New parenthood is an isolating experience. You aren’t simply adding a new piece to the puzzle of your life — instead, it feels as though this tiny person has shaken up all the existing pieces that you had spent decades fitting together, and now you must start again from scratch. You’re tired, lost, and smell a little funky. It’s hard to remember that others have been there, too.
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If your baby has a nappy leak in the middle of the night, the traditional options have been to 1) replace the crib sheet with a clean one in the rare case your sleep-deprived brain has remembered to keep a spare, or 2) do laundry and sob. (You can't just drape any old blanket on the bare mattress and say "see ya in the morning" - it could be a choking hazard.)
When my daughter was born, some friends came over to visit and brought us flowers. "Do you have a vase to put these in?" one chirped. As I sat there on an exercise ball, bopping my newborn up and down in a bleary-eyed state, my brain could not compute the request. Thanks, they're beautiful, but really? Does it look like I have the capacity to tend to another living thing?!
Interesting news out of the Netherlands: A team of researchers tracked nearly 85,000 women through their pregnancies and beyond, and found that self-esteem in pregnant women and new mothers fluctuates: It dips during the 30th week of pregnancy, rises until the child is six months old, and then declines for at least the next two and a half years. The good news is that maternal self-esteem eventually did recover: When the researchers followed the women for subsequent pregnancies, they found that the women had returned to their previous level of self-esteem.
In the months after my kids were born, the news cycle would send me into tailspins of anxiety and fear. The Penn State sex-abuse scandal and the Newtown shootings paralysed me for days -- I wept while changing nappies, wept in the bathtub, wept while pushing the stroller down the street. What might have been (merely!) horrifying pre-kids was now incapacitating. For my own mental health, I had to stop reading the news and looking at social media.