Why Most New Parents Go Through A Mourning Stage

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new parents holding baby

Editor's Note: This is a part of YourTango's Opinion section where individual authors can provide varying perspectives for wide-ranging political, social, and personal commentary on issues.

I belong to a subculture that’s very different from mainstream culture. So when I start to notice patterns among my mainstream friends, I tend to poke at them a bit more. Such was the case with my friend Paige* back in the day.

Paige was the type of girl who was born to be a mother. She wanted to be a mother to eight kids growing up and made a point of telling people when I met her at 27. She wanted a family, badly.

Fast forward two years, and she was expecting her first baby. Saying that she was over the moon with joy was an understatement.

I warned her, in my weird way, that babies are going to be a lot of work.

But, I wasn’t expecting to see what happened next.

Post-partum Paige was unrecognizable, and so was her husband.

Paige and her husband had a healthy, bouncing baby boy. He was healthy, she was breastfeeding, and the dad was off at work.

I decided to visit Paige and talk to her about the baby. So, a couple of months in, I went out to see her for a glass of wine.

I went inside, and there, I saw Paige looking worse for the wear. She was gritting her teeth, on the edge of a mental breakdown, holding a crying baby. I gasped, and she looked at me.

"Uh, how’s the, uhm…" I started, gesturing toward the squalling infant.

"He…won’t…stop…crying…" she said. 

This was really out of line for her, so I decided to tell her to leave the baby alone with her husband. She dressed in some of her normal clothes and I took her out to a wine bar.

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At the wine bar, things started to make a lot more sense.

"How are you holding up? Are you okay?"

I swear, I thought she was going to burst into tears in the middle of the bar.

Paige let out a litany of complaints about the colicky little bundle of "joy" that she had at home and finished it up with a phrase that I personally understood from my freak pregnancy.

"It’s as if people don’t even see me as a person anymore. I’m just the parent of this newborn. No one asks me how I’m doing, what I want to do, what I think about anything. Just the baby," she said. 

As it turns out, her husband wasn’t exactly having a good time with it either. He was helping out, yes, but he felt cheated.

No one had told him that he would start to experience identity erasure, either. He ended up becoming increasingly agitated — to the point of screaming back at the baby.

Yes, we could chalk this experience up to Postpartum Depression, but I don’t believe it’s entirely hormonal. I was a hormonal mess post-birth, to the point that I heard voices and tried to bite the face of a doctor. Trust me, as someone who had Postpartum Psychosis, I get it.

I’m not discounting hormones, but I do believe there’s another factor that’s at play that no one wants to talk about.

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What Paige is experiencing is a cornerstone of mainstream American parenting.

So, I’m going to point out something about American parent culture in general: it can be toxic.

I’m going to outline what can potentially make it so toxic:

  • Everyone expects mothers to be perfect. Perfect meaning, feeding little Timmy an organic meal, cleaning up poopy diapers with a smile, always having money in the bank for braces, looking good while doing it, oh, and using the best parenting practices according to what society says.
  • Parents are also now expected to monitor kids 24/7. Literally. Letting your kids play in the backyard alone can get a call to CPS. Mommy or daddy must always be nearby, or else.
  • Parents are woefully underequipped and unassisted. In the days of yore (like the 1950s) parents could rely on extended family to look after kids. Daycare was cheap, too. Today, it takes a full salary to afford daycare for one child — and prices are skyrocketing.
  • Body-shaming and choice-shaming are rife in the parenting community. Oh, you didn’t lose the baby weight?

All of these factors together tend to create an environment where parents are tacitly expected to give up the identities of who they were before they had a baby. This is especially true for moms, but it’s starting to happen to dads, too.

You’re no longer "you" when you become a parent. You basically get demoted to the role of caretaker for someone who society now focuses on.

It’s extremely dehumanizing and mothers often experience it first when they announce a pregnancy.

From what I’ve been able to tell, this is a phenomenon that’s been getting increasingly worse with each passing decade. What would have been considered psychotically obsessive hover-parenting in the 80s is now the norm.

This is not healthy and it promotes enmeshment. But, this is not about the deranged logic of society’s encouragement for hover-parenting. It’s about what’s going on with the parents.

The death of a parent’s pre-parent identity is something that no one talks about.

One of the big lies that people tend to promote in our society is that you can still do all the things you like to do as a parent.

For most of us, this isn’t true. Hiring a sitter and getting daycare is now too expensive for most families to do on a regular basis.

Because our society is so hung up on natalism and "babies first," we tend to push parents into a situation where they don’t have time to do anything else aside from raising their kids.

There’s just not enough time in the day for a typical mom to "have it all."

Since you don’t have time to be focused on yourself, your old self dies.

You bring home the baby. Soon, things start to slip away from you.

You stop going to events, so you’re now out of the loop with your friend group. Focusing on the baby means you can’t stay up to date on movie gossip or gaming, so your old stuff collects dust.

The major lifestyle change and body changes you may go through mean your old clothes don’t always fit.

The baby weight doesn’t always come off. You might have to give up the job you loved to provide better for the baby. It’s all baby, baby, baby.

Everyone stopped asking about you. You can’t remember the last time you and your bestie went shopping at the mall. You can’t remember when you last had a toke with your boys.

People are buying you clothes for yourself you don’t even like, but you’re a parent now, so dress appropriately.

Eventually, you look at yourself in the mirror and don’t recognize yourself.

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The grief and anger new parents feel are 100 percent justified.

Honestly, parenting is marketed in such an absolutely messed-up way in our society.

It’s not all sunshine and butterflies. Quite the opposite — it’s a scary amount of unpaid, unappreciated work. Horrible things can happen to a woman’s body and no one dares talk about it until you’re knocked up.

And body horror aside, we don’t ever talk about how we don’t often care about people after they’ve procreated. When parents ask for help or complain, our society collectively shrugs its shoulders and says, "You chose this, so don’t whine."

Parental identity loss is a real thing, and it’s a valid problem that shouldn’t be brushed under the rug.

We’re not supposed to say the quiet part out loud here, but it’s so unbelievably screwed up that parents are not allowed to be themselves the way they were prior to kids anymore.

And yet, we don’t even warn new parents that this can happen.

Next thing you know, the parents feel cheated and angry. No one warned them that this would happen. No one told them how excruciatingly isolating and hurtful losing your past self is.

Of course, they are resentful. Their pain is valid!

And yet, we’re shocked when we see mothers with anger issues or dads who bail on their kids in favor of their old lives. We’re stunned. As if it’s something that shouldn’t be possible, despite us making everything so that it is exactly the outcome we should expect.

If you’re considering being a parent, really think it over.

If you’re thinking of becoming a parent, read up on the dangers of pregnancy, the costs of everything, as well as the loss of identity that you might experience.

If all that sounds like something you’re willing to take on, go for it.

However, I think that we owe it to new parents to create a society that’s more friendly towards them — and not just the kids. If we want to see healthier, happier parents, it’s time we stop critiquing, judging, and discarding them.

But knowing modern society, I ain’t holding my breath.

RELATED: How Postpartum Depression Almost Killed Me

Ossiana Tepfenhart is a writer whose work has been featured in Yahoo, BRIDES, Your Daily Dish, Newtheory Magazine, and others. 

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.