If there is one thing you can expect when you are having a baby, it’s that everyone will have some bit of advice for you. Parents and the childless alike will have some witty remark or tip given in earnest. Some will simply chuckle as they reassure you that “you’ll never sleep again!” (By the way, I’ve decided that people who are amused by the impending sleep deprivation of expectant parents, reveal themselves to be rather sadistic. Don’t you think?) And, while your newly identified sadistic friends are giggling, another acquaintance will provide you with a list of “must-have” items. (Should you choose to not purchase that cherry-scented butt-wipe warmer, your children will obviously grow up to be criminals.)
If this is your first child, it can be difficult to distinguish the helpful advice from the nonsense. (Pro-tip: most of it is nonsense.) But, even if you are expecting your second, third, or fourth child, or beyond, you will continue to receive similar “advice” from honest well-wishers and know-it-alls alike.
The thing is, no one really knows what you should expect, when you’re expecting. More often than not, the things you experience as a parent are not what you expected. Sometimes they’re beautiful little surprises, like the first time your child says “I love you,” or a sweet drawing of the family, brought home from school. They are wonders that you never could have prepared for, like the immense love you never realized yourself capable of feeling.
Unfortunately, sometimes things are not so wonderful. The stomach bug comes to mind, or a twisted ankle during a baseball game. Sometimes it’s Postpartum Anxiety. A devastating prenatal diagnosis. An abortion.
So, what do you do when pregnancy or parenthood isn’t what you expected? For mothers and fathers alike, one of the most important things that you can do is find someone to talk to. A licensed therapist, preferably one that specializes in the mental health of postpartum women or in that of parents, can be especially helpful. It can be scary to admit to yourself that things aren’t what you expected, and even scarier to speak that truth aloud to a therapist.
You aren’t alone, though. It took me two-and-a-half years before I sought therapy to deal with Postpartum Anxiety after the birth of my son. Two-and-a-half years of being afraid. Two-and-a-half years of insomnia and panic attacks. Two-and-a-half years of knowing that this was not what I expected.
That’s why, when I lost my daughter at 22 weeks pregnant, I did not hesitate to call my therapist. I did not expect to get a lethal fetal anomaly diagnosis in the form of Spina Bifida Myelomeningocele. I did not expect to choose a surgical abortion over carrying my daughter to term, only to watch her die shortly after birth. What I did expect though, through previous experience, was that therapy would be an invaluable tool towards healing.
So, though I try my best to not give unsolicited advice to expectant parents. Were I asked to share anything, it would be this — you won’t enjoy every moment, and that’s okay. However, I hope that you will enjoy most moments, more than you ever dreamed possible, so soak them up as best you can. That, and find a good therapist.