In a journal article on “Mother’s Expectations of Parenthood“, authors Lazarus and Rossouw address the influence of unreasonable prenatal expectations of parenthood on the development of postpartum mood disorders. They make recommendations for antenatal classes that I think are worth consideration for childbirth educators:
“Current antenatal classes focus mainly on the birthing process; however… it is the transition that occurs once the mother is at home that is pivotal in the development of depression, anxiety, stress, and low-self esteem… An education program focusing on compromised infant, support, and self-expectations during the first year post birth should be created and incorporated into existing antenatal classes… This type of education program should perhaps emphasize the potential realities of having a child (such as a difficult and painful birthing experience or a baby with a more difficult temperament) but, most importantly, it should normalize the ambivalence and doubt that a mother may experience post birth, and stress the importance of reaching out for help and talking to others if she experiences even the smallest difficulty during the transition to becoming a new mother.
“This education program could also highlight how current social norms for new mothers as “super mums” is… not merely unattainable but rather it creates an environment that promotes the development of depression in new mothers, given that women feel strongly obliged to isolate themselves and conceal their true feelings when they are experiencing difficulties and/or depression post birth. These behaviors only succeed in further feeding the symptoms of depression by avoiding the issues at hand… If a healthy shift to new motherhood is to transpire, it is the rule rather than the exception that this transition may be accompanied by some degree of grief and loss and changes in mood.”
As a childbirth educator, or doula, do you encourage your clients to think about their expectations and be certain that they are realistic?
In my post on “Failing to Meet Your Own Expectations“, I offer some questions parents can ask themselves about their expectations for their parenting, and some ways to re-frame them to be sure they are attainable goals.