We Had a Baby and Lost Ourselves

postpartum, grief, parenting

No one ever warns expectant parents about how much loss is headed their way as they prepare for their new bundle of joy. No one talks about how quickly both mothers and fathers lose their identities, freedoms, and self-esteem as they adjust to this utterly new life of parenthood.

Becoming a parent is fraught with dangerous myths that set us up to feel like failures. We tend to think it’ll be easy to get pregnant when we’re ready. We assume we’ll have control over the labor and delivery experience. We think breastfeeding will come naturally, and we’ll instantly feel a loving bond with our baby.  We assume that every pregnancy is wanted and that every pregnancy is healthy and results in a live, healthy baby. We plan on becoming superwomen & supermen who effortlessly juggle our baby’s needs with our partner’s needs, our family’s needs, our friends’ needs, and maybe our own needs.

Then the reality of parenthood hits and these myths are quickly shattered. From the very first, getting pregnant may be much more difficult than expected with the necessity of fertility treatments and other interventions. The pregnancy may be challenging with severe nausea, fatigue, or health complications for mother or baby. Then there’s the birth, which often does not go as planned. And this is all before parents even take their new bundle of joy home!

Even in the best of circumstances (when all are healthy with a smooth pregnancy and birth and strong relationship), new parents experience a series of losses that often go unspoken.

Loss of freedom
Loss of your old identity
Loss of control of your schedule, sleep, eating, socializing
Loss of body image
Loss of self-esteem
Loss of financial means
Loss of image of self in a career or with career potential
Loss of time
Loss of romance and passion

The loss of self is one aspect of new parenthood that may hit you like a ton or bricks or may gradually settle over you like a fog. New parents typically feel thrown into deep waters, completely overwhelmed and inadequate. They are learning a series of new skills on the job as they figure out how to change a blowout diaper, bathe a screaming infant, get baby to burp and go back to sleep all while completely sleep deprived and hormonally in flux. They are adjusting to entirely new roles and have to negotiate new tasks together when both are unsure. New parents often feel like “Groundhogs Day” with each day simply repeating the last series of diapers, crying baby, piles of laundry, etc. Parents get no scheduled breaks and never get to clock out.

When there is a moment to pause and reflect, new parents may not recognize themselves or their lives at all. And it’s important in this moment to allow space for grieving. It is normal and natural to feel sadness and longing for your old life, your old self. This does not mean you do not love your baby or your growing family.

You can both love your baby and struggle with many of the changes your baby has caused in your life.

You can love motherhood and fatherhood while also missing your old relationship and personal freedoms.

Grieving the loss of self during the adjustment to parenthood is an important step toward accepting your new roles and learning to love your new self.  Be honest about the changes that are taking place and all that you’ve given up, even if temporarily.

And get help, real help.  This is the time in your life for receiving support and compassion. If family and friends are not available or not sufficient, then seek out the wealth of services available to new parents: postpartum doulas, lactation consultants, maids, food delivery services, support groups, and mental health professionals skilled in this care. Surround yourself with people who understand the challenges inherent in this major life transition who can offer both hands on and emotional support.

Taking these steps to work through your authentic feelings and get support may help protect you from greater emotional and relationship challenges down the road.

Written by Suzanne Smith, Ph.D. for the Linden Blog. Dr. Smith specializes in treating women and men with perinatal mood disorders.  If you are interested in receiving Linden Blog updates with original articles about parenting, families, mental health, and wellness, subscribe using the field below. If you are interested in scheduling an appointment at Linden BP call 440/250-9880.