Welcome to my blog, Musings about Moms, Marriage, and Mental Health! As a result of my own life experiences, I hope to reach out to people transitioning to parenthood feel that there are many safe and valid ways to parent. Becoming a mother was at time of great maturation for me; a time of extreme emotionality, postpartum depression, loneliness and joy mixed together. With great pain came fertile ground for long-term personal growth, and this can be the case for others as well.
It is the best kept secret ever, and it is right in front of my nose! I was thirty-six years old when Will was born, and I had never even changed a diaper! I did not know that having a baby would cause a seismic shift in my core self-identity and feelings of self-worth. I did not truly understand what type of pressure it would put on my husband as he turned into the sole breadwinner. I didn’t fully grasp how vulnerable a woman becomes after having a baby. From personal experience, I finally understood the true personal price (and joys)of motherhood, how small the safety net is in America, and how devalued are both mothering and parenting.
Having our son changed our marital relationship forever. The massive love we experienced for our baby was a source of joy. On one hand, we delighted in being a family, in becoming three! On the other hand, the sleepless nights, the change in finances, my total identity change, the massive hormonal fluctuations from pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding, how breastfeeding made me feel “touched out” and changed my sexual arousal, and a basic lack of knowledge about the true nature of babies were all factors in the stresses we experienced in our transformation to parenthood. Our marriage relationship deepened and broadened as we made room for our son, but also suffered stresses as the “we-ness” changed.
While we were in the thick of having a newborn, it was difficult to reflect on how we felt about being parents, as we were so physically and emotionally drained. Some nights were totally sleepless. He cried about whatever babies might cry about, such as what was going on inside of him, such as teething, fever, gas from something I ate, all his emotional and physical needs all tied up in one feeling state! It was sure hard to tell what the crying was about. Now I realize that sometimes you just never know! At the time, I was just keeping my head above water, keeping the house clean(ha!), reading crock-pot cookbooks for fussy day dinner options(ha!), and trying to sleep when the baby slept (ha!).
But the transformation to parenthood helped me draw on nurturing aspects of my self that had lain dormant as I had worked all my life in a competitive, male-dominated corporate setting. In an effort to put my new life in perspective, I read about babies, parenthood and couples transitioning to parenthood. I learned about the biological attachment bond, about which there is now abundant information available. Dr. Robert Karen’s’ book, Becoming Attached, is a scientific, yet easy read, about the nature of babies and infant attachment. Women’s Moods, by Dr. Deborah Sichel and Jeanne Driscoll, discusses the massive hormonal changes over the course of a woman’s lifetime and how this affects mood. Kathleen Kendall-Tackett’s Hidden Feelings of Motherhood, is an informative summary about emotional and psychological associated with the transition to parenthood. Gottman’s research discusses how many couples suffer marital dissatisfaction after their baby is born, and how this can be remedied. All of this information was valuable tome.
But all this I found out well-after my baby was born!
So many well-meaning people gave me unsolicited advice. I sup pose they were trying to help me. But, I felt confused, attacked and stressed as the conflicting advice mounted. One day, being very lonely in a snow-covered house, I went mall-walking with my son in a stroller. At one store, the salespeople asked me how old he was. I said eight weeks. They both said, I wouldn’t take such a young baby out, I’d be afraid! I felt criticized and so lonely, and walked away, thinking, where are we to go, my son and me?
As I fought my way through a deep, core identity change, a shift in social perspective, and postpartum depression, I began to look for a way to make sense of my life. I began teaching childbirth classes, providing as much information about the emotions of pregnancy and birth and about the transition to parenthood as best I could to pregnant parents. Eventually, I went to graduate school, with the goal of specializing in the emotions of pregnancy and birth, to open a center where women and families could come for support. There are so many conflicting, denigrating messages about birth, women, mothering and parenting in our culture. Messages like, be a professional woman, don’t be a professional woman…..be a mother, oh, well, you’re not really doing it right…..oh, you’re only a mother…etc.
Welcome and let me know what you think!
References Gottman, J. & Gottman, J.S. (2007).And baby makes three: The six-step plan for preserving maritalintimacy and preserving romance after baby arrives. ThreeRiver Press: New York.
Karen, R. (1998). Becoming attached.First relationships and how they shape our capacity to love.Oxford University Press: USA.
Tendall-Tackett, K. (2001). Thehidden feelings of motherhood: Coping with stress, depression, andburnout. New Harbinger Publications: Oakland, Ca.
Sichel, D. & Driscoll, J. W.(1999). Women’s moods: What every woman must know about hormones,the brain, and emotional health. HarperCollins: NY