Having a newborn is full of contradictions and emotional swings. Knowing what to expect — and when to get help — can help you navigate the early days of parenthood.
It’s 3 a.m. The baby is crying. Again. I am crying. Again.
I can barely see out of my eyes they are so heavy with exhaustion. Yesterday’s tears have crystallized along the lid line, gluing my lashes together.
I hear a rumble in his tummy. I dread where this is going. I possibly could have gotten him back down, but then I hear it. I have to change his diaper. Again.
This means we’ll be up for another hour or two. But, let’s be honest. Even if he hadn’t pooped, I wouldn’t have been able to go back to sleep. Between the anxiety of waiting for him to stir again and the deluge of to-dos that flood my mind the minute I close my eyes, there is no “sleep when the baby sleeps.” I feel the pressure of this expectation and suddenly, I am crying. Again.
I hear my husband’s snores. There is a boiling up of anger inside of me. For some reason, in this moment I cannot remember that he himself was up until 2 a.m. on first shift. All I can feel is my resentment that he gets to sleep right now when I really need to. Even the dog is snoring. Everyone seems to get to sleep but me.
I lay the baby on the changing table. He startles with the change of temperature. I turn the nightlight on. His almond eyes are wide open. A toothless grin spreads across his face when he sees me. He squeals with excitement.
In an instant, everything changes.
Whatever annoyance, grief, exhaustion, resentment, sadness, that I was feeling melts away. And suddenly, I am laughing. Fully laughing.
I pick the baby up and hug him in toward me. He wraps his little arms around my neck and nuzzles into the crevice of my shoulder. I am crying, again. But this time, it is tears of pure joy.
To a bystander, the rollercoaster of emotions that a new parent experiences may seem out of control or even troubling. But for someone with an infant, this comes with the territory. This is parenthood!
People often say it is “the longest, shortest time,” Well, it is also the hardest, greatest time.
I have lived with generalized anxiety disorder my entire life and I come from a family where mental illness (particularly mood disorders) is prevalent, so it can be frightening at times how extreme my feelings swing.
I often wonder — am I in the early stages of postpartum depression when I cannot stop crying?
Or am I becoming depressed, like my grandfather, when I feel so run-down that returning a friend’s text or phone call feels impossible?
Or am I developing health anxiety, because I’m always convinced the baby is getting sick?
Or do I have an anger disorder, when I feel searing rage toward my husband for something small, like how his fork clanks against his bowl, afraid he’ll wake the baby?
Or am I becoming obsessive compulsive, like my brother, when I cannot stop fixating on the baby’s sleep and need his nighttime routine to be exceedingly precise?
Is my anxiety abnormally high, when I fret about every single thing from constantly making sure the house, bottles, and toys are properly sanitized, to then worrying his immune system will not build if things are too clean?
From worrying that he’s not eating enough, to then worrying he is eating too much.
From worrying that he is waking up every 30 minutes, to then worrying “is he alive?” when he sleeps too long.
From worrying that he’s being too quiet, to then worrying that he’s being too excitable.
From worrying he is making a noise over and over, to wondering where did that noise go?
From worrying a phase will never end, to never wanting it to end.
Often this dichotomy emotions will occur not just from one day to the next, but in a matter of minutes. Like that pirate ship ride at the fair that swings from one end to the other.
It can be frightening. The unpredictability of feelings. I was especially concerned given my family history and tendency toward anxiety.
But as I began to reach out to my support network, from my therapist to other parents, I came to realize that in most cases the wide spectrum of emotions we experience during the early days of a first child is not only completely normal, it is to be expected!
There is something reassuring knowing we all go through it. When I am exhausted and resentful at 4 a.m. feeding the baby, knowing there are other mothers and fathers out there feeling the exact same thing helps. I am not a bad person. I am just a new mom.
Of course it isn’t always just the baby blues or the emotional moments of early parenthood. The reality is, for some parents, postpartum mood disorders are very real. That’s why it is important, if you’re also asking whether your feelings are normal, to speak to a loved one or a medical professional to seek help.
Help for postpartum mood disorders
- Postpartum Support International (PSI) offers a phone crisis line (800-944-4773) and text support (503-894-9453), as well as referrals to local providers.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has free 24/7 helplines available for people in a crisis who may be considering taking their lives. Call 800-273-8255 or text “HELLO” to 741741.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a resource that has both a phone crisis line (800-950-6264) and a text crisis line (“NAMI” to 741741) for anyone who needs immediate assistance.
- Motherhood Understood is an online community started by a postpartum depression survivor offering electronic resources and group discussions via mobile app.
- The Mom Support Group offers free peer-to-peer support on Zoom calls led by trained facilitators.
Becoming a parent is the hardest thing I have ever done, and it is the most fulfilling and amazing thing I have ever done, too. Honestly, I think the challenges in those earlier days actually make the joyful moments that much richer.
What’s that old saying? The greater the effort, the sweeter the reward? Of course, looking at my little one’s face right now, he is pretty darn sweet, no effort necessary.
Sarah Ezrin is a motivator, writer, yoga teacher, and yoga teacher trainer. Based in San Francisco, where she lives with her husband and their dog, Sarah is changing the world, teaching self-love to one person at a time. For more information on Sarah please visit her website, www.sarahezrinyoga.com.