How Quickly We Forget – The Halo Effect and Dad’s with PTSD

Becca was telling me the other day about how she has been starting to feel a little… different.

“Different?”, I asked, “what do you mean?”

She went on to say that theres a certain amount of structure in our lives now, that she feels more prepared and in control of how things are. Yet at the same time, that preparedness is more in line with being prepared to be surprised… it’s such a paradox.

I’ve said it as advice and it may have taken some time for that advice to hit home, but its so true – you’ve gotta expect the unexpected.

We took a second to really reflect back on how much we’ve been through and what it took to get here. It’s ironic, but had I not been updating my blog as frequently as I do, a lot of our experiences and the details surrounding them would be quickly forgotten.

And with that, I bring to you my ‘topic du jour’ … forgetting.

shocked baby

A few of my friends have been going through various stages of pregnancy and parenthood within the last several years. From my vantage point, it’s been instrumental in helping prepare me for my own parenting experience and what I could expect with Becca, including what she would be going through in her pregnancy and motherhood journey.

One thing that’s always proved interesting, and of course, kind of comical is the good old “mummy brain”.

I’m sure you’ve heard the term or experienced it yourself or with your partner, but the symptoms are something along the lines of when you walk into a room… stop… and have no memory of why you were heading there in the first place. Entertaining as it is, a colleague mentioned to me that there is actually a scientific basis around it and why it happens to pregnant women.

The assumption is that the hormonal change allows women to more easily forget the pain, discomfort, and overall physical stress that comes along with pregnancy and childbirth.

It’s an interesting premise that we, as human beings, have a natural mechanism that kicks in during a time of extreme physical change and strain.

It reminds me about so many of the other natural wonders that you come across with childbirth, such as the number of things breastmilk is good for. Aside from the obvious power pack of nutrients and sustenance, it also helps clear up baby acne and even helps clean out your baby’s stuffy nose (yes, we tried it – a few eyedrops of it did the trick!).

You figure we’ve been having children for millions of years and modern day medicine only really stepped up it’s game recently. It makes sense that so many natural and almost instinctual reactions happen in the human body to help keep us functioning, especially during and after a physically and mentally strenuous life experience such as birth!

By the by, I’m not by any means insinuating that mummy brain makes childbirth an easy thing for mums!

I mean, my god, I witnessed Becca go through it, including the recovery from major surgery, 4 days in the NICU with Charlee, and then trying to raise an infant as first time parents…. and as far as I hear from other folks experiences, we got off mostly easy!!

But on that note, what about us dads?

We don’t get the hormonal imbalance.

No ‘daddy brain’.

Ironically, science has shown that we get similar symptoms to some things mum’s go through, like post pardum depression… well lucky us!

I’ve actually read stories about new dad’s who actually get post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from truly extreme birth experiences. It’s not really that surprising if you think about it. There are some seriously intense labour stories out there, and dad’s play a role in support but are not at all the focus of the event. There is an expected, yet overlooked imbalance when it comes to postnatal care for new parents as the focus is primarily on mum.

Again, I’m not selling short what mums go through. You just pushed a person out of you – you deserve all the attention in the world!

All I’m saying is that I think we need to be aware of the fact, that as caring and involved husbands and partners, the amount of energy, focus, concern, and love we emote, translates into an incredibly stressful situation for us too.

I’ve attended a few of Becca’s mummy groups, and also had the pleasure of reading a number of blogs from new mums and dads alike. The most surreal commonality, it would seem, is that for the most part, nobody has had an easy labor. I swear… the odds have gotta be something like 1 in 8 or maybe even 1 in 10 birth stories where the outcome was a normal, natural birth. Otherwise, there always seem to be complications.

From premie babies, to haemorrhaging spouses, to gestational diabetes, to emergency C-sections. Let alone stories of infertility and couples struggling for months, years, and beyond to try and conceive. My parents went nearly a decade without being able to conceive. They then went through the process of adopting my brother.

11 months later, yours truly made an appearance… via C-section…

Whomever painted the picture of birth as it’s ‘supposed to be’ has a serious lack of regard for reality.

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The funny thing is that we do make it through the labour stage, albeit some of us in better condition than others.

We then make it into the newborn stage and deal with the sleep deprivation and the helplessness of this new little person who is wholly under your care now.

Then into infancy and trying to teach this little bundle of joy what a good night’s sleep is. You muscle through sleep regression and sleep training and you’ve already forgotten about the helpless newborn baby who used to fall asleep wherever and whenever she wanted.

I’m guessing at a certain point you’ve moved on to the toddler in your life, who explores the house and won’t sit still. This little child is starting daycare, making friends, learning and developing and demonstrating all the different traits that really make them your child, and before you know it, you’ve forgotten about how they used to wake up every 3 hours overnight and kvetch about nothing and everything all at once.

This, I’ve read, is referred to as “The Halo Effect”.

Aw shucks... how can I stay mad at you?
Aw shucks… how can I stay mad at you?

You can think of it as the happiness and the reward make us remember the pain… differently.

Usually the term is linked to a marketing ploy, but I think the idea that we innately have this tendency and subconsciously utilize it with our children is awe-inspiring. We reimagine the past based on how happy we are with what we now have; with what our mini-me’s have turned into.

And the beauty part is that to dad’s benefit, it affects us all equally and we too can relish in the act of forgetting.

Isn’t Mother Nature grand?

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