Expectant Parents Mental Health Check-In with The Motherhood Center

Categories:: Newsflash Mental Health

Park Slope Parents and The Motherhood Center held two mental health check-ins in 2020 and 2021 for expectant parents. Thanks to everyone who came! Here are some takeaways from both sessions that may be relevant to all of you.

For more, check out the Park Slope Parents Birthing Toolkit, which has tons of resources and words of wisdom to help you through pregnancy and delivery in the time of coronavirus—including a full section on Caring for Your Mental Health.

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Becoming a parent is one of the most amazing, beautiful, wonderful things you will ever do. It can also be the hardest. These truths are not mutually exclusive. Below are 10 Common Myths of Parenthood that you may want to think through and work on letting go of before you welcome your child.

 

Parenthood Myth #1: I will experience my exact birth plan or give birth “naturally.” If things don’t happen like you expect, it’s okay to be disappointed. Strive for flexibility, and make a Birth Wish List rather than a “Plan.”

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Parenthood Myth #2: Breastfeeding is easy and natural, and all good parents exclusively breastfeed. In truth, breastfeeding is challenging for many parents. Some people experience pain when feeding, cracked nipples, undersupply, or oversupply. Keeping up with these challenges and keeping the baby fed may feel like a full-time job. Remember—fed is best, whether that means breastfeeding only, formula only, or a combination of both.

 

A few things that can make breastfeeding easier are hydrating (keep bottles of water all over your house!), snacking on protein like nuts and hard-boiled eggs, working with a lactation consultant (have names and contact info of consultants on hand BEFORE you go to the hospital), and letting your partner help wherever possible.

 

PSP has a roster of member-recommended lactation consultants to get you started.

 

Parenthood Myth #3: Parenthood is natural, easy and blissful, like all the commercials and social posts that surround me. Social media projects a picture of perfect parents, and people tend to post only photos that represent the best parts of their parenting journey. Being bombarded with these images may make you feel shameful or like a failure, but in truth you’re just experiencing REAL parenthood. Take photos of the great times, and take photos of the not-so-great times too.

 

 

We’re all going to do this differently. Social comparison can be a hindrance to your mental health. If another couple is doing it differently than you, that’s okay. Limit your exposure to social media if it doesn’t feel good. You do YOU and be where you are.

 

Parenthood Myth #4: I will automatically 100% love and bond with my baby upon birth, and this feeling will be unconditional. If that “moment” doesn’t happen for you right away, it’s okay. It takes time to develop a relationship with ANYBODY—if you’re partnered, for instance, did you fall in love the first time you met your partner? Emotions can be particularly fraught when it comes to falling in love with a baby who has turned your world upside down and changed your identity, freedom, and flexibility. It can be difficult to feel so much love toward someone who has caused so much upheaval.

 

 

Throw away the idea of “should.” The thoughts in your head that say “I should feel blissful” or “I should be madly in love with my baby” can be ways of talking yourself out of your feelings. Instead, allow yourself to experience those feelings, accept them, and breathe through them.

 

That said, if it has been weeks and months and you don’t feel yourself bonding with your baby, you may want to seek support for symptoms of PMADs from an organization like The Motherhood Center. You can learn more about PMADs and find support here on the PSP website.

 

Parenthood Myth #5: Aiming to be a “good enough” parent is not good enough—it is better to strive to be the perfect parent. If we strive to protect our kids by being “perfect,” that comes at the expense of being real. Letting our kids experience and tolerate discomfort and disappointment at times, and letting them feel a range of different emotions, helps prepare them to be strong and resilient in life.

 

 

Be kind and compassionate with yourself. You’re doing the best you can, and that is good enough. Come up with a mantra to help you squelch some of the “I’m not good enough” thoughts and feelings, and put it up on the fridge as a reminder. If you don’t feel like doing things, whether that’s work, the dishes, exercise, or laundry, give yourself a break and let yourself put them off. Integrate self-care as much as possible into every day.

 

 

 

Similarly, feeling overwhelmed is normal. You may need to consider the different ways you’re going to cut yourself some slack. For instance, if you have a toddler, be okay with more screen-time right now. If you and your partner normally cook from scratch every night, be okay with delivery right now.

 

 

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Parenthood Myth #6: Partners will have a smooth transition into their new identities as parents. You and your partner (if you’re partnered) may have an expectation that your newfound love for the baby will override your longing for who you were as individuals and as a couple before you became parents. In reality, those parts of you will return, but you still may feel a sense of loss and grief around “who you used to be.”

 

In particular, it can be difficult to experience the loss of structure and control that comes with having a baby, particularly if you already had a Type A personality. Life with a new baby is messy, and you may miss the ability to live life through checking boxes and completing to-do lists.

 

New parenthood also creates a profound change in your relationship with your partner. Hang-out time may be stilted, and normal activities may be put on pause. Moms and birthing parents may experience “the mental load of motherhood”—the many invisible things you do for your family that are necessary but go unnoticed, only drawing attention if they DON’T get done. Many moms may not feel justified in urging their parents to take on some of this load, and that may lead to anger and frustration. Discuss this with your partner before the baby comes and find ways to work toward equal parenting.

 

 

Research from the Pew Center showed that sharing household chores ranked third in importance on a list of nine items associated with successful marriages—ahead of common interests and adequate income. Talk to your partner and find ways that they can feel like they’re helping when you’re tied up with pumping or breastfeeding—it could be as simple as fetching snacks and water for you. Discuss the five love languages and find out what each partner might need. For one, it could be words of affirmation (“you’re doing amazing”), and for others, it could be acts of service (bringing breakfast in bed). Talk all of this out now—with the understanding that things might shift after baby is born—so that you can start practicing.

 

Parenthood Myth #7: My relationship with my partner will be stronger than ever after we have kids, and we will always have a 50/50 split of responsibility. In reality, as touched on in Myth #6, division of labor can be a point of contention for many couples. One cause can be “maternal gatekeeping,” a mother’s protective beliefs about how much and whether a father/partner should be involved in their children’s lives. Maternal gatekeeping is composed of conscious and unconscious acts such as:

-Criticising fathers/partners for their involvement in care

-Holding very high standards that they believe can only be achieved by a mother

-A reluctance to relinquish responsibilities.

 

Some moms may also feel that, because they were not working and making money during part or all of their pregnancy, they must be good at being a mother as a form of justification. In turn, when moms take on all the work, they can begin feeling resentful and lonely and partners/dads can feel shamed and criticized, leading to a negative cycle. Moms may also feel an impulse to look over their partners’ shoulder as they’re taking care of the baby or to give directions preemptively rather than letting their partner figure it out by themselves, which contributes to the cycle.

 

Fortunately, there are ways to combat these negative patterns:

 

Practice before the baby comes. Partners can practice things like cooking and caring for baby, and moms can practice resisting the impulse to say “that’s not how you do it.” Work on these skills now, and it will be easier to continue them after the baby is born.

 

Embrace differences. Even if your partner rocks the baby differently than you do, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re doing it wrong. Focus on safety—perhaps you can comment if your partner is buckling the car seat incorrectly but hold back if it’s something that’s more of a matter of preference.

 

Make time for yourself. Getting out of the house and into the world while your partner or trusted caregiver is watching the baby can lend you some perspective.

 

Learn together. Invite your partner to read parenting websites, message boards, and books with you so they understand what you’re thinking about and going through.

 

Schedule a date night. Take a class or go to dinner together—anything that helps you and your partner bond and regain equal footing.

 

Organize your daily responsibilities together. Consider a shared calendar or email account, or set emails from certain addresses to forward to the other person so you’re both looped in. Dividing and conquering will help things feel easier.

 

Parenthood Myth #8: Seeing my partner become a parent will make me desire them even more. Becoming a parent may not necessarily be a turn-on in the way you expected. Everyone has different love languages, and those languages may change after you have a baby. Maybe your love language used to be physical touch, but with a baby relying on you 24/7, you feel “touched out” and start to prefer acts of service. Be open to these changes and communicate them to your partner.

 

 

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Parenthood Myth #9: As a father/partner, you need to fix “it.” Dads may operate from a “reasonable” mindset—one that is cool, rational, and task-focused, with a desire to go in and make things better whenever there is a difficult situation. It is common for dads/partners to look at a situation with the baby from the “Reasonable Mind” whereas moms/birthing parents are seeing through an “Emotional Mind” lens (jumping to the worst possible conclusions and viewing situations with the baby as black-and-white or all-or-nothing). In other words, moms may struggle to make dads understand that “it’s not about the nail.

 

 

Dads/partners may feel an impulse to fix “it” by saying things like, “You’re overreacting,” “everything is fine,” and “just do [blank] and everything will be okay.” Instead, try:

 

Telling your partner what you are seeing. “I can see that you are in a lot of distress right now because the baby didn’t take a two-hour nap today.”

 

Asking questions/being curious. “Tell me more about what you are most worried about.”

 

Validating your partner. “I can understand how and why this would stress you out.”

 

Offering another possible perspective. “It seems like other days this week, the baby’s nap was two hours. He didn’t sleep that long today, but there is a good chance he might tomorrow considering the success of other days.”

 

Establishing a code word or sign for when things get really tense and you both need a 15-minute time-out.

 

Using “I” statements to avoid blaming.

 

Expressing vulnerable emotions (underneath anger). Anger as an emotion is easy to go to, but it’s typically cloaking another emotion.

 

Pointing out things your partner is doing well.

 

Being clear about what you need.

 

Focusing on “good enough” parenting.

 

Getting back to basics with intimacy by considering and talking about each other’s love languages.

 

Setting aside 10+ minutes to be with each other each day.

 

Asking for breaks to get time alone. 

 

Asking for help. Move past the idea that asking for help is a sign of weakness. Practice asking for help on a regular basis, both with your partner and with others. Remember that it’s a gift to another person to let them help, whether that means picking out items for the baby, making you meals, buying you groceries and postpartum supplies, or doing a Costco run. Ask fellow parent friends to text you encouragement or have them put together a baby album of new photos. Don’t feel obligated to send thank-you notes for all of this helping, but if you do, you can even have a friend help with the notes!

 

Parenthood Myth #10: If the birthing parent is struggling emotionally during pregnancy or in the postpartum period, they’ll be able to get help on their own. In reality, your partner may feel like they’re drowning and you may be the only one who’s able to recognize that and help them find help. Moms and birthing parents may resist letting others know that they are struggling because of feelings of shame, stigma, and fear and expectations that everything should be perfect and happy.

 

Presentation of PMADs can include:

 

-Fixating on the baby’s health or their own

-Intrusive thoughts (“Something is going to happen to the baby”) to an intense and continuing degree

-Difficulty making decisions

-Not finding joy

-Feeling stuck, trapped, or like they made a mistake and want their old life back

-Not feeling connected to the baby after weeks or months.


The good news is that PMADs are very common (presenting in one of four perinatal women) and extremely treatable via therapy and/or medication. Learn more about PMADs and find support here on the PSP website.

 

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