What were we thinking! promote confidence and reduce distress in parents with a first baby

Am I the only one who experienced newborn parenting neurosis?!

By Michaela

Am I the only one who experienced newborn parenting neurosis?!

In the first few weeks of having our son in my life, I was rightfully taken aback by the unexpected tidal wave of emotions I felt. And I'm not just referring to the most commonly talked about feelings expressed by new mothers, including insurmountable love for their newborn baby and equally insurmountable fear of accidentally drowning them in the bath.

For me, and I'm curious to know for other new mums, in the first few weeks of parenthood I found that every single emotion and feeling I experienced sat well beyond 100% on a scale of intensity! I felt 100% out of control and as though I wasn’t in the driver’s seat of my own life.

As mentioned, I definitely experienced the heightened emotions you’d expect with having a newborn. I felt a love for my son so intense that I imagined my heart would explode out of my chest and burst into heart-shaped confetti, and I felt a level of protectiveness unlike I’d ever experienced at the thought of anyone ever harming my beautiful baby boy. I never expected, however, the emotional roller-coaster everyday tasks and experiences presented.

I'm assuming that sleep deprivation had a lot to do with this, as I'm not quite sure there's another way to explain why watching commercials with cute dogs rolling around in reams of toilet paper would bring me to tears. At the time the Winter Olympics were in full swing, and as I breastfed my son at 2am I could experience tears of joy watching Australians sing our national anthem and absolute fury when our team was robbed of a medal – all within a matter of minutes!

Whilst pregnant I never experienced this. Perhaps that can be attributed to the fortunate ability to sleep next to my husband, resembling a beached whale in the bed nonetheless, like an absolutely baby* every single night. Pregnancy hormones never led me to engage in unwarranted emotional arguments and food cravings never turned me into someone crazily possessed.  

As someone who champions the benefits of practising mindfulness and meditation daily, even these familiar tools were of no help to me at the time. For one thing, finding a moment alone as a new mum is like stumbling across a 50-carat diamond in the street – unheard of – but for another thing, remaining in the present moment was simply too hard to do, what with a baby crying in the background or endless amounts of housework to catch up on.  

Thankfully for my husband, inflexible work commitments meant he went away for a month shortly after I gave birth, so he missed the majority of my newborn parenting neurosis. And thankfully for my son, I was able to remain calm around him with the only highs and lows he experienced on my behalf being the amount of milk I was able to express!

I look back with kindness upon those times and realise I truly needed to give myself a break. A newborn completely turns your life upside down (not to mention forwards, backwards and round and round) so it’s only natural that your personality reflects the chaos of the new world you find yourself in. Trying to emotionally regulate oneself is just another pressure to add to the every growing to-do list you internalise as a new parent.

Expert response from What Were We Thinking! expert, Susan Darling

I would like to congratulate you Michaela on your excellent and honest blog post on the roller coaster of emotions experienced after the birth of your son.

Having your husband away at this time was an added challenge I believe, as your main support was absent. The responsibility 24/7 was all yours, not to mention sleep deprivation, breastfeeding or expressing around the clock, having to feed yourself, keep up the basic household chores, learn to settle a crying baby and attend to all his cares. No wonder you felt a heightened state of emotion!

I would suggest you perhaps turn to the WWWT! app, in particular Week 18 (What to do if There is Not Enough Help). Support is a huge factor in overcoming the challenges faced as a new mother.

I would also encourage you to reach out to your Maternal and Child Health Nurse in your area and perhaps join a new group (if you haven't already) as a means to be supported and encouraged in this whole new world of parenting that you have embarked upon.

Finally I would strongly suggest you practice the ability to ask for help and accept support whenever it is offered. Even if it is a list of jobs on the fridge you can post and let people tick one or more off. Allow yourself time for a relaxing bath or massage or a brisk walk in the fresh air.

I am so pleased that you wrote on reflection how you realised you needed to give yourself a break. What insight and thank you for sharing your story with others. Hopefully this will be a huge help to other new mothers/parents who may have similar feelings too.

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