Monday, June 22, 2009

New Moms

This post will follow under the category of "I think WAY too much". Just thought I'd give you fair warning!

My friend Alice just had a baby - Maddy is just 10 weeks old and I got to meet her last week. Tiny, sweet, cuddly - all the things a newborn should be! I love me a new baby. :)

It was also interesting to talk to Alice. Just to give you a little background - Alice is 29 years old, married to a really nice guy. They both come from great families - both come from solid, two parent, middle class backgrounds. Alice has a Master's degree in Psych - but for the last 6 years she has been the lead teacher in the Infant classroom at the University Lab Preschool where I used to work. Everyday she was in charge of 9 babies - 6 weeks to fifteen months old. She also teaches part-time - infant/toddler classes in the education program at a community college nearby. Parents always felt comfortable leaving their little ones in her care. She LOVES babies. And she's great with them.

So, of course she was thrilled to be having a baby. Maddy was planned, prepared for, and highly anticipated. Baby showers were thrown, the nursery was meticulously decorated, and Alice had her husband reading baby books to get ready. You couldn't ask for much better circumstances for an infant to be born into. So, I asked Alice how motherhood was treating her - fully expecting to hear nothing but positives.

Boy was I surprised! Alice told me it was not at all what she expected. She talked about how her hormones were completely out of whack. She would go from happy to anxious to crying all in the space of an hour. More importantly, she had felt completely unprepared for how overwhelming a newborn would feel when it was her own. She'd been around tiny babies before - but it wasn't the same. Her mother had stayed with them for the first week, and her husband's parents lived less than a mile away. But she still felt isolated once her husband went back to work.

And then there was caring for Maddy - she'd experienced crying babies before. But she felt completely inadequate when she could calm Maddy down, when she didn't sleep well, and when she just didn't know what to do with her next. She'd planned to nurse for at least the first 6 months - if not the first full year. After 6 weeks she was exhausted from the constant need to be available to Maddy all the time. So, she decided to wean her -then she felt guilty for not being able to do it all.

Now, ten weeks in, she finally feels like she's got a hold on things. Maddy is on a better schedule and they have a daily routine. Alice is feeling more confident and calm. She obviously adores her new little girl - but it sounded like it was a rocky road!

This got me thinking... OF COURSE. (Could someone please tell me where the OFF switch for this thing is located?)

It got me thinking about all the women out there who become mothers - but don't have the same supports that Alice does. For example - plenty of teen parents, moms who are isolated by poverty, those who don't live close to family or have friends with children, and pretty much every parent whose child has ended up in foster care.

Of course, some women work through it - they ride it out, suffer in silence, and maybe even seek help from someone else. But most don't ask for help because they are scared. Scared that they will be seen as a "bad mother" or worse - incapable of parenting at all. Especially if they spent time in foster care themselves. I have known many a foster child have a baby at a young age (not necessarily teenagers - but young) and then live in perpetual fear of their child being taken from them.

It makes me sad to think that so many women don't have those support systems to lean on and that the system is only feared and not looked at as a support.

I know many of you will disagree with me here. But I have never met a biological parent who didn't WANT and LOVE their child. Even those that have abused and neglected their children. They had a reason for giving birth to those babies. Abortions are accessible and medicaid pays for them. (Not that I agree with this solution - but its a fact.) They could have even given them up for adoption at birth. But these women wanted their children. Their reasons are varied - but they did have their reasons.

And I have watched some of these women struggle mightily to be good parents. Some have succeeded. A young girl that I know was raised in foster care from the age of nine. Both of her parents were severely mentally ill and unable to care for her two siblings and her. She was so neglected, for so long, that she has permanent hearing loss in both ears from untreated ear infections. She also has some moderate developmental delays and emotional issues.

She lived with the same foster parents for 7 years before she was abused by a relative of the foster family and had to be removed from the home. (Long story!) She bounced around for the next few years and became pregnant at the age of 19. She told people from the very beginning that she was going to have that baby and that he was never going to want for anything because of the way she was raised. She's been true to her word - she's a fabulous mother. For the first 3 months of his life she kept detailed notes of every time he ate, pooped, slept, threw up, and breathed (only a slight exageration!). She lives with the baby's father and his parents. She is trying to go to school but fears leaving him in other people's care. But it has not been easy and she worries constantly about being a "good enough" parent. But she loves her son and wants only the best for him - I hope she makes it.

But she has a lot of things working against her - it remains to be seen if she can keep it up. I've known other former foster children who swore the same thing, "I'm going to be the parent I never had". But they have so much working against them - lack of role models, unrealistic expectations, their own mental health issues, etc.

But the biggest issue I see is lack of support. No one to tell them what to do when the baby won't stop crying. No one to reassure them when they feel helpless and inadequate. No one to tell them that those first few sleepless months will pass. No one to come over and hold the baby so that they can shower.

We need to do more for moms in general. We need to make it okay for them to ask for help. We need to reduce the stigma of the "baby blues" and quit expecting it to be sunshine and rose colored glasses. And we need to support more than we judge.


  1. Awesome, as a former foster care kid who longs for a kid, I wonder even as I cry beg and plead to become a parent if I can manage to be a great parent one day. We need to provide a community of friends to all new parents. Make them food, love the babies, offer to babysit free, and tell them that part of being a great parent is not trying to do it all by yourself!

  2. This is very true. We do need to do more. Have you or your friend heard of MOPS before? It stands for Mothers of Preschoolers, which is basically any child younger then school age. It is a nation wide "support group" so to speak for moms with young children. She shoule check it out. It is great to find other moms who will agree with her, that it is not what you expected, but in all the ways that it is diffictult, it will give you rewards ten fold!

  3. I completely agree! Nothing makes a mom feel better than knowing she isn't alone and tips on what to do. Hopeless and helpless are two things that can knock you flat on your bum! Sometimes, only another mom that knows that feeling can pick you up again. Sometimes just a loving friend or family member.

  4. We have a sign on the nursery door that says, "Asking for help is a sign of strength."

    People think that when they ask for help it is a sign of weakness or failure. They are concerned that they will be giving up control over their children as well.

    Women call the nursery at all hours of the night and sometimes all they need to hear is that you've done everything you can, but the baby is just going to cry. And sometimes we give them tips that do help soothe and they are so grateful.

  5. I recently found your site, and as a foster parent I have really enjoyed reading your thoughts and insights.

    This post is fabulous! I have never been pregnant, never plan to be. Shortly after my SIL gave birth to her first, I overheard her talking to my mother in the kitchen. My mother, instead of going on and on about how wonderful her new grandchild was, asked my SIL how SHE was 'holding up'. I was shocked when my SIL burst into tears, and even more shocked when my mother hugged her and said "They never tell you how hard this is, do they? They never talk about how hard it can be to bond with your child right afterwards, the guilt you feel, the terror, etc".

    I will never forget that conversation, and often wonder why DON'T we speak more openly about these challenges and prevent that overwhelming guilt?

  6. There are agencies out there to support first moms through all those issues you mentioned. I work for one called Healthy Families. I go to homes beginning prenatally (usually) and basically serve as a parent educator/support person for the mother... and it's free. Most of these types of programs are grant funded. If you contact your local CSB, they should be able to give you info for ones in that locality.

  7. Wow. Really interesting post.

    Would you consider writing for my Adoption Connect blog?

    Thanks for the comment !


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