Managing expectations in pregnancy

It is important to try an be aware of what your expectations are with respect to having a baby – what it is going to be like, how they will fit into your life, how you will feel towards the baby and cope.

It is difficult to try and imagine what life might be like before you have become a parent, and whether you are aware of them or not, you are likely to have built up some ideas of what you see or expect the experience of becoming a parent will be like. Often this image is reinforced by the information and images around us.

The information given about what to expect in pregnancy and when caring for my baby was very rose tinted an left me very unprepared.

Often you will focus on reading material, advertising and other communications that will lead you to form impressions of life with a baby, but these may not always be realistic. This leads many parents to later ask the question “Why didn’t anyone tell me it would be like this?”

Looking back, I had a completely different picture of motherhood in my mind. Reading all those books and magazines whilst pregnant and watching others I thought I had a pretty good idea of what motherhood would be like.  By the time my second child came along – my expectations were quite different.

The reality of being a parent may be very different from what you expect, so be aware of what expectations you may already have, or may be currently developing (possibly without even consciously realising it).

Below are some common expectations that many parents initially held, but through experience, have come to view quite differently.

The birth will be natural and pain-free - giving birth can be long, tiring, painful, and may result in the need for pain-relief and/or an unplanned ceasarian section.  Lots of things can happen that are beyond our control, so we need to be open minded, flexible and to some extent, ‘go with the flow’. Your health professionals are best placed to guide you at the time, so follow their lead and focus on doing what you need to, to safely deliver a healthy baby or babies. No matter what ends up happening, in the end, having a healthy baby is what matters most.

Parenthood is going to be filled with many special moments - whilst there are likely to be special moments, there will also be many trying times and often the proportion isn’t quite what the television commercials, magazines and posts on Facebook might lead us to perceive. Talk to family members and friends about their real experiences.  Sincere parents will be open and honest.

All parents immediately and automatically ‘fall in love’ with their baby - whilst this is the case for many, for many others bonding and attachment with your baby can take many months or beyond the first year. This is not a reflection of you as a parent…some relationships just take time to develop.

Having a baby will strengthen our relationship - this isn’t necessarily the case, as having a child in fact will add additional responsibilities, adjustments and for many this means added stress generally which does also impact on relationships. Having a baby can bring out our best – and our worst, so focus on the end goal.

My partner will play a major role in looking after the baby - quite often we may hold high expectations that our partners will be highly involved in taking care of the baby, but once the baby arrives this does not end up to be the case. In turn this can lead to feelings of disappointment and leave you feeling dissatisfied and unhappy, so it’s important to discuss your expectations surrounding child rearing and try to ensure that your expectations are compatible with each other and realistic.

I will be able to continue working whilst my baby sleeps - assumes that you have a very settled baby, but for many reasons (child’s personality, health reasons) this may not be the case.  Your baby may not be the baby that you expected. Having too high expectations can lead to feelings of resentment towards your baby, so best to keep an open mind now about what may, or may not be possible.

I already know when I will return to work - until you have become a parent it is difficult to know how you will feel about going back to work part-time, full-time or at all. It is not uncommon for people to change their minds about returning to work once they have had their child.  Your priorities may change, so try and keep your options open with your partner and employer. Whilst for some, motherhood is the ultimate fulfilment, for others it is one of many which makes you who you are.

My friendships will all continue - life is full of different stages, and people come into, and out of our lives at different stages. We connect with others because we have something in common – an interest or understanding and a desire to share. Having a baby isn’t the same as getting a new job. As your identity and priorities will change, this can also impact on how much common ground you may continue to have with some of your friends. Remember, its just a fact of life, it’s not personal. Whilst some friendships are likely to fade, new ones will also grow with others who are at a similar stage. This is perhaps a good time to invest your time into friendships with others who are also expecting or have young children – as this can become part of your support network.

Coming to terms with the reality of becoming a parent can be challenging, but the higher your expectations, the harder it is likely to be for you to adjust to and accept, and the more likely you are to feel disappointed and disillusioned. Talk with your partner or down to earth people who have had children about how having a baby will or has impacted on their lives. This can help give you a realistic picture of the changes and challenges ahead.