We often congratulate parents or ask couples when they are going to have children. But what a lot of parents and couples really need is having someone to check in and ask whether they are okay.
Becoming a parent for the first time is extremely exciting, rewarding, nerve-whacking; but how often do we actively share the journey with others?
Conceiving is not as easy as what we were told back at school, at least anecdotally for me and a number of my close friends. Some people have tried for years. Unlike students at school, parents don’t have a curriculum to follow. Some things are trial and error and most of the time parents are quite clueless and have to react to many unexpected things because every kid is different.
Not only do parents need to handle a new life, there are gazillion of things which we also need to manage and learn at the same time. The expectations from the older generation, the physical and psychological changes for the mothers, the sudden change of lifestyle and a new role, just to name a few.
As the Chinese saying goes, “Parents will worry about their children for 99 years during the 100 years of raising them”. I added two extra years, 101 years. The worrying and anxiety starts from the day they are in your womb.
I reconnected with a long term dear friend, May Tran, a lovely person whom I studied marketing with in the early 2000s, to learn about her beautiful journey as a first-time mother. I learned recently she had postpartum anxiety. Shortly after, she started Parent Poppin in Australia, a sanctuary to help parents take a break from all the hustle and bustle and fight the feeling of isolation.
When you feel strongly about something, when you care about something strong enough, you kind of throw all your caution in the wind and just go and do what you think is right.
Within days after giving birth to a beautiful child Caden, May felt something didn’t feel right even though she had an abundance of joy and happiness in life. She felt isolated and lost sense of who she was. Loss of identity is quite common amongst new moms. She didn’t get to sleep much and a chain of negative thoughts piled up as a result. When she knew her husband was going to return to work soon, she got so worried that she would not be able to keep Caden alive looking after him alone. She woke up in the middle of the night in sweat and dreamt she drowned Kaden in her breast milk.
Ten days later, she was admitted in emergency and was referred to the mental health department for two weeks. She received a lot of support about parenting skills, how to deal with anxiety. In retrospect, the experience has made her into a stronger person, more resilient, and allows her to see and embrace things with a clearer mind. But what about the other mums who don’t have access to the same medical facility. I hope this article can reach them.
May shares with me, when she was in it, when she was in the moment, it seemed like she would never be able to crawl back out from this deep and dark hole. It wasn’t until she created Parent Poppin and started opening up with others which made her realize many parents, especially women, also suffer from postpartum anxiety and depression.
Here are five ways to prevent and overcome baby blues and postpartum anxiety and depression from our chat with May and my journey as first-time father:
Draw up your circle of support.
Before you give birth. Write down the list of friends and family members who you’d like in the circle, kind of like the circle of trust from Meet the parents / Meet the fockers with Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro. More importantly, ask these people to check in with you from time to time.
Make time for yourself.
One of the things my wife and I are quite adamant on is the importance of me time. Becoming a parent doesn’t mean you don’t get to do the things that you enjoyed before you became a parent. It just means that you might be getting less of it and you might have to do it during odd hours and wake up a little earlier.
Parenting is a team-sport. With great power comes great responsibility. Having a child is a life-long commitment. As a dad I am quite hands on and I enjoy doing all the night duties after-work. This includes the nappies, showering, feeding, burping, sleep training etc. There’s a saying that having a child is our second chance of living. There’s no such thing as a perfect parent. We simply do our best to become a better parent each day.
Open up and share. Talk to other parents, your parents about your challenges. You’ll be surprised.
Get professional help.
I left this last not because it is not important, but because there are other proactive things like the ones above which parents could do to avoid getting to this stage.
Don’t wait for mother’s day and father’s day to thank your mums and dads. There are a lot of things we ought to be grateful for their unconditional love, sleepless nights and endless anxiety for the silly things we do.
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