Post-partum disappointment with family
August 27, 2016 1:38 PM   Subscribe

I have a beautiful baby girl who I love like crazy but the circumstances surrounding my pregnancy, her birth and the aftermath were more stressful than I anticipated and I feel some residual resentment towards my family for not being more supportive.

When I was 32 weeks pregnant, I learned that my daughter was significantly smaller than she should be based in her gestational age. In particular, her head size was < 1st percentile. After the longest six days of my life, I was diagnosed with preeclampsia. At 34 weeks, my blood work indicated that I had severe preeclampsia so we had to deliver, plus baby girl was breech so that meant a c section. I was in surgery and had the baby in the early evening. They let me hold her for a few minutes, then took her to the NICU.

I was in the hospital for three nights. Baby girl spent 16 days in the NICU, including Mother's Day and my birthday. My husband and I visited every day. The NICU was on the same floor as the maternity ward so I'd get off the elevator and walk past the small waiting area with the other patients' excited family members holding balloons and flowers and stuffed animals.

I realize that I'm very lucky. Baby girl is doing really well. My job and my husband's job have been fine about time off. The people in the NICU were really wonderful. But I still just feel sad about how this all went down. I think I had a lot of the images in my head from movies and tv shows about having a baby that weren't my experience, like the aforementioned well wishers in the waiting room and getting pushed to the curb in a wheelchair by a nurse while holding the baby the day we leave. I left the hospital without her. We didn't have any visitors while I was in the hospital. No one came with me to see her in the NICU besides my husband. No balloons or flowers from anyone for the baby's arrival or Mother's Day or my birthday.

I feel like this is petty stuff to be upset about. I told people not to come - I was in the hospital for only a few days and visiting her in the NICU with company would have been hard. But it still makes me a little sad. Some of that sadness is directed towards my family, largely my dad. He made noises about sending something to the hospital but then didn't. He asked if I'd like a laptop for my birthday, I said that'd be great, and that's the last I heard of that. He visited my city for a long weekend about two months after she was born, came over with his girlfriend for a few hours one day, then went home. Our situations are different but when my sister had her baby, he went to her place for a week and helped with dinners and such.

As for my siblings, my sister sent a nice gift and visited with my niece when they were driving through my city. My other sister sent cards for Mother's Day and my birthday. I don't know when she and my daughter are going to meet. My brother and his wife visited for several days which was very nice.

I don't want to make anyone feel badly but I thought I had low expectations for members of my family and they haven't even cleared that bar. My mother in law has visited us three times and made sure my husband and I got a date night. Meanwhile, my family just came over and ate all of our food.

I feel badly for being upset because I don't know what my family members could do now that would make me feel better. I don't even know if I'm actually mad at them or if they're a convenient outlet for my stress. I'm going back to work soon and that has me stressed out. My husband went back to work a month ago so I've been home with the baby full time since then. Baby girl starts daycare soon and I feel badly that in some ways I'm looking forward to going back to work but at the same time, I know I'll miss her terribly.

Should I be looking at this differently? Should I get over being let down by my family? How? I have the idea generally that I should look for other sources for help and support. I've thought of auditioning babysitters so my husband and I can go on an occasional date. I'm trying to come to terms with the fact that my family just disappoints sometimes and I should just be happy about what they can do instead of feeling resentful about what they can't.

Thanks for reading and offering any thoughts you have.
posted by kat518 to Human Relations (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure I can answer the question about the family, but I struggled with postnatal depression, and it's really awful. And it's not just your circumstances -- it's just so hard starting out with a newborn that I don't see how anyone comes out if not depressed! If it's any comfort, a friend of mine recently told me that she thought she'd breastfeed, have a natural delivery, and use cloth diapers and she did none of that. I did all of that, I thought, and yet I was (and am) SO JEALOUS of her for having such a happy, wonderful first few months with her kid when I was miserable. It's not really about whether you have the Instagram early motherhood or not.

As for the family bit, I also live far away from my family, and they didn't come for ages to visit me. But, you know what, I realized later I wasn't really honest with them about how I was feeling and how bad things were. When I opened up to them, they were really, really supportive, and remain so. So, it may help to open up to them how hard it was/is -- they might have thought, oh, kat518, she's so strong and so together she doesn't need us. Once I "came out" with my postnatal depression, things got so much better.

Otherwise, I think you've answered your own question -- families do disappoint sometimes, everyone has their own issues, and just be happy about what they can do.

Memail me if you need more support!
posted by caoimhe at 1:50 PM on August 27, 2016 [9 favorites]

I think you have a couple of things going on at once here. The way your daughter arrived and your pregnancy ended sound very scary and stressful. It's more than reasonable to both grieve the birth you had hoped for and feel more than a little stress and regret over having such a hard start to maternity. Adding in your family's not stepping up in the ways you had hoped for probably makes it all that much harder. FWIW this internet stranger gives you permission to be angry and sad! You might find a couple of counseling sessions helpful - I know I did in dealing with the aftermath of an ectopic pregnancy - talking through it all with a professional helped me lay the trauma to rest.

In terms of your family it's reasonable to think about what you would actually like from them and to explicitly ask for it if they are likely to honor it. People can be unable to process how they should act when something doesn't fit the expected pattern - or they could be jerks. Only you know which it is and how you'd like to handle it. Not unreasonable to be cross though - you've been through a harder, scarier beginning without much support. And congratulations on your baby! Glad you and she are both ok!
posted by leslies at 1:53 PM on August 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

One more thing -- do your siblings have kids themselves? I wish I could go back and re-do when my own siblings had children -- when you don't have a baby yourself, it's so hard to understand what it's like and what you're going through. And even if they do have kids (like your dad), you just forget how hard those first few months are and what a huge identity shift it is. So they really just may be clueless about how you felt.
posted by caoimhe at 1:55 PM on August 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

I think anytime you end up having a newborn who needs extra care, you're going to be disappointed. With the doctors, your spouse, or here your family. It is like the most stressful thing in the world. You asked them not to come. And so they didn't. It's ok to be angry things didn't turn out as you wanted. There is no way you couldn't be. I'd try not to hold it against your family as they turned up later, and followed your no hospital visit request.
posted by Kalmya at 2:06 PM on August 27, 2016 [8 favorites]

Being a NICU mom (hi!) is its own special purgatory. Your feelings are valid and normal. The weirdness of your family also kind of is because...the birth ends up scary, so is the NICU, and then getting home so "late" is weird.

My family is oddly unhelpful too. It's okay to have feelings! But I think you are right, it's best to look for help from other quarters. But it also may be when you said don't come, they took that lead. I think asking them directly will get you the most information.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:15 PM on August 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm not sure I really understand how they've let you down? (other than your Dad who sounds like a colossal flake - its ok to be a little mad at him). You told people not to come, so they didn't. There's been gifts and cards and visits. Or is the issue that specifically you wanted flowers and balloons?. Sounds like none of your family live in your city either, so visiting is more of an ordeal than if they were close by, they can't just pop by if they have some free time, it requires planning, especially if they also have children. Also, with the baby being delivered early and suddenly, they probably weren't prepared. I planned to get my sister something special when her baby was born but he had to be delivered early and there wasn't time.

My nephew was born in March, I sent a card and gifts but haven't met him yet. I didn't send my sister anything for mother's day, she not my mother. We talked before the birth and she said I didn't need to visit, which was expecting to have to do even though she lives 4 hours away (I'm english so that's a fucking long way to us! lol). She told me that she wasn't expecting me to visit her, its a baby, it eats, poops and sleeps, babies are boring etc and I could see him at christmas when he's a bit more entertaining. Of course that was before the birth, now she's all full of baby hormones and thinks he's the most adorable thing ever etc, I still think its just a baby. I'd be pretty pissed off if I found out that she's resenting me for not visiting when she told me not to.

If your mother in law can't do more (don't know how close she lives), you absolutely should start looking at baby sitters so you and your husband can have some time together
posted by missmagenta at 2:17 PM on August 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

Psychology is finally - just barely - catching up with the ramifications of traumatic birth experiences. You should consider having a PTSD assessment done just in case, and then also just see if you can get some help with a) narrative-reframing techniques around a difficult time where you suffered massive loss of control b) the sometimes extraordinary amount of family-of-origin sediment that can get stirred up as part of the huge identity shift of becoming a parent c) having a neutral trained third party to bounce stuff off without any baggage, even well-meaning, that you'll have with your partner or in-laws or even friends.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:23 PM on August 27, 2016 [10 favorites]

I have a family that just isn't like The Popular Conception Of Families. At all of those big life milestones, they either haven't been supportive or brought so much drama along with them that I had to be the one supporting *them* through what was supposed to be my moment. I'm getting married next year, and because I've seen how this plays out on many other occasions, I'm setting it up to not really be about my family being "there for me" in any meaningful way. Fine if they manage, but there's nothing they can screw up by not playing the role everyone else's family seems able to play without tears.

Sometimes I get angry watching other people experience big life milestones, or even simple everyday things I didn't get because I don't have a supportive family, because it reminds me of something I'll never experience. (Even if my family changes in the future, I can't go back in time and get a mom who brings orange slices to soccer practice etc.)

All of your feelings about this are valid. It's not petty. You get to feel how you feel about this.

Also, while I haven't experienced it, from seeing friends go through it I know that the NICU is extremely intense and comes with a lot of feelings which I think women especially are supposed to suppress. Childbearing is supposed to be HAPPY GODDAMMIT OR ELSE! I also know that being post-partum in general has a lot of stuff that comes along with it that people aren't really prepared for. You get to feel how you feel about all of it.
posted by Sara C. at 2:25 PM on August 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

Out of your whole account, the "and ate all our food!" made me most angry!
I think what it symbolizes is that not only did they not find ways to make you feel cared for, they also made you take care of them when they did come! So they didn't add to your emotional bank account, like you'd hope for as a stressed, exhausted new mom, they withdrew from it.

I have two kids, and four pairs of wellmeaning grandparents with varying degrees of thoughtfulness. I can predict with astonishing precision where a visit is going to fall on the continuum between "mini-holiday for me" and "complete energy suck". Some people are just more helpful than others. Some clueless folks seem to think their mere presence is the support you want. But that's not enough, is it? Not when you have to wait on them, make adult conversation with them and plan out their visit while pushing aside your own needs, all the chores that remain undone while they're there and the precious alone time moments you could have had with your own baby while somebody else cleans and cooks.

All this to say, I understand and it sucks.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:29 PM on August 27, 2016 [7 favorites]

I don't know if I'm answering the right question but here goes anyway: you have a right to feel hard done by. Having a baby, even a healthy baby, is terribly hard. Those months after she's born are ... so terribly hard I don't even know how to describe it. There are some mothers, apparently, who don't sink into near-suicidal misery from the cumulative sleep loss, and the constant crying, and the C-section pain, and the breast-feeding pain and frustration, and the weird other physical aftereffects (you can memail me for more gory details if you want to share notes) but I wasn't one of them. To do all that but with the traumatic, terrifying start of a NICU situation - it's horrible and scarring.

And yes, it's a huge bummer to not have your family actually help you. To "come visit" and not do chores -- what bullshit is that? And yet, I have seen it, over and over. Relatives that try to come over while sick, so mom is forced to fight with them about not coming in to expose the baby; relatives that come over and don't do anything but "hold" the baby and demand meals... I knew a woman whose mother came to visit when she had a baby, and then left the next day because she couldn't handle how loud the baby cried! Many people just don't know how to step up, or aren't accustomed to doing work while visiting and it doesn't occur to them they need to do it.

The good news is that this will get much, much, much easier. As the baby starts to sleep through the night; as your body heals; as your hormones even out. And until then, by all means get psychopharmacological help. Read other peoples' visiting-famiy horror stories online and they might make you feel at least as if you're in good company and that your family wasn't far off of the usual. And by all means, get a babysitter so you can enjoy date night. Good luck. It gets better!!
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:58 PM on August 27, 2016

I remember that I posted an answer to one of your pregnancy travel questions when I was pregnant. I'm so sorry that you had such a rough birth experience - I ended up with something kinda similar (full term pregnancy, but emergency c section and baby in the NICU for 4 days). It was hard. I still feel really sad that I didn't get to hold my baby or bond with her immediately after birth, or nurse her in her first few days, or have any positive experiences at all with her the day she was born. I am still incredibly angry at the hospital for certain aspects of the experience (not the medical stuff - other parts of how we were treated, including not being told what was going on w our baby / why she was in the NICU for several hours after the birth).

At one point, still in the hospital, I was crying because I was so upset at the whole experience and the lactation consultant came in. She said that she thinks that when women have difficult experiences related to pregnancy and birth, they are often more traumatic and have more of a lasting impact that one might expect. She told me that she had trouble conceiving and even now (20+ years after her child was born), it remains a sore spot. I don't exactly know why, but I found that really helpful and validating to hear. In a lot of ways, I was lucky - my daughter and I were discharged from the hospital the same day, she didn't spend very long in the NICU, and we were never worried that she might not be okay. But it was really helpful for me to hear from her that hey, this stuff is hard, harder than one might expect, and it's normal and okay to have really strong emotions connected to it, even if everyone turns out physically ok and a lot of time has passed.

Reading your question, I wonder how much of what's going on has to do with how difficult and traumatic your experience was - it sounds like your family didn't really acknowledge that or support you. That sucks, I'm so sorry. I nth the idea to find someone to talk to about the experience, and to figure out for yourself what you'd like for your family to do at this point before talking to them about it.

Mostly, I just want to say that I'm sorry you had such a hard experience. It seems very normal and valid for your to be upset at both the birth and at your family's lack of support while your baby was in the NICU and after she was home. Please feel free to memail or email me if you want to chat more.
posted by insectosaurus at 2:59 PM on August 27, 2016 [9 favorites]

Should I be looking at this differently? Should I get over being let down by my family? How?

I think you would do well to take "should" out of your thoughts here if you can. That word implies you are doing something wrong, or that your feelings are not valid, and let me just reiterate that you have done nothing wrong and you feel what you feel, and that is OK. My therapist tells me this all the time!

You feel let down, and that's OK. And, normal. A lot of family members just don't step up in times of need, and they often don't even realize they are being insensitive and annoying. Besides finding friends or even a therapist to talk to about this, you might consider trying to talk to your family about how you feel (if they are the kind of people who would listen - in my family this is totally NOT the case hah). You can outline what you expect of them, or what you hope they will do when they see you and the baby. Then, if they continue to not step up or be mooches, the only thing left to do is to have them in your life less, and stop expecting anything good from them. This is unfortunately the route I have gone with my family, as they did not listen to me when I tried to tell them how I felt, as they are just insensitive jerks.

Anyway, good luck, and I'm sorry you are going through this.
posted by FireFountain at 3:07 PM on August 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have to tell you, I would be very leery of sending balloons, cards, or other celebratory items to parents with a baby in the NICU. God forbid the present arrive while the baby is dying. Not to dismiss your feelings, but it sounds like your family is not good at social awkwardness or ambiguity and you're going to have to be explicit with them about what you need. Annoying, but better than silently resenting them when that could be avoided.
posted by praemunire at 4:23 PM on August 27, 2016 [21 favorites]

I think the other posters have done a great job answering your question but I wanted to ask if you've joined a new mom group? The women's center where I live does a 4th trimester group for new moms. It's really great to have the advice and support of other women as you navigate motherhood and breastfeeding and going back to work.

I would totally recommend looking into your local options and at least going to 1 meeting.

If you hit it off with another mom you might be able to trade baby sitting services. You watch the babies on Saturday afternoon and she watches them on Sunday afternoon. ( day dates can be lovely when babies are young)
posted by MadMadam at 5:12 PM on August 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

My children (premature twins) were in the NICU for two months. These are my thoughts in hindsight:

My wife resents, to this day, not having the normal new babies experience.

Babies die in the NICU. This is extremely stressful for the parents. Extended family also experiences stress but in a different way because they have no idea what's happening day to day in the NICU because they're not there everyday like the parents.

Most people have no experience with babies being in the NICU so are unsure what is the best way to interact with NICU parents.
posted by LoveHam at 10:37 PM on August 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yes what you feel is normal, no you don't need to try to change how you feel.

Yes having a new baby is incredibly hard and try to tell your family explicitly what you want from them to get better support. Definitely yes to new mom group.

Most definitely yes to babysitter, as many babysitters as you can find. It's invaluable as a parent to have a stable of good babysitters at the ready, and you absolutely deserve the occasional date night! It sounds like by context you meant that you were considering finding babysitters because your family hasn't been coming through for you and you previously believed they would babysit for you. I do think it is highly likely that your family will babysit for you in the future. Family is great for babysitting kids especially when they get a little older and are interactive. A lot of people aren't comfortable or good with infants. Regardless of who your family is and how supportive they are, I think it's always a good idea to have previously identified childcare providers who you feel comfortable leaving your child with. If your routine childcare falls through, it's super stressful trying to call up people who all have jobs or their own lives and trying to ask their help in covering you in a pinch. I have a very supportive family (but a very stressful and high intensity job) and I sometimes have to make 5 to 8 phone calls to different people when I'm in a pinch and need someone to help with the kids. It can be a lot more simple to get someone who I'm in a employer-employee relationship with to help out than trying to navigate getting family members to do it, and there is no guilt when you're paying someone to do it.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:53 PM on August 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Very few things hurt my heart more than new moms feelings as you do. My circumstances were different but no less traumatic in their own way. It was very difficult to learn that there are just some things my family aren't good at. They surprised me here and there during the first year, but mostly I accepted that I really just needed to lower my expectations. In some ways over the years it's gotten better. In others, it hasn't. Nothing like having a kid of your own to make you stand up for yourself in ways you never thought you could.

I didn't have many local friends to rely on, either. I did have some come and help a bit. It took awhile, but I finally have a network of friends in my area that I can ask for help and to offer help to. But it was long and very lonely for awhile. I didn't find a "mommy" group I fit into. Breastfeeding failed so LLL was a disaster for me. I just eventually toughed out a little quiet life with me, baby, and husband. Maybe it wasn't the best thing to do, but it's what it was.

Don't discount your trauma and sadness. NICU parents are more likely to have PPD and PTSD because the circumstances are so difficult. A friend of mine is heavily involved with the Graham Foundation. It's for parents like you who've had children born prematurely and have gone through NICU stays. It might help to reach out to them about handling the delayed aftershocks of a NICU stay.

You're far from alone in your experiences, and it just shouldn't be that way. I'm sorry it's been so tough. You really did deserve more.
posted by zizzle at 6:56 AM on August 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for your feedback, gang. I think this is an ask-guess thing too. The friend who was the best in this situation is someone who didn't take no for an answer when I said we didn't need anything. She said, I made you food, I can bring it tonight or tomorrow morning, let me know which is better. And she asked me how things happened and then just listened. Ugggghh she's the best I need to check in with her. The only people I told not to come were the people who asked - my brother and my mother in law, both of whom have since spent time with us.

I'm the second of my siblings to have a kid. My sister has a daughter and after she had her, everyone in my family visited promptly. We've also gotten my sister flowers for Mother's Day. She's also single so that may be related and relevant. And I definitely wish I could go back in time and be more supportive towards friends who had kids.

I really do feel pretty lucky but this has been a very lonely time for me. I've wanted to hang out with other moms and babies but haven't felt comfortable doing that because baby girl seems so fragile. So then I lean more on my husband and feel resentful towards him when he doesn't really get me but I can't really resent him because it feels like he and baby girl are All I Have so I have to be mad at someone else like my father. And I get intellectually that she's a baby and she just eats, poops, sleeps and cries but now that she's a couple months old, it feels like she's doing more (like smiling which is THE BEST). Plus I can see how different she looks now compared to when she was a newborn and I feel sad that my sister missed that whole phase. It wasn't just a part of my daughter's life - it was a part of my life and my sister wasn't there for it.

Similarly, I know that people have babies every day with complications worse than preeclampsia. But I feel like, I didn't just have a baby - I also had something scary happen to me. And I feel like after one experiences something scary, it's nice to check on them to be sure they're okay, and I feel like my family didn't do that.

Anyway. I need to stare more at the cutest baby in the world. Thanks again - I really do appreciate it.
posted by kat518 at 7:22 AM on August 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

Having a newborn is hard. So, so hard. Be kind to yourself. I wish I had talked to my doctor about post partum depression sooner.
posted by freezer cake at 10:06 AM on August 29, 2016

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