By Kathryn Peck
After completing the routine questionnaire they gave me at my 6-week postpartum doctor’s appointment, the one that gauges your emotions—happiness, sadness, guilt, anxiety—I was reminded of what an absolute rollercoaster of emotions the first few weeks are for almost every mom, not just me. It always seems to catch you off guard, too, whether it’s your first baby or fourth. At six weeks post-delivery with baby no. 4, I was feeling pretty good about things, but let’s not forget the emotional speed bumps hit along the way.
The word that summed it all up for me is overwhelming. Coming home, navigating the waters of your new life that changed in an instant, and trying to control all of the emotions that surface in these early weeks is overwhelming.
The word that summed it all up for me is overwhelming.
When I was up for sometimes hours at a time in the middle of the night (who am I kidding, I still am!), I always found comfort in seeing a neighbor’s light on; knowing that someone else was up made me feel more at ease and less secluded at night. So perhaps knowing others contend with similar emotional ups and downs in the early weeks post-delivery will be of some comfort. I also remember wishing someone had talked to me or warned me about these emotions before I had my first baby. I hadn’t a clue and thought my crying at every television commercial that had a baby it was the new norm. Thank goodness that subsided…!
Fear. Let’s face it, it’s terrifying to leave the hospital. Everyone at the hospital is there to help you and your baby. It’s a quiet place where nurses check in on you regularly, they change your baby’s diaper, and food is brought to your room. When it’s time to leave and go back to the real world, it’s scary, loud, and although I always had a lot of support, I felt alone, not to mention the fear of caring for a new baby.
Anxiety. Nights are unpredictable, nursing is painful at first, and everyone’s adjusting to a new lifestyle that often feels completely out of your control. You never sit down to rest, yet you can’t find two minutes to take a shower. I’ll never forget when my husband came home and simply asked if I’d unloaded the dishwasher (he was asking quite innocently to see if he needed to do it), but I was so embarrassed to admit I hadn’t had time. You can’t seem to accomplish anything concrete, which leaves you feeling completely inadequate, unproductive, and anxious.
Guilt. My baby seemed particularly fussy at first, so I immediately blamed myself. I stopped eating dairy, peanuts, and chocolate, assuming is was in my breastmilk that caused a reaction. I had the doctor run an allergy test, which came back fine. The fussiness? That’s just what babies do. It passed with time. But those feelings of guilt linger: guilt that you can’t do it all, that you aren’t giving everyone enough attention, and if something’s not right, you blame yourself.
Sadness. It’s hard to steer clear of this one, even when you know it’s coming. Without fail, after every baby I spend the first week crying, even outright sobbing, about everything and nothing. Even news headlines brought me to tears, so I eventually decided not to read any news at all for a while. No longer would I spend my nights worrying about the dire effects of climate change, the impending economic crisis, or any of the other heart-wrenching sensational headlines that sell newspapers—I went off the grid to help maintain my sanity.
Exhaustion. For me, the sleep deprivation builds and builds. At about four weeks, I hit rock bottom; my fatigue and exhaustion caught up with me, tears flowed like a mighty river and my husband took over dinner, baths, and bedtime that evening. Somehow exhaustion seems to heighten all of these emotions, so do get some sleep when people offer it.
It’s so important to pay attention to yourself and these emotions you may feel. They are normal but can make you feel crazy. But trust me when I say there are smoother waters ahead. At around six weeks, your baby’s smile will start to show when he or she sees your face or hears your voice, and at that moment the only emotion that will remain is an overwhelming love for your baby.
About the author: Kathryn is the owner of Bicycle Pie and mom of 4 little ones. Also a writer, editor, and former owner of one of Boston's premiere baby boutiques, she continues to write about motherhood, children's products, family life, and all other things that test our skills and patience as parents.
Photo credit: iStock/Lisa5201