During the last months of my pregnancy with my youngest daughter I was offered many pieces of advice about how to help my older daughter cope. “You should buy a gift from the baby and give it to her when you come home from the hospital,” they would say. More than once I heard the new woman analogy. It goes like this, “Imagine your husband came home with another woman who was going to live with you.” My immediate thought was that it would be totally fine as long as she cooked and did the laundry. Now I know they meant it to imply that the new infant would be to my daughter as the new woman would be to me. This analogy was meant to help me see the situation from my toddler’s point of view and to feel empathy for her.
My toddler wasn’t going to be alone in facing this transition. I wish someone had told me about some of the feelings I may have during that time. Because sometimes mothers feel a sense of loss of that special duo they had with their older child. My first baby and I started feeling a change months before her sister was born. Our beloved glider was moved from her room into her sister’s and she chased after it in a panic whimpering, “My rocking chair.” There was a crushing pain that settled deep in my chest when she said that and I wanted to take it all away, all of it. How could I do this to her, I thought. The words of wisdom that helped me reconcile these feelings didn’t come until after her sister was born and so I struggled with guilt and worries about what I was taking from my first born instead of what I was giving to her.
I went into labor with my little one on her due date, but for weeks I was filled with worries about the unknowns of the impending day. Who would watch my first? Would she be ok without me for a night? When I woke up in labor on the morning of November 18th some of the worries I had were put to rest. My sister came to be with my toddler and she brought her toddler. They jumped on the trampoline in the living room while my sister and I talked about birth and I labored on the exercise ball. It all felt normal and easy. We had lunch and I took breaks to work through my contractions. After lunch I brought my first born upstairs for her nap. I lay with her and we read Goodnight Moon and The Hungry Little Caterpillar and I smoothed her baby curls and kissed her precious nose and explained that the baby in my belly would soon be here.
When she woke up I would be on my way to give birth to her little sister and our time as a duo would be over, a new chapter beginning.
Five hours later her sister made her way into the world. As soon as she was settled on my chest and after I had kissed her little fingers and smoothed her wet hair I asked for my phone. My oldest was the first thing on my mind. Her aunt brought her the following morning to meet her new sister. The video we have when they entered the room immediately focused on me with an open sweater, a nursing bra and the lovely mesh panties distributed by the hospital. Surprisingly I could have cared less. I did love those mesh panties though. The piece of advice I received during those early days was that in the midst of all of these many different feelings a mother of two feels, to hold onto what you have bestowed upon your older child, that of the tremendous gift of a sibling. This gift would be a bond and a lifetime of love and loyalty and friendship.
Not too long ago, I took my girls into the city for the day. We were so busy having fun that we went a bit past lunchtime. My oldest and I were running across the street together holding hands when my foot caught on my pants and I tripped. I fell and took us both down in the middle of the street. My poor baby had two skinned knees. She is a rather intense child, who feels things very strongly, so her screams of pain were likely heard all the way down 72nd street. When we got to the restaurant I held her and soothed her. We applied Band-Aids and ice and chocolate was offered. She remained upset for a solid thirty minutes. Why did you wear those pants, you shouldn’t have ran, etc. she said to me. As if I didn’t feel badly enough.
After about twenty minutes of trying to calm her, I went to the dark place, the one that we mothers are all familiar with. I began internally questioning my judgment and very ability to mother. There was an older women sitting diagonally behind us and I noticed her watching and smiling a warm, understanding smile. The compassion that I felt from just her smile kept me from crying along with my daughter. When she got up to leave, she came over to me, put a hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye and said, “you are a good mother.” It wasn’t just those powerful words that I needed to hear, it was the way in which they were said. This woman really said all she needed to say with her eyes. It was as if she knew. She knew how hard I try to help this child of mine and how defeated I sometimes feel when I can’t make her happy. This was a special moment along my journey through motherhood that will remain with me.
I often think about this moment in relation to my work with new mothers. A new mother is at her most vulnerable and she is unsure of everything she is doing. Because there is so much judgment and pressure coming from all around her, she doesn’t know to follow her instincts. She does not know that her instincts are always right. How could she? Many new mothers are not experiencing the warm, understanding compassion that they need to receive to grow and become confident in their new role. The experience I had with the woman at the restaurant was not one I had ever really experienced from another woman during my time as a mother. In fact, I remember way more disapproving looks and statements from women during my seven years as a mother. Why are mothers so hard on other mothers? Where is the compassion? No matter what age your baby is, newborn or eighteen, you deserve to hear “you are a good mother.”
Tell another mother today...and tell yourself!
It's been six weeks since you've had your baby and it's time for a visit to your care provider. If you are a mother, you know where I'm going with this. The visit went well and after cooing at your baby, your provider tells you: "you may now resume sexual activity with your partner" or some variation of that. The vast majority of mothers are not as pleased to hear this news as their partners are. Some dads may even have a special night planned, complete with lingerie!
For many mothers, sex is not an option at this point. Stitches may still be healing, breasts may still be sore and sleep deprivation is at an all time high. For them, sleep trumps sex. Still, there is pressure put on new mothers to bounce back to being their old selves way too soon. Most partners aren't aware of what a new mother needs after giving birth to their baby.
One of the mothers from my new mom's support group shared this article with me. She said that after reading it, her husband was able to better understand how she was feeling and what she needed from him during this transition. Please share your thoughts!
As a lactation professional, it's my job to help women breastfeed their babies. I go to their homes soon after their baby is born and teach them how to get these tiny humans to breastfeed. I help with the latch, engorged breasts and a host of other challenges that accompany nursing a newborn.
Most of the time it's all they need to get on the right track, but sometimes it's not. Sometimes mothers really hate nursing their babies and desperately want to stop. They want to stop but they feel this drive deep within to suffer and continue because that's what they are supposed to do. Isn't that what a good mother does?
The truth is, for many of us, our fantasy of what breastfeeding will be like is drastically different from the reality. Sometimes mothers are able to work through the challenges and continue on to have that beautiful nursing experience that they've dreamt of and sometimes not. When it's not working and other issues pop up, like a postpartum mood disorder, mothers are faced with some very difficult choices. They are told that medication is necessary and that is not an option for them, nor is giving up. So, what do they do?
What's important to know is that there are many options out there. They need to be informed of their options and by a professional. Mothers need permission from someone who is passionate about breastfeeding to change what they are doing. Sometimes this is a matter of life and death for a woman and so she must be informed. Breastfeeding is not all or nothing. A mother who wants her baby to have breastmilk only, has the option of donor milk. There are many human milk banks across the country that offer this choice to mothers.
Formula is another option for mothers and it is ok to choose that. It was invented because sometimes it's the only option for a mother. Mothers choose not to breastfeed for a variety of reasons and each one is ok. A woman has the right to decide what she wants to do with her breasts. True, there will be people who will be insensitive and judgmental and there is nothing any of us can do to stop that. It's our job and sometimes a mental health necessity to tune it out and to feel confident in our choice. If we can't then we need to get some support from a professional who can help us.
I liked this piece about the reality of breastfeeding. The author is honest and brave in revealing that it is often very difficult in the beginning and that pregnant mothers should be given a more realistic picture of breastfeeding a newborn.
The day has come, our baby is here and we already have anxiety thinking about going back to work! We know we are supposed to enjoy every moment we are home with our babies but the inevitable worries creep in.
Breastfeeding is much harder than we thought, we are healing from our birth and attempting to care for a tiny human all while trying to make sense of our changing relationship with our husband.
On top of all of those things that all new mothers go through, working mothers have a whole other set of worries. Do we chose a nanny or daycare, when should we start pumping, what if our baby won't take a bottle? Somehow we figure it all out and things fall into place! The moms in my groups often work these issues out while also connecting with other working mothers. How did you figure it all out?
Here is a sweet and funny compilation of working parents and kids in action!
When women are pregnant and getting ready for baby they are often not aware that their marriage will change. They aren't told that they will be resentful and will long for their free time again. Pregnant women are warned about lack of sleep and breastfeeding problems but not about how becoming a mommy will change their relationship with their husbands.
It's not 1950 anymore and yet many new mothers still hear things like, "your husband can babysit." Marriages change after a newborn enters the picture. Even the most solid of partnerships can be thrown into unfamiliar territory and lose strength. The good news is, this is mostly temporary and couples find a new groove, redefining themselves as parents.
Couples who are in equal partnerships may find themselves in very different roles than they are accustomed to. They may even be surprised and concerned about how their partner is behaving!
This article provides a good framework for parents to work with. Moms and dads should know that they are not alone in this transition from couple to parents!
There are a few moments in our lives that we, as women, will always remember. The birth of our baby is one of them.
When these memories are of an experience that disappointed us or even traumatized us, we can feel many different emotions. Women need the space and support to work through these feelings.
Here, Iulia writes honestly about her first birth and the profound effect it had on her during her first months of motherhood.
When we are pregnant with our first born we are often told things like "it will be the happiest day of your life" "you will fall madly in love the moment you see your baby" "enjoy every moment." What if it's not that way and it's different than what you thought it would be? The new mothers I work with often express feelings of guilt that they don't love every moment of life with a newborn.
In this piece by Allison Tate, she talks about, how for her, some of these feelings took time to grow. Can you relate?
As if new mothers didn't have enough new transitions in those first few months, they also have to figure out how to make other mom friends!
One great place to start is by joining a new mothers support group. It' a safe and nurturing place to develop these very important friendships. The friendships that will comfort you on those days when there just isn't enough coffee.
Most of us can relate to some of the feelings the author describes in this article about her experiences as a new mother. I'd love to hear your thoughts about what she had to say!
Despite the progress that has been made in educating care providers and parents alike about Postpartum Depression (PPD), it is still widely under-reported. Research estimates that about 20% of new mothers experience this complication of childbirth. However, this is most likey an inaccurate percentage, as PPD is underreported. Sadly, there still exists a stigma about mental health disorders and mothers face pressure to enjoy every moment. We’ve all heard this one.
In fact, I sometimes hear, “I had postpartum” from the mothers I work with, possibly because saying depression may feel too scary or shameful to them. Perhaps, if we called PPD something different like postpartum adjustment condition or the like, more women would discuss their symptoms. The truth is, most of us mamas are painfully aware that there is a very real possibility we may face a postpartum mood disorder. We hope and pray that we will be the lucky ones. The good news for all of us is that this experience is not shameful or an indication that we are crazy or are a bad mother. Our brain has simply been affected by the aftermath of postpartum hormones and at times a family history of mood disorders.
Even though it feels like you will never sleep again, which is a very real fear, know that many mothers have traveled the path you are traveling and were able to recover. You will too. This complication of childbirth is very very treatable and many times doesn’t require medication. My hope is for all new mothers to form a sisterhood with one another, to feel more comfortable talking about their worries and difficult feelings. Maybe then more mothers will follow and less women will suffer needlessly.