I just had the most amazing weekend. Before you throw up in your mouth and leave the page, wait, I promise I won’t be bubbling out love for my hubby this whole time. My kids went to my parents and my husband and I got away to Vermont for the weekend. We had some amazing time to connect, drink beer, and eat food (the important things). We also spent a lot of time being oddly reflective and a bit sappy with each other. I’m guessing a lot of this had to do with the fact that I went to an amazing training on Friday put on by UCONN’s school of social work on perinatal and postpartum mood and anxiety disorders which happens to be the area that I am working on specializing in.
As with many things in my training, I was super excited about this and how that translates into my marriage is that my husband also gets to go to this training by proxy as well because I don’t shut up about the things I am excited about. Luckily, for him, this is also a topic that interests him.
We spent some considerable amount of time on our drive up to Vermont discussing a topic that was discussed in my training about the myths of parenthood.
Oh yes, the myths. At this point some of you may be nodding in understanding, and for those of you who aren’t let me explain further. The myths of parenting are the things that we all “know” about parenting before we are parents. It’s the expectations that society puts on us and our infants, as well as the expectations that we put on ourselves.
Some of the myths of parenting that resonate with me are “a parent always knows instinctively why their baby is crying”, “babies only cry when they are hungry, wet, or tired”, “a parent is bonded to their baby from the first time that they see them”, and “parents never get frustrated with their infant”.
Yea, that’s a lot, and that’s only some of them. These don’t include the expectations that we put on ourselves that create these huge pressures and myths nor does it include scary thoughts (which I will write about at another time because trust me, there’s a lot to say). For me, at least with my first child, some of these revolved around breastfeeding. I got stuck on this idea that I was a terrible parent, and then a terrible human being, if I couldn’t just accomplish this one simple thing.
Uhm simple? So I know a lot of ladies who are laughing at me right now and my wording of “simple”, because it isn’t. I was miserable breastfeeding and I kept telling myself it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that my baby got breast milk. Never mind that I couldn’t bond with her because every time she cried I felt resentful that I had to feed her and then felt absolutely terrible about myself for feeling this way. But the fact that breastfeeding is the most natural thing a woman can do is everywhere – so why did it feel so unnatural to me?
This is an example of my thinking and my distorted expectations of myself and this experience. It wasn’t until I reluctantly, and miserably, made my tear drenched decision to stop breastfeeding, that I began to start feeling a little more positively about the whole baby experience.
During that time in my life I remember having a conversation with my father on the phone. My husband was inside with our baby and I had gone outside to let the dogs out for five minutes and call my parents. I needed a break. I think the baby was almost 2 weeks old at that point and my dad in this dreamy voice said “Isn’t this just the most wonderful time of your life?”
So yea I burst into tears and was like “no dad, it’s not. Don’t you remember at all what having a newborn is like” to which he paused and gave me a grumbled “oh yea I guess you are right” kind of response.
And this is where, on our way up to Vermont, my husband and I identified what we feel like might be the origins of the myths of parenting. It’s all these grandparents and parents that are further into their journey looking back at that time in their lives with these freaking rainbow and glitter lenses.
We take the amazing relationship and bond we may have with our older children and it impacts the way that we see the beginning of their lives, which then of course impacts the way that we communicate to other parents that whole newborn stage. Don’t get me wrong, when we were pregnant with our first we got a lot of responses from family members like “you think you are ready but your aren’t” which at the time felt more condescending than foreboding.
I think the solution lies somewhere in staying aware and making sure that we remain aware of the realties of new parenthood. For some of us, it is easy to forget the consuming insanity that is adjusting to having a baby, and for others of us the scars from that time are visible on our bodies and gauged into the thoughts that we have about the way we may have acted or not acted with our infants or toward ourselves.
The important thing for us all to remember is that each postpartum experience for each family member is unique as well as with each child. What is normal for me may not be normal for someone else, and vice versa. New mothers and fathers need validation that they are doing it right, that the experience is not sunshine and rainbows, that the bond takes time, that you will be frustrated with the baby and yourself and probably your partner, that nothing goes the way you plan, that all those things you said you would never do as a parent before you became a parent – you are now doing, and for god’s sake you are exactly the parent that your child needs.