The theme for 2018 Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Awareness (PANDA) week is “I wish I knew.” Such a relevant and important theme for all new and expectant parents as well as those contemplating starting a family! Given the prevalence of perinatal mental health issues and some research evidence showing that it is increasing with each generation, we agree it’s vital that we encourage these conversations about pregnancy and parenthood early on and educate everyone on where to seek help.
“We know many expecting and new parents are blind-sided by the realities of becoming parents. We know that many parents, looking back, feel that if they had known more and been better able to prepare for some of the challenges they might have been better able to cope. This includes recognising the signs and symptoms of mental and emotional distress in themselves and others, and knowing where to turn to seek support.” (PANDA – https://www.panda.org.au/awareness/panda-week)
So many questions come from this statement “I wish I knew”. Why do so many expecting and new parents feel “blind-sided by the realities of becoming parents.?” Why is it that so many are suffering and isolated in parenthood? Why do so many still have to ask, “why didn’t anyone tell me?” or “I wish I knew it was going to be this hard.”
Are we focused too much on seeking treatment rather than finding a cure? In other words, whilst we are supporting those that are struggling through mental health issues, are we not also neglecting to properly prepare, educate and support pregnant couples and new parents in what lies ahead in parenthood?
These are questions and concerns that we have pondered and discussed at length at The Parents Village and have been the primary driver for us to create our unique prenatal program Birthing The Parent, which addresses parenthood transition from all angles.
The challenges and contributing factors to the struggles in early parenthood as we see it are complex and multilayered. Here are just a few.
We lead fractured individualistic lives.
It’s no wonder we feel more isolated, disconnected, ashamed, unsupported, and overwhelmed in early parenthood. Family and friends are often spread out over suburbs, states and countries; grandparents are working beyond typical retirement years to survive and therefore often unable to help as much as they would like; hectic work schedules and the high cost of living puts immense pressure on individuals to survive; and our increasingly online obsessed generations seem more interested in their perfectly curated selfies than sharing the real hardships of life face to face.
At the end of the day we are often left to manage by ourselves, expected to create a new community (mums groups) when we feel most vulnerable, to pay for all the support services that other traditional cultures would have offered as a normal way of a tribal village life; to maintain a certain level of image; and to trust our instincts when we have never been properly guided through the new role of motherhood/parenthood.
Baby Step Solutions: Start saving early and allocate funds for pre and postnatal support services just as you would plan ahead for your wedding day. Build your tribe early – well before you have a baby. Get to know your neighbours. Try to live closer to family members. Cultivate friendships with local mums and pregnant mums-to-be in your area (e.g. using the new Peanut App).
We focus on baby, belly and birth but not beyond.
If you have you ever heard other friends or family with kids say that “I had no idea it would be this hard…” this is often the case because so much emphasis is placed on the upcoming birth and sometimes even one type of birth with the perfect birth plan, at the expense of focusing on all the options and the real deal – Parenthood!
Sure – it’s vital that expectant parents are fully informed and prepared for labour and birth, with all the options, implications and outcomes. This is especially important to ensure expectant mums are aware, calm and confident in the lead up to birth and to avoid possible birth trauma. But in the grand scheme of things, pregnancy and birth are still just a drop in the ocean…a vast ocean called Parenthood! It’s no wonder that new parents often descend into shock and depression in those early days as they are flying blind from thereon in.
Baby Step Solutions: Refocus your attention on the big picture from the get go. Spend less time decorating your nursery and researching prams and more time discussing your postnatal game plan for parenthood and newborn care with your partner, friends and family.
We need to be inducted into parenthood.
We really need to treat parenthood as a new career move or job. Like any new job in life, at the very least, a new employee or recruit requires either a handover or induction to effectively get onboard and feel well-adjusted, accepted and committed to their new role. The best orientations involve information on the organisational structures and processes, introductions to new team members and key stakeholders, and a layout of strategy and new projects on the boil, with a with a check in at 3 and 6 months to follow progress. This is clearly lacking in parenthood – only the biggest and most challenging gig of one’s lifetime!
New parents hit the deep end with a big splash and either sink or swim. We no longer have traditional women’s circles where village elders pass down their wisdom and knowledge, or create a rite of passage to both educate and celebrate the transitional stages of life. We initiate expectant mothers to pregnancy and birth with superficial celebrations and gifts that focus overly on the baby instead of the mother, and often create waste. And other than birth focused prenatal education, we expect instincts and skills to kick in or develop after D-day without any education or preparation. This emphasis is all wrong. We need education and services, not things!
Baby Step Solutions: Seek honest examples, guidance and advice from your trusted family and friends on their greatest challenges and successes in early parenthood, observe other new families without judgement, read up broadly on the realities of early parenthood (e.g. The Motherhood, Jamila Rizvi), rather than limiting yourself to prescriptive sleep and feeding manuals.
The later we have babies in life, the harder it becomes.
Having babies later in life compared to earlier generations has its pros and cons. Whilst we get to experience more if life, travel more, establish our careers, save more money, and set ourselves up for success, we also become more set in our ways, more used to being selfish and spontaneous, and being in control of our lives. At school and work we are conditioned to think that effort yields results and that we can get what we want with hard work and persistence. This linear equation doesn’t typically apply to the ever changing, ever unpredictable experience of early parenthood with a newborn, who is growing and developing at light speed. Pre-baby and post-baby life are complete opposites and this can throw new parents into complete turmoil. This sense of uncertainty and feelings of being out of control most definitely contribute to the early struggles in parenthood.
Baby Step Solutions: Let go of or your adjust your expectations about your level of control, perfection and need to be an early expert. Embrace your mistakes and failures now and recognise that they are all part of the learning journey. If you have ever raised a puppy from a newborn this is fantastic training ground. If you can babysit a friends’ or family members’ baby to get a brief taste of newborn life for a few hours, even better. The new little human in your life is not a robot and will have their own personality and preferences for things that you will discover along the way.
The Media Fantasy vs Harsh Reality.
We all know that the media continue to perpetuate the fantasy of perfection and achievement in motherhood/parenthood with celebrity bodies bouncing back in 5 mili-seconds, royal mothers appearing perfectly made-up in heels and high fashion after birth, and alpha career women who seem to have it all in their careers and family life. So why can’t we look away? These messages saturate our insta and facebook feeds and continue to be splashed across glossy mags. Despite the ever-increasing sway towards raw honesty and openness, and the sharing of motherhood trials and tribulations (#motherhoodunplugged) we have a long way to go before this overtakes the superficial side and the innate pressure we feel to perform and keep up with the jones’s.
Baby Step Solutions: Cultivate a balanced media newsfeed by seeking out those that share their honest unfiltered accounts of parenthood and those with a sense of humour about the struggles and triumphs. Better yet, switch off and detox from tech whenever you can so that you can free up time to connect with those you know and love face to face. These are the people that will help to keep it real. Choose your friends wisely and hang around those who you are open, honest, supportive and non-judgmental.
Assuming your relationship will stay the same.
So many couples up-skill on birth and then just think they can ‘wing it’ with partnership and parenthood. There is often an unconscious assumption that relationships will either stay the same or will naturally figure out a new dynamic once baby arrives. It’s the quintessential ‘she’ll be right mate’ attitude. Others just stick their heads in the sand and hope for the best. All risky moves. Imagine starting a massive new high stakes work project without any prior discussion of key tasks and milestones, responsibilities to be allocated, schedules, strengths, weaknesses, concerns, risks and contingency plans. Crazy right! Relationships need attention and investment at various phases of life and never more so that in parenthood.
Baby Step Solutions: Make time to discuss your thoughts, hopes, expectations, fears, triggers, needs and desires with your partner. Know what makes each other tick and how to support each other in times of stress. Assess your roles at work and home and negotiate a new way of doing things as a team for your new plus one. Continue to have ‘state of the union’ meetings together to check in on your progress on a regular basis.
Now there’s a unique prenatal program that helps to tackle all of these concerns and more!
To address the increasing mental health and cultural/societal issues we surely have to change our approach. In line with the increasing interest in holistic and integrative medicine which takes account of the whole person (mind body and spirit, and lifestyle), so too do we need to take a holistic and integrative approach to prenatal education.
That’s exactly why we created our unique prenatal program -Birthing The Parent – to buffer the adjustment to parenthood so that new parents experience less of a rude shock to the system. It provides evidence-based, honest, and practical activities, insights and resources to better cope with early parenthood from all angles including: emotional, cognitive, physical, spiritual, logistical, financial, professional, and environmental transitions.
Research shows that taking time to prepare for birth and parenthood improves parental adjustment, parent-baby interactions, personal health and well-being, relationship satisfaction as well as overall infant development through the first year following your baby’s birth. (according to PANDA, The Gottman Institute, Beyond Blue, and COPE). So it should be a no brainer that parenthood preparation education should form a part of every pregnant couples prenatal investment!
Ultimately this program sets expectant parents-to-be up for success with a toolkit of resources and strategies to better tackle birth, postnatal recovery, newborn care and attachment, and lifelong parenthood partnerships. Consider it a comprehensive induction to the new role of parent and the new dynamic called parenthood.
If you or someone you know could benefit from an early parenthood orientation before day one on the job, please check out our workshop and get in touch: https://www.theparentsvillage.com.au/services/birthing-the-parent-prenatal-workshop/