The addition of a new baby is supposed to be a happy time, right? However, a new study suggests the birth of your first child could be more stressful and lead to more unhappiness than unemployment, divorce or death? What? How is that possible? What are the most common stressors new parents experience? And how can you overcome those issues and experience more happiness and stability?
Surviving Postpartum: Shouldn’t I Be Happy?
Please be advised, this transcription was performed from a company independent of New Mommy Media, LLC. As such, translation was required which may alter the accuracy of the transcription.
JENNIFER SCHERE: The addition of a new baby to the family can be an incredibly stressful and life-altering event. In a recent article, some parents have even reported the birth of their first child to be more stressful and lead to more unhappiness than unemployment, divorce and even a death. I’m Dr. Jennifer Schere, license clinical psychologist and you’re listening to Newbies.
KRISTEN STRATTON: Welcome to Newbies, broadcasting from the Birth Education Center of San Diego. Newbies is your weekly online, on the go support group guiding new mothers through their baby’s first year. I'm your host, Kristen Stratton, I’m a certified birth Doula, Postpartum Doula and owner of In Due Season Doula Services and also mother of three.
If you haven’t already, be sure to visit our website at www.newmommymedia.com and subscribe to our weekly newsletter. You can also subscribe to our show through iTunes so you automatically get new episodes when they’re released. Sunny is here to tell us about other ways you can participate in our new show.
SUNNY GAULT: Yes. Hello everybody. So Newbies has a Facebook account. We also have a Twitter account. So if you’re in any of those social media platforms, be sure to like us and follow us and we’ll be posting some great articles we see online and we’ll be continuing some of the discussions that we start here when we’re recording our episode. So it’s a great way to be involved.
Also, if you want to be a part of the show, there’s a couple of different ways you can do that. If you have questions about regarding new parenting and being a new mom and caring for a new baby, you can ask our experts questions and you can go to our website, see a complete list of our experts and submit your question through our website via e-mail or you can also call our voice mail and we’ll use it on the show.
We’ll actually have other people listen to it as well and that way everyone can kind of benefit from the questions that you have. We also have a segment where we like to talk about The Oops – the things that we do accidentally as new parents in the very beginning. Those funny stories where you just something probably just pop on Facebook and tell everyone about because it’s the funniest thing ever. We like to share this with our audience as well.
So same thing, head on over to our website in the context session and submit your stories that way and you can be part of our show. I’m a mommy of four children. My oldest just turned five, a boy. I have a three-year-old boy as well and then I have twin girls who are now about 21 months old. Julie, tell us a little bit about yourself.
JULIE SCHMIDT: My name is Julie Schmidt. I am 55. So I’m a grandma. I’m also a birth and postpartum Doula. I have 10 kids. Yes, you heard me – 10 kids. We’re balanced to others – five boys, five girls. The oldest is 33 and the next one is 31, 29, 27, 19, two 16-year-olds, a 15-year-old and twin nine-year-olds.
I have worked also prior to being a Doula and a postpartum Doula; I was a foster mom and worked with a county that I lived in at the time to mentor new foster parents. Probably in the course of the 20 years that I was a foster mom, we’ve fostered about 75 to 85 kids.
SUNNY GAULT: My goodness. Man, you’ve been a mom for a long time with a lot of babies.
JULIE SCHMIDT: My life. Tomorrow’s my anniversary.
SUNNY GAULT: Congratulations. Jennifer, Dr. Schere tell us a little bit about yourself. You’re a mama as well.
JENNIFER SCHERE: I am. I’ve got two boys – nine and four. Always mothering and enjoying the time when I’m with new moms in the office, dads and families and helping them to try to create some semblance of meaning and order as I do myself at home.
SUNNY GAULT: So before we kick things off today, we’re going to talk about a news headline. We’re talking about: “Bringing your kids to work.” They apparently this Baby at Work Policy is what they’re calling it and it is gaining momentum with new parents and employers. Everything’s kind of focused right now on Washington State. There seems to be some big organization in Washington State that are starting this including the Washington State Department of Health which is in Olympia.
They are allowing infants to come to work and according to the article, they are currently 200 companies and organizations in the US that now have some sort of Babies at Work Policy. So you can imagine: “It’s really hard after you have a baby to go back into work and get in the swing of things especially if you’re breastfeeding.” So they basically come out and said: “We support this and we’re encouraging other people to do this.”
They said: “The response has been very good.” Some people are skeptical at first. But they also say: “In order for the program to continue that you’d still have to have some rules.” Really quickly, I just want to go through some of these rules and then get your guys’ feedback on what you think. Babies cannot be disruptive. The program is limited to babies who can’t yet crawl and they’re focusing on the six weeks to the six month old time frame. So after mom and dad are back from maternity and paternity leave.
Everybody still needs to get their work done. Parents need to preplan for back-up care and that there should be a baby-free zone somewhere in the workplace. What do you guys think about this? This is a good idea.
JULIE SCHMIDT: I think it’s a great idea especially for nursing moms. I think that’s one of the things that I hear a lot from our moms is that: “Going back to work is just the last thing they’re thinking about doing or wanting to do especially at six weeks postpartum.” Because they’ll developing nursing relationship can be interrupted. So being at work and being able to nurse baby on demand – that would be awesome. Babies not being disruptive is not possible.
SUNNY GAULT: I know. I was shocked. I was shocked when I read that. How are you supposed to adhere to that? It seems like the whole program would disappear.
JULIE SCHMIDT: Yes, just shut right down.
SUNNY GAULT: Right.
KRISTEN STRATTON: I am just wondering if they're better off putting off their efforts into developing a telecommuting program.
SUNNY GAULT: That was I was thinking too. Yes.
KRISTEN STRATTON: Because they’re talking about special combinations. So anytime we’re talking about it, we’re talking about equipment, change in space and for small businesses that might not be very practical financially feasible. But if they can set a laptop home with somebody and to have them calling for phone conferences and things like that and maybe just come in an hour or two here and there when they physically need to be.
SUNNY GAULT: Right.
KRISTEN STRATTON: I realized that’s not universal for all jobs. But I feel like: “That might be time better spent” because as Julie said: “There’s no way your baby is going to not be disruptive.” They cry because that’s certain way to communicate what they need. I got a video of a colicky baby here. Something more challenging – listen, I don’t know how exactly how to have the best of both worlds. I think it needs some tweaking.
JULIE SCHMIDT: I agree with everything you’re saying. Clearly we want our workplace as support of this possible. But in some ways, I think it’s a bit of a setup because new parents especially moms who are primary care takers are absorbed completely in trying to learn their babies, read the queues, respond. Your own sense of identity is completely going on to a complete overhaul and to then put the demand over simultaneously having to work; being in a professional setting and do this whole new role with your baby could be undue stress.
SUNNY GAULT: Right. Yes. Kristen, I really like your idea of the telecommuting kind of role. I think that’s where we’re going more as a society anyways and like you’ve said: “There are some jobs obviously.” My husband’s a police officer. He can’t telecommute, right? There are some things that you’re just not going to be able to do. But I think babies going to feel more comfortable in their own environment. Doing something like that I think makes a lot of sense. I don’t know.
I wasn’t very understanding before I had kids honestly. I know right now, I primarily work-from-home as a mom. So I know what it’s like to constantly have your baby in your space and try to do work. I’m not convinced that it’s the best thing for the mom or dad to be productive in their job too.
Not just everyone around you and how did they respond to it but how are you actually able to accomplish this stuff. I think we should extend maternity and paternity leave. Do some other things like that maybe then take care of ourselves that way than bringing it all to the workplace?
KRISTEN STRATTON: Yes, A for effort.
SUNNY GAULT: Right.
KRISTEN STRATTON: Not quite the solution.
SUNNY GAULT: It’s just a little off the mark.
KRISTEN STRATTON: Not there yet. Yes.
JENNIFER SCHERE: Missing the mark. Yes.
KRISTEN STRATTON: Today on Newbies, we’re discussing: “The Emotional State of New Mothers. Does motherhood really make you happier?” Joining us today is licensed clinical psychologist Dr. Jennifer Schere. Thanks for joining us Dr. Schere and welcome to the show.
JENNIFER SCHERE: Thank you.
KRISTEN STRATTON: The article on the Washington Post Sites a study of German families who reported feelings of substantial unhappiness following the birth of their first child. Even more so than unhappiness experience by families who are undergoing a divorce, unemployment even death. This one’s pretty alarming. Can you speak to some of the stressors experience by new parents that could explain why this might be the case here in America?
JENNIFER SCHERE: Absolutely. The thing that I find even more alarming than the study is the myth that continues to prevail really in our society. That pregnancy and first year of new parenthood should be so blissful. I think that is such unrealistic expectation and enormous pressure that contributes to some of the unhappiness.
Pregnancy and first year of new parenthood – I see it is as very often developmental crisis. I probably know there’s a time in your life as much profound intro psychic reorganization and change as when you are needing to integrate your sense of yourself from who you were to who you are in these new roles. I think that speaks to everyone – grandparents, siblings who now have a new sibling member. Everyone has to make major readjustments. You’re doing that all together.
There are clearly specific stressors that are universal:
• Sleep deprivation
• Hormonal and physiological changes
• Financial stressors
But again the emotional work of really integrating a whole new sense of yourself and expanding from mom’s particularly a maternal identity into who you’ve been is tremendous work.
KRISTEN STRATTON: What are some of the issues with our social structures which make parenthood such a challenge?
JENNIFER SCHERE: I think to piggy back on what we just said – the unrealistic expectation that you should be enjoying every minute; that there should be such a sense of feeling success and elated. I also think we have such a breakdown of community and extended family. There are lots of single parent families. The financial strains in terms of needing to work and balance work with caretaking and not just having a support.
KRISTEN STRATTON: What does a mother experience the first year of postpartum that is uniquely stressful for her?
JENNIFER SCHERE: Many things. I’m going to talk more to the emotional and psychological issues I think. Primarily, your face with your own attachment issues a lot of stuff from your early attachment with your own mom gets triggered comes out of that time. Your own issues with dependency and autonomy can just pop out unexpectedly.
Also when you have a new born, you are empathizing with the level of dependency that this infant is experiencing and that can trigger like a remembering context that is also often non-verbal. So your own feelings of how you were when you were dependent simultaneously your own experience of your mother mothering you at that time, you are bombarded often unconsciously and in moment-to-moment frames of all this underground stuff.
At the same time, you are needing to manage your emotions while you are managing the needs of an infant. So you’ve got to balance those when you’re pretty much under chronic stress.
KRISTEN STRATTON: Let’s talk about fathers too. What does a father or partner experience during the first year of parenthood that is uniquely stressful for him?
JENNIFER SCHERE: With fathers if you’re looking traditionally, a lot of self-esteem and identity gets invested in how to provide for the family, how to support the new mom. I think nowadays there’s a lot of negotiation going on between couples in terms of how to share both work and care-giving. It’s a reinvention. It’s a whole new creative process that couples have to team up and align with.
I would think also again, going back to what the mother has to experience in terms of identity in looking at what her experiences have been from being mothered that also. I think there’s a lot of different expectations does put on themselves now in terms of how involved, invested they want to be in the actual relationship and child care. That again is unknown territory.
KRISTEN STRATTTON: Anyway, I’d love to hear from Julie have me worked with so many families over the years – what your experiences then?
JULIE SCHMIDT: Well, I think everything Dr. Schere says is right on as well as I’ve heard a lot of moms say: “They compare themselves let’s say, Princess Catherine.” She walked out of the hospital looking photo op worthy and most of us – that’s not the case. So they feel bad about themselves sadly because they don’t look like her. There are so many other celebrities that present the same illusion that are moms are seeing
KRISTEN STRATTON: You should bounce back right away.
JULIE SCHMIDT: Bam. I’m going to look hot and sexy. I kind of feel like saying: “Do you really want too” because let me dress you. Trust me; you’ve got milk leaking out of your boobs that’s the last thing you want to know. They’re comparing themselves to others I think is damaging. They also have that supermom complex. This is I think uniquely American where we feel like: “Within two weeks, we should be up and at them.” Rather or as a belly birth or a vaginal birth, it is like: “Get up and get going.” Everything should be all our doc should be on a row. Not only we feel that way but it’s almost expected.
There’s an expectation from those around us. I mean I’ve heard grandma saying: “Well I just don’t know why she is not that up yet. I just doesn’t understand.” I mean the baby’s two-weeks old for crying out loud. Did you know that she can barely walk? She’s totally recovering. Those are the things I see. Not to mention just the real physical aspects after giving birth of sleep deprivation.
I’m sorry. I didn’t feel like much of anything, I was so tired all the time. I was recovering myself from a belly birth. So that requires a lot from me physiologically that I wasn’t necessarily aware of but it was definitely happening. We don’t feed ourselves well. We don’t take care of ourselves well because we’re taking care of someone else that needs us. So all those things I think plan to that postpartum angst that happens during that first year.
For guys, I hear a lot of: “She doesn’t pay that much attention to me anymore.” Sometimes I feel like slapping them but usually my response is: “Yes, I’m sorry that you feel that way.” It will come. Things will turn around. Their expectations bother expectations of their wives too or partners are sometimes really high because they too see the same media that we do.
They believe that their wife should already be doing everything – how can you not have your figure back, it’s been two weeks? How come you’re not back at work, it’s been two weeks. We need that paycheck hey-hey-hey. I hear a lot of that.
KRISTEN STRATTON: Dr. Schere, what are some of the ways that a family could mitigate the negative impacts of a new baby and experience more happiness and more stability?
JENNIFER SCHERE: I think emotional preparation, as well as logistical preparation, is really important. I think clear communication among the couple bout what loses they’re facing as they move into and transition into a whole new stage of life and to really greet it, be conscious of it, aware of it and enjoy the time pre-baby that they have. Create beautiful memories and frame it mentally so that you to the place where you’re embracing this new family member – a lot of that not all but a lot of it has been made conscious and you’ve been able to move through and then there’s room.
But any change involves loss and that’s hard. So the more couples can be realistic about what changes are about to happen and to accept them; make some tough decisions about changes they’re going to make in their lifestyle to accommodate this. A lot of issues around – how to balance the work and the family and people are surprised at how they feel after they have a baby. Sometimes what becomes the most important to you is not something that you could have ever imagined before having a family.
Again, I want to emphasize sleep. Absolutely the more support that you get for your own self-care – the sleep exercise, the diet affects everything. Again, supporting each other in their new roles; that’s really what I think the challenge is as new parents: “You’ve really got to see your partner and support them and admire them and encourage them as becoming a new mom and a new dad.”
KRISTEN STRATTON: When we come back, we will continue our discussion about the challenges family’s face when bringing home a new baby, we’ll be right back.
KRISTEN STRATTON: Welcome back to the show. We’re talking about Dr. Jennifer Schere all about a recent study in which families reported being more unhappy the first two years after birth than families experiencing divorce, unemployment or even death. Dr. Schere, how important is social support?
JENNIFER SCHERE: I don’t think it can be emphasized enough. It is the crux of everything. We need more hands to help out. We need the emotional support and we also need the support from the community and extended family for the learning process of how to transition into these new roles and how to take care of a new life, sustain it and help it thrive.
KRISTEN STRATTON: What do you recommend for a family experiencing extreme happiness following the addition of a new child?
JENNIFER SCHERE: I think it’s really specific to what the sources of stress are. It could be anything from attachment issues and bonding with the baby to financial strain, to marital issues. It’s widespread. There’s clearly just the accumulative stress of the moment-to-moment laborious task of caretaking in that first year. But in terms of families that are really struggling, a real assessment of what is the most burdensome I think is important before proceeding.
KRISTEN STRATTON: What can family members do to support these new parents?
JENNIFER SCHERE: Again, I think you can’t underestimate how much just going to the grocery store, bringing in the food, just coming in together and allowing the new parents to adjust to the new responsibilities that they have – the ability to let them focus on getting to know their baby, getting to know themselves in relation to this baby. So anything family members can do to take care of the housework – all the other external responsibilities and really allow the new family to bond and kind of explore this is crucial.
Again, as the year goes on I think it’s really important for the extended family to be able to support both mom and dad in their maternal identities, being a new dad and really encourage and support them. To recognize how sensitive new parents are to things that aren’t even meant as criticisms because they’re constantly trying to learn.
As you mention before, they’re comparing themselves to ideals that probably should not even be out there. So to really be sensitive to how parents are perceiving their own judgments and the insecurities that any thoughtful adults are going to carry around as you’re trying to figure this out is really helpful.
KRISTEN STRATTON: Julie, can you share some of your experiences with how you’ve found families can pull together and help these new parents while they’re adjusting. I know in our family, we have lots of aunts, cousins, uncles and then grandparents. So we tend to when the child is born try to gather the wagon, circle the wagons if you will around the new family and bring meals just stop by if it’s convenient for them of course.
Just stay there maybe for a couple of hours, do some dishes, do a little laundry. Do the things that have to be done even though you have any baby and you’re not a 100% feeling well and encouraging them just telling them what they’re doing right. When you see what they’re doing right – that’s such a great latch or when inevitably baby boy when they’re changing their diaper and they pee on them. You go: “That happened to me a million times.” You just reinforce them what they’re experiencing is normal and its okay to feel sometimes overworked, over stressed, over burned. But give them that kudos to for what they’re doing right.
KRISTEN STRATTON: What could parents do prenatally to help prepare themselves and set themselves up for success?
JENNIFER SCHERE: Some of the stuff I think that we’ve touched on definitely preparing for the transition, trying to get as organized as possible ahead of time so that it gives you the freedom once you don’t have that time anymore, and the demands are on you that you’ve already got some systems in place. I think again, really talking through the changes that about to occur, thinking through pragmatically how you’re going to make alterations. Then the psychological piece of really mourning a lot of the changes that results in loss or compromise of your own autonomy, your current lifestyle specially parents that are older, you have a longer period of time to be used to a certain way of being.
There’s enormous sacrifice, you’re needing to surrender yourself to the needs of a newborn. No matter how much you adore this baby, it pulls on you in such a profound way.
KRISTEN STRATTON: How about keeping that relationship strong between mom and dad or mom and partner? What are the things that we can do during that first year just to be happy and be strong together?
JENNIFER SCHERE: I think certainly understanding what each other’s priorities are in the new role. I think it’s really important for moms to understand where dad’s self-esteem is coming from it at that point. If it’s really about anxiety, about providing and maintaining financial stability – they might be less available emotionally but they’re really doing this because they want to be good for their family.
So really understanding the intention of where it’s coming from. Then I think for dads to understand moms, they’ll wake up or right before the baby’s cry to be available to respond immediately and understand the pressure that a mom feels in terms of the timing of things I think is huge. I don’t know that all partners experience it similarly. So that might help.
KRISTEN STRATTON: How about you Julie? Would you add anything to that list?
JULIE SCHMIDT: I put real talk. So being able to speak in real terms about what adding a baby is going to be like or what they visualize is going to be like prior to their birth. Well, what their roles are going to be like and how they think it’s going to play out. Then the reality of what’s really going to happen maybe having that same conversation or the same bullet points of view will discuss with people that have been there and done that.
They can say: “That might work but maybe not because here’s why” or “That worked for us but this didn’t.” Just kind of giving them ideas and feedback of just how real some of that is going to be and how maybe it could or could not work in their lifestyle. In terms of the dads and keeping the family strong, I’m all about talking about their feelings and hopefully feeling safe enough to do so.
I think that’s kind of one of the key components is being able to feel safe. Then saying: “This is what I’m feeling. I’m feeling overwhelmed or I’m feeling underwhelmed by your help or whatever it is that’s actually going on.” That’s what I hear a lot too is: “Moms and dads both feeling like – I don’t feel like I can really say this to her.” I can say this to him without maybe starting World War III. At least starting a discussion, I’m just that will be heated as supposed to calm and productive. So talking about it but really feeling safe in doing so I think it’s important.
KRISTEN STRATTON: Well thank you so much Dr. Schere and our lovely panelists for chatting with us today. For our Newbies Club members, our conversation will continue after the end of the show as Dr. Schere will provide specific tips for self-care and resources for social support for our listeners who are maybe feeling socially isolated.
For more information about the Newbies Club, please visit our website at www.NewMommyMedia.com
SUNNY GAULT: Okay so before we wrap up, we do have a comment from one of our listeners that I wanted to share with you guys. This comes from Veronica and Veronica listens to many of the New Mommy Media shows. She says: “I have been an avid listener of yours for several years. With my husband and I we’re thinking about having children I found Pregtastic.” For those of you who don’t know, that was the show that I produced before I started New Mommy Media.
So I found Pregtastic via iTunes and began downloading and listening to every episode starting with the last and moving towards the first. When I became with twins last year, I was enjoying the early episodes of Pregtastic and then at the end of my pregnancy, I was just finishing the very first episodes wishing for more and I find Twin Talks. To my delight, I discovered that you have become a twin mom yourself and you were also on that podcast.
From there, I then begin listening to The Boob Group which is our Breastfeeding show. She says: “I only wish I had discovered New Mommy Media early in my pregnancy so that I could have listened to Preggie Pals when it was relevant.” I wanted to share this with you guys because in our launching our new show: “Newbies,” we are just trying to provide the best quality content out there for new and expecting parents.
Our goal is to create this community where people like Veronica can start with one of our shows graduate if you will to some of the other shows out there. We felt like: “We really needed podcast like Newbies that picked up where our pregnancy shows Preggie Pals left off.” It really just guides moms do that first year and we’re really proud of the show.
Thank you guys so much for listening to some of our first episodes and just being there to support us. Veronica, thank you so much for submitting this and letting us know that we’re on the right track and we’re doing the right thing. So thanks so much.
KRISTEN STRATTON: That wraps up our show for today. We appreciate you listening to Newbies.
Don’t forget to check out our sister shows:
• Preggie Pals for expecting parents
• Parent Savers for moms and dads with infants and toddlers
• The Boob Group for moms who breastfeed
• Twin Talks for parents of multiples.
Thanks for listening to Newbies: “Your go-to source for new moms and new babies.”
This has been a New Mommy Media production. The Information and material contained in this episode are presented for educational purposes only. Statements and opinions expressed in this episode are not necessarily those of New Mommy Media and should not be considered facts. Well such information and materials are believed to be accurate, it is not intended to replace or substitute for professional, medical or advise or care and should not be used for diagnosing or treating health care problem or disease or prescribing any medications. If you have questions or concerns regarding your physical or mental health or the health of your baby, please seek assistance from a qualified healthcare provider.
SUNNY GAULT: New Mommy Media is expanding our line up of shows for new and expecting parents. If you have an idea for a new series or if you’re a business or organization interested in joining our network of shows through a co-branded podcast, visit www.NewMommyMedia.com .
[End of Audio]