You couldn’t wait to become a parent and after giving birth to your baby you couldn’t wait to come home to start your new family life. But, once you are home and all the well-wishers have left you are now alone with this tiny, helpless human who depends on you for everything. Your baby can make you feel joyful and self-assured that you ‘got this’ and yet, you may be filled with self-doubt and fear. Whether a couple decides to go for a normal pregnancy or a donor embryo adoption, all new parents share similar feelings and experiences. Unlike a new appliance, your baby did not come with an owner’s manual and just about anyone you ask for advice has a different opinion on what you should be doing. Emotional planning is vital and often overlooked as you enter the “fourth trimester” of pregnancy which is also known as the first three months of your baby’s life. This is because newborns are completely dependent on their parents and are most comforted by conditions that are similar to what they experienced while still in the womb. They need time to adjust to life outside.
As a parent (new or experienced) expect to feel stress; having a baby is a major life change and no matter how much we want this change and no matter how much we think we are prepared for it, we aren’t really aware of how every aspect of our lives is forever different. It may be especially difficult for couples who went through infertility issues and got a baby through IVF embryo transfer since it may add on to the stress of adjusting with non-traditional aspects of parenthood. It is vital to pay attention to your needs; if you don’t take care of yourself you can’t take care of the baby effectively so accept help when it is offered. Do not try to be super parent; sometimes it takes a village! When family, friends, neighbors or co-workers offer help, let them know what you need and accept the help. It could be watching over the baby to allow you some time to nap, or take a shower, or run errands, etc. This can not only relieve stress but it can give you a much needed break. It’s vital to believe in yourself; as much as you feel overwhelmed and insecure about your new role, you need to believe that you know what is best for your baby. Take in the advice that is offered and try out what makes sense or feels right and let go of the rest. Forgive yourself when you make mistakes; all parents do. Allow yourself time to develop your relationship with your baby; this is important to understand there is a difference between providing care and creating a relationship. Talk with your partner about what strategies seem to be effective and support each other as you figure things out. Ask questions; we all need to learn how to be parents and be open to changing some of your preconceived notions about parenting. Be aware and accepting of your own feelings; you may be feeling anxious, sad and fearful. Feelings about parenting are nothing to be ashamed of and do not reflect your ability to be a good parent. It’s important to remember your partner is also going through this life change and your relationship with them is evolving too. It is important to find some time together to talk about your fears, hopes, changes and what you need from one another. Babies need a lot of nurturing to thrive; this is more than feeding them or changing their diapers. They need to be held, talked with and interacted with as much as possible. They are getting to know you as much as you are getting to know them. Enjoy your baby and remember that every stage is short-lived and fleeting. Each time your baby reaches a milestone they have taken a step away from babyhood… those milestones fly by!
After approximately five months of parenting, most new parents feel more confident about their routines and abilities. Knowing what their baby’s different cries mean, they have figured out how to negotiate being in public (having enough diapers, bottles, food, etc.) with the baby, using the car seat with confidence, they are also not as sleep deprived and feel less frustrated. Adjusting will vary as everyone is different. Most new parents are surprised at the amount of time it takes to become comfortable in their new roles. Often they are worried that they won’t be a good parent and sometimes one partner in the relationship might settle into their new role easier or faster than the other. Additionally, couples who had to adopt an embryo may have other concerns in mind, for instance, if they would be able to develop a bond with their child conceived through embryos available for adoption. However, the same instances apply here as in a traditional pregnancy. It is vital to voice your worries and fears to your family, friends and support team as you try to build confidence and security as a new parent.
Some helpful hints: Take care of yourself; it is not selfish or a sign of weakness to ensure you are physically and emotionally prepared. Create daily routines, which is difficult at first but after a while you will notice patterns that help create routines for feeding, sleeping, diaper changes and playtime. Talk to someone about how you are feeling; tell a nonjudgmental friend or family who is a good listener is helpful in knowing you are not alone. Remember, it takes time to adjust to this new phase of life. Adjusting to parenthood is huge and forever changing which means you will forever be adjusting. And, if there are other children in the home, you will be helping them adjust to being a sibling as you are adjusting to being a parent to multiple children. There’s always something to adjust to while raising a family.
Parents have four major responsibilities in providing a combination of nurture and structure when raising children. They maintain health and safety, promote emotional well-being, help develop social skills and prepare the child intellectually. Ellen Galinsky, a family dynamics researcher developed the Galinsky Six Stages Of Parenthood which incorporates how parenting adjusts as your child changes:
*Stage One: The Image Making Stage (Planning/Pregnancy) This is when prospective parents consider what it means to become a parent and plan changes accordingly. During this stage new parents often think about what type of parent they would like to be and evaluate their own parents as role models.
*Stage Two: The Nurturing Stage: (Infancy) This is when parents attach and develop a relationship with and adapt to their new baby. The main goal at this stage is to develop a healthy attachment between parents and child. Some parents who had to go for donor embryo adoption may consider this a hard task, however, the right kind of devotion and love for your child will make it seem easy enough to form a bond with them. A lot of adaptation can occur during this stage which includes relationships with their other children partner, and their own parents. Some new parents feel attached immediately and some it happens more gradually. This is when preconceived images may need to be aligned with the actual baby. Parenting responsibilities are at the greatest demand during infancy because of the complete dependency of infants
*Stage Three: The Authority Stage (Toddler/Pre-school) This is when parents create rules and how to guide their child’s behavior. This generally happens from two to five years old. Consistency and reinforcement of expectations are important.
*Stage Four: The Interpretive Stage (Middle Childhood) This is when parents help their children interpret their experiences with the social world beyond the family. This generally happens from preschool/kindergarten to adolescence. Parents teach their children about values, expected and acceptable behaviors and provide explanations. Parents have to negotiate their involvement, when to step in and when to encourage independence.
*State Five: The Interdependent Stage (Adolescence) This is when parents renegotiate their relationship with their children which allows for shared power in decision-making. Parents of teens must redefine their authority as children make independent decisions.
*Stage Six: The Departure Stage (Early Adulthood) This is when children become independent and parents evaluate their successes and failures as parents. This stage is a new transition in a parents’ lives as parents become a less central role in their child’s life.
Temperament plays a part in effective parenting. Our temperament affects how we focus, our moods, our affects and how we negotiate relationships. Sometimes children and parents have similar temperaments and that makes parenting a little easier. Sometimes children and parents have very different temperaments and parents need to adjust their expectations and actions.
One of the more interesting aspects of being a parent is the variations and yet, the commonalities from one parenting situation to another. Some parents are authoritarians who use a strict style of discipline with very little negotiation and punishment is common. There is very little flexibility, one way communication and high expectations. Some parents are permissive and let their children do what they want and provide little direction and limited guidance. They tend to be more like friends with their children than parents. They do not enforce rules, let their children figure out problems, expectations are minimally set. Some are uninvolved parents who give their children a lot of freedom, no particular style of discipline is used, communication is limited, there are few if any expectations of the children and there is very little parental caring or nurturing. Authoritative parents are generally reasonable, nurturing and have set clear expectations. Children with authoritative parents think for themselves and are self-disciplined. Rules are clear, reasons for rules are explained, children have input and parents are nurturing. Very few parents fit into one style; most parents use different styles based on the needs of the child and what feels right. Parenting is about figuring out how to develop and healthy, nurturing, supportive environment while also enforcing rules and expectations to maintain safety and balance.
While adjusting to parenthood is no easy task, it is also essential to keep others in mind. We recommend all couples who went through a normal pregnancy to donate embryos for adoption so the families struggling with infertility can make use of them and be blessed with a child that they have been trying for so long.
The transition to parenthood is huge and forever life changing. Embrace every moment, even the difficult ones as it all goes by so quickly! Focus on building a positive relationship with your child; it is the most important lasting and rewarding aspect of parenthood. Use available resources to help you feel less overwhelmed. Use available resources to help you feel less overwhelmed.
Some helpful books on adjusting to parenting:
The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood: Coping With Stress, Depression and Burnout by Kathleen Kendall-Tackett
When Partners Become Parents: The Big Life Change For Couples by Carolyn Pape Cowan and Philip Cowan
Do Fathers Matter? What Science Is Telling Us About The Parent We’ve Overlooked by Paul Raeburn
First Time Dad: The Stuff You Really Need To Know by John Fuller and Paul Batura
First-Time Parent: The Honest Guide to Coping Brilliantly and Staying Sane in Your Baby’s First Year by Lucy Atkins
What To Expect The First Year by Heidi Murkoff
The Baby Owner’s Manual: Operating Instructions, Trouble-Shooting Tips, and Advice on First Year Maintenance (Owner’s and Instruction Manual) by Louis Borgenicht M.D. and Joe Borgenicht