What do I mean by emotional launching? Launching means to set in motion, initiate, or inaugurate. Other words for launch include start, cast, hurl or float. Emotion refers to the agitation of the passions and sensibilities or any strong subjective feeling. When you put the words "emotion" and "launch" together using any of the variations of meanings, you get a range of experiences and images that describe this life cycle transformation, from hurling feelings to floating passions. The continuum of emotions extends from joy to sorrow, pleasure to pain, celebration of a new life to grief at inherent losses that have an impact on the individual and the couple, from power and strength to incompetence and inadequacy. In addition, ambivalence is often spotted around the nooks and crannies. How can we prepare people for this launching? How can we facilitate this transformation? How can we ensure a successful process?
Our task is a combination of that of a gardener, educator, guardian angel, and parent. We can plant seeds by mentioning the range of emotions likely to surface during this time in their lives. We can cultivate environments in which there is enough time to talk about feelings, fears and concerns. We can give people overt permission to bring up anything they are thinking or feeling during the perinatal period. We can and must do this repeatedly. We can help them anticipate the feelings as they pass through each stage of pregnancy, labor, birth, and postpartum. We can teach and remind them that these feelings are normal and expected. I often tell clients that I become concerned when I do not see the ambivalence, fear and anxiety.
We can teach our patients and clients that feelings of loss are inherent in the childbearing experience: loss of freedom, spontaneity, connecting time with a partner, money, friends, sleep, bodily freedom if nursing, and selfishness. In addition, we often underestimate and ignore the impact of lost fantasies and dreams, whether these be dreams of a perfect birth, fantasies about the gender or temperament of the baby, or fantasies of receiving mothering from one's own mother. Loss is naturally greeted with a sense of grief. Grief brings mourning, an activity not usually associated with birth and postpartum and often mistaken for depression. If the losses are not acknowledged, if there is shame and secrecy attached to the grief, and if there is no grieving process, then a depression can develop.
Part of our job in facilitating this life transition is to hand-hold and to watch over the burgeoning family as they pass through particularly difficult times, make decisions, and struggle to come to terms with what life has handed them. We provide refuge, safety, a steady and careful ear, and concrete suggestions. We also provide a smiling face, a knowing nod, a verbal confirmation, and a warm hug during the exciting, joyful, and celebratory moments.
In my 1998 newsletter, I reviewed "Laughter and Tears," a book by Elisabeth Bing and Libby Colman. I always recommend this book to new and prospective parents and encourage them to read it before the arrival of the baby. It can help plant the seeds, normalize the range of emotions experienced, sanction the tears, and give guidance for coping.
I am aware that we often feel our attempts to help families anticipate the realities of postpartum are futile. We feel frustrated because we perceive that the information we are attempting to impart is going right over their heads, bypassing their ears, and floating in the ethers. Do not underestimate the power of planting seeds. Anticipatory work is powerful and effective, though we might not see instant, tangible results. Sometimes levels of anxiety are so high that people cannot process the information unless it is immediately relevant to them. However, you will notice that when you meet up with these folks later, and you mention something you had mentioned weeks or even months earlier, they will remember it and it will have a stronger impact because of the repetition factor. Do not give up hope. Continue your efforts. Make resources available to clients and patients on an on-going basis.
Preparing for a launching of any sort takes time and care. It calls for review after review, assessment and reassessment, consultation, emergency plans, and finally a countdown. Once the launch has happened, there is the immediate review of how it went, the fine-tuning so that the rest of the flight goes well and constant contact with the support team on the ground. We are that team, the grounding forces for the families with whom we work. Our goal is for them to say to themselves, " We have a successful launch."
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