Adjustment To Parenthood

Imagine this scene: You are home with your new baby. You have just bathed, fed, and cuddled him, and he is now sleeping peacefully in a clean and tidy house. You are relaxing with your feet up and reading a good book, exchanging occasional fond glances with your loving, content mate. This is a wonderful picture, but is it realistic? And if you do have moments like this, how long do they last? No matter what romanticized ideas you may have developed about being a parent, you will have times (and many of them) when your reality will just not match these ideals. You cannot program yourself to have boundless energy, be relaxed and confident, be consistently loving, and meet all of your baby’s (and spouse’s) needs. You cannot be a perfect parent. Parents are human beings! The “perfect parent” image we often try to project to those around us—our parents, relatives, and friends—is plainly unrealistic. And if you take time to discuss this openly with them, you will find that they, too, have had some frenzied and anxious moments as new parents.

Postpartum Depression

While many women experience a mild case of “the blues,” some women suffer a more debilitating condition known as postpartum depression. These women develop prolonged feelings of sadness, anxiety, insomnia, extreme fatigue, and possibly even thoughts of suicide or of causing harm to the infant.

The most widely accepted theory relates postpartum depression to the drastic hormonal changes that accompany birth. In addition, the constant demands of a newborn can leave a woman completely fatigued and overwhelmed. A woman who has high expectations and tries to accomplish too much may set herself up for depression. The inability to be the “perfect parent” may affect her self-esteem and increase her feelings of failure. If the birth did not go according to her plans, this may add to her feelings of failure. Heredity or previous history may also play a role. A history of mental illness or a difficult postpartum adjustment either by the woman or by another family member may increase her risk. A woman who abruptly stops breastfeeding may experience a drop in hormone levels, which can increase feelings of depression. Breastfeeding releases hormones that help new mothers feel calm and relaxed. It has also been shown to prevent the release of stress hormones in new mothers.

Identifying postpartum depression is the first step. Understanding and compassion from family members, adequate rest, good nutrition, and assistance with daily activities is a must. Counseling and support groups may also benefit some women. Occasionally, drug therapy with antidepressants can be used. Some physicians have found that injections of progesterone after delivery may reduce the symptoms in women whose depression is caused by severe hormone withdrawal. Others have used vitamin B6 with some success.1 A British study has reported improvement in postpartum depression with the use of the estrogen patch.

The adjustments that you will make after having your baby are similar in many ways to the adjustments that you had to make following marriage. New roles will be defined; new household tasks will be assigned. To help you prepare more realistically for the days that lie ahead, you and your husband should sit down together and do the following exercise while you are still pregnant.

Each of you take a piece of paper and draw two circles on it. Each circle will represent a 24-hour period. Label the first circle “Before Baby,” and the second circle “After Baby.” Divide the “Before Baby” circle into sections representing the different activities that currently make up your day, such as working, preparing and eating meals, housekeeping, paying bills and banking, being a companion, making love, gardening, relaxing, enjoying a hobby, sleeping, bathing, and so on. (See Figure 12.1.) Size each section in this pie chart to reflect the percentage of time that you spend on the activity. For example, if you work 8 hours a day, make the work section one-third of the chart. In the “After Baby” chart, note the activities that you must, or hope to, continue, as well as the new baby-related activities such as feeding, bathing, soothing, diaper changing, and doing the laundry. (See Figure 12.2.) Sizewise, make these sections indicate the amount of time per day that you expect to devote to each of these activities.

When you are both finished, compare your pie charts with one another. Is one partner indicating more changes than the other? Are the “After Baby” charts realistic? Do the childcare activities and time estimates that each of you indicated match each other’s expectations? How will the “After Baby” chart change if the mother returns to outside employment? (See Figure 12.3.) Discuss any differences in your expectations now. This way, after the baby is bom, you will not argue over who should do what and when. Save your charts. You will have fun looking at them again after your baby is born.

You should see clearly after doing this exercise, if you did not before, that the time you devote to your different roles will change considerably once you add the role of parent to your life.

Figure 12.1. A sample "Before Baby" time management chart

Figure 12.2. A sample "After Baby" time management chart

Figure 12.3. A sample "Working Mother" time management chart

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