You’ve made it home with your baby and brought them into your world. You expect to feel joy, excitement and elation, but you may be experiencing feelings of grief, loss and sadness. The world that was just the two of you, a place that both of you respected and worked together to live in, has changed. Now, there is a third person who over-runs boundaries, challenges expectations, dominates your world and relationship, and pushes many buttons including:
Post-natal depression (PND) is a condition that affects one in seven new mothers and one in ten new fathers. You may be suffering from depression if you have experienced at least two weeks of a low mood for the better part of every day, and/or a loss of pleasure or interest in almost all activities every day. Some of the symptoms you may be experiencing are low self-esteem, lack of confidence, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, changes in appetite or weight, difficulty in sleeping – either over-sleepiness or insomnia – restlessness or agitation or conversely a lack of energy, an inability to concentrate or indecisiveness. It’s possible that you may even have thoughts of death, suicide or harming the baby. Your symptoms may be severe enough to interfere with your ability to function in daily life, and you may be feeling that life is meaningless and no fun, far from the happy, joyful experience having a baby was meant to be.
Many people talk about the ‘baby blues’, and it is important to note that these are very different from post-natal depression. Baby blues affect 60–70% of women and are a common response to the huge, life-changing event of having a baby. The term refers to a brief period that usually begins three to five days after giving birth and generally resolves in a week or two. (Unlike this, post-natal depression lasts longer than two weeks.) You may experience feelings of fearfulness and anxiety as well as mood swings, where one minute you’re happy and the next minute emotional, exhausted, overwhelmed and stressed. Baby blues shouldn’t affect your ability to care for your baby and usually no special treatment is needed unless your symptoms are severe. Getting the right support is vital for yourself and your relationship with your partner.
Dads, take note: not only does post-natal depression last longer and interfere with a mother’s ability to cope with everyday life, it can also have a significant impact on you during this time, as you are experiencing your own anxiety and depression independent of the way your partner is feeling. The focus is now on your partner and new baby, so you may be feeling as if you have lost your wife, lover and confidante and are now completely out of place and alone. You had hoped that the baby was not going to change your relationship to such a degree, and you may be feeling irritated and confused that you and your partner can’t just pick up where you left things before. Other issues may have arisen, such as an unplanned pregnancy, unmet expectations and problems related to the labour and birth where things didn’t unfold as anticipated. As a result, you may have been feeling traumatised, overlooked and even excluded during and after the birth. Unfortunately, change is inevitable and is accompanied by a lot of stress, anxiety and possible depression.
Like your partner, you may be sleep-deprived as you try to stagger your way through the day, while you experience a sense of being overwhelmed by your responsibilities, both emotional and financial (especially if you are the family’s sole provider). You also may be experiencing irritability, anger, resentment, anxiety, changes in appetite and loss of enjoyment of life; you may be feeling disconnected and even isolated from your friends, family and partner, and using work as an excuse for lack of connectedness, and you may even start engaging in risk-taking behaviour including using alcohol or drugs to help ease these symptoms.
Unrecognised depression and anxiety can lead to serious relationship dysfunction. If either of you feels you may be suffering post-natal depression, you need to know that early intervention and emotional support do help to speed up the recovery process reasonably quickly so you can restore to good health and start enjoying life, your baby and your relationship. Let’s talk before it breaks.
We've all heard it: you can forget about sleep when you’re new parents. It’s a big joke and the two of you laughed about it all the way up until ... you brought your newborn home, and now you could smack anyone who jokes about it. Sleep deprivation causes all sorts of brain malfunctions and lifestyle disruptions, and suddenly you and your partner feel as if you are living on different planets and talking different languages. There are ways of staying connected that can help you during these confronting times. Let’s talk before it breaks.
Your mum/dad and/or family live a long way from you, or your mum/dad passed away before you had the baby and can’t be there for you now. You may have been working in a job where you had lots of support from people around you, yet now you’re home alone with this dependant baby, your standards of house care, cleanliness and even meal preparation have been reduced to overflowing bins of used nappies, piles of dirty washing and unmade beds. You’ve even reverted to opening canned food for breakfast (there’s no food in the fridge) and the dishes haven’t been done for days. You feel on your own, unsupported and a failure. Your partner, for whatever reasons, is unavailable or unable to give you the help you need. You wonder how your mum did it – she had three to six kids to care for and you’ve only got one! Without that nurturing, strengthening, mentoring support that a mother figure can give you while you’re navigating your way through this new environment, you may be experiencing overwhelming grief and sadness. The loneliness you feel makes it difficult to get a healthy perspective on your new experience. Let’s talk before it breaks.
You’re feeling trapped, isolated, completely thrown and on your own. One of the biggest changes you and/or your partner face, and one that hasn’t really been dealt with up to now, is the great shift from being in control of your life, where you had established your identity as a working person and an individual, to suddenly becoming the mother or father of a baby who has constant demands and unpredictable behaviour. Issues of control have gone out the window and when it comes to handling the current situation you feel alone, unprepared and unskilled. There’s limited social interaction right now and mothers’ group isn’t doing it for you. This can be a very challenging time for you as you grieve for the loss of your old life. You may still be sore as a result of the birth and suffering sleep deprivation. You may also find yourself weighed down by the relentlessness and overwhelming responsibility of caring for your baby, which you had not anticipated. This is not an easy time, and can be exacerbated when your baby is sick with reflux, colic or something else that causes them to be constantly crying and unsettled. This is impacting on your sense of self and on your relationship with your partner. Let’s talk before it breaks.
You have a screaming, crying or vomiting baby and you can’t make them stop. You don’t know what’s wrong, you can’t fix it and you’ve already visited the doctor, specialists and herbal experts, still with no answer. You’re in a state of shock and feeling lost as to what to do next. Sleep deprivation isn’t helping and you are at your wits’ end! Trying to solve your baby’s problem, you obsess over books, websites and finding anyone who will listen. You’re overtaken by emotions – you feel guilty because you might have been doing something wrong, stupid because you can’t fix this, overwhelmed, desperate, exhausted and emotionally drained, as you’ve had no sleep and the sound of your baby screaming and crying has become unbearable. Your relationship is on fragile ground, and lack of sleep puts you at risk of possible post-natal depression. Support is vital during this trying time. Let’s talk before it breaks.
Just when you’ve put the chart on the wall announcing your baby’s routine and you BOTH accept it ... the whole thing changes, nothing is working, and you can easily end up blaming each other for not following the ‘plan’. What new parents need to realise is that there is NEVER any one routine that will stick with any particular child, of any age, for the rest of their life. In the first three years of a child’s life, the routine keeps shifting and you need to work together to identify the changes as they are coming. Be generous with each other – what worked yesterday may not work today and it’s no-one’s fault. Communication channels need to be opened further and you may need new strategies or simply a safe framework in which to have a constructive conversation about your concerns and frustrations. Let’s talk before it breaks.
After the birth of your baby, your life as a couple will never be the same again. Long gone are the decadent dinner dates, the long mornings reading the papers at cafés, the spontaneous weekends away, drinking too much wine on Saturday afternoons and sleeping in the sun till dinnertime. These days, everything is all about the baby, and even if you were doing any of those things right now, the likelihood is that every one of those activities would be dramatically altered or cut short because of the baby. You’re still struggling with the notion of what you can and can’t handle when venturing out with your baby, while you see parents of their third and fourth child casually hanging the baby carrier off a bicycle handle as they ride their bikes with the other kids to the park! They’ve got it sorted, whereas the two of you are busy packing your boot with everything your baby might possibly need, simply to go and buy a takeaway coffee. Extreme example, perhaps, but you get the picture. Chances are you miss the old life and there is a sense of sadness that will be affecting the way you communicate with each other. Let’s talk before it breaks.
Cots, mats, bouncers, prams, washing, nappies, clothes, bottles ... baby ‘stuff' has taken over your house. And it doesn’t disappear – as they get older you will be navigating baby gates, sand pits, swings, toys on the floor and teeny-tiny pieces everywhere. Your lovely, stylish home will become a fairyland, a Spiderman web or a nuclear disaster zone and it’s annoying, frustrating and uninspiring for many to live in. What’s worse, there is no more privacy. A quiet moment on the loo doesn’t really happen anymore, and anything going on in the house is everyone’s business. You can’t even watch TV unless it’s ABC Kids and when you do finally sit down for a quiet meal or a movie, all you want to do is go to sleep. With all of that going on, where does your precious lifestyle and relationship fit in? How do you reclaim it? Let’s talk before it breaks.
You’ve read everything and it’s still not working. Neither of you wants to ask for help. If he suggests you get help, it feels as if he’s saying you can’t cope. If you suggest he gets help, he thinks you’re saying he’s not doing his job properly. Asking for help makes you feel stupid and helpless, but sometimes it’s not even about the asking – it’s about the cost. Some experts are expensive. How can they charge that? How can you pay that now when one of you may not be working? But then how can you afford not to get good advice? Procrastination kicks in and you all start to suffer. Whatever the reason for not seeking advice, you both need to deal with it as a team and focus on the bigger picture. How do you do that? How do you talk to each other without offending the other or feeling judged or criticised? Let’s talk before it breaks.
Sex! Before the baby, and even during pregnancy, fun, lovely, loving sex came anytime you wanted and included some unexpected naughty moments as well. It was sex that made your baby, yet now that same baby doesn’t allow you to have any more sex. For the mum, her boobs have become a milking factory and the consequent physical changes, together with the experience of breastfeeding, can make her feel fat, bloated and not sexy at all. Meanwhile, the dad may be feeling completely lost as his partner’s body is very different, and what once worked to turn her on does nothing now, or she’s simply not interested like she was before. He may start feeling rejected, ignored or confused. None of this is helpful for healthy, intimate lovemaking. Sex is part of your communication as a couple, and if that’s not happening the way it was before the baby arrived then one or both of you is going to be having many thoughts, feelings and emotions about the other person that need to be addressed. Let’s talk before it breaks.
Mum, your body has changed and you just don’t look the same anymore. You’re sagging in places or stretched in others. Your belly isn’t as flat as it once was, and your boobs just aren’t what they used to be. You feel ugly or fat (or both), as if you might as well just put on that muumuu and become the cuddly earth mother everyone expects you to be. Dad, your partner’s body has changed and is still in baby-care mode. She’s exhausted and never quite in the mood. She’s also possibly grumpy or snappy and not interested in all the details you care to tell her about your world. Quite frankly, she doesn’t ‘turn you on’ like she did before, especially as her attention is not on you the way it used to be, and there seems to be no end in sight to this cold front. Best to deal with this issue now before it gets worse. Let’s talk before it breaks.
Your friends may not have had babies yet, or they may be at a different stage of parenting – either way, you’re out of sync with one another’s lives. Also, you’re no longer working and surrounded by like-minded people, so these days it’s just you and the baby, and maybe one or two others. Your whole world has changed and shrunk, and this can be difficult to adjust to. Social and emotional isolation can cause other problems, not to mention putting incredible stress on your relationship. Let’s talk before it breaks.