QUESTION: I am expecting my first child in three months and my partner and I are over the moon. We had a few problems conceiving and were overjoyed when it finally happened. However, in recent months I find myself growing increasingly anxious about becoming a mother and I have even woken up at night worrying about how I will cope. It is just that I feel as if I have been waiting so long for the baby that now I worry how I will manage, particularly about things such as sleep deprivation, and so on.
I am an older mother and have had a very busy and full life; I know I will have to make a lot of changes when the baby comes. I’m ready for this, but I just feel anxious and not as confident as I would like.
One of my friends, who is already a parent, made a comment the other night which implied it would be a particularly hard adjustment for me given my personality (I am very organised and can be a bit of a control freak). Are my worries normal? What can I do to prepare?
Your feelings are very normal and understandable. Although the prospect of a new baby arriving is a really happy and joyful event, it is also stressful and life-changing.
Some people have described the birth of a baby as being like a bomb going off in your life, after which you spend several years trying to pick up the pieces. Life with a new baby can be wonderful, but life with a new baby is different. Anxiety at the prospect of a new baby is very normal; in fact, I think some anxiety can be quite helpful.
Many first-time parents focus only on the good aspects of a baby arriving and can be very shocked and overwhelmed by the stresses and challenges. A little bit of anxiety helps you to be realistic and makes you prepare and adjust in advance, and that can be really helpful. Here are some tips for how to prepare yourself.
Accept and acknowledge your feelings and worries
Simply understanding and accepting your feelings can make a big difference. Seek some support and consider talking to your partner about your feelings: I’m sure he will have similar concerns, as well as some different ones. By talking and sharing you will be able to reassure and support each other.
Taking time to communicate with your partner about your worries and concerns as well as your excitement, hopes and dreams for the baby will bring you closer together as a couple, as you become parents together.
Take time to prepare
Many expectant parents find it helpful to prepare and get as much information as possible about what they need to know about parenting a new baby. Use the strength of your personality as an organiser to think through what is involved and to make specific and detailed plans. Read books, consult parenting websites and seek support on online parenting forums or anywhere else that helps you prepare.
Realise though that there is lots of conflicting advice about the “best” way to parent but what matters most is taking time to think through the issues and what will work for you and your partner. For example, many parenting experts recommend the importance of getting babies into early routines whereas others recommend a more responsive or on-demand style (and others recommend a mixture).
In my work with parents, I try to help them to be self-aware about their own needs and well-informed about their options so that they can make their own decisions about what style of parenting will work for them and their babies.
Be prepared to adapt and go with the flow
In my experience, the new parents who do the best are the ones who are prepared but who are also able to go with the flow and to adapt with what is thrown at them when the baby arrives.
Having a new baby is so unpredictable and there is only so much you can control, so being able to go with the flow is important. Parents who are over-rigid about plans and how they want to parent can hit a wall when things don’t turn out exactly as they expected or hoped.
A bit of flexibility, self-compassion and a sense of humour all helps. While of course it is important to prepare and to have a plan, you must be prepared to abandon the plan and be flexible to adapt to circumstances.
Enjoy every minute
Try to experience and enjoy each stage of the process in becoming a new mother. There will be hard work and frustrations as well as joy and wonderful moments.
Even the expected difficult parts may not be as difficult as you think. One mother I worked with learned to love the calm in the middle of the night when feeding her baby, when it was a special time just for the two of them.
Try to have a routine each day that allows for peaceful relaxed times when you can just enjoy your baby.
Many first-time parents can become exhausted and neglect their own needs, and that is not good for parent or baby. Indeed, you can attend fully to your baby only when some of your own needs are taken care of.
For example, some mothers can manage night feeds only if they have a supportive partner who cares for the baby during the early evening and morning when she can catch up on her own sleep.
So continue to focus on your own self-care and on looking after yourself when the baby is born. Seek the support you need and take up all offers of help from family and friends.
Dr. John Sharry, Irish Times Newspaper, October 2014. John writes in The Irish Times Health+Family every Tuesday.