattan. Please visit her website – strongintherapy.com/aboutme/.