Are New Moms Hardwired for Self-Sacrifice?
When I shared with my friends and family the good news that I was pregnant with twins, they all said two words to me, “Get help.” That was the best advice I received. Now, you might be saying, “But I can’t afford help,” or “I could never leave my baby with anyone else!” I said that too. Learning to trust a stranger with the most precious thing in your life is scary. Also, hiring a full-time, or even an occasional babysitter, can be costly. However, there are several alternatives to taking out a second mortgage on your home in order to get a breather.
1. Postpartum Doulas. Some hospitals now offer, free of charge, the services of a part-time postpartum doula for the first few weeks after giving birth. Ask your hospital, and if it’s offered, take it. The first few weeks can be particularly difficult and having someone around who’s trained to work with babies and postpartum moms is enormously helpful. Let her take over for an hour or more so you can rest – the most important self-care activity in the beginning. To find out more about doula care check Doulas of North America. Their website is www.dona.org.
2. Mother’s Helper. Investigate the availability of teenagers in your neighborhood who might want to earn a few bucks helping out with grocery shopping, laundry or washing dishes. This will buy you some time so you can rest, exercise, or play in your garden while baby is napping. Notice I’m not suggesting you allow the teen to baby-sit. Trusting someone so young with a newborn is risky. But, she can help out with those daily tasks which always need to be done, but not necessarily by you. For detailed tips on how to find a babysitter you can trust, visit my website at www.newmommygifts.com/articles.
3. Baby-sitting Swaps. Is there another new mother in your neighborhood? If she’s someone you’ve gotten to know and trust, suggest a babysitting swap. For example, one morning or evening you watch her little one, and on alternate days she watches yours.
4. Daddy. Like my friend, if you’re married or are co-parenting with the baby’s father, work around his schedule. Don’t get caught in the mental trap that as a mommy you are the only qualified parent to care for baby. Give him a chance at being a father. Chances are he’ll get better at it with every opportunity.
5. Network. Check with other mothers and within mothers’ groups for referrals to child caregivers. Working outside the agencies allows you to keep the costs down. If you chose this route, you’ll need to check all references thoroughly, and spend the first several days or weeks monitoring your babysitter’s interaction with your child. For other important tips on hiring the right caregiver, you can visit my website at www.newmommygifts.com.
6. Support. Speaking of mothers groups…find one that’s right for you, join it and take advantage of the support available. Denise Theberge, Ph.D. mother of two and clinical psychologist in private practice in Santa Clarita, California says, “Isolation can lead to negative feelings about oneself. Emotional contact with others of similar experience is healing.” You may want to visit www.mommyandme.com to see if there’s a Mommy & Me playgroup in your area. If you’re a stay-at-home mom, www.familyandhome.org is a good resource. You can also do a “Google Search” for “mom’s support groups” to find a variety of special interest support groups in your area. If you do happen to have multiples, look into the Mothers of Twins Club (www.nomotc.org.) There’s a chapter in just about every city. If you can’t find an appropriate mother’s support club in your town, start one. Chances are other parents are looking to join one too.
7. Combo Time. Find ways to bring baby along while you engage in self-nurturing activities. A good example of this is the mom who continues to run her same route as before the baby was born…this time with a jogging stroller. Also investigate child care at your gym, yoga studio or salon. There is the sweetest young girl who cares for my twins in a colorful room at the salon while I’m having my hair done. A friend of mine who is a new mom enjoys the driving to Santa Barbara where her mother lives. This trip combines visiting relatives, cool ocean breezes and a loving parent to baby-sit while she and her husband enjoy an evening out.
8. Relax into the Moment. When it’s not logistically possible to take a personal break, a shift in perspective can be valuable. Tracy Rosberg, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and mother of “Irish triplets” (that’s twins plus one a year younger) says, “Many new mothers find themselves thinking about how many things they need to do, and worry about how they’ll get a chance to do them. It’s anxiety provoking. Therefore, it’s helpful, and so much more freeing to make a conscious effort to be in the moment as often as you can. Consciously relax into the task at hand. A good way to do that is to simply breathe and ask your self, ‘What am I doing right now?’ Maybe the time you’re rocking your baby to sleep can be a nurturing moment for you as well.”
Finding ways to balance your life and stay centered is not only important for you, but for your baby as well. Your newborn deserves a mother who can be fully present with him or her. Theberge warns new moms “not to look to her baby for happiness. That’s too much responsibility for an infant.” Instead she encourages moms to “find happiness within themselves, then bring that to your baby.”
After I began to take little bits of time each day to nurture myself, I became more relaxed and confident as a mother. I would say out loud, “I can do this!” and really mean it. I felt more balanced as a woman. And, perhaps the greatest benefit, was that I was able to form a stronger and more loving bond with my baby girls that continues to this day.