Archives >

Postpartum Grief: The Baby Blues (Part Two of Six)

This second article in our six-part series on “Postpartum Grief” is focused on “The Baby Blues.”

The months leading up to the birth of a child are often filled with plans, hopes, dreams, and expectations. Many new parents fantasize about who this little person will be, even before they meet. They may even begin to imagine the wonderful experiences they will share with their child throughout their lifetime. This is often a happy and exciting time for new parents. Few, if any of us, anticipate that we will experience a rollercoaster of difficult emotions following the birth of our child. Some feelings may include sadness, fear, anxiety, and even regret. Most new parents have heard of the “Baby Blues”, but they don’t imagine it would happen to them.

What are the Baby Blues?

The Mayo Clinic lists among its symptoms:

• Mood Swings

• Anxiety

• Sadness

• Irritability

• Feeling Overwhelmed

• Frequent Crying

• Reduced Concentration

• Appetite Problems and,

• Trouble Sleeping

The American Pregnancy Association (APA) states that as many as 80% of new mothers experience these symptoms within four or five days of the birth of their child. The duration of these symptoms is unique to each person, but generally lasts a few days, up to two weeks in some cases. For most, these issues occur sporadically throughout the day. The exact cause of the Baby Blues is unknown, but it’s thought to be triggered by the significant hormonal changes that happen within the mother after giving birth.

My son Leyton was born on December 15, 2016, six days after my 30th birthday. Nothing could have prepared me for what I experienced the first few weeks after his birth. As a Registered Psychologist and Certified Grief Recovery Specialist, I was well aware of the Baby Blues and the conflicting feelings that may arise after having a baby, but I certainly didn’t think it would happen to me. I consider myself to be very self-aware, attuned to my emotions, adaptable to change, and I have an incredible husband and supportive family. I felt generally prepared for my son to be born. One might say I had my “ducks in a row” for this next transition. I thought having a baby would be a “break” from my fast-paced lifestyle as a wife, business owner, university instructor, and certification trainer. Boy was I wrong. It was the farthest thing from a break!

Twenty-four hours after my son was born, we were discharged from the hospital and sent home. Upon arriving home that first evening, I began to feel an overwhelming fear and vulnerability that I wouldn’t know how to take care of my son or know what he needed when he cried; and he cried a lot. There was no manual or set of guidelines to follow and that terrified me. All of the intellectual knowledge I had read about was completely useless. I was given the responsibility of taking care of a helpless and dependent little human, with absolutely no experience.

The sense of loss of control, loss of independence, and loss of freedom I felt, was like nothing I had experienced before. No longer did my husband and I dictate when we ate, slept, showered, cleaned, relaxed, or made plans. All I wanted to do was wash my hair, drink hot coffee, and take a nap! I had fleeting thoughts that we had made a mistake and that I had ruined my life. I loved my life before Leyton was born, and I worried that I would never feel happiness or joy again. These thoughts really terrified me and I am grateful I had the emotional safety in my marriage to talk honestly with my husband.

The first six days were the hardest for me. I cried often, and sometimes for no reason at all. I felt exhausted, sad, numb, anxious, vulnerable, and afraid that my husband was going to abandon our family. This was a massive transition for the both of us and I feared it would be too much for him to handle. On the contrary, my husband felt a deep love and compassion for me and an incredible responsibility to our new family. The last thing he would do is up and leave us! I knew my thoughts were irrational but I couldn’t help the way I was feeling.

After the first six days, things began to significantly improve. As the days and weeks passed, I felt more and more like myself, I adapted well to my new role as a mother, and I experienced a profound love, joy, adoration, and appreciation for my son I have never felt before in my life. My husband and I have developed a deeper love for each other, and we couldn’t imagine our lives without our son. Leyton is almost four months old now, and it feels like an eternity since I gave birth. The transition has been both challenging and rewarding, and it is the loving and non-judgmental support I have received from my husband, family, and friends that has carried me through it all.

The Baby Blues do not discriminate based on age, race, culture, socioeconomic status, education, occupation, or marital status. Although I felt fully prepared for my transition into motherhood, there was nothing I could have done differently to avoid the normal and natural thoughts and feelings I had following my son’s birth. My hope is that in sharing my story, other new mothers will feel validated in their experience and not alone on their journey. I am grateful for my experience today because it allows me to truly empathize and relate to other new mothers who may go through a similar experience.

You may be surprised to read this, that these very symptoms that many new parents experience after having a baby, are the same symptoms experienced by grieving people following emotional loss of any kind. You may never thought of having a baby as a grieving experience.

While the vast majority of information related to the Baby Blues focuses on the mother, the father can experience many of these same symptoms as well. Since these men have not undergone the same hormonal changes, or the physical stress of giving birth, the feelings they may be experiencing are often overlooked. Fathers are often told that they need be “be strong” for the new mother and the baby, and therefore are more likely to suppress and bury these feelings, just as most people tend to suppress any negative feelings related to grief. Any feelings they experience, other than love and joy, are often minimized by others.

Your family, friends, and even people in the medical community may give a variety of logical reasons why you might be experiencing negative feelings after the birth of a child. The problem is that emotions are not logical. No matter how often people tell you that “you should be happy, because…” it really does not make you feel better. Those statements just tend to encourage you to bury your feelings, rather than share them.

Since this symptomology parallels that of grief, there are actions that you can take to help move you successfully through this process. You can take action to say goodbye to your old life, prior to the birth of your child, which will free you to fully embrace this new life, new relationship and new responsibility. This will free you of any regrets you might secretly hold about giving up old freedoms, rather than stuffing those feelings deep inside where they may persist.

The Grief Recovery Method, as detailed in “The Grief Recovery Handbook,” is all about dealing with changes in your life. Even positive changes can bring moments of sadness, since they are changes from familiar behavior patterns. This is a step-by-step process to move forward and be better able to experience the joys of both the past and the future. By putting these principals to work for you, you can help yourself move forward and even strengthen your relationship.

The advantage of taking this action, to deal with any sadness or anxiety that you might be experiencing after the birth, is that it will also give you the tools to move beyond any other past losses you might have experienced during your life.

Remember, grief isn’t just about deaths that may have touched you on an emotional level. It’s related to any relationship that was not what you had hoped it might have been. How often have you heard people say that they didn’t wish to repeat any mistakes their parents had made? Now think about how often you have seen them repeat those mistakes? Taking Grief Recovery action can actually help you to avoid falling into this trap! It will give you the necessary tools to make changes in how you approach new situations so that you can be that even better parent that you truly want to become.

Postpartum Grief and the Baby Blues are a very real thing, and fortunately there are positive emotional actions you can take to move through both this experience and any other grief issues that have impacted your life.

This article was written by Ashley Mielke, Owner & Director of The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre and Steve Moeller, Certified Grief Recovery Specialist® and Trainer at The Grief Recovery Institute.

Visit www.healmyheart.ca for information about our grief counselling services and Grief Recovery Method® Programs. 

How The Grief Recovery Method® Changed My Life

I first learned about Grief and Loss during a senior level psychology class at Concordia University taught by Registered Psychologist and Owner of The Grief & Trauma Healing Center, Ashley Mielke. I was astonished by the powerful information she taught us about grief and recovering from loss. I quickly learned that everything I thought grief was, was not. I intuitively knew that I would pursue Grief Recovery® for my future career.

After completing the psychology course, I truly believed that because I had learned all of the intellectual information about grief and recovering from loss, that I could apply that new knowledge to my life and my losses would be healed. Well, I was wrong. After completing my Certification Training in The Grief Recovery Method® Program this month, I realized I was still emotionally incomplete with the loss I thought I had healed from. It wasn’t until I had taken the actions of the program myself, that I became complete with my loss. Through the training, I personally witnessed and experienced the transformational power of The Grief Recovery Method Program®.

Grief is not intellectual.

Everything that I have been taught while completing my psychology degree has had a focus on intellectual knowledge and application. I have learned several theories, read numerous textbooks, and written countless exams. What has not been emphasized in my education, is the power and significance of human emotion, vulnerability, matters of the heart, and emotional application.

Through my personal experience of being a griever, I quickly became aware of how emotionally useless the intellectual information I learned was. It did not help me when others would respond to my grief with advice or intellectual comments.  I did not like being told what to do or what worked for them. When I was grieving, and was the most vulnerable and emotional I had ever felt, all I wanted was to feel heard and to have a safe place to express my emotions.

Grief is emotional, not intellectual. I appreciate that sharing your losses and grief with others can be very scary. Having had the privilege of exploring and sharing my losses with perfect strangers in a safe environment during my training, gave me insight into the emotional challenges (and courage) that my clients may face while completing The Grief Recovery Method® Program with myself. Without having gone through the program myself, I know I would have a difficult time helping my clients connect their minds to their hearts, to truly heal from their losses. I appreciate how important it is for me to be a “heart with ears” for my clients as they courageously take the actions of The Grief Recovery Method® Program. Ashley Mielke, Canadian Certification Trainer for The Grief Recovery Method® taught me, I can only take my clients as far in their healing and recovery, as I have gone with my own.

Discovery is not recovery.

You can have all of the intellectual information available, read every book, and have a deep understanding of your losses, but that is not enough. Action must be taken to heal your heart. I learned this through personal experience. I have known the intellectual information about Grief Recovery® for a few years, and even taught others about what I have learned. I thought that knowing the information was enough to complete my losses. Discovery masqueraded my recovery. After completing The Grief Recovery Method® Program, I learned the significance of taking new action, in order to attain completion with my losses. You can read The Grief Recovery Handbook, but recovery is achieved by taking the actions of the program. It is like reading a recipe; you have the information and steps to bake a cake, but the cake will not bake itself until you choose to take action.

A group environment allowed me to feel safe and heard.

I had the amazing privilege of working with 16 incredible people in my Certification Training. With the exception of knowing our facilitator, Ashley Mielke, I walked into the training on Friday morning knowing none of the other participants, and walked out on the following Monday afternoon with lifelong friendships. Participating in a group environment and sharing my story with others was a profound emotional experience. Although we were all very unique and different, every one of us shared two common goals; to learn how to help ourselves heal and recover from loss, and to learn how to help others heal and recover from loss.

When I was sharing my losses with the group, I felt heard, without judgment and intellectual analysis. At times in our daily lives, there are distractions like cell phones, cooking dinner, watching TV, or other activities that are going on when we are attempting to communicate our feelings with important others in our lives. These distractions can leave us feeling unheard, emotionally unsafe, and that we are not important enough to be listened to. In a room full of people I had just met, I felt safe to share my losses and that my feelings were worth being heard. Everyone was listening to me like a “heart with ears” and were empathetic and compassionate to my experiences.

I look forward to taking what I have learned both personally and professionally, and applying it in my facilitation of the 8-Week Grief Recovery Method® Grief Support Group to provide that same opportunity for others to feel heard, without judgement, criticism, and analysis, in a safe and structured group environment.

The Grief Recovery Method® Program has changed my perspective on life, relationships, and effective recovery from loss. My experience working within a group environment was life changing. I was passionate about pursuing Grief Recovery® before my training and even more so now after having completed the program myself. I am astounded with how powerful the program actually is. I feel more passionate and inspired than ever before to work with grieving people and to participate in their life-altering journey to recovery.

Click here for information about our free information sessions and upcoming groups.

This article was written by Gina Baretta, Certified Grief Recovery Specialist® and Ashley Mielke, Owner & Director at The Grief & Trauma Healing Centre. Visit www.healmyheart.ca for information about our grief counselling services and Grief Recovery Method® Programs.