There is an absolutely wonderful blog post going viral right now about the gut response to people who come up to parents with babies and tell them to “enjoy every minute – it goes by so fast” (while clutching their heart). Mamas, I’ll let you read it firsthand, but let me pass along some things I’ve learned in the New Mama classroom.
After months of preparing for their babies, thoughtfully picking out their layette , choosing the most beautiful name, and being exposed to the cultural onslaught of images of blissful motherhood, most women take their babies home and are slapped in the forehead by reality.
Caring for a baby is hard. And…sometimes you might not like it.
That’s right, friends. Many a mama has braved the icy waters of admission in our classroom, dared to jump in, and said: There are times when I don’t want to be with my baby. Sometimes I just want to go stay in a hotel for a night. I love my baby, but I feel so guilty when I don’t love being with her all the time. Sometimes I get so bored. I don’t think I’m a good mom because I don’t feel blissful all the time. After the baby goes to bed, I just feel so relieved.
For the first time Mamas out there, I want to say to you: Welcome to the club, baby. Motherhood is a messy soup of emotions, and ingredients range from bliss and love to boredom and frustration. We talk about developmental milestones of infancy a lot at Amma, but I think Mamas have their own developmental milestones. Just like we have to learn to roll, crawl and walk as babies, when we become mothers we have to learn how to let go of perfection, embrace chaos, stop trying to shoehorn ourselves and our babies into the preconceived images we had during pregnancy. I always tell my Mamas: your baby is here to teach you how to love, and one of the people you’re supposed to love is yourself.
One of our Amma Mamas, Carin, recently blogged about her shame and fear when she realized she felt disconnected from her new daughter after a traumatic birth: ”She wanted to be held constantly and I just wanted to set her down. She wanted to eat every two hours and I wanted my body to be mine. I was tired, in pain and thought I had made a huge mistake. This only made me feel worse and I really struggled those first few months with all my feelings at not feeling what I thought I should have felt for her.”
Some mothers do feel a significant disconnect from their babies, and that’s a red flag for postpartum depression. Emotional disconnection from your baby, feeling like you can’t handle motherhood, sadness and hopelessness down to your very core, wondering if your baby would be better off with a different mom – when these feelings (among others) are big and persistent for more than two weeks, it’s not a normal developmental milestone of motherhood. It’s time to reach out for help. These feelings are not your fault, they are signs of a common postpartum illness (depression) which is temporary and highly treatable with the right help.
If you are harboring a secret discontent and your new life isn’t everything you dreamed it would be, you’re not alone. You are in the growing pains of new motherhood – pains which will, like labor, bring about a new person. A person who is gentle with herself, knows when to get help, and accepts herself for who she is.
I suppose most of you are preparing for Thanksgiving tomorrow. Some of you may have traveled, or have an influx of relatives in town. You may be feeling a mixture of excitement about showing off your beautiful new baby and dread about how you’re going to pull this all off. Let’s just talk about this, shall we?
In the New Mama classroom, I see a few holiday themes recur every year. There are takeaways to each.
First, new parents, especially mothers, are sometimes taken aback at how public their new baby is. You spent your pregnancy being the only one to feel her movements and kicks, and only you got to hold her. Then she was born. Into the public arena. Where everyone could hold her. In theory this was a good thing, but…many new moms feel a tad (or a lot) protective about their new babies, even from the baby’s own family. Along with the love and support a family brings comes germs, quirky advice, an overstimulated baby, boundary issues, and sometimes the well-meaning relative who wants to show your 7 week-old his aptitude at tribal drumming right during nap time (true story). Or possibly another relative who is convinced that the solution to your baby’s crying is The Vicks (VapoRub) (another true story).
Second, you’ve got a potentially swirling storm over who’s in what position in the family. New grandmothers are understandably trying to figure out their new role – are they The Mom still, or are you? Who’s at the helm of this ship? Sometimes it’s hard for a new grandmother to share the limelight that is Motherhood. Other grandmas don’t yet know how to help you, or where the boundaries are. Sometimes, frankly, you haven’t found your own voice yet.
And lastly, there’s the issue of your baby’s own reaction to family gatherings. Some infants are perfectly comfortable being passed around, and others find this a total invasion of their rights. Your baby may keep it together during the gathering, and then let it fly starting at 10 pm. This can be particularly challenging if you are staying in a house full of relatives who aren’t used to staying up all night and don’t want to get used to it.
So what are the takeaways for holiday gatherings? I’ve learned a few things over the years. Here they are:
- You are The Mom. You’ll always be The Mom. It starts right now, and you really do know best. You just need to find your feet and your voice. And you’ll learn how to deliver a message in the most gentle way – “We’ve learned that our baby needs a quiet, dark room to settle down. I’ll be back in a little while.” “Our pediatrician told us to make sure everyone washes their hands before holding our baby.”
- It’s ok to take a break. Nursing, changing a diaper, giving a bottle – these are all fabulous opportunities to take a breather with your baby in a quiet room.
- The best response to crazy advice is, “Thanks, I’ll think about that.”
- Babies really do come out introverted or extroverted. You’ll quickly get a glimpse of how they do in a big gathering. You may need to support your baby by giving him breaks and quiet time if he reaches his threshold.
- There is such a thing as gatekeeping – restricting access to a new baby. Remember that one of the best things you can do for your children connect them to a strong, supportive family who loves them. Maybe those tribal drums are a way of connecting and showing love.
- All conflict is a result of an unmet need. Stop – think about where this conflict is coming from. What is it, and what strategies can you think of to meet it? New parents, extended families, and even babies have needs that can range from the physical (sleep, blood sugar, needing personal space) to emotional (power, acceptance, validation). Take the heat out of a conflict by drilling down to the unmet need.
No doubt you’ll all come back next week with lots of stories to tell. Upon this holiday of giving thanks, I’m particularly grateful to each of you who makes Amma possible. Having you at the center with your babies is what makes our little place sing, and you bring a great deal of joy into the lives of everyone who works at Amma.
One of the great joys of my job is to sit in that New Mama Class classroom with 8 or 9 women who have just had a baby, and reassure them that they’re NORMAL.
Moms: have you ever be in the middle of a situation that seemed so ridiculous – so ludicrous – that you wonder if you’ve stepped into some alternate universe?
I remember when my son David was about two weeks old. I was cradling him in my arms in the rocking chair, reading him a story called “On the Day You Were Born”. Sunlight was coming through the window, and the house was quiet. By all appearances it was a peaceful, lovely scene.
All of a sudden, I burst out in the most violet sobbing fit – shoulders shaking, heaving, tears streaking down my face – what my husband calls “popping snot bubbles”. The fit came out of nowhere like a rogue wave, just as abrupt as it was intense. Then, in a moment, it was gone, leaving me snotty and tear-streaked, flabbergasted. What. Was. That?
That, my friends, is a little thing we call “Postpartum”. It’s like falling down a worm hole into Crazytown. That little wrinkle in the universe that makes it seem rational to consider peeing on the couch because you don’t want to move while holding a baby it took 2 hours to get to sleep, meanwhile your bladder is filling to overcapacity and you’d rather have slipcovers made than wake that baby.
Or finding yourself in the car, backing out of the driveway at midnight, with your husband in his boxer shorts holding the baby, chasing you, screaming “Don’t leave!” after a rip-roaring fight.
Or flying into a fit of sleep deprived rage at the sight of a pile of wadded-up diapers around the base of the Diaper Genie, and chucking them at your husband as hard as you can after he asked if you needed help.
Oh yes. I know you have your own stories of finding yourself in Crazytown. And there’s nothing more satisfying than hearing other people’s stories about their trip down the wormhole, just so you know you’re not the only one.
What are your stories?
Let’s talk triage.
You know. What gets your attention first, out of the six things demanding it.
Whether it’s the baby, the phone, the overdue bill, the trash truck you can hear rumbling down the street as you calculate whether you can get your trash gathered up and out to the curb in the next 3 houses…. Triage.
In nursing school, I learned all about this concept. How to decide what’s most important, quickly and under pressure. As a nurse-midwife, I put it into action a million times – whoever was pushing got my full attention, and the mom in early labor got pushed to the back of the line.
I had no idea how handy this concept would be until I had my babies.
As new parents, we’re in a constant state of triage. There isn’t a moment when all our tasks are complete – they’re just in various states of triage. I’ll wash 4 out of those 10 bottles, until the baby poops up her back, and then I’ll clean her up until the oven timer goes off and I need to get that Trader Joe’s entree out.
Do you ever picture yourself on the set of the show “ER”? Don’t you think you’d make a great nurse?
This week is National Midwifery Week. A week to celebrate and promote the services rendered by midwives, created by the American College of Nurse-Midwives – my old organization.
Even though I haven’t attended a birth as a nurse-midwife in probably eight years, midwifery is very much alive at Amma. According to the ACNM, midwives “affirm the power and strength of women,” and the midwifery model of care:
- Promotes a continuous and compassionate partnership
- Acknowledges a person’s life experiences and knowledge
- Includes individualized methods of care and healing guided by the best evidence available
- Involves therapeutic use of human presence and skillful communication
What a beautiful way to sum up what we strive to do in our classrooms here at Amma! Through evidence-based teaching, a compassionate approach, and connection with other human beings we “midwife” parents into their new lives.
When I think back to attending births, my favorite moments were spent a few feet away from a woman’s bedside, watching as she worked through labor in the presence of her partner or family. Knowing that she didn’t need me to pick her up and carry her, but walk next to her on the path. Knowing she could do it herself. I had a keen sense that I didn’t want to be too much a part of her memory of her birth when she looked back over the years – I wanted her to remember how strong she was, rather than how I had helped her.
I feel many such moments in the classrooms at Amma. It’s such a gift to see a new mom have an “ah ha” moment about how to take care of her baby, or see a new dad get that swaddle just right. Amma just sings when it’s full of parents- meeting new friends, playing with their babies, learning from us and each other. But honestly, we just provide the space in which you blossom into parents – the accomplishment is all yours.
We’re just lucky enough to be there when it happens.
Has your life been touched by a midwife? Join Team Midwife and help promote midwifery to your friends and family. We’d like to see 20% of all births attended by midwives by 2020.
And…. Happy Midwifery Week!
Dear Amma Mamas,
You just had a baby. You’re spending your whole day completing Tasks: changing diapers, loading laundry, washing bottles, pumping, shushing, and trying to eat a few bites of cold food one-handed while standing up. You complete some tasks, but most others are hanging chads: half done tasks who look at you all day from their smirky post, reminding you of their incompletion.
You are surrounded by Tasks.
Meanwhile, your culture sets you up to expect total domestic bliss, filled with moments like in the picture above. But here’s the thing: Tasks create Conflict. Inevitably, the longer the to-do list, the more potential for scorekeeping (“It’s your turn to wash the bottles” and “I’ve done eight loads of laundry this weekend”). There’s no shorter route to resentment than keeping score. Are you fighting more now than ever? You’re not alone.
One of the things we often talk about at Amma is the concept of the “intentional family”. To me, this means taking a step back and remembering why you had this baby in the first place.
The family you had in your imagination when you were pregnant – the one you wanted to create with your partner when you decided to be together forever – that’s your hanging chad, not the laundry.
It’s tough to step back when you’re in the thick of the Baby Smackdown, but… try it. Try to take a step back from all those tasks for a moment and remember what the family of your dreams looks like, and then try to think of small steps you can take towards that family, every day.
The biggest gift you can give your children is a home with two parents who stay together and love each other – and it’s hard to get there when you’re busy keeping track of whose turn it is to go out with their friends, or who gets up more in the middle of the night.
Happy families don’t materialize out of thin air, like they appear to in ads. They take a lot of work – a lot of intentional communicating, loving, and supporting. But it’s the forest through the trees, Mamas. You can do it. Remember, you didn’t just have a baby, you had a family.
And that’s something worth fighting for.