A common misconception in American culture is that if you are in a stable relationship, your finances are good and your pregnancy is planned, then you shouldn’t have any problems adjusting to a new baby.
Lisa is one of millions of women who thought she was prepared for the arrival of her first child. She and her husband, Chris, had been happily married for almost two years. They both had successful careers and were excited about bringing a baby into their lives. “I had no fears or trepidations about being a mother.” Lisa says. “I thought I knew what was in store.”
When Lisa’s baby, Abby, was two weeks old, she started crying all day. “We tried putting her on the dryer, the swing, driving her around, the pacifier, swaddling, walking her, rocking her. She was a classic colicky baby. I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, my life is over, and I’m stuck with this horrible, screaming baby.’ I had terrible anxiety. If she wasn’t asleep, I was anxious. I also felt like I couldn’t survive it at times. I remember Chris stayed home one day from work, and he was so frustrated with the crying that he said, ‘Jesus Christ, it takes two adults to take care of one baby!’ There were days when I felt like it took three.”
Lisa’s father, a physician, noticed that Lisa was depressed. “We knew it was more than the baby blues,” Lisa says, “because I couldn’t stop crying. I also couldn’t eat and was down to my pre-pregnancy weight within two weeks after birth. I would rather sleep then eat. I felt like I was grieving the loss of my old life.”
Lisa called her OB’s office and talked to the nurse about her depression. “The nurse said, ‘Well, the doctor doesn’t deal with these issues.’ I couldn’t believe how hard it was to get help.
“I was eventually able to get in to see a psychiatrist at four-weeks postpartum and get medication. I started taking Zoloft, and it worked pretty quickly — within seven days. I didn’t go to therapy because I didn’t feel the need, and I would have had to pay for it out of pocket. . . . I did experience two side effects from the Zoloft — no libido and weight gain. I gained 10 pounds. I took Zoloft until Abby was 4 months old and then switched to Wellbutrin, which helped with the libido issues. I stopped the Wellbutrin when Abby was 6 months old and haven’t had a bout of depression since.
“I feel like those early days with Abby were ruined — that I was cheated. If I get depressed again, I will take medication right away if needed. I wanted to come home with my newborn and enjoy it. I wish I had scheduled all day help for three days a week and that Chris had had more leave.”
When Abby was 4 weeks old, Lisa contacted a postpartum doula whose name she obtained from the local baby store. She arranged for the doula to come twice a week for three hours at a time. “It was also helpful to hear other mother’s stories at mothers’ groups. I would feel good about Abby after going to those groups.”
The media images of new mothers disturbed Lisa during those early months. “They show new mothers glowing. The reality is a drag — baby on breast, constantly changing diapers, keeping the house up, not seeing adults, worrying about your job and lack of income. You are on call 24 hours a day, which is a constant source of stress.
What also bothered Lisa was that no one had told her how long it would take to establish a routine with a baby. “I would always forget something when I went out of the house with Abby. It took months to get a system down, and a solid year before I was comfortable with a routine.”
Tips For Moms
Lisa advises other moms: “You have to find resources of people you trust, like a mother, nurse or doula, and be OK asking for help. Get that information while you’re pregnant so it’s at your fingertips. You can’t predict the emotional changes you’ll go through. Don’t be surprised about feeling unhappy when you deal with this huge change; it’s bigger than anything. You have to accept that life is different.
“When the baby is little and sleeps most of the time, take advantage of people helping so you can reconnect with your spouse. You’ll probably be too tired to care about intimacy, but you need to rest and reconnect with each other. The husband needs attention, too. You will feel like you are leading separate lives in the beginning, but that passes.
“I wish all new mothers knew that it’s OK to get help and to give themselves a break by spending time away from the baby. They also need to be able to recognize the signs of postpartum depression. It’s OK not to do it all by yourself. It should take a village. You don’t have to be a Super Mom. It’s easy to fall into that trap, especially with breastfeeding. It does get easier when the baby settles down and naps regularly, but don’t be surprised if you’re blown away by how difficult it is in the beginning.”
Excerpted from the book, “Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Me? True Stories of New Motherhood,” by Melanie Bowden.