Planning a baby?
How to be proactive and not reactive
When planning a family, a couple usually sees their GP or their OB to ensure that they are fit and healthy. They take the necessary blood tests and vitamins, time their cycles and go for scans. Several initiatives are proactively made to care for the physical demands of starting a family. But what is done for the mental preparation of starting a family?
Having a baby and starting a family might be the next natural step, but becoming a parent is a major life milestone for all. Having a baby is probably one of the most life-changing events you can experience.
During pregnancy, the focus is primarily on ensuring you are eating right and the baby is growing well. There is usually little mental preparation on how priorities, values, and expectations will shift (sometimes dramatically). This shift may take others by surprise, including family, partners, employers and friends. It is important to understand that this is a normal part of making the transition to parenting, and will likely come with a wide range of emotions, from excitement and joy to ambivalence and fear. Because the process ties strongly with our expectations of ourselves and what our life will be like, it is important to explore the changes and what they might mean.
For some people, this can bring up many challenges. The decision may involve serious discussions about what life will look like regarding work, childcare and shared values. These are important conversations to have, and working through them with a counsellor can be helpful. The right counsellor will provide a safe space for you to unpack your thoughts and unspoken fears, help you each to consider your belief systems about having children, and even enable you to understand feelings you may not have addressed.
Counselling can be for individuals or couples. I have counselled women who step into pregnancy because they think it is something they must do to reach “the next step” or because their partner wants them to. Many of these women find the transition difficult because the changes feel like big sacrifices that they did not sign up for. Losing their identity, giving up working to manage a home, and living in a body that doesn’t feel like their own are just a few issues that, when addressed and discussed, help to mentally prepare and accept the transition. If couples are present in therapy together, then sometimes, when the other partner hears these underlying fears or concerns, they may be able to reassure their partner that things could be different and more positive for them.
Preparing mentally and emotionally before and during pregnancy can reduce the risk of mood disorders, including antenatal and postpartum anxiety and depression. According to the NHS, 25 per cent of women will experience stress and anxiety during pregnancy, and approximately 80 per cent of new mothers experience mood swings, sadness or anxiety soon after childbirth. Whether or not you feel prepared to start a family, it’s hard to know exactly how you might feel once your baby arrives, so some helpful tips to help to prepare mentally for this new transition include:
- Manage expectations – understand that the media portrayal of “perfect pregnancy” is a facade and that all transitions come with some bumps along the way.
- Connect with your partner – Spend time doing fun things with your partner while also making space for important conversations.
- Establish parenting values – What is important? What do the individual parenting roles look like? Understanding these values will also clarify how important decisions are made regarding how finances are managed, what activities you want your child to engage in and where holidays are spent. It’s far easier to have these discussions on different parenting topics before and far more difficult when you’re stressed and sleep-deprived.
- When to Worry – Discuss each other’s fears. Fear has a way of activating our nervous system in unhealthy ways. Bringing fears out in the open helps build a deeper understanding of how to support one another. Unmanaged fear is closely associated with anxiety and depression. Set aside a block of time solely devoted to nailing down what, specifically, about the situation or possible outcome is evoking fear or stress. Doing so allows you to appraise the actual concern realistically and also allows for problem-solving.
- Overestimate recovery time – It took you nine months to get here; give yourself nine months to return. Societal pressures of bouncing back post-pregnancy are not only unrealistic but also stressful.
- Try to sleep – no good decisions are made when sleep deprived. Most parents are not truly prepared for the chaos without some good sleep. As much as possible, plan ways to ensure that you get rest after the baby arrives. Enlist help from your partner, family, a paid specialist such as a night nurse, or friends. If you can take a break and rest, you’ll be better able to care for your baby in the long run.
- Build social bonds – Create a tribe of people who can support and listen to you. This can be both in-person or online. Take time to see friends and pursue passions or hobbies to help retain a sense of self. This can start off by being something small you do for yourself. Read a book, meditate, listen to music, meet a friend for lunch or get a massage. Something that is just for you.
We have been taught to believe parenting is intuitive. It is not; it is a learned skill. It starts by working on yourself. by Monisha Dadlani
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