Having a baby, whether your first or your last, is always a busy time of preparation. With all the hurried decorating, gathering of supplies and coordinating of schedules it's easy to overlook an essential part of getting ready: emotional preparation. Here are a few suggestions to help you as you get ready for the emotional roller coaster of motherhood.
Step one: Letting go of fear
The arrival of a new baby is often accompanied by some degree of fear. Fear of complications, of the changes coming, the unknowns of parenthood, labor and delivery and any number of other concerns. The problem is, fear does nothing to help. Odds are greatly in a pregnant woman's favor for a healthy outcome for both mother and child. Motherhood is a difficult job but isn't without tremendous (albeit sometimes too far between) rewards.
Rather than fearing the future and the inevitable challenges of parenthood, take comfort in knowing millions of women have given birth to children and learned how to be wonderful mothers. Take life one day, hour or minute at a time. Keep in mind that "this too shall pass". Realize that seasoned mothers tell parenthood horror stories like men tell sports stories. They aren't traumatized at all and it probably wasn't as bad as it sounds anyway. It's a way of bonding through shared experiences with other mothers and usually, the horrors are terribly funny after the fact.
:Learn to just go with it.
Flexibility and an acceptance of a situation is vital to emotional sanity once baby arrives. Instead of withdrawing emotionally out of fear, learn to accept the cards you have been dealt and do what you can to increase the chances of things working out. Avoidance of attachment does little to diminish the pain if things indeed turn out wrong. Learning to evaluate the situation, do what you can, accept what can't be changed and then let go of fear can reduce stress and help you deal emotionally with challenges.
Step Three: Realistic expectations
Despite books like What To Expect When You're Expecting, no one really knows what to expect when the baby arrives, Grandma leaves, and Mom is on her own. Maybe your baby is that one in a million child who is perfectly agreeable all the time and makes parenting an absolute breeze. Most likely, however, your child will present its own unique set of challenges and will leave its owner's manual behind and give you no idea what to do at least some of the time.
Expecting your child or yourself to be perfect is a sure road to disaster. Expect that sometimes everything will be great and you will experience some wonderful times with your baby. Expect to have your sleep completely disrupted. Expect your routine to be thrown off. Experiment with quick meals and find ways to do the things you do now faster in order to reduce stress later. Stress is a huge emotional drain and can make it much harder to deal with situations. Expect your baby to cry and become familiar with soothing techniques beforehand. Some information can be found at http://intermountainhealthcare.org/health-resources/health-topics/healthwise/content/sig42808/ways-to-comfort-a-crying-baby.aspx or http://www.parents.com/baby/care/newborn/ways-to-soothe-fussy-newborn/.
Talk to other mothers. What works for one baby won't work for another so gather a lot of ideas to try.
Step Four: Get to know your baby
One way to ease the emotional transition from invisible future child to physically present child is to interact with your child prior to birth. Take time during the day (or night) to marvel in the movements of your child. Later in pregnancy the twists and kicks of your baby can be visible from the outside.
Lay on your back or side and watch this amazing way your child lets you know they are there. Give your child a name (pet name or the one they will be called by) and refer to them by name. You may find it a little strange to talk to your belly and say something like "Good morning Emily!" as you feel the first movements of the day. If it doesn't seem too odd, try it. You may find it helps to transition from viewing your child as a theoretical being seen only on an ultrasound screen to the baby you hold in your arms. The more you pay attention to your child before birth and think of the baby as a reality, the easier it may be to feel like you know your baby after birth.
Step Five: Bond after birth
Bonding with your child during pregnancy is invaluable to preparing emotionally for the arrival of your child. Immediately after birth, this process changes to a whole new world of bonding. What happens in the first few days can help immensely when you confront the challenges of a newborn later on.
With my last child, I had an opportunity which made a huge difference for me in bonding with my child. For the first time I was asked if I wanted to hold my baby within a short time of birth. The nurse brought my freshly cleaned son over and placed him directly on my chest, skin to skin. I was amazed how absolutely wonderful it was to snuggle him with a blanket over both of us to keep us warm with his skin touching mine. I never would have believed the difference the lack of a layer of cotton can make! The first time I held my other children was after they were swaddled in their blankets and brought to me. I enjoyed holding them but it wasn't as emotionally powerful as the skin to skin contact with my son.
I spent the next two days doing almost everything with my son either in my arms or lying across my lap. It was a wonderful, quiet, bonding experience with just the two of us which helped me after I returned home. The challenges were there but my bond with my son was such that even though I was exhausted, I loved to just hold him even in the middle of the night.
Step Six: I am woman, hear me roar!
Last but not least, have confidence in yourself and your ability to parent. Believe that even though you might not get to shower until 10 a.m. or you may eat lunch standing up, you can do it! You will know your child better than anyone else, and you will find what works for you. Babies will someday sleep through the night, feed themselves and play. Even the colicky ones eventually calm down and the sleepless ones sleep. Look forward to milestones and all the great things about parenting like smiles, laughter and the crazy silly things kids do when they think Mom and Dad aren't looking.
Make a list of your strengths and accomplishments. When you're feeling overwhelmed, look at the list. Then you can tell yourself "If I did (fill in the blank) then I can definitely handle what's going on right now!" Make a habit of finding the positive in every situation. It can be difficult sometimes, but then the positive sometimes becomes absurd and leads to humor which makes almost anything easier to deal with.
Give yourself pep talks that would amaze the best football coach! Whether you're sick with morning sickness, or dealing with the aches and pains of the third trimester, or once again listening to a baby who refuses to calm down, you can do it! Tell yourself you are strong and capable. While you may not have all the answers you will find the ones you need. Look at greeting a newborn as the beginning of a grand adventure and vow to love the journey whether the road is through beautiful valleys or up a steep mountain.
These suggestions aren't perfect and don't work for everyone, but they may help you find what works for you. Realize that perspective is everything. Every day is a new day and even the hardest ones end. Draw comfort and strength from others when it's tough. Develop a support network of family and friends who you feel comfortable talking to when you're having a hard time. Above all, believe in yourself and remember, you too can do it.