By Melanie Bowden
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 life with 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 2 weeks old, the baby started crying - "all day!" Lisa says. "We tried putting her on the dryer, in the swing, driving her around, using 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 from work one day, and he was so frustrated with the crying that he said, '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. "I couldn't stop crying. I couldn't eat and I was down to my pre-pregnancy weight within two weeks after birth. I would rather sleep than eat. I felt like I was grieving the loss of my old life."
Lisa called her obstetrician's office and talked to the nurse about her depression: "The nurse said, '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."
When Abby was a month old, Lisa contacted a postpartum doula whose name she obtained from a 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 mothers' stories at mothers' groups," she said. "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.
"I feel like those early days with Abby were ruined‚ that I was cheated. If I get depressed again," Lisa said, "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."
A Few Tips for Mom
- You have to find resources of people you trust - like a mother, a 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's offers to help out 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 new father needs attention, too. You will feel like you are leading separate lives in the beginning, but that passes.
- It's OK to get help and to give yourself a break by spending time away from the baby. 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.