At some point during your pregnancy, either through your own reading or contact with health care professionals, you have probably encountered the term “baby blues”. Normally, this term is used to describe a period of sadness or weepiness that may be present during the first few weeks of the postpartum period. But what are these blues really all about?
While often mentioned in a rather post- script fashion, the term is seldom expanded upon. Part of the reason is that our culture and society are reluctant to couple anything negative with the term baby. “Baby blues” similar to the color it conjures in the mind, is a soft and passive term. It’s rather like the background color of childbirth, present but unacknowledged; indeed something we think (hope) will just fade away. After all, isn’t this the best thing that will ever happen to you? Aren’t you blessed? What more could you ask for?
But for many women, the “baby blues” might be better described as “baby shock”. This is largely because while they, and perhaps every one around them, have spent months planning and preparing to care for and meet all of the needs of the baby, little attention has been given to the anticipation of the needs of the mother. Indeed, we are hesitant to frame the mother as needy. We are relying on her to literally “shoulder” the baby with a sense of pride, accomplishment and euphoria just like all those pictures in the magazines say she will.
There are, in fact, many books and other resources that have unveiled, and some quite humorously, the challenges of adjusting to physical changes in the body and the problems and inconveniences, and embarrassments they cause. These resources serve to prepare the mother, and can be very useful in helping her tone down expectations about her physical level of functioning after delivery. However, there are very few resources that prepare her for the mental and emotional challenges: feelings of anxiety, overwhelm, loneliness and sadness. These are not popular topics. No one wants to “expect” them. More poignantly, these feelings create needs for the mother that no one has been preparing for. When they arise, they can take everyone, especially the mother, by surprise.
The reality is that these feelings are far more common and pervasive among mothers than we care to talk about. As such, they deserve much more focus, attention and preparation. While we may hope they will simply fade away, left unaddressed, the mental and emotional needs of the mother can lead to significant problems in functioning not only for her, but also for the entire family system. It is crucial to prioritize these needs equally with those of the new baby. There is nothing selfish or shameful about taking care of yourself and honestly addressing your feelings and emotions. It is the best thing you can do as a mother, and it is vital to you and the baby.
One good way to prepare yourself is to locate a postpartum support group prior to your delivery. Many times they will be offered by your hospital or birthing center. Gathering your facts and information before the baby arrives will put you in a much better position to take action if and when you need it.
If you feel the need for something beyond the scope of the group, I can help you. I am Licensed Clinical Social Worker with over 15 years of experience in the mental health field and I am also a mother of three. I work with mothers to help them navigate and make sense of the array of feeling associated with pregnancy and child birth and to create a plan to get the care they need and feel better. If you are feeling, scared, anxious, overwhelmed and unsupported, I can help you to address these emotions in a safe, confidential and supportive environment.
Sarah Edmunds is Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Rockville, MD specializing in postpartum adjustment/depression and the needs of adult caregivers of the aging. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-710-9470.
Becoming a mother is supposed to be blissful, natural and instinctive. But for many women, that is not their experience. Women have an internalized sense of expectation that might have been learned from her family or from the culture that surrounds her that says that a woman must be the keeper of the home as well as the nurturer of the children. While partners and fathers have taken on more of that shared load, at the end of the day, many women still feel it.
At one end of the spectrum, when this message is internalized, new moms might feel anxious or depressed when they see that they are not able to keep up with the perceived expectation of “doing it all.” It is OK if your laundry doesn’t get done or if the dishes aren’t washed. It’s also OK to have carry out for dinner most nights. Lowering your expectations is the first step to feeling more balanced.
As a psychologist who works with mothers with post-partum mood disorders as well as moms adjusting to this new role, feeling that the world is on your shoulders is a shared experience. Asking for help is not only OK, but also a wonderful tool to help you establish equilibrium. No one says you have to do it alone.