Setting Realistic Expectations for Your New Postpartum Life

postpartum

As young children, most of us begin to envision the future at some point during our middle or high school years.  We start to think about the types of careers that we want to go into, the places that we will live, and the exotic lands that we will vacation in.  We consider the type of person that we want to spend the rest of our lives with and begin to ponder whether we want to have children or not.  If those future plans do in fact incorporate parenthood, you likely had some more expectations of what that might look like. 

It is fairly safe to say that you probably envisioned the moment where you would walk out of the hospital for the first time with your little bundle of joy, who would undoubtedly be snuggled in their blue or pink blanket.  You probably thought about that first drive home, where your little cherub would be sleeping peacefully in the back seat.  Perhaps you thought about the moment where you would walk into your house for the first time as a family.  You may have dreamed about feeding your baby, playing with them, or rocking them to sleep.  You may have even envisioned yourself exercising and getting back into shape, while slipping into an easy rhythm at home with your spouse.  You figured that work-life balance would be a snap.

And then you grow up, experience some version of these events, and realize how unrealistic your expectations truly were.  The vast majority does not experience the dream sequence in any way, shape, or form that we remember it.  After the birth of a child, most of us are just focused on keeping that child alive, putting one foot in front of the other, and coming up every once in awhile for oxygen.  We quickly realize that parenthood and the postpartum months may be a bit more challenging than we originally thought. 

Most couples learn that they need to find a new norm after the birth of a child.  That easy rhythm they thought they would instantly fall into becomes a complicated dance that they do not know the steps to.  Their relationship becomes strained with new challenges and they need to formulate a brand new identity.  During the postpartum months, very few people have it easy or bounce back as quickly as they anticipated. 

However, things can become complicated when one’s expectations turn into disappointment, resentment, anger, or even depression.  Some individuals may feel disappointed with themselves, with their spouse, or with their child.  They may feel resentful about the new changes that are occurring in their lives, or even become jealous of the attention that their baby is receiving.  Some may feel angry at their spouse for their actions or perceived inactions.  Some may even become depressed, or feel like a failure as a new parent. 

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If you can relate to any of this, you must immediately toss your old expectations out the window and nix your postpartum dream sequence.  Expect to encounter struggles and challenges and be kind to yourself as you learn how to navigate them.  If you experience postpartum depression, do not berate yourself, seek help, and utilize resources.  If you can learn how to lower your expectations, you can also minimize the chances of feeling like you failed to live up to the impossible standards that you originally put forth for yourself.  You can reduce the risk of feeling angry and resentful about how your life is going and instead, develop more realistic expectations that will allow you to enjoy your time as a new parent.       

Tracy is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is a clinical supervisor for the Community YMCA, Counseling & Social Services branch. Tracy has over 12 years of experience working in many settings including partial care hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs, community agencies, group practice, and school-based programs. Tracy works with clients of all ages, but especially enjoys working with the adolescents. Tracy  facilitates groups using art therapy, sand play and psychodrama.