What You Might Forget About New Motherhood (and how to get help before you do)


I really enjoyed this essay at Atlantic by Jody Peltason, a mother recalling her firstborn’s early weeks.  The essay is based on her own journal entry titled, “Before I Forget.”  In it, she recounted how awful, frightened and generally lousy she felt soon after her child’s birth, and how irritated she was by a stranger’s remark that she must be “On Cloud Nine.” Now three years later, and the memories have faded; the recollection still hurts, but, oddly, she wouldn’t remember the details of those awful first weeks but for her own journal.

The truth is, of the 1000+ new mothers I’ve worked with in the past decade, I have yet to meet a single one who seems to me to be on Cloud Nine. Some of them are happier than others; none of them is constantly ecstatic.Not in the first six months, certainly, certainly not in the first six weeks. It’s not what new moms are like, though many of them seem to think there’s something wrong with them for not being blissful.   

I think partly this is because of what birth is like for almost everyone (even when it goes well, I have yet to meet anyone who described a hospital birth as ‘gentle’; can you imagine how those early weeks might change if new mothers routinely said, “everyone I encountered while I was doing all that work of labor went out of their way to make me feel personally cared for — they were kind and patient, took the time to do whatever made me feel like the rock star I am for having given birth”; can you imagine how different the world might be if women were taught to feel not “the only important thing is my baby’s outcome,” but, instead, that they were entitled to dignity and respect and pampering, gentle care in the hospital?  That they were taught to see that being treated gently on day 1 makes a difference in her confidence and mood on day 2, 3 and so on?). 

I also think that partly moms don’t seem to be on Cloud Nine because they’re often sent home alone with no one to take care of them during the next several months (in other parts of the world, there are cultural rituals around the care of new mothers; they are attended to so they can do the work of reinventing themselves, caring for helpless newborns, and recovering from birth. Our culture’s complete absence of any rituals is harsh by comparison).  

But mostly I feel like new moms aren’t on Cloud Nine because it’s just not like that at first – it’s chaotic, it’s a transition, your baby is a stranger and very needy, in some ways you’re a stranger to yourself and very needy, your body feels different. Even with the best of help, no one loves being a beginner. 

With my own firstborn, I remember some happiness, but mostly what I remember was that I felt drugged by him – drugged as in, dopey, in that I felt this compulsion to touch and respond to him even though it wasn’t, yet, recognizable as “love,” and also drugged as in “sort of sedated,” which may have been the sleep deprivation making it hard for me to think clearly, and also drugged as in “on downers”: I remember at least one day where I sobbed in bleary exhaustion because I couldn’t find the top of the water bottle, and at least one night where I cried and cried, because the un-shareability of breastfeeding was just too much.  I recall my daughter’s newborn period as much more straightforwardly happy, though when I hone in on it, I can also remember that that Pretenders song, “It’s a Thin Line Between Love and Hate” was literally a soundtrack in my head for the entire first month. And that there was that one afternoon when I declared, in irritation, that I was going to wean her TODAY, RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE.  And that other time where my computer crashed and I knocked over a water glass onto some papers and my baby had been screaming herself purple all morning, and I sat down on the kitchen floor and cried and cried.

But my kids are past the newborn stage, so when I work with new moms as a teacher or lactation consultant, I’m one of the list of people Peltason says “don’t get it”: 

no one we talk to—not our mothers, not our friends with toddlers, not our pediatricians or lactation consultants—is able to re-inhabit her own experience fully enough to really understand how we feel.

That’s true.  And I’m sure that there are mothers, friends, pediatricians and lactation consultants who seriously lack empathy and make it all worse. I know some of them!  But I hope that even without being able to re-inhabit our own experiences, good helpers can help shepherd new moms through this stuff.  I encourage new moms to reach out to their own mothers, childbirth educators, kind IBCLCs, friends, and other new mothers and to keep looking till they find someone who actually helps.

We aren’t able to be the new mom with you, but perhaps we can recognize your experience and try to be of comfort or of service while you go through it, just like you can’t literally understand what your baby is going through when he cries, but you can be helpful and supportive and gentle while he goes through it, and that will be good for him. 

Still, Ms. Peltason writes, it’s lonely when no one else really inhabits the new mom place with you.  

It sure is. 

At some point, I think, it begins to sink in and feel “normal” that you’re the baby’s mother.  You are, of course, always going to be literally alone with it, but as you grow into it as a role, the bad part of “loneliness” abates some.  It takes a while, though, and it’s not made any easier by the fact that you’re tired and recovering and learning and, often, for a while, stuck at home, doing stuff that most of our country deems “not doing anything.”  (i.e., keeping a completely helpless creature who can’t even move his own head alive with your very bodily fluids). It is lonely work, in the sense that you are truly alone in the role.  No one else, no matter how sensitive, can inhabit this with you, that’s what’s hard about it.  That’s why you need to be pampered and attended. It’s not something that can be fixed, it’s something you come to terms with.  And that’s work. 

I loathe strangers who talk to new moms idiotically, telling them to “savor every moment,” or that “it goes by in a flash” or that they ought to be on cloud nine.  I loathe them for the pain they cause my students and clients.I think we all know, in our ‘normal’ lives, that random comments by strangers in the drug store are worth precisely zero, but in those early weeks, new moms are so extraordinarily suggestible – I wish the world would shut up around them or commit to be extra-gentle with them.  But they won’t – random people at the drug store will continue to say random things, and in time, I think, moms find they can ignore it. 

Till then, though, what helps make it a little more bearable?  Food, fresh air, qualified helpers for specific concerns, the presence of gentle people who love you and make you feel OK – the basics of being cared for.

Do these things make the first several weeks and months easy?  Do they remove all of that self-doubt?  Do they allow you to feel you have total control and confidence, relaxed about your baby’s unpredictability?  Do they ease spousal tensions, make you never weepy and confused, erase all your problems and leave you fully rested and understand your role completely?  No.  Nothing can do that.  

But the right kind of help can help support you while you grow into being the mother you’re turning into.  It won’t take all the pain away, but it will help you live with it.  Because the truth is, the first months are bumpy for almost everyone.  Peltason is exactly right that it’s not something you can master.  You just get through it, hopefully with gentle people around you that you can lean on.  

(And when you are through it?  You still, as a mother, have periods of self-doubt, incomplete control, occasional weeping and confusion and problems, and so on.  But you find that you’re much, much better at handling it than you were at first.) 

Like Peltason, I weary of the way we talk about the early months in a harsh dichotomy of “postpartum depression” versus “sheer joy all the time.”  The normal postnatal period is trying for almost everyone.  Sometimes, (often, I daresay), the tools that help folks who are tipping into Depression are also useful for everyone else as well; often a good facilitated new moms’ group is all that she’ll need.  No one benefits from imagining that “normal” and “healthy” is the same as “easy” and “happy all the time.”  No one is happy all the time and few important things are easy.  It’s a ridiculous standard.  

It’s easy, as she notes, for helpers to encourage moms to tune into their “Mother’s Instincts” to figure out what to do during this time, but all too often, I’ve noticed, new moms are certain they have no instincts!  Like Peltason, many of the new moms I meet worry their “Mother’s Instincts” are lousy, untrustable, or absent, because they don’t feel like a mother yet. 

I say, it takes a while to feel like a mother, period.  But you are, literally, a mother.  So if your gut tells you that you should drink tea and watch The Wonder Years, as Peltason’s did, that’s your Mother’s Instinct.  And it’s probably exactly what you need to do. 

What does drinking tea and watching The Wonder Years have to do with developing as a mother?  How can it help answer your questions about parenting philosophy and whether to keep breastfeeding or buy a different brand of diapers or return to work or whatever?  I don’t know.  But if it’s what you feel like doing and you’re the mother, that’s your instinct.  Go for it. See where it takes you. 

You know what will happen?  An hour will go by.  You’ll have an hour’s more experience, an hour where you did something that just felt right.  In time, those hours accumulate and you’ll have gotten through the early stuff. You’ll know your baby more, and yourself more.  You’ll be one step further from being that vulnerable new mom, at the steepest part of the learning curve, and one step closer to being the person who forgets herself in Duane Reade and inadvertently reminisces aloud about how wonderful it all was.


Are You A Mom or a Philosopher?

There’s been much hype lately about “hyper” parenting styles — from the Time Magazine brouhaha, to that book claiming that French-style mothers do everything better, and Erica Jong’s rant that overly “attached” moms don’t party enough — parenting styles are getting a lot of scrutiny, especially parenting styles that emphasize attentive devotion to an infant’s needs.

I’m always dubious about criticisms of parenting “philosophies” — there’s good and bad in any philosophy, but it doesn’t tell you much about what goes on for real people.  I’ve worked with over a thousand mothers; none of them lives a Philosophy.  

Here’s the thing — human young are extremely needy — they can’t eat regular food, or walk, or talk, or even hold up their heads, and they take years to mature — any philosophy that ignores that is at best delusional and at worst abusive.  On the other hand, real life parents cannot, as a practical matter, terminate every other aspect of life for the care and cultivation of perfect offspring for years and years on end.  They need a life, too.   Real people make nuanced choices through the day. So big arguments about whether This Style Of Parenting is the be all end all are arguments about nonsense, not practical discussions about what actually works for real moms.  I kind of feel like, let’s just throw philosophy in the toilet and talk about real life instead.

But before we do, there are two ways that I see “philosophy” really do some harm, so let’s just get them out of the way, OK?

1.  Seeds of Doubt:  

If I told you that my eleven year old came up to me asking for a drink of water on a hot day, was panting and red-faced from being outside in the heat and said he was thirsty, and I told him, “It’s not time for your water,” and made him wait 45 minutes, you’d think I was insane for withholding it.  Would it matter to you that I’d just read a book telling me to space my child’s drinks evenly through the day and not be tricked by manipulative nagging?  What if I told you that my five year old daughter was awake at 5 am crying that she had a bad dream, but I didn’t go in and tickle her back because she hadn’t been in her room twelve hours yet and my book told me that I should be consistent about boundaries and leave her till seven a.m.?  

I really hope it would sound like nonsense to you to follow a book at those moments instead of attending to my actual children.

On the other hand, I’m sure we can all imagine other types of situations where I’d be right to say no to both kids — over a lot of protest — where it was clear that they were pushing a boundary and needed some limit setting.  

In both cases, I’d be meeting my kids’ needs — the need for unexpected water or back tickling on the one hand, or the need for a boundary on the other.

What’s hard about having a baby, especially your first, is that it’s not always easy to be confident that you can tell what your kid really needs.  Here’s where the bevy of books and experts enter, designed to tell you.  But the thing is, none of the books live with your kid, and while some of them can be helpful in general about what you may be observing, ultimately the best judge of what your kids are doing and why, is you.  But  there’s a difference between giving you a general sense of what you may be observing, vs. scaring you out of your own judgment or telling you what to do regardless of the specifics.  

What’s really hard in the hour-by-hour of parenting is that no mother always knows the right thing to do.  Parenting requires living with some anxiety about how to proceed.  The wisest support people you encounter will give you some information about infant development but also help you learn to cope with that anxious feeling of uncertainty.  When you have some tools to cope with uncertainty, you can tune in to your best instincts and come up with a good plan for your family.  It won’t be perfect every time, but nothing is; it will be good enough.

The dogmatic books and experts, on the other hand, tell you it’s all very simple — three steps or five minutes or twelve nights, but if your life doesn’t happen to fit perfectly with their regimen, that lack of nuance sadly works to increase your self-doubt the way that airbrushed and photoshopped images of women plant seeds of self-doubt even in the most body-confident woman.  

With the photo-shopped images, the best course is to minimize your exposure so they can’t infect your brain.  Increasingly, I’m thinking, lets do the same with experts and books that leave no room for the real, weird, nuanced complexity of you and your baby.  Find the people who help you learn to cope with uncertainty.  Real moms, in real life, are the best place to start.

2.  Some Philosophies Are Just Wrong. 

OK some basics:  Human infants need to be held.  They need to be fed very frequently.  They need an adult around who can make eye contact, and engage.  There is simply no way around these facts.  Any book that is essentially telling you that you can turn your human infant into a tadpole who does not need parenting, is wrong.  Any book that says that you can harm your children by loving them or by attending to their needs, is wrong.  Any book that says that you should not ever trust your instincts about what your child needs, is wrong.  

Having said all that, we’d be missing half the problem if I ended it there.  Because the flip side is:  Human mothers have feelings about meeting the needs of their infants — good feelings and bad feelings.  It is not always easy, it is not always fun, it is not always lovable to be appropriately available to the needs of a growing child.  It can be frustrating and annoying and very lonely.  And any book that says that your own feelings and needs are irrelevant, that you shouldn’t have them or that you should ignore them, or that good mothers never feel these things — is equally wrong.  And any book that tells you that you should not want anything beyond meeting the immediate needs of your infant, is wrong and misogynist.  What you feel, and what you want are not always aligned with what you are prepared to do.

So — on the one hand, infants are genuinely needy and it is appropriate to meet their needs.  On the other hand, as a mother you may not always love that.  How do we reconcile these things?  

I think the way to answer that is to look at what not to do.  It’s a mistake and so unfair to reconcile these by not meeting your baby’s needs or by deluding yourself that your baby doesn’t have them.  Your baby is just a baby; she needs parenting.  

On the other hand, you don’t want to go to the other extreme either.  I like this piece by Katherine Stone which reviews a study in the Journal of Child and Family Studies which found that an “Intense” parenting style made parents unhappy and even clinically depressed.  “Intense” parenting style puts the needs of the infant at such a premium that the parents become irrelevant, and it’s no better than the other extreme.  Katherine discusses how this is different from developmentally appropriate parenting, where parents attend to the children without ignoring themselves. 

I have to tell you, I read the list of “Intense Parenting Tenets” and felt like clawing my eyes out — yeah, you’d become depressed if you believed these things.  Below are the “Tenets” and, following, my revision, for you to modify to your own life and your own needs, day by day:

INTENSE PARENTING:  mothers, not fathers, are the most necessary and capable parent


1.  Mothers are really important to their babies, and women who’ve just become mothers sometimes underestimate how much they’re capable of and how necessary they are in their babies’ lives.  That doesn’t mean you’re the only one who can or should attend to your baby’s needs.  It also doesn’t mean that you are going to love every second of it.  

(also, p.s., how heteronormative?!)

INTENSE PARENTING: parents’ happiness is derived primarily from their children


2.  Parents of older children often describe their children as a source of happiness and enrichment — this is something new parents can look forward to.  Parents of newborns are often surprised that they don’t feel a deep relationship yet.  Many of them take great pleasure and satisfaction in many aspects of being with their babies, but many of them also feel a sense of mourning for the kind of freedom and happiness that went with being childless.  It is an adjustment.  As an ongoing matter, adults need adults in their lives for happiness and stimulation, not just children and babies.  However, the bond you share with your children can be extremely rewarding, especially as it deepens over time.

INTENSE PARENTING:  parents should always provide their children with stimulating activities that aid in their development


3.  Living with an attentive adult who makes eye contact, holds the baby and talks, and reads to her, is phenomenally stimulating for an infant.  Think of your job as a parent as to introduce your child to the world, not to create a second-by-second bonanza of stimulation.  Hanging out is often the perfect activity.  When you’re about to do something, you can start by thinking, “does this seem like it would be fun?”  Yes, for you, not just for your baby.

INTENSE PARENTING: parenting is more difficult than working


4.  Parenting is surprisingly difficult if you imagined it was going to be easy.  It is harder than some jobs and easier than others.  The pay is awful but there is a casual dress code.

INTENSE PARENTING: a parent should always sacrifice their needs for the needs of the child


5.  A parent should sometimes sacrifice her needs for the needs of the child, and sometimes the child is going to have to sacrifice or wait on the needs of the parent.  This is true in any relationship and also true in parenting.  The difference is that in other relationships, both parties decide together about give and take.  With your child, you are responsible for figuring out what fair sacrifices on both sides are, because you are the adult.  If you have loving friends in your life and you aren’t depressed, you will learn to have confidence that you can make good judgments about how to balance that, but you will not always be certain that you’ve done it right.  That is okay, and enough.

This is a saner version of parenting, but it needs some honing to your particular situation, and that takes time. I hope you contact me so we can talk about it further.  

Weaning and Depression

Here’s a conversation I have not infrequently with former clients who contact me when their child is a bit older:

Me:  Wow, so nice to hear from you!  Your baby must be <several months or more older> now — how is everything going? 

Her: “I was doing fine, really, everything was settling down … but suddenly I’m just feeling … <sniff> … really … down <sniff, sniff>.  I don’t know what it is; things are totally OK with the baby, it should be good … but I’m just feeling, now … <sniff, sounds of tears> … . “

Now, look.  Parenting is never a cakewalk, and sometimes what’s happening in a call like this is that the mom is just having a hard week — that happens to all of us. And talking about it really helps.

But more often, when I get this phone call, I have two followup questions for that mom — (1) did the baby just start sleeping through the night and/or (2) have you just weaned.  And more often than not, the answer to one or both of them is “yes.”  

Usually it’s:

"Yes!  And I thought I’d feel so much better, but here I am feeling even worse … "

I’ve thought about writing about this for a long time, but I’ve resisted because I haven’t been able to find good research backing up my speculations about why this happens.  But last week an article on Huffington Post talked about the very thing I’ve observed for years.  In “Weaning and Depression Linked In Many Women”, Catherine Pearson bemoans the lack of empirical data on this, and calls for more research on the issue. 

Here’s the gist of the situation:  When a woman is nursing, her brain almost constantly is secreting a hormone called oxytocin.  Oxytocin does a number of interesting things in addition to letting the milk down.  It acts almost like a drug that makes you feel good.  It takes the edge off pain; it makes you a little high, a little trusting, a little floaty feeling.  During lactation, a mom’s body is flooded with oxytocin and another hormone called prolactin, and together, they activate the same receptors as the drug Ecstasy; actually, a better way to describe that might be to say that Ecstasy is popular because it makes people feel like they’re having an oxytocin high.

Even before you give birth, you’re familiar with oxytocin from other life moments it’s helped you — oxytocin floods the body when you’re falling in love and that’s what makes you feel that sparkly feeling that all is right in the world.  And it floods the body when you have an orgasm, which is what makes *that* sparkly feeling.  You get a hit of oxytocin from massage, and from hugs, and from situations where you feel safe, loved, loving, intimate.  It’s the hormone we’re all, basically, addicted to; it makes us like being with people who take care of us and keeps us coming back for more.

We all have our usual dose.  And that dose goes way up while you’re nursing and then back down when you wean, and that transition back down seems to be particularly hard on some women.  

(Wait a sec, maybe you’re nursing a baby but you’re not finding nursing and new motherhood to be like taking E?  I think most people don’t.  But underneath all the chaos of your day, there’s that baseline of oxytocin, helping you to get through it, while it’s hard, tiring and confusing.  Oxytocin takes the edge off.)  

Some folks think that oxytocin is what makes you “bond” with the baby; I find it a little silly to reduce something complex like love to a simple chemical reaction, but perhaps the oxytocin helps us get started, so that we manage to find the baby compelling and cute even though she screams and shits all the time and won’t let you sleep.  In fact, when you think about it?  The fact that we manage to love our kids is a little irrational.  You’d have to be a little high to keep coming back for more.  High on oxytocin.  I think it’s supposed to be that when the baby is first born, it’s all chaotic and hard, but you have this hormone that makes you feel OK enough to get through it.  And then gradually your life calms down and is easier and then you’re ready to cope with it without a mega-dose of a feel-good hormone. 

Oxytocin doesn’t leave you forever when you’ve weaned, of course, you still get it from touch and security and trust and love.  But that regular hit of it, many times a day, at regular intervals, triggered by breastfeeding, the baseline — that’s gone once the nursing is over.  And while lots of moms don’t love breastfeeding, and many are happy for the freedom of having an older child who doesn’t need the breast, there are some women who seem to go into a kind of withdrawal after the oxytocin isn’t there.  I’ve seen it happen at weaning, and I’ve seen it happen when the baby sleeps a long stretch at night, or during a nursing strike.  In these cases, the mom herself is weaning off the oxytocin she’s used to getting all day long.  

I don’t mean to suggest that every mom who feels sad or wistful after weaning is experiencing only a chemical withdrawal.  There are also cognitive reasons a mom might be sad or down, or just feel the poignancy of life, around any major milestone.  And many moms find that weaning is a non-event for their mood.  But it seems to me that some women are particularly sensitive to this hormonal change.  

And yet it’s totally under-discussed.  

In my observation, women who feel a real dip in mood around weaning often find that they “even out” after a few days or weeks, as their hormones rebalance.  There’s a great description in Joanna Goddard’s blog post about her post-weaning depression at Cup of Jo — her depression starts when she abruptly weans, and ends, spontaneously, six weeks later, when her period resumed.

Still, it can be a shock, and a serious downer, and for some moms, it’s the beginning of a slide into clinical depression that they won’t spontaneously snap out of in a few weeks.  Yet I never hear of OBs or midwives mentioning any mood changes around weaning.  Even for moms who see counsellors or therapists, these transitional hormonal changes are often unexplored.  Most moms are utterly surprised by it, and that surprise can delay getting help.

Here’s what does help, though.

  • Understanding the way oxytocin works, and the way the body responds, perhaps, helps you anticipate that this might happen, and prepare.  If ever there were an argument for weaning slowly and gently and only when mom and baby are both ready, this is it.  (If you’re having a weaning-mood-dip because the baby is on a nursing strike, pumping may do the trick).
  • Exercise, Fresh Air, Sunlight, Rest, Good food, Doing a little less work for a few weeks.  In short:  take it easy on yourself.  We are talking about a short-term transition; you can do some extra resting and pampering for a few weeks.  This doesn’t make you lazy.  As I’ve blogged about before I think it’s helpful to have a handy list of things that might help, in case your mind gets really fuzzy and you’re lying in bed moaning and devoid of ideas.
  • talk to a friend.  OMG, please tell people!  You have friends in your life exactly for these moments, where you can rely on them to love you and keep you company and remind you that your entire life is not, in fact, pointless.  
  • See your doctor.  Any sudden change for the worse is probably worth a check-up over.  Some new moms experience transient low thyroid function or anemia, both of which can make you feel seriously rotten.
  • some moms find it helpful to take evening primrose oil to even out mood during the weaning process. 
  • Think about other sources of oxytocin that you can use to replace what you’re missing :-).  I think that what topples moms’ moods is the quick drop in oxytocin.  In the meantime, it’s worth thinking about pampering things that smooth the transition — a massage, perhaps?  Or … uh … sex?  It might be the last thing you’re thinking of if you’re depressed, but it could be just what you need.  In fact, when you look worldwide, sex may be the real answer.  In many parts of the world where folks have what we call “natural child spacing,” mothers nurse for a couple years, and are then  pregnant again a few months. (here’s a great example of this from another blogger’s description of post-weaning depression followed by conception) 

(Keep an eye on this, though.  You probably don’t want a decades-long cycle of pregnancy and nursing!  At some point you have to ramp down off the Fertile Goddess Dose of Oxytocin.  And I’ve seen some pretty irrational behavior by more than a few moms at the end of their reproductive cycle who seemed desperate and a little manic to replace the new-mom feeling of “abundantly needed and physically in-demand but rewarded by the powerful feel-good hit of oxytocin” — including everything from adopting half a dozen new pets to having an affair to using some pretty serious recreational drugs.  The problem is, obviously, you just create a bigger mess for yourself to clean up that way. How about one cat and a massage.  And some chocolate.  And a bunch of date nights :-)  Keep an eye on yourself.)

  • I think for most folks, a mood shift around weaning is going to be something small, like a few bumpy blue days.  And even if it lasts longer, it will probably resolve itself as the body gets used to the new baseline.  But if you’re finding that your declined mood is changing your behavior, making you feel irrational or desperate or out of control, that’s a clinical issue.  In Ms Pearson’s article, she quotes one mom who says, 

"I never sought out professional help … I never felt like I was a danger to myself or children. The extent of my mood swings were sadness and irritation, and they seemed to vanish as quickly as they appeared."

and another who says:

"I wish I had committed to seeing a psychiatrist or psychologist, since that might have helped me feel more supported and comforted …  But during my depression, I didn’t feel confident that they would be able to help — I didn’t think anything would help."

It makes me so sad.  Because I think we all know that the major symptom of depression is “hopelessness,” but when you’re saying:  ”I didn’t think anything would help” — darlings, THAT IS WHAT HOPELESSNESS MEANS.  All too often folks think that if they’re not “a danger to themselves or their kids” it’s not bad enough to get help.  

No!  It’s bad enough if you’re feeling like crap.  

It’s bad enough if you’re sad and confused and irritable with mood swings that are currently f*cking up your life.

As someone wise once said to me (because I’m certainly no stranger to depression myself), “You don’t have to be lying on a stretcher in order to get help.”  It’s hard to do, but you really gotta do it, because as hard as it is to believe, when you feel better, you will actually feel better.  :-)

Company helps.  And honesty.  And treating yourself right.  And patience and time and breathing and sunshine and chocolate.  But when you need more, you need to reach out and get clinical help in the form of talk therapy or medication or both.  If you’re finding that impossible to do, ask your partner to help you take the first step.  Or please contact me and I’ll see whether I can help you find the help you need.

What about you?  Did you have a bumpy ride with weaning?  

What's Up With Motherhood?

Here are some healthful tid bits for women to savor as they embark on motherhood. Trust yourself. Rely on others. Ask for help. Seek support. Connect with loved ones. Take time for yourself. Expect to feel amazing, awful, and everything in between. Throw perfection out the window!

This is from an interview called What’s Up With Motherhood, at, with Dr. Jessica Zucker, a psychotherapist who specializes in women’s health issues.   

Such important points in an article that talks about the way moms waste energy trying to be as “perfect” as the other mothers.

But what I like most in this quote is:   look at all these things that seem like contrasts:  ”trust yourself” sounds so independent, but it’s right next to “rely on others” and “ask for help.”  That’s because when you’re a mother, you’ve got to be both independent and dependent. Those things don’t cancel each other out — each one is an ingredient in the other.  

It’s one thing to hear “trust yourself” and “rely on others”, but it’s another thing to do it.  So many new moms think “trust yourself” is great advice for people who know what they’re doing, but worry that it doesn’t apply to them.  If you’re a new mom who has no experience and few role models and is bombarded by “expert advice” telling you to do a dozen mutually exclusive things, you can start worrying that your common sense isn’t enough.  Or, perhaps, you’re just too tired to hear what common sense tells you.

And similarly, it can be hard to rely on others and ask for help, even when we “know” it’s good advice.  On the one hand, I think we all understand that the point of having 9 billion people on one planet is that there are going to be some good ones to share your life with.  But on the other hand, I think we all, sometimes, worry that needing people is a sign of weakness, something you shouldn’t admit. I do it, too, as I’ve blogged about.

So but here’s the thing.  You know what helps you trust yourself?  Relying on others.  And you know what helps you rely on others?  Trusting yourself.  

Here’s why:  When you can trust that feeling lonely or empty or confused isn’t a sign that You’re A Shitty Mom, you can open your life to other people and begin to rely on them.  And when you’re around other mothers and you become friends and your lives start to intertwine (I mean having real relationships, not just casual encounters where everyone pretends their lives are perfect) you start to see that what real mothers do, in real life, is not a perfect arrangement of beautiful Kodak moments, but a big soupy mess of decisions that are sometimes very planful and other times haphazard, where their personality, their common sense, their aesthetic sense and their quirks are the tools they rely on.  When you see other women doing this you realize — “trust yourself”  doesn’t mean “have perfect judgment about everything”; it means, “you’re going to be OK; stop agonizing so much.”

No one knows what she’s doing all the time and everyone breaks a sweat raising kids.  That’s because it’s hard.  But community helps, perhaps more than anything, at reminding us that the goal isn’t to be perfect.  I think the goal is to have tools to handle the stuff that’s just not fun, and to be able to enjoy the stuff that really, really is.

Strong Start Day 2011

When I’m teaching a childbirth class, and I begin to talk about postpartum mood issues, I see every pregnant woman tense up a little, as if stiffening the body will ward off the possibility of Depression Happening To Me.  It’s a normal reaction, I think — even in this day and age, Depression carries a stigma.  We’re supposed to be happy all the time.  We’re supposed to be able to cope.  Mothers, especially, are supposed to be able to cope.  And if they can’t, they’re really not supposed to admit it.

We don’t even like to use the word “depression.”  I can’t tell you how often I’ve been approached by new or expectant mothers who want to ask me about “Postpartum.”  They mean: “Postpartum Depression/Anxiety/OCD,” but don’t want to say those words.  Even the *words* are too scary.  The word “postpartum” actually just means the time period after you give birth — it has nothing to do with depression!  But it’s become so common now for women to say “Postpartum” to mean “Depression” that I can’t even say “postpartum” anymore to mean “the early weeks” without freaking out an entire roomful of women.    

Here is the thing.  For some moms, the ride into parenthood is bumpy.  Well, hang on, I think for everyone it’s bumpy.  What major life transition isn’t?  But for some moms it’s More Than Normal Bumpy.  Often this is a result of  unexpected birth/breastfeeding/whatever situation + fatigue + isolation + unrealistic expectations having never seen a new mother before.  For many, many of those moms, the thing that helps them pull out is company, especially the company of other mothers.  

But for others Bumpy Ride derails into Depression or other Mental Illness.  Company helps those moms, too, but they also need clinical help, whether in the form of counselling, or medication, or both.  Depression is an illness.  It requires treatment.

But, see, one of the classic hallmarks of Depression is: hopelessness.  By definition, if you feel hopeless, it seems, well, hopeless to seek help.  So, women who are depressed are singularly unlikely to go out and look for the help they need.  Often they imagine that it’s … hopeless.  So why bother?  Add on the exhaustion of being a new mom, the logistical problems of getting out of the house when you have a baby, and the general stigma about Depression and you have a recipe for Depression that lasts, and lasts, and lasts, untreated.  


It’s so sad!  Parenthood can be tough, challenging, scary, and sometimes flat out annoying, as well as all the good things.  It’s normal for women to have mixed feelings about any big life change, and mixed feelings include negative feelings.  But feeling despair, predominantly, is not something to Just Cope With.  

Women who are Depressed need others to take care of them, and one champion for mothers on this issue is Katherine Stone.  This week she is looking for your support, beginning, today, with Strong Start Day 2011.  You should support her.  You should tell the new moms you know about her blog, whether they are depressed or not.  You should talk about the stuff that’s hard even though there’s pressure not to.  It helps.

By the way, you should also come to a New MOMs group.  Because when you’re in the company of other new mothers, you can see, more clearly, the difference between a new mom who is feeling the normal range of “down, confused, worried and Not Loving It Right Now” and a mom who is really not coping.  This helps you sort out what’s going on with you.  You can get comfort and support if that’s what you need, and you can *give* comfort and support to the moms who need it.  And, even if everything is going splendidly, you can meet some other cool folks who’ve also just reproduced.