Thank you Elly Taylor for this guest post. I am in the middle of reading your book and really love it. You are truly an expert in this field and we are honored to share your voice. -Kelly and Miranda, ZynnyMe
Let me paint you two pictures, one before and one after. A couple, let’s call them Lisa and David, newly married and anticipating the birth of their first baby. They’ve painted the nursery duck-egg blue, bought a beautiful white wicker bassinette, done antenatal classes, made a birth plan and finally worked out how to install the wow-that-was-harder-than-we-expected car seat. They’re all prepared to be a happy family.
Now let’s press the double triangle fast forward button. David and Lisa, like 92% of other couples, are likely to be arguing more. Like 67%, they will be experiencing a decline in their relationship satisfaction. Lisa has a one in seven chance of having developed Postpartum Depression and a 33% chance of an adjustment disorder with anxiety symptoms. David is not far behind her – he has a one in ten chance of being diagnosed with Paternal Postpartum depression and a 17% chance of difficulty adjusting and anxiousness.
How does this happen? And, more importantly, what can we do about it?
After 15 years of working with clients in the “after” category, I began researching the transition into parenthood in the hope of connecting the dots, preventing complications and finding ways to facilitate the changes that normally occur when two become three se we can protect and support our new families.
And now I’m passionate about working with expecting parents. Here’s why:
These Clients Don’t Know they Need You
Parents who are thinking about starting a family don’t know what they don’t know. In a society where villages have broken down into suburbs, the wisdom of elders isn’t passed on. Our culture is not new-family friendly, finances are tight, both parents have to juggle work inside and outside the home and extended family often doesn’t mean an extra pair of hands. Hollywood idealises Parenthood and creates unhealthy expectations. Thirty percent of mothers say unrealistic expectations contributed to their PPD.
Parenthood is more an adventure than a journey, and chunks of the first year require more of a Survivor or Race Around the World attitude, yet we send parents off to parenthood with a congratulatory Bon Voyage card!
They Need you More than You May Know
One in seven mamas experience PPD as do one in ten dads. There’s a higher risk if they’ve been through a long period of assisted reproduction beforehand, had a traumatic birth experience, given birth to multiple babies, suffered from previous losses or mental health issues, or given birth to a baby born with complications. When either partner is depressed, there is a 75% increase that their new family, right from its very beginning, will come undone.
I’m not saying we have to burst anyone’s bubble, that’s no fun. But if we don’t let out a little balloon pressure, we’re sending them up into the atmosphere without a safety valve.
It’s a long way to fall.
Preparing expecting parents with at least the need for family-friendly stress relief strategies, tired parent communication skills and healthy expectations gives them a safety net.
There is Only a Tiny Window of Opportunity to work with These Clients
Maybe just a couple of months. In the first trimester of pregnancy, it’s enough just to adjust to the idea of becoming a family. In the last trimester, the prospect of birth is so huge, it’s hard to see past.
The late first/early middle trimester is the perfect time to prepare expecting parents for the likely changes to life and love – and address any emotional issues that may arise. The single biggest contributing factor to antenatal anxiety is relationship quality. The second trimester is also the time that maternal anxiety is most likely to have an impact as the foetus begins to match mom’s cortisol, epinephrine, and dopamine levels, which can lead to birth and early infancy complications.
If you’re working with a client before they’re expecting, even better. Asking a client “are you thinking about starting a family down the track?” can lead to some very rich, highly preventative and ultimately rewarding-for-all conversations.
There is a Massive Window of Opportunity
According to Dan Siegel, rates of secure attachment are falling.
That’s a depressing thought.
But here’s one that overrides it: John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth may have disagreed on the Nature vs. Nurture debate all those years ago, but they had one thing in common: they agreed that attachment styles were fixed for life.
We now know that’s no longer true.
Thanks to research into adult attachment and neuroplasticity, we know there’s two windows of opportunity for couples to re-configure themselves, both individually and as a couple into a more secure attachment style: when they fall in love and when they become parents. The brain changes itself, and so does the heart. Facilitating more secure attachment bonds has consequences for our couples, our families and our communities.
And it’s beautiful work to do.
Elly Taylor is an Australian relationship counselor, parenthood researcher and author of Becoming Us, 8 Steps to Grow a Family that Thrives. Elly teaches parents and professionals about the stages of early parenthood in between pregnancy and parenting to facilitate whole-family bonding. She lives in Sydney with her firefighter husband, their three children and a bunch of pets. To find out more visit http://ellytaylor.com/.