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You're no idiot, of course. You've read all the books on child care and child rearing, heard all about coping with the terrible twos and dealing with teenage angst, and listened to everybody's advice on parenting. But when it comes to learning the real inside scoop on motherhood from a Mom's point of view, there's not a helpful voice to be heard. Don't start looking at boarding schools just yet! The Complete Idiot's Guide to Motherhood is here to teach you the secrets of raising children without losing sight of ...
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You're no idiot, of course. You've read all the books on child care and child rearing, heard all about coping with the terrible twos and dealing with teenage angst, and listened to everybody's advice on parenting. But when it comes to learning the real inside scoop on motherhood from a Mom's point of view, there's not a helpful voice to be heard. Don't start looking at boarding schools just yet! The Complete Idiot's Guide to Motherhood is here to teach you the secrets of raising children without losing sight of your own hopes and dreams. In this Complete Idiot's Guide, you get:
"A basic book that addresses the dos and don'ts of p parenting....includes tips for keeping the marriage alive while raising kids and ways to survive your child's most difficult years."
Appendix A - Bibliography
[Figures are not included in this sample chapter]
Relish your time in the hospital. Get plenty of rest and allow the nurses to attendto your every need. God knows when you go home and the new-baby frenzy dies down,you will be on your own with a new little bald-headed person who expects you to knowwhat you're doing. But don't worry--you will catch on. Babies look fragile but theyare not that difficult to handle. And besides, as far as they know, you aredoing it right.
If you can, arrange for someone to help you out when you first come home withyour baby--you'll welcome the assistance. But decide ahead of time what kind of helpyou need. Some new moms would welcome some personal care but don't want to give uptaking care of their new baby. Be clear with yourself--and with would-be helpfulfamily members--about just what kind of help you're willing to accept.
If you're looking for a litt le help with the cooking and laundry, but want tobe the one to sponge bathe and cuddle the baby, make sure that everyone knows howyou feel. Otherwise, you may find yourself feeling guilty for looking a gift-nursein the mouth, and having to fight to reclaim your nest.
Momma Said There'd Be Days Like This
When I had my first baby my mother-in-law arranged for a nurse to come help me when I first came home. I envisioned someone who would bring me trays of mystery meat and green Jell-O while I got used to being a mom. What I got, however, was a baby nurse who had very little interest in my welfare. She basically took over with my infant, and I felt very threatened.
If you had a difficult delivery or a C-section and want to have help with babycare, just set the parameters for the help you need, and make sure you are compatiblewith your caregiver. Make it clear that you need help with housekeeping, meals, andlaundry or whatever it is you need help with--and make clear those areas where you'drather they didn't intrude. Above all, get involved with the selection and do notfeel you have to accept someone's gift, no matter how gracious, if it conflicts withwhat you expect or need.
Follow your own instincts when it comes to how you wish to care for your baby when you first come home. Becoming a mom is a difficult enough adjustment without trying to make everyone else happy first. Be gracious but keep control over your baby.
Some mothers, particularly in generations past, wanted to delegate baby care.If you examine the social climate of the 40s, 50s, and even the 60s, women didn'thave the choices we have now. It was expected that a woman would marry young andhave children.
Women have options now that include career and motherhood or career without motherhood.It's great that women can add personal fulfillment to the list of things they canhope for in a lifetime. But these options also create a difference in attitude betweenyoung women today and the women of previous generations. In other words, your momor mother-in-law may believe she's really doing you a favor by freeing you of theresponsibility of baby care for a week or two. But if you want nothing more thanto care for your newborn yourself, you can feel overwhelmed by the generational differencein attitude.
And remember--hired help is not the only option available to you. Friends areusually willing to help and new grandmothers can be a wonderful blessing.
It is great if your mate is there with you when you bring the baby home. You shouldcelebrate your blessing together and share as much as you can. Some families havea homecoming, complete with a grandparent motorcade. If that's your style, go forit: I personally love a reason to make everything as special as possible, so foreach of my back-from-the-hospital celebrations I always had picked out a specialbaby outfit and made it an occasion.
Remember this: It is important for your morale to have some type of transitioncelebration before you settle in to your new life. You spent nine months anticipatingthis day. You sh ouldn't let everything fizzle into an anticlimax--there'll be plentyof time later for day-to-day routine to set in.
Many cultures have rituals marking the arrival of a new life into the family.Why not try creating your own bringing-baby-home-from-the-hospital ritual to showyour gratitude and to mark the occasion in your database of happy memories. You won'tfeel like entertaining a ton of guests, so keep it simple. Lighting a candle, havinga toast, and enjoying a visit from the baby's nearest relatives are more than enough.The goal is to help you feel special; to reinforce your support-system, and to postponeany anxiety you might have when you are left to your own devices.
You and your mate can experience baby care together, but chances are he will haveto return to work before you will. This is not sexist--it's just a practical outcomeof the fact that you are the designated keeper of the womb. Your obstetrician willhave recommended you take it relatively easy at first, and he'll probably suggestthat you put off resuming your normal activities for about six weeks. On the otherhand, it's rare for a man to be given such a generous amount of parental leave.
Parental leave for fathers is a relatively new concept, so take what you can get but don't expect as much as you would like.
After a while you will find yourself the primary caregiver. As much as you mighthave believed this would not happen, welcome to motherhood. It is a fact of lifethat no matter how liberated and open-minded your partne r is, you will most likelybe the one primarily responsible for the care and raising of your offspring. Thereare always exceptions, of course--and with the high rate of divorce these days, it'seven becoming common for men to take over the so-called mothering role completely.They tend to apply their own distinctive styles to the task, and they do a fabulousjob. Nurturing is nurturing, after all, and fathers are fully equipped to raise achild.
Nonetheless, in the division of child-rearing responsibilities, it is more thanlikely that you will be the one doing more than 50 percent. But this is not necessarilya bad thing--it's hard to raise a child by committee, so sometimes it's better ifyou are the majority partner in the deal. You may have more than 51 percent of thework to do, but it is worth it if you have more voting leverage in certain decisions.
The key is this: Negotiate your parenting responsibilities so that you have thesupport of your partner when it counts. If you've got that, it's just fineif you have to change more poopy diapers than he does. Just make sure he is changingenough of them so he can share a feeling of involvement in the job, and so he canearn his bragging rights to everyone about how much of a help he is. Most of allyou want your partner to have a relationship with your children that goes beyonda baby-sitting role.
At some point you are going to be on your own with your baby. Unless you havea live-in grandmother or Mary Poppins helping you out, you are going to have manydays when your baby looks into your eyes and you think to yourself, "Well, Idon't know what to do, so what are you looking at me for?"
Try to develop a support system of friends and family for advice, a good laugh,or to just hear another adult voice. You want to develop a support system independentof your mate so you won't find yourself overly dependent at a time when you feelmost vulnerable.
The worst thing you can do for your morale is to become isolated. Take the baby for a stroll whenever you can. A simple change of scenery will often work wonders.
First-time motherhood isn't easy, and second-, third-, or even fifth-time Momssometimes have trouble making the adjustment to bringing a new baby home. A new babybrings changes in your self-concept in addition to changes in your role, and anyunresolved issues of ego and security that you bring into your new role are goingto become exacerbated.
How does this happen? Well, if you are like many of us, you might be a productof several generations in need of healing. The pain and sorrow of one generationis often brought to bear on the succeeding ones. And so you bring into your new experience--motherhood--manyinsecurities, doubts, and fears. But remember--you can also bring into it many hopesand renewed expectations.
Here's the great news: You really can create a whole new method of raisingchildren. Just because previous generations of your (or your partner's) family haddysfunctional dynamics, you don't have to follow along the same path. With this littleperson you bring home from the hospital all wrapped up in receiving blankets withweak neck muscles and a cry that sounds like a kitten, y ou can create a newpattern of mothering that will change a generation. There is only one problem: Todo this, you have to personally create the new rules.
Ultimately, whatever personal fears and insecurity you bring into being a mothercan be converted into the source of your greatest strength if you learn to listento your higher mother's voice--the part of you that knows the truth of whatis best for you and for your baby.
While you're still at the hospital the nurses will teach you all you need to knowabout the basics of baby care. They will teach you how to diaper, feed, swaddle,and bathe your little one. By the time you leave you will feel like an expert--untilyou get home and have to do it on your own. Here's where a good support system comesin handy. You can rely on your supporters as you make new adjustments, but you needto remember that the best support is what you give to yourself.
Newborns like to feel secure, so it is comforting for them to be swaddled, or wrapped, so that their limbs are close to their sides. To swaddle the baby, take a square blanket, fold up the edge, and place the baby's feet on top of it. Then cross one side of the blanket over the baby and tuck it under. Next, cross and tuck the other side, and then use the unfolded edge to cover baby's head.
When it was just you and your partner, you babied each other. You played wheneveryou wanted to play; you stayed up and slept late whenever you wanted to. But as soonas you b ring your baby home, life, as you used to know it, changes. You and yourpartner now have a whole new person, with his or her own needs, to accommodate.
The first night you have an infant in the house will be the strangest. First ofall, you are going to keep checking on the baby to see whether she's breathing, warmlycovered--and, because having a baby is so amazing and awesome, you'll even find yourselfchecking to make sure she's really there. I always kept my newborns in a bassinetin the room with me--it saved me a lot of getting up in the night when I wanted totake a quick peek.
Babies look so angelic when they are sleeping. The first night you have baby homeyou will rock her to sleep, put her to bed, and crawl into your own bed. The endof a perfect day. Then, at about 2 a.m., you'll hear "wah wah wah," andyou will shoot out of your bed like a rocket. In the interests of keeping your partnerinvolved in the child-rearing process, you will elbow him to make sure he sharesyour experience.
"The baby is crying," you'll moan. "What do you think is wrong?"Then you'll go through your list. Is the baby wet? Probably. You change her. Willrocking put her back to sleep? Hmmm, that's not working. Maybe you should try feedingher? Ah, yes--that works. (Don't forget to burp her.) Then you put her back to bed.Blissful sleep. Until the next time.
If you've got a handy friend, see if he or she will build you a special cradle like the one I borrowed from a friend. It had a wood plank attached that slid under the mattress of my own bed. The cradle w as open on one side so the baby could easily be lifted into my bed for a late-night feeding and put back to bed without much disruption. It was really ingenious and tremendously helpful.
At about 6 a.m. you hear "wah wah wah" again, so you stumble out ofbed and go through the whole 2 a.m. routine all over again. Somehow at the hospitalit didn't seem so tiring. You know you had to get up as many times but you seemedto be able to sleep longer in between. And, of course, that was true--in fact, inthe hospital you could sleep just as much between feedings as your baby did. Butthose restful days are over.
By the second day, you've probably already figured out a few survival tips. Younap when the baby naps and take care of your physical needs in between baby's cries.You are still sore from childbirth and tired from lack of sleep. After you put thebaby down for the night you fall asleep with the television on and have weird dreams.At approximately 2 a.m. you hear the now-familiar "wah wah wah," and thecycle starts again.
Just dealing with a newborn's normal feeding schedule is exhausting enough, butyou've got many other adventures in sleeplessness in store, as well. For example,babies often get colic, a gassy stomach condition that's liable to wake herevery hour, on the hour. No matter what you do--feeding, burping, walkingaround the room in circles, rocking, singing, making stupid faces--nothing makesa difference. One thing that usually does work (no one knows quite why) isto drive the baby around the block in the car. Presto! This usuall y makes even colickybabies fall asleep.
After about a week, you may begin to feel a bit more energetic (if still a littlebrain dead) and start trying to do things around the house. So instead of nappingwhen the baby naps you decide to clean. You start in one room and wander to the nextbut you don't seem to be getting anywhere. The house seems as messy as when you started.Then you decide you need to nap after all. You lie down, start to snore, and hear"wah wah wah."
When your partner comes home and sees the mess in each room, your disheveled hair,and the crazed look in your eyes, and says, "Hi, Hon. How was your day?"you are fully justified in throwing a tissue box at his head and bursting into tears.
Colic is a very common gassy stomach condition that babies are prone to. When the gas pressure builds, the baby wakes up, fussing and crying. Aside from making sure that the baby isn't ingesting too much air with her milk, there's not much you can do except ride this out. It does end, eventually.
Burping a baby effectively isn't as easy as it seems. Just patting her on the back rarely gets the job done. Try starting with gentle pats at about rear-end level, and moving slowly up to just below the neck. Works like a charm.
You are bound to have days like this. It is OK. Even better, it will geteasier, and one day you will again know what it is like to get a good night's sleep.The best thing for you to do in these early days is to l ower your expectations. Youare going through a physical and emotional adjustment, so set your priorities accordingly.You need your sleep more than you need a spotless home.
Momma Said There'd Be Days Like This
I didn't have a lot of confidence before I became a mother, and in some ways I had less after the baby was born--I was facing a whole new set of responsibilities, and my first marriage was not a good or stable one. But the baby gave me a kind of strength that I believe is unique to mothers. My instincts as a mother helped me to grow strong enough to protect my child--and that helped me to be strong enough to protect myself.
If your life before baby involved being busy and productive outside the home,learning to adjust to being at home with the baby can be difficult. Taking care ofa baby can seem like an endless array of nonproductive activities, compared to whatyou used to do at work.
You feed the baby, she gets hungry again. You clean the baby and she poops again.You change her shirt and she spits up on the new one. You change your shirtand she spits up on that. Understandably, you get tired, and there's no onetelling you "good job" as they did at your office or when you were in school.
It's unlikely that your partner is focused on telling you what a good job youare doing--he may not even be sensitive enough to tell you how beautiful you are,as he always used to (before the baby came). And even if he does tell you, you stillcry because when you look in the mirror all you can see is the extra baby wei ght,the lack of grooming since you barely have time to shower, and the bags under youreyes from lack of sleep. You can feel pretty miserable and sorry for yourself rightabout now.
What's a new mother to do? If she's wise, she makes a special effort to appreciateherself, and so should you. Here's how:
Occasions for humor abound with newborns, if you keep yourself open to them. Forexample, if you have a baby boy you will inevitably get a shot of pee in your eye.(Now that's funny, really!) You have to remember to cover him at all timeswhen you change him if you want to avoid this.
And no matter what gender baby you have, you will inevitably have to clean a messypoop that leaks out of the diaper and onto somebody's nice skirt or expensive slacks.Well, maybe that's not so funny, but it's not the stuff of high tragedy, either.You will also, occasionally, be covered with spit up and will suffer every baby-causedindignity imaginable. But on the other hand, you will fall in love in a way you havenever experienced. Babies can mesmerize you with a simple smile, even if their smileis just caused by gas.
It's important during this time that you surround yourself with supportive andupbeat people. If you have a mother-in-law who makes you depressed or who is verycritical, avoid contact with her during these crucial first weeks or months of motherhood.Your state of mind is more important than playing family politics.
Similarly, if you have a friend who is always looking for the dark sideof the moon, tell her how busy you plan to be for the next 18 years. Consider thisto be a time of personal and spiritual rebirth. You are a mother now and it is yourduty to create an environment of love and joy for you, your partner, and your baby.
There is always some moodiness associated with having a newborn in your life becauseof the simple fact that you spend the early days and weeks suffering from sleep deprivation.And, as you've already seen, having a baby can bring out a lot of underlying issuesand insecurities that you've never gotten around to addressing. This can lead toa temporary bout of depression caused by the new circumstances of your life. Thisis a very real, well-recognized condition, known as postpartum depression.
After weeks of sleep deprivation, it's normal to sometimes think that you could cheerfully strangle your partner for putting you in this position. But it could be a sign of a serious problem if you actually plan when and how to do it. All kidding aside, if you experience dark thoughts or fears that you can't seem to s hake off, contact a psychiatrist immediately--you may have postpartum depression.
Postpartum depression (PPD) is the term for any downswings in mood that women may suffer after giving birth. While a supportive partner and network of friends can help with normal depression, serious PPDs are hormonally induced and require a doctor's attention.
But there is another situation that is important to consider. When a woman givesbirth her body is subject to tremendous hormonal changes. These changes can disrupther system, resulting in a postpartum depression that will not work itself out overtime. It is actually a very serious matter, and can have some very serious consequencesif left undiagnosed and untreated.
For example, it is not uncommon for a marriage to split up if the mother suffersfrom undiagnosed, and therefore, untreated, postpartum depression. When the disorderis misunderstood or unacknowledged, it can put undue stress on the relationship betweenhusband and wife. The mood swings can become extreme, so that the woman falls victimto rages and even delusions.
Postpartum depression is very real. It can lead to psychosis and has beensadly implicated in the deaths of newborns. People who've never experienced the conditionoften find it hard to understand what the sufferer is going through, but there aresupport groups and well-informed practitioners who have been educating the public.
After my third child was born I developed what I thought was p ostpartum depression.I was in a stressful second marriage and noticed that all during this pregnancy (followingso quickly on the heels of my second child's birth) I was more emotionally volatile,insecure, and weepy. I needed a lot of support that my husband did not know how togive me.
After the birth, things really started to change. I would get bursts of energyand then I would crash into pitiful helplessness, barely able to crawl out of bed.I was so frustrated with my husband for not understanding that something radicalwas happening to me that I would throw our lawn furniture around.
I'm from a fiery Mediterranean background, so it was not totally out of the questionfor me to throw things out of frustration. A pot maybe, or a plate to get someone'sattention. But I was feeling very out of control. I would go quickly from rage intoheartsick weeping. I was unable to cope. Of course I blamed myself and decided Iwas just a terrible mother and an overall worthless person.
What was also frightening was that I had very dark thoughts. I would look at mybaby and worry about the most horrible things happening. It is perfectly normal toworry about your newborn. It is a sign of a possible problem when you become obsessedand immobilized by irrational fears.
Even if your condition is mild and not chronic, any pervasive mood change after childbirth should be taken seriously and a mental health professional, preferably a psychiatrist familiar with this highly misunderstood disorder, should be consulted.
My experience wasn't unique, as I quickly learned. My husband and I went to asupport group where we talked to couples who were experiencing postpartum depression,and got some good ideas of how we could better cope. They encouraged us to make surewe stuck to a bedtime schedule for the children, and for ourselves. They also suggestedother ways to reduce stress in our daily lives, and one of the support group memberstold me of her experiences with temporary medication for her postpartum depression.
All these alternatives are worth checking into if you're dealing with dramaticemotional and mood-swing problems after childbirth. For many mothers, as for me,the idea of medication poses immediate problems--drugs are not the best choice whenyou're nursing your newborn. But there were lots of helpful tips to learn at thatsupport group.
For example, I examined my diet and consulted with a macrobiotics counselor. Itried alternative remedies from the health food store and consulted with all kindsof people to help me get a grip on what was happening. Thank goodness I had friendswho were able to help me with the babies, because I was a wreck.
Remember that I said earlier how very serious postpartum depression can be? Well,when you're in its grip, you can suffer some of the lowest of emotional lows. Inmy case, I finally felt so out of control and frightened that I prayed for help.I couldn't deal with my agitated, angry moods because I could blame my husband ormy circumstances and explain it away.
What finally opened my eyes to the seriousness of my condition was that I becamesuicidal. I would sit on the floor in the bathroom wit h the door locked and cry.I found myself contemplating the easiest way a person could kill herself. Then Iwould think about my children, cry some more, and talk myself out of falling intowhat I can only describe as an elevator shaft. I talked to God a lot and said, "God,I may be an angry person, I may have low self-esteem at times, but I love life andI especially love my children. What is wrong with me?"
This is what can happen to you when you have some forms of postpartum depression.It is as though your mind is attacking you from the inside. Your moods go wacky andyour thoughts are not what they would be under normal circumstances. It is importantfor you to understand that this is a biochemical response and should not beignored, and it is not something to be ashamed of. It is not your fault if you becomeill after childbirth. It is your choice whether you take it seriously enoughto get help.
I was very stubborn and thought my problems would work themselves out. But oneday I became so frightened that I called a local mental health hotline. The womanwho answered referred me to an expert in dealing with postpartum depression. Afterlistening to my story, she took a very firm line with me and made it clear that thiswas not something that would just go away by itself. She was emphatic when she toldme that if I didn't seek help the condition could worsen and I could become a dangerto myself or to my children. She said some people need medical intervention beforethey can get back on their feet. When I became more frightened of not seeking helpI found my way to an excellent psychiatrist.
Some manifestations of postpartum depression can appear more severe than others--somewomen's experiences are harder to identify because they may be unmasked by otherunderlying, chronic conditions such as bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression--acondition that complicated my own PPD experience). The important thing to rememberis that once you do have a preliminary diagnosis of possible postpartum depression,you need to take action.
Many women share the attitude I had at the time--I was resistant to admittingthe need for psychological help, and strongly resistant to using medication. My doctortook me through the logical steps of treatment. He told me to wean the baby to seewhether my hormones would right themselves on their own. (Of course, you know theydidn't. I wasn't so lucky.) Next, he suggested mood-stabilizing medication--onlyto come up against my then strongly held rejection of drugs of any kind. But he waspatient with me, and after he completed my medical and family medical history andmade his preliminary diagnosis he said, "Deborah, you deserve this medication.If you were diabetic you would take insulin. You need this medicine to return youto balance."
I responded so well and so thoroughly to the medical intervention that I was sparedwhat could have been years of poor mental health. Even more important, my childrenwere spared the loss of a mother due to a chronic mental disorder, or worse.
After six years in remission I conducted a writer's workshop and recognized onthe roster the name of the woman who had so firmly guided me through the mental healthhot line. At the end of the workshop I told t he story of my foray into manic depressivedisorder and told her how much she was responsible for my stable and happy life.There wasn't a dry eye in the room.
Postpartum depression comes in many forms. If you are suffering from a full-blown,chronic case, you may require medical intervention. If so, it is important that youstick with your treatment. If you are fortunate enough to have the more common formof postpartum depression, your condition will right itself over time.
It is likely that if your condition is severe enough to require intervention,you will need some kind of drug therapy. And the available medications can bringabout dramatic improvements quickly. But do not become cocky and go off your medicationwhen you start to feel better. Follow your doctor's advice on dosages and durationof treatment. For some women, drug intervention is only a temporary necessity. Butfor people like me, who have a more serious underlying biochemical disorder, thetreatment may need to be ongoing. If you go off your medication without a doctor'ssupervision you may have a relapse.
There is no blood test, at least as yet, to determine whether a person is manic-depressive,has postpartum depression, or a myriad of other mental health issues. The diagnosisis done through taking a history, through observation, and through a knowledgeableand calculated trial-and-error process with appropriate medication. This means, unfortunately,that what works once may not work again as effectively if you have a relapse.
Not long ago, postpartum depression was largely unrecognized as a legitimate medica lcondition--it was called the "baby blues" and dismissed as just anotherof many typical female problems. So research into the condition was rarely done.It is known that PPD, like manic depression, may have a genetic origin, and thatit can be (but is not necessarily) triggered by sustained stress in one's life. Andwe do have enough information now to be good consumers of mental health resources,which can bring relief.
Sometimes the circumstances of your life around the time of childbirth can makeyou more prone to crossing the line into the realm of postpartum depression. It isbiochemical in origin, but the impact of stress on our biochemistry has long beenrecognized. You can take steps to minimize your risk before PPD strikes bymaking your home environment as supportive and positive as possible. Make sure youcan take care of your needs.
You need to learn how to take care of you. This may seem to go againstyour mothering instincts to care for your children first, but think about it. Whenyou fly with small children in an airplane, the flight attendants tell you to puton your oxygen mask before you put one on your child, in the event of a midair disaster.Why? Because you have to be safe and healthy before you can truly help your child.It's not selfishness to see to your own needs--it's just good mothering.
Your children depend on you to be as healthy and strong as you can be so you canbe there to guide them through their lives--not to sacrifice yourself. Sodo not be self-sacrificial. Be self-validating. Look at the circumstancesof your life and do whatever you can to make your life good and conducive t o yourcontinued confidence and mental health.