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