PREpartum Depression

Thanks to people like Brooke Shields, the world is coming to a wider and more helpful acknowledgment of postpartum depression. This was needed in a culture where women feel so pressured to be perfect so quickly, as soon as they deliver a baby. But is there such thing as PRE-partum depression? A close friend of mine, who was about eight weeks away from delivery, seemed to be struggling with it and my husband (who is close friends with her husband) asked me why.

(Now, just to be safe, if your depression is severe, you need to seek professional help immediately.  Severe symptoms include: inability to eat, insomnia, inability to get out of bed, suicidal thoughts, self-destructive behaviors, desires to run away, or desires to harm the baby. If you have any of these, you need to tell someone and get immediate attention.)

But for those pregnant women like my friend who are not quite so close to the line, you may be wondering why this amazing time could have such a gray cloud over it.  Why?  Well, why not? There are lots of reasons for the blues.

First of all, as any pain-management professional will tell you, if you have a source of constant pain, this can bring on depression.  My friend had pregnancy-induced sciatica. She was already thin and slight to begin with, which was putting extra strain on her back. But then to make it worse, her baby seemed to be lodged SIDEWAYS. It was enormously uncomfortable and every time the baby kicked, it was painful. She couldn’t lay down very well because of shooting pain down her leg, which, on top of customary No Sleeping Disease in the last months of pregnancy, made it pretty much impossible to stay asleep.  Many moms acquire some sort of constant ailment late in pregnancy just like her, such as chronic heartburn or nausea, which is not only a joy-stopper but a roadblock to the comfort and rest we all need daily.

No Sleeping Disease itself also cannot be overlooked.  For all the husbands out there who might be wondering what this has to do with depression, I’ll just suggest an experiment: Every night for about two or three weeks, have your wife wake you up every couple hours. Have her use a variety of techniques—it doesn’t really matter: twisting your leg, pushing or gently moving your belly, crunching your foot until it goes asleep, etc. And eat a lot of peppery-onion dinners just before bed so you can wake yourself up about every hour or two with heartburn. Also tie yourself down to the bed so you can’t shift during the night. You will soon discover that while you can go a couple days without sleep and still be happy in life, after about a week it will start to affect your mood. You’ll get upset, annoyed, a little angry, and then eventually depressed. Once your wife stops the experiment and you get a couple straight nights of good sleep, you’ll feel fine again!

This is part of the reason why I assured my friend that even though the baby will introduce new waking problems, nothing is quite like the sleeping challenges of the end of a pregnancy. The specific troubles will go away immediately after the baby comes. You’ll be waking up all the time, but at least you will be FALLING ASLEEP and able to MOVE. I actually felt that the eighth to fourth weeks before delivery were harder than the last four weeks. I am not sure why, but my own patience and peace about Boat Woman Stage surprisingly kicked in around the last weeks… because of nesting hormones? Pre-birth serenity? Not sure =) If you can grab naps in this last stage, do it, any time you can.

Other physical pressures can leak over into emotional blues because they simply won’t go away.  Lots of moms feel down around the eighth month, when your skin starts to stretch and burn, your belly starts anchoring you to one position all night, your stomach/bladder are getting super-scrunched, and the baby is starting to get lodged usually under your ribs. You start to feel like this will NEVER END! You know that it will, but you feel like it won’t. And even if it does, it is still two months away! It seems like an eternity. You love this little life you are making, and are probably dreaming about what s/he looks like, what it will be like, but you are so bogged down with the physical strain of each day (or even hour, while you’re trying to sleep) that it is difficult to dwell on what real life could be like on the other side of pregnancy. It causes a tension in your thinking… would you rather be pregnant and deal with the pains, or have the baby and be up all night with it? Neither seems a good option and you start realizing, sadly, that it will be a long time before things go back to normal… maybe it never will!

This type of thinking, mixed emotions, etc., puts you more at risk. Then add into the fact that your husband is probably not understanding the super strain of these last weeks. He might even seem to be “forgetting” that you are pregnant. While you are never ceasing to think about it, he is probably forgetting you can’t get up to answer the phone, forgetting you can’t bend over to fill the dishwasher, forgetting that you are still super sensitive to the disgusting smell in the trash, forgetting that you aren’t sleeping at night, and on top of that, he is still asking for sex! It can drive a heavy mom-to-be mad!

As I told my friend, you have to gently remind your husband that you can’t do these things… (not the sex part, find a solution to that ;-)) You aren’t the spry little person you were before and you need extra special care now that you are huge. Whereas most people tend to treat the newly pregnant mom very delicately, which is sweet, the reality is that the bigger pregnant mom needs as much or more care… her balance is off, her muscles are more likely to be strained, her joints are softer, her senses still delicate, her mind less awake, and her movements less agile/quick. All the things that were easy when you could still see your toes, are no longer! But your husband, God bless him, doesn’t know this. He knows rationally because he can see you, but not intuitively because he can’t really imagine what it’s like. So don’t get mad at him right away when he forgets or insensitively asks for something you can’t do… just speak up.

Other things can encourage prepartum depression.  Fears, anxieties, stress, and loneliness can also make an already emotional season worse. Big life incidents such as moving, problems with a family member, or losing one, job problems, career changes, spiritual issues, trouble with existing children, help not being available, loss of a friendship, marital difficulty, even sexual difficulty, cannot be underestimated. Neither can fears about being a mom, fear of losing the baby, fear of staying at home alone, fear of alienating your husband, fear of possible job loss, anxiety over finances, anxiety over health, image, or bodily changes, or other personal angst. This is just not the time to be facing big life issues, and yet who can put them on hold, just to have a baby? Pregnancy and family-building puts strain on most people in most contexts, but there are some that are harder than others.  And some moms-to-be receive things more penetratingly than others. We don’t all have the wherewithal for everything all the time. Especially if this is the first baby and you are launching out into The Great Unknown.

The best thing to do, as with postpartum depression, is to get help. Like I said initially, if the symptoms are unreasonable, then seek professional counseling.  Otherwise, connect with others. If you can’t connect to your husband (i.e. he’s part of the problem), then go out on a limb to try a close friend. Or your mom. Get someone to come over, gab with you on the phone, or whatever else you don’t want to do…EVERY DAY if possible. Try to take care of the most pressing thing (no pun intended) first… Get a body pillow if it’s your body. Get a pregnancy massage. Take multiple baths a day, or go to an indoor heated pool. Get heating pads, ice packs, belly belts, whatever. If it’s your emotions, get some books, some trash reading, some blogs, some places you can draw comfort. Get your friends and moms who are older to encourage you, reassure you, and give you all the silly tips you feel you need to know in order to make it. Use a journal, listen to music, go shopping (if you can walk). But don’t sit around and be sad by yourself. Don’t be scared to reach out. Don’t dismiss that you’re fine and everyone feels this way or you’ll just feel stupid if you start talking. That reluctance is the big green light that says, “Start talking!” Remember that this too shall pass, but it doesn’t have to be miserable until it does.

What Changes When I Have the Baby?

As you can probably guess, the answer to “What changes when I have a baby?” is… everything!

But seriously, just because everything changes doesn’t mean that it is all scary or all bad. Becoming a mother has been the destiny of a majority of women since time began. Many good things come from becoming a mother, including the enlargement of your heart. Where all your detail orientation and concern used to produce perfect hair, stylish decor, and a together attitude, now it will all be focused on this wrinkly little stranger whose destiny you have NO idea how to shape. If you can imagine shifting your time, body, activities, budget, and philosophy from your own life to someone else’s, 24/7, you can pretty much achieve what it is going to be like being a mom.

I am a firm believer that this cognitive and emotional adjustment is the number one change most new moms have to make. Nothing prepares you for this shift from Self to Other. I didn’t even know it was possible! Of course I still think about myself as a mother—and now that I have four children, I have had more practice “carving” out some self in the midst of life with little children—but the inner workings of my mind are completely different. So are my fears, my priorities, and my deep motivations.

The externals or physical aspects of mothers are not to be downplayed, of course. Starting from day one that you are pregnant, your body is no longer your own. It is taken over by a small, pink, tender, but hostile little planet. And you will be largely responsible for how that little life emerges. You don’t feel the way you want, you don’t look the way you want, and you probably can’t eat exactly the way you want. You also don’t sleep the way you want, make love the way you want, or do any other physical thing exactly the same way. This seems to be God’s way of initiating the pregnant mother into motherhood… the first test of shifting from Self to Other orientation.

Then the baby is born and you have all heard of the trials there, so I won’t belabor them. Suffice it to say the birth and delivery is a wonderful but physically demanding event, for which recovery must be taken seriously for your body to not rear its ugly head. Then there is the exhaust factor of the crying, feeding, staying up at night, and generally not being able to figure out what your baby wants. If you are breastfeeding for the first time, sometimes this is a difficult transition and you can be found with a boob hanging out in plain view for pretty much the first three months straight! The house still needs cleaning, the food still needs preparing, the errands still need to be done, the paperwork needs to be taken care of, and life still goes on… but you have to manage how to do it AND tote the baby!

But assuming you make it through the physical marathon of the first six weeks, you will probably start feeling the emotional adjustment more keenly. At some point, it will kick in that not only are you IN CHARGE of this precious little life, but YOU yourself must nurture this little life for the next 18+ years! A huge slice of what used to be independent decisions are no longer independent anymore because they affect the baby. And you must start confronting both the ups and the downs of parenting. Starting with the ever-present question: “What is my baby trying to tell me?” questions you feel like you are not prepared, equipped, or able to answer start flooding your brain every moment. It is hard to ignore those questions and voices, “Am I doing everything right?” “What if I cause a problem here?” “Is this fixable?” “Will anyone help me?” Going to sleep is sort of your only respite.

But the good news is that even these tormenting questions have an ultimately good purpose: they motivate you to engage your child, reach out to others, and make the best of it. If you can muster up enough confidence to just dive into life with baby and be ok with who you are, what you can do, and the resources you have… you will win!! Don’t give into the nagging insecurities, identity crises, or perceived losses. This is one game you must trust in yourself to get off Square One.

And don’t forget you are not alone. Not only do you have friends and neighbors who are all like you, engaged in this amazing drama, but you have a personal partner: your husband. Your husband is a hand-picked friend for you to confide in, consort with, and find comfort. If he wasn’t in the past, you better start making him now! You can’t do this alone, and your husband needs to be included in the parent game. In some sense, he is more able to handle the sometimes crushing emotions than you are because he is not as enmeshed in the toils of everyday life with baby. So don’t resent him for this or blame him… seek his help but make friends with his rationality. Sometimes it is the main life line being sent to you.

And for goodness’ sake, continue to be glass is half full! You have this little baby! It’s going to work out! You’re not going to mess up in any new ways that mothers haven’t already! You love it! It will love you! And there are SOO many blessings that will start rolling in as your child develops and becomes your own that you have to focus on those things. Don’t miss them.

Do find a time/place for yourself, to keep something going that you alone love, and that will help. Draw those boundaries, get a shower every time you need it (hah! I’m not kidding!), and lower your expectations of what you need to get done each day. There is a reason why “families” are an institution that you can recognize with playgrounds that clutter the yard, toys which clutter the basement, and laundry which is never done… because this is what raising a family entails! People sacrifice the same things for a reason, so don’t be ashamed if some of those “That will NEVER be me” things become you. You are not the old you. You are a new you. If you can embrace this, no matter what, you will be just fine =)

My WIFE is pregnant– Top 10 questions from husbands

1. Should I make my wife take the epidural? Do something less “kooky” for our birth plan?

Well there is kooky and there is KOOKY. I am against anything KOOKY. But if this is the first baby, most husbands are understandably intimidated by the whole labor/delivery idea. The notion of being in a hospital with a doctor seems the logical way to go… why reject modern science when we have spent centuries trying to get it? But because of inroads made by natural childbirthers these days, and the rise of unnecessary medical interventions, many moms-to-be want to explore a natural childbirth plan. To her, it seems philosophically and biologically good. To him, it seems like his wife is making a demanding and unsafe decision. He is protector and provider, so it is ok for him to be concerned about his wife and new baby.  But until both husband and wife can see each other’s perspective, progress will not be made on the issue. You will end up having a him v. her stand-off.  And probably the wife will win because it’s her body but then she’ll be sad because she has a less than willing partner.

This is not the way you want your birth to go (tension, disinterest, fear). So if you really can’t make progress on the issue, I’d say to opt for a midwife in a hospitalized setting. Then you get the best of both worlds.  Mom is happy because she can try to have the unmedicated birth, but Dad is happy because intervention is on-hand if it becomes necessary. On the second pregnancy, there can be more reasonable debate.

That said, Dads cannot “make” wives take the epidural or do something less kooky. Natural childbirth in homes and birthing centers has made much progress in the last twenty years and is generally very safe. Proponents rightly point out that other cultures tend to more readily accept natural childbirth and that Hollywood in particular has skewed our imagination of what the labor/delivery will be like. Dads really have to listen to moms about what they want for their birth plan because it IS her body and she has to produce this baby. It is a deeply personal and biological decision, and one that will affect how she perceives reproducing and mothering… a dissatisfying birth can make her unbonded with her newborn or hesitant to do it again. So keep that in mind when you’re discussing options.

And yet moms also need to keep in mind that dads have a practical advantage over her in this debate. In the large majority of cases, having a hospital and/or medicated birth goes just fine and is completely subsumed by the amazing pleasure of having your baby put in your arms. Hospitals are very safe and there is no need to necessarily try natural childbirth just because the majority of neo-childbirthing lit out there touts it as the only way to be a REAL mother. I personally believe the effects of most hospital procedures on the newborn are minimal, and Dad’s comfort level should be respected since he is involved in the process too.  Or, he will be more involved if you let him have input! Remember that Dad wants his two precious people in the process to be safe and sound. So if he wants to help and be a part of this newborn experience, he has a right to advocate for what he thinks is logical.

And if you do both choose natural childbirth, discuss the epidural beforehand so he knows your “don’t let me cave” whining from your “I’ve seriously changed my mind” pleading =)

2. When will be able to have sex after the baby?

Doctors rightly tell you to abstain for 6 weeks postpartum. That is because it takes approximately 40 days to heal from childbirth. Basically, Mom has a huge wound in her abdomen that needs to heal, and the bleeding needs to stop. The uterus needs to shrink and contract to its normal size, allowing the connecting parts to go back to how they were before. If she’s had an episiotomy, it takes about that long for the stitches to dissolve and the tissue around there to heal. Also, the pregnancy hormones are more significantly out of Mom’s system by then, allowing things to physically and emotionally get back (relatively) to normal.

Mom will get her check up and if the midwife/doctor gives the green light, you’ll be set to have sex. The doctor/midwife will also ask what the birth control plan is, and give the green light for that too.  Keep in mind that barrier methods may be a little rougher than non-barrier methods, as things get going. There’s nothing magic, however, about the sixth week or 40th day per se… it can take shorter or longer to heal (even up to another month) depending on the stress and workout of Mom’s day.  A lot depends on the stitches and Mom’s activity post partum.  After subsequent babies, it can take longer to stop bleeding because you have other children you’re running after at the same time you’re trying to heal.  Moms who go back to work immediately also have more activity which can postpone full healing.

Dads are always excited about the six-week appointment—it is the one appointment they’ll put on their own calendar and ask about! But getting the biological checklight doesn’t necessarily make Mom emotionally ready.  Be prepared for other issues to crowd the turf: tiredness from staying up all night, feeling fat and out of shape, being scared it will hurt, repulsion at the idea of something else being present in the “you know where” parts, reluctance to think about reproduction again, irritation at the birth control if using barrier methods, anxiety from listening for the baby during sex, being unshowered or feeling unfeminine, etc etc. All the Mommy Reasons will rear their ugly heads. Just warning you!!

Work through these. If you’re the man, understand. And for heaven’s sakes BE GENTLE for the first time or three because it is EXTREMELY tender down there.  You may even have to stop half way through and try again later– that’s fine.  Think of it like your second chance at virginity… try not to let your eagerness make things go fast and furious.  And if you’re the woman, get a lot of KY Jelly and dive in. Don’t wait until you “feel” like trying because you never will. In fact, it’s probably better to get the first couple times over with soon so your man isn’t going more weeks unfulfilled.  That will only add pressure.  Do your duty and know that with some practice, things will eventually get fun again. The more communicative you are with your husband, the lower your standards are for that first time, the better it will be.

Dads: Don’t worry if you don’t “fit” the first couple times. Even if Mom had stitches, they didn’t shrink her.  It’s normal.    Mom will eventually get her elasticity back and you’ll be fine.


3. Will we be able to have sex during the pregnancy? Will I hurt her?

Every woman is different about sex during pregnancy, probably because pregnancy makes women feel very different. For some, pregnancy is beautiful and eye-opening, and sex feels good. For others, it is bewildering and uncomfortable, and sex becomes an obligation. And still for others, pregnancy is awful and distressing, and sex is painful or repulsive. Physically, it doesn’t affect the baby at all. So talk to your mate and find out what her feelings are. You should be able to have sex during the pregnancy as long as you find out what works for both of you—you will probably need different positions that keep the weight off her abdomen, or you may need a different schedule because she’s sick in the mornings and tired at night. You may need to go faster or slower, or make any number of adjustments, so communication and light-heartedness are the key. Don’t feel offended about each other’s feelings and needs, and find ways to communicate before, during, and after sex to consult each other about what works and what doesn’t work. As a rule, you’ll probably get the most sex in the middle of the pregnancy because hormones are high and the body is probably over morning sickness but not too big yet to make things uncomfortable.

Moms need to know that dads’ sex drives don’t go away just because they’re pregnant. And dads can’t be expected to abstain for a year while you incubate, deliver, and then tend to the baby at night. You have to respect his needs which are natural but different from your own.

Dads have to know that moms are going through the Twilight Zone as it concerns her body, and that physical and emotional things are in radical shift during pregnancy. Sexual desires (or lack of) are not purely rational or consistent, so you have to hang in there and not be offended over changes. Things will return to normal next year.

Also Dads: never make your wife feel self-conscious about her appearance. She’s already conscious enough for ten people. If you want her to still get naked with you, then you need to put the charm on and continue to bless her as if she were the paragon of beauty. She won’t believe you, of course, but it will go a long way towards making her feel comfortable, which is the key to more sack time 😉

 

4. How much does having a baby cost?

How much do you want to spend? People all over the globe in every time and place have babies. So babies, in a sense, cost what you want them to.

In a more practical sense, my husband and I were living in a one-room apartment on a very slim budget when we had our first baby.  We had to be real cheapies, so here’s a breakdown of my out-of-pocket expenses the first year:

Medical (We had an HMO then):

  • $20 for each prenatal visit copay- about $300 total
  • Admission fee to hospital- $250
  • Well-baby check-ups were also $20 copay (HMO)- about $100 for first 3 months
  • No extra medical charges throughout.. it was all covered.
  • =$650 total

Free- Borrowed and Gifts

For our first baby, our baby shower guests bought us small items like the baby tub and onesies.  A close friend of ours bought us a Pack N Play.  Our guests also pooled together to give us $200 to buy a crib and mattress. My dad bought us a special bedding set, so we didn’t have to buy that. I borrowed most baby equipment items that the baby would grow out of (i.e. baby carseat w/fitting stroller, sling, Boppy) from friends.  I got a second-hand dresser off the street for free.

My Discretionary Expenses:

  • Bags of second-hand clothes off Craigslist-$100
  • New bouncy seat- $30
  • New umbrella stroller- $20
  • Cheap nursing pump- $20
  • pacifiers, nursing ointment, special toilet paper for after the delivery- $20
  • =$200

Diapers- abt. $30 a month.  (Let’s say $150 for six months because they use fewer diapers as they get older).

So that comes out to be around $1000.  But only $200 was STUFF. You can see my post on Top Ten Pieces of Baby Equipment if you are not a cheapie and want more details on “stuff.”

Because we breastfed the baby, that’s really all we paid for about the first year. One of our subsequent babies was on formula for awhile and that added about $20 a week from Sams Club.  Many people get the vital equipment and accessories they need in a baby shower.  If you’re lucky like that, the only thing you have to regularly budget the whole first year are diapers, clothes, and food.  If you breastfeed and use second-hand clothes, you save mucho there.  If you don’t have a baby shower, there are still many opportunities to get things used from garage sales, Craigslist, or friends.  Check out Catholic schools which often have very cheap tag sales on clothes and baby equipment items.  Many Protestant churches have moms groups where any one of a dozen moms in the nursery would be happy to offload some of their baby gear/clothes to someone who needs them.  You just don’t need all that stuff around your house very long!

I mean obviously there are things that will come up that you need, but so much can be borrowed, handed down, or bought second-hand. I got free formula in the mail, free diaper bags, free samples. Later I bought a can of paint when we painted the nursery for $20, and I bought the baby new shoes or whatever.  But all of those were small expenditures.  You don’t have to buy extra airplane seats until they are 2 years old.  We didn’t get a bigger apartment right away either— we put the baby in our living room!  We didn’t get a changing table… we just changed the baby on a mat on the floor.  Grocery money didn’t get affected until they were older.  We saved on gas because we didn’t get out much.  We saved in other areas because we didn’t go shopping for ourselves as much.  The only place we didn’t save was… takeout!  We spent significantly more money there for awhile =)

Conclusion: Nothing except the medical costs significantly impacted our budget for the first year.  So be assured if you are young parents on a new budget that having a baby is relatively cheap. Anything else that you want to spend is a privilege, not a necessity.

 

 

5. How is my wife going to change? What does motherhood do to women?

A tough question… Every woman is different. The standard answer to this question is that her attention will change from you to the baby, and she’ll suddenly be agonizing over totally irrelevant topics such as which pacifier is best for the baby’s gums. But this is kind of simplistic… although true 😉

I asked my husband this question—what changed the most about me—and he said the biggest change was probably how I started seeing my own identity in reference to the kids.  I think he meant how I am no longer an impartial judge of myself, but however the kids are doing is how I’m doing.  And whatever they are going through, I bring into the marriage so the whole family is going through it.  Or maybe he means that I so easily see myself first as Mom instead of Wife or Individual, that it is hard to get lavish attention or uncritical responses.  I can see how he said this.

But as the person who changed myself, I would say that the biggest change is that I don’t feel able to “think” anymore while I am going about life and doing my Mommy thing. I just kind of survive each day, each week. And I only have enough mental space (or RAM, for you computer dudes) for people’s issues every day before my hard drive crashes. I used to be more aware of my identity, goals, and passions in life as I went throughout my day. Now it is like that part of me—which I miss at times—is buried deep within and only gets attention some days, at some times. There is the Mommy Me and the Real Me. I feel less passionate or purposeful at times, although I think that’s superficial just because I’m busy… the passions would come back out if i were suddenly beamed out of Mommyland. I wonder how I’ve changed and, when I have time to myself, am not always sure how to spend it. I guess I would say I’m just less aware of myself and try not to think about it much. For some husbands, this might be nice. For others, they might feel like they “lost” a part of their companion that they cherished before. Some moms do emerge from Mommyland incredibly different, after their children are grown, so that is something for husbands to think about. But for now, that’s my biggest change.

 

6. Do I have to attend the birthing classes?

Well if you want to make your wife happy you do. It’s just one of those things that lots of modern couples and newly pregnant moms do. It’s too much information and you may opt out of a natural childbirth in the end, but it is your one big chance to show your wife that you care about the baby SHE’S carrying! Be glad it’s not you, and remember that understanding what’s going on is probably the biggest thing you can do to foster empathy. Plus, when you fight over something, you can say, “I know exactly what you’re talking about, honey. I was there, remember?!” Just kidding, don’t say that! 😉 If you can get past the gore, it’s actually a very miraculous process. Plus, doctors and nurses expect fathers to be part of the birthing process these days, so you don’t want to be fainting and saying, “You want me to do WHAT?” in the delivery room.

7. What do I do when my wife panics about (breastfeeding, baby’s not sleeping, he’s not developing on time)?

Number one, don’t panic with her. Number two, restore her confidence. Parenting in the early days is all about surviving. You’ve heard this but now you have to live it. And as the dad, you’re still pretty much in the same boat as you were when your wife was pregnant: the coach, not the participator. That doesn’t mean that you won’t DO any work. But your wife has to do most of it, especially if she is breastfeeding, and this is like trial by fire. If she can get past the hurdles, she’s made it to happy Mommyland. If not, the peace and joy is going to be a lot harder to come by. It is your job, as Dad, to help get her there. And that means not panicking whatever she’s panicked about. And it means comforting her in whatever ways necessary to restore her confidence.

Some dads are into the baby thing and have lots of advice. If you have advice and are a problem-fixer, be gentle about this during panics because Mom probably doesn’t want a solution… even though it seems like she does. She probably knows what she wants to happen but is overtired and can’t make it work. So give her a break by holding the baby for awhile, send her downstairs for a nap, and make it seem like you’re just fine being in charge for awhile. When she’s rested, try again. If she’s having a philosophical crisis, find her her favorite book on the subject. If she’s having a practical problem, advise her to call another Mom friend. Sympathy and empathy go a long way into restoring confidence, and sometimes some ridiculous tip from a veteran is all that is necessary. Whatever you do, don’t lose your cool. Don’t tell her that the problem doesn’t matter and the baby doesn’t care and she’s just being ridiculous. Don’t tell her that she’s making it worse by worrying about it, or that you’ve never heard of that problem before. Don’t tell her that she’s not doing it right and your mom never did it that way. Or anything of those infuriating things that may or may not be on the tip of your tongue.

But you are right not to take it as seriously as her since most baby things should be taken with a grain of salt. And all first moms struggle with stuff. Soon she’ll be an expert on everything and you’ll be smooth sailing.

8. What should I do about parents and in-law’s expectations?

As the dad, this is the ONE area that most moms would LOVE you to take over. With the exception of probably her own mother, most new moms want some boundaries between the grandparents and the baby but the grandparents don’t want any. If you don’t get some, and get on same page about it, there can be quite a bit of rocky soil ahead. And especially with your own parents, you need to take charge.

Grandparenting is a phenomenon that is not well-studied yet. But a little observation shows you that grandparents feel suddenly released from all the hang-ups they had when they were parenting you, and now they want to have unlimited access to their little grandcherubs. Many want to know how you’re going to raise them, when they’re going to get to see them, what opportunities you’re going to give them, etc. It can be a blurrying experience, and you’d think THEY were having the baby!

So your job, as the rational partner in the equation, is to figure out some boundaries and enforce them, especially with your own mom. Your wife is going to feel very protective of your new little person, and will feel pressured or jealous if your mom is trying to take charge, spoil, or enforce her way of bringing up baby. She has her own mom to deal with (which could be equally as dizzying but more likely not as threatening), and you need to balance the needs of your wife and your extended family.

Good luck. My suggestion is, make sure each grandparent gets to see and fawn over the newborn. Let them buy all kinds of ridiculous paraphernalia for him/her if they want. Let them take as many photos and videos as they want. But after the initial hubbub, make everyone back off for awhile until your wife is healed and on her two feet again (six weeks?). Send digital pictures or do whatever you have to, to stave off the parents and in-laws. But put your wife and baby’s relationship first, let them get the nursing thing down, etc. Then slowly start working in regular visits for extended family (once a week if local, so your wife can get out; or once every three months if you’re long-distance). And if at all possible, get your visitors to stay in a hotel instead of at your house. This gives everyone some breathing room, and allows you and your wife to still feel like you’re in control of your own house.

 

9. What kind of supplies do I need when the baby gets home? How much should we expect to spend?

Elsewhere on this blog I have a Top Ten Pieces of baby equipment list. But the short answer is:

  • crib, mattress, and bedding (or pack n play)
  • carseat and winter snowsuit if necessary
  • bouncy seat
  • baby sling or carrier
  • baby blankets
  • size 1 diapers, rash cream
  • baby Tylenol (dropper), thermometer
  • any special gear you have in mind for feeding, nursing, etc.
  • a couple baby toys

Spend whatever you want to spend, but know that you don’t have to indulge the magic nursery picture on the Toys R Us/Pottery Barn catalog. Save your money for when the child is not growing out of things as fast as a NASCAR racer.

10. I think my wife is depressed, what do I do?

For some women, having the first baby is heaven on earth, everything they ever dreamed. For most, it is a surprising experience where they are prompted to adapt like never before, in between gushing periods. For some, though, it is a real emotional dilemma.

There are lots of popular things out there about postpartum depression, such as Brooke Shield’s book. But the best thing to do is get help. If your wife is truly depressed—she’s not eating, she’s crying or hysterical a lot, she can’t get out of bed or is trying to avoid the baby—you need professional help immediately. If your wife is less severe than that—lost in Mommyworld and unable to get out or be happy—then you can probably help with some simple strategies:

1. Get her a shower time EVERY DAY.

2. Get her out of the house EVERY DAY. Even if it is just a trip to the grocery store or 7-11.

3. Get her some phone time with a friend or sympathetic person EVERY DAY.

4. Get her something new like a couple new shirts or a haircut.

5. Paint a room or somehow sparkle something up in her living environment. (You don’t have to actually SAY “sparkle.”)

6. If you have to leave town or be away long hours every day, consider getting someone to live in for awhile like her Mom. Especially if she’s actually having trouble taking care of the newborn. If you can afford it, hire a nanny or babysitter for a couple hours a week (DO IT YOURSELF: Call a friend for a referral or use Craigslist if you don’t know where to start). Otherwise, just be available to help yourself. (And make sure you actually help, don’t sit around and watch TV).

7. Pick a chore or two that you can handle yourself regularly and do without asking… but one that she’ll notice… cleaning the kitchen is HUGE.

8. Get her out of the house each weekend at least once. Have her go meet a friend and walk around the mall, go to an exercise class, a cooking class, or whatever is motivating/normalizing.

9. Find a Moms group of some kind she can take part in once a week… most towns have various options such as: La Leche, Moms walking clubs, Moms morning in the park, Storytime at the library, Caretaking seminars at the hospital. Good places to find info on these things are the library, grocery store, pediatrician, maternity wing of the hospital, preschool bulletin board, or local parents paper.

I know some of these steps seem like a lot, but really it’s not so bad. If your wife is depressed, you just have to focus on getting her back on her feet and then things will fall back into place. You’re working against hormones and an amazingly precious yet needy new bundle. Go into Action Mode, just for a couple weeks, and I guarantee that the majority of moms will turn around with this type of care. It is totally normal but takes some comprehensive attacking. I’m sure, as Superdad, that you’re up to it 😉

I found out I’m pregnant– Top 10 Questions

Please feel free to add your own questions in the comments section if you think there are others more important =)

1. When do I need to wear maternity clothes?

So much of this depends on your current size and style of clothing. If you’re a very slim build with slim clothes, you will start feeling “full” in them as early as 8 weeks. Most of my very svelte friends needed some bigger pants (but not maternity) around 12 weeks. To the outside world, they didn’t look pregnant, but they themselves knew! I would say it is normal, no matter what your size, to need at least one or two sizes up around the end of the first trimester. And it is probably normal to breach your first maternity pants between 16 and 20 weeks—not the huge belly pants but ones with stretchy waists or slight bellies—as well as your first maternity shirts. The hugest maternity clothes usually come into play somewhere between the 7th and 8th month when your baby steadily starts putting on its own weight.  I’m sorry, but you will eventually look like a boat =)

But so much depends on your size, style, and pattern of weight gain. Some women gain 10 pounds in the first months and need bigger clothes sooner. Others are on their third and fourth children so a slight “belly” seems to appear immediately! And yet if you’re one of those unfortunate souls vomiting non-stop for the first three months, you won’t need a bigger size for awhile because you’re not gaining weight. Some women still are apologizing for their too-small bellies up to the five-month mark. And significantly larger ladies tend to not gain much weight in their pregnancy and may be able to get away with their regular size until the last trimester. One plus-size friend of mine gained only 8 pounds until the last six weeks of her pregnancy, when she upped to 12 pounds. Then there’s the matter of taste: some women want to jump into maternity styles immediately because they’re so excited. Others want to forestall the maternity thing until the last minute possible. So it’s all in the details. Do what works for you.

2. When do I need to go to the doctor?

Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to get your first pregnancy check-up sometime between 8 and 12 weeks. Even if know exactly when you conceived and you’re perfectly healthy, the person in charge of your health during pregnancy will want you to have an ultrasound for dating purposes. And the earlier the ultrasound (like at 8 weeks rather than 13), the more accurate the delivery date will be. That delivery date will be etched into your mind, the mind of your practitioner, and the schedule of your practitioners’ office forever, so you want it to be accurate. Many midwiferies and birthing centers have limits to the number of ladies they can deliver in a particular month, so get on the “schedule” early if possible.

If you haven’t made up your mind about which doctor, which hospital, which birthing center, or home-birth… go to a local doctor anyway before the end of your first trimester. (Call your insurance company for an OB/GYN covered in your area if you don’t know where to go.) Even if you end up switching from him/her, the results of your initial tests can be easily transferred to the person you choose later. The first visit will entail a blood test to confirm pregnancy and all important blood stats, and probably a pelvic exam, urine test, and basic medical history questionnaire. (If there was, sadly, any major problem like an ectopic pregnancy, they can catch it then.) Then they will ask you to schedule that first ultrasound. Once these details are locked in, you can take all the time you want to find the pregnancy/birthing place that most fits you, even up to the fifth month if it takes that long.  By 18-22 weeks, you’ll need to be committed to a place because there is another more important ultrasound at that point, as well as a couple routine tests.

3. Do I need prenatal vitamins? Which ones are best?

There are lots of different opinions out there, and I have a post somewhere about it. But the controversial answer is that “yes” vitamins are important to prevent Spina Bifida, and that a prenatal vitamin is supposed to be more specially formulated for pregnant women than your regular brand. But do your own research. I was happiest with Shaklee’s because they were organic and seemed to be absorbed better, and because you could get them without iron (which made me nauseous and constipated).


4. How much weight should I gain? Will I ever be able to lose it?

Common wisdom is 25-35 pounds with skinnier ladies needing more weight and heavier ladies needing less. But often times skinny ladies don’t gain that much, maybe 20 pounds. And lots of people gain more. I gained 55-60 pounds with three of my pregnancies and lost it each time except for maybe 5 pounds. Pregnancy weight is different than other weight and is lost differently. You lose about 12-20lbs in the first week after delivery. Breastfeeding can help (but sometimes postpone) the weight coming off. Often times a regular healthy eating pattern is enough to slough off the rest (i.e. as opposed to “dieting”), especially if you are in your 20s.

So returning to your old size is definitely possible. But not common. Also keep in mind that even if you lose the weight, the proportions of your body may change. Breastfeeding (for a long time) is known to make breasts shrink, hips may be slightly wider, and the ratio of fat to muscle on your body will  probably change… muscle tone lost, fat gained. So this may make the weight lay differently on your body than before, necessitating a size smaller bra but a size bigger pant. (Also your feet may have gotten wider!).  It’s all part of the natural course of pregnancy hormones which relax your bones and make you store fat for the baby.  Taking a prenatal exercise class can help you maintain some muscle tone, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t look or feel as cool as it did before you had morning sickness, cravings, fatigue at 8pm, and a big belly!

5. What do I eat?

Any book or website on pregnancy is probably 50% or more about what you eat. So it’s all in what you relate to. But my simplistic advice is: eliminate processed foods and caffeine. Eat as much fresh food as possible (nothing in a box or bag), and switch your beverages to decaf. There are a million ways to eat super, super healthy (which is ideal), but for the rest of us, these two changes are enough to really bolster your health and your baby’s.

Don’t forget that you are not supposed to be “eating for two.” That is old wisdom. Don’t count calories, but eat functionally (what your body craves) and according to your actual hunger. I found that my real hunger kicked in around the fifth or sixth month. I was ravenous then, and that was ok. I am a firm believer that eating how your body is telling you to during pregnancy makes a difference in how the weight comes off in the end. And eating healthily while you’re pregnant ensures that you won’t feel malnourished after the delivery. (Your baby will be nice and healthy but you won’t!) If you eat for two and include lots of empty or extra calories, you won’t lose that weight and you’ll feel like you’re a starving orphan after the baby comes out. I am sure that “extra 5 pounds” I couldn’t lose between each pregnancy came from about 5 pounds of “extra” cookies I ate while I was pregnant! The rest of the healthy eating weight came right off =)

6. When will my morning sickness end?

Well, most chronic sickness ends somewhere between 12 and 16 weeks. But for a minority, it lingers on. For some, it stops before. It literally can vanish overnight.  Because “morning sickness” is such a misnomer, it really depends on what you’re experiencing. Diarrhea, heartburn, stomach cramps, sickness at night, sickness after eating, sickness when anything (even a toothbrush) is in your mouth, sickness at smells, sickness when bending over… all of these things pass for “morning sickness.” I would say that the closer to classic “sickness when I wake up and I stuff a Saltine in my mouth so I won’t puke” you have, the more likely it is to end by the classic 13th week. But make sure your sickness isn’t being caused by your prenatal vitamin first. And make sure that you don’t skip meals because that can make you feel sick at any point in your pregnancy.

p.s. While you should always try to stay medication-free during your pregnancy, a little Pepto, Zantac, or Immodium is not harmful if you get in a bind.

7. When will I find out boy or girl?

You can find out the gender during your halfway-point ultrasound… between 17 and 22 weeks. The external genitalia have developed enough, and the baby is not so big and squashed yet, that the ultrasound technician can usually tell. Other cool landmarks are seeing the heartbeat (as early as five weeks), hearing the heartbeat (usually the third month), feeling the first movements (usually around the half-way point), and feeling the body parts/seeing them move across your belly (when you’re huge!).

8. Hospital, birthing center, or home birth? Natural or medicated?

Each has their pros, and I bet you can guess what they are. I have a longer post on the issue somewhere, but doctors are good for those who feel comfortable with the highest medical access. Doctors are also a must if you have a high-risk pregnancy for any reason (diabetes, suspected birth defects or history, past drug use, carrying multiples…) or if complications arise.  They are also a natural choice if you know you want an epidural, although many hospitals allow midwives to oversee low-risk births with epidurals or inductions too.  You can be sure that you’re safe in a doctor’s hands, although this method of birthing is increasingly under attack today for the medicalization of the delivery process—including fetal monitors and IVs, and more pitocin, inductions, epidurals, and caesareans than are necessary.  That critique noted, it is also true that fetal monitoring can detect a distressed baby, inductions and caesareans which are necessary can be administered, and any complications with the baby postpartum can be expertly addressed in a medical setting.

No-one likes staying in a hospital for long, but it is nice to have a nursing staff help you and your baby recover for at least 24 hours (the time when most things, if they are going to go wrong, do). You take your baby home knowing that you and he/she have been thoroughly checked out.  Hospitals are notoriously brusque and routinized during the labor process, but they are increasingly adaptable to things that women have fought for over the years, including your husband present at all times, rooming in with your baby, breastfeeding (usually there is a lactation consultant on staff), and less prep (no enemas, shaving, etc.).  They will, however, use high lighting, noise and commotion when necessary, the laying down delivering position, and rigorous baby cleaning postpartum (including a heel stick) which the modern day natural childbirth camp is normally against.

Birthing centers are a good option for those who want a professionally assisted natural birth. While giving birth at home may be a stretch for some people’s imagination, giving birth at a birthing center can seem like a fabulous option. Midwives and doulas can help you achieve your dream of having a natural childbirth, assisting you with showers, massage, water births, labor balls, and whatever else. Your husband can be with you (but no children) the whole time, and you basically run the show without doctors and nurses telling you what to do. But the best part is the ability to labor and move around freely, in your own clothes, in a pleasant environment, not facing the constrictions of a hospital and its monitoring. You get women who are usually fabulous with birth and relationship-oriented, who are really excellent at everything they do, even emergencies. Plus you have the ability to be transferred to a hospital should something scary come up. The only big downer, other than that you can’t change your mind and get an epidural (!), is the time crunch: you can’t stay if you’re not in active labor, and you have to leave 6-12 hrs after giving birth. That is not a long turn around time.

Home births are good for the naturalists in all of us who really want the old-fashioned and family-oriented experience of delivering the newest member at home. Assuming that your state and community permit it (some don’t), and that you actually own your house (renters cannot home birth), and that you can afford or cover the professional assisting you, home birth can be a great option. Obviously you have no chance of backing out of the natural birth, and delivering in the tub is often promoted for pain management. But lots of moms feel more at home in their own environment, with their own music and surroundings, with their family and any children around them. The professionals are usually amazing, and you can do the birth ANY WAY YOU WANT. So if you feel this calling, check it out. There are more and more people doing it, especially thanks to Ricki Lake’s documentary on “The Business of Being Born.”

On the other hand, the traditionalist in me says that home birth should probably be contemplated after you’ve given birth once already and you know what the labor/delivery process for you personally, actually entails.

9. Do I need to take childbirth classes?

If it’s your first birth, I would recommend at least a video, even if you plan on having an epidural. Because not only is a natural childbirth an amazing thing, but the average woman needs some education about the delivery process. The lady’s delivery on your video will probably not be anything like your delivery, but that’s ok. Even better is to get your husband to watch it with you because—let’s face it—the average man knows next to NOTHING about a woman’s body or delivery. And you both will be faced with the gritty details at some point!  Even better is to get your husband to attend childbirth classes with you. The advantage to childbirth classes is the time spent with your husband, the regularity of thinking about the delivery you want, and the community involved with you. The disadvantages includes the cost (although some insurances cover them), the picking of a philosophy (Bradley is very different from Lamaze), the time commitment (especially for career people), and sometimes the teacher.

10. What is labor like?

Well, it is certainly nothing like what you see on the TV. I don’t think I’ve ever seen even one labor/delivery on the TV or movie screen that was anything like my births. So don’t use that as your guide at all. You do not have one contraction that makes you know you’re in labor. Your water usually does not burst all over someone’s feet as a telltale sign. You do not scream and panic like the baby is going to claw its way out. You do not hold the baby in your arms and it’s all over just like that. The real process is different for everyone, but a classic first birth goes something like, several hours of slight labor (milling around your house), several hours of concentrated labor (focused on pain management), two hours of pushing, and an hour of recovery/clean-up time. If you have an epidural, you may have a blissful time (or not). If you have any kind of medical procedure, you will be sitting in a hospital bed the whole time, hooked up to an IV and fetal monitor. And if you are in a birthing center or at home, you are probably walking around, squatting, breathing, and otherwise not screaming your way through the contractions. In most cases, you spend several hours laboring rather normally until you get to the hospital or birthing center rather dilated. Now the pushing part may entail tons of pain like you see on the TV, but not everyone feels that way. The pushing is definitely PUSHING. And then when the baby comes out, there is the afterbirth, possible stitches, and clean-up of both you and the baby which is normally left out of Hollywood once the smiling pink nuzzly thing is laying on your chest =)

Induction

Doctors today will only let you go 14 days overdue, and then they will recommend induction. Some doctors recommend induction before 14 days for reasons such as: low fluid levels inside the womb, baby’s weight is getting too big, or mother has medical warrant. Obviously if there is fetal distress, a Caesarean will be scheduled. But most doctors realize that a Caesarean, because it is a surgery, is less preferable than a vaginal birth as long as there is no reason why a vaginal birth couldn’t occur. You can also get recommended for induction if you are dilating considerably (i.e. 4cm) but not going into labor, or if your water breaks but labor doesn’t start. That is to avoid infection or other concerning birth issues that can occur by waiting.

Induction is intravenous medicine (usually Pitocin) given to start (“induce”) uterine contractions. You go to the hospital, usually in the morning if you are scheduled beforehand—and Mondays/Tuesdays are particularly popular for hospitals—and get hooked up to the IV. You can eat something small before you go to the hospital but once you’re on the IV you can neither eat, drink, or move around. This is the stinky part of induction. The other stinky part is that between the IV and the continuous fetal monitoring, you really feel roped in. It is difficult to labor naturally because you really can’t change positions easily.

Plus, the contractions are artificial, quickly repeating, and therefore arguably more painful… most ladies end up getting an epidural. (Although not too early in because they don’t want the epidural to counteract the good contracting—you have to be over 2cm dilated, preferably 3.) I had four inductions (at 42 and then 41.5 weeks) and I went in at 6am, got hooked up by 9am, and started contracting about every two minutes by 10am. They start you on low doses of Pitocin just to get going and ramp it up about every 30 min or so until your body is doing fairly heaving contracting about every 1-2min. And they check your dilation pretty regularly but not overly so.

The goal is to get your body doing the labor thing even though it doesn’t want to. Which is why the process is slow. Depending on how ready your body was before the induction started, it can take almost all day. The nurses basically want you in by 9am and delivered by the end of the night. My first baby came just after 9pm, another at 6pm, another at 5pm, and another by 10pm. For the last baby, probably because my body really wasn’t read, she almost didn’t come at all. Pitocin isn’t magic. Your body can resist it. And my contractions, even though they were coming almost every minute for 8 hours, were just not working the baby out! She resisted the encouragement until around 6pm when my midwife had pity on me and got special permission to give me even more Pitocin (20 is usually as high as they go, she got permission for me to go up to 30). And somewhere around the 28 level, just as I was crying and my husband and I were packing the bag to get ready to leave the hospital, the familiar severe pain began. I knew it was going to work after all, I got the epidural at 7, my water broke, and 2 hours of pushing later, she was out.

The rest of the labor experience is pretty standard if you have had a hospital birth before. An induction is nothing to be afraid of, nor is it dangerous for the baby. In fact, because the baby is on the monitor all the time, and you don’t have to have a surgery, it is a safe option when there is benefit to the baby to being born sooner. Nothing about the Pit (as they call it) can affects the baby once born, or the breastfeeding, or your own body once it’s over. In fact, the Pit helps your body during the afterbirth (some women are put on it through an IV even if they have gone naturally), and the epidural, if you get one, eases the immediate recovery period. So while an induction and epidural may wreck your birth plan, it does not wreck the birth. It’s important to keep this perspective even if it is not the way you dreamed the end/beginning would be!

Update: After watching Ricki Lake’s “The Business of Being Born,” I have a deeper understanding for what the natural childbirth camp is trying to achieve. I am not against making the natural choice for women more available. I am against the demonization of the medical establishment, however, for the promotion of another option. This is not giving more power or “choice” to women; this is convincing them to trade one route of delivering for another (often through guilt and fear). While it is a worthy goal to reduce unnecessary medical interventions, one should not confuse inductions for good reasons with inductions for bad. There is real scientific evidence that inducing (and Caesareans, fetal monitoring, etc.) can prevent drastic circumstances in certain situations. Epidurals may be more worthy of debate, but the fact is that some conditions warrant medical interventions and in those cases (or ones that in the heat of the moment seem warranted), it is right for conscience’s sake to give it.

Mothers in Law!

Why is dealing with your mother in law so difficult? The only thing harder, perhaps, is dealing with your own mother! Even the most godly people I know often experience friction with their mother-in-law, and so it just seems inherent into the structure of things that one must be prepared for it. Even if you’ve never had a problem when you were simply married, know that with grandkids comes… Grandma.

I’ve thought very hard about the reasons why this is so. I even went so far one time as to ask a random grandma I met at the park I was visiting. She was kind of young and sporty, maybe 55, with sunglasses, and the not-quite-hovering but very involved with her grandkids type. She seemed pretty free and opinionated, but mild-mannered enough, so we started talking and she made this sort of bitter comment I recognized from my own family… something about what her son and daughter in law believed and “Well, it wouldn’t be that way if I could see the grandkids more, but you know how that goes these days…” She was clearly resentful about it but trying not to be rude, so I asked her. What did she think her daughter in law was doing wrong, and how does being a grandma affect how she felt?

Like many grandmothers, she felt she had a “right” to be involved with her grandchildren’s upbringing. She had raised her own children, obviously, and done well enough if her daughter in law wanted to marry one of them. She had learned how to do it–what was good and what was bad. And she could see where her children were making bad parenting decisions. They were too strict about food and sleep, and didn’t they know that little kids just need to be loved? The grandchildren were not receiving enough doting attention, story times, or the general feeling that they were the center of life not just along for the ride.

Not only that, but she as a grandmother was nothing like her own grandmother—she was young and energetic, going to live a long life, liberated in her opinions and generally not the stuffy old conservative person that knitted and wanted children seen but not heard. She was not really a “grandmother” but more like a second mother. She was wiser than her own grandmother was—about children and the world—and she could afford to travel and see her grandkids a lot. So why didn’t she have the right to parent them the way she wanted (instead of the way the parents wanted), as well as the right to tell the parents the right way to do things?

I am simplifying this two hour talk into oversimplified terms for this blog, but I did not put words into this nice grandmother’s mouth here. She explicitly said these things and was honest about how she felt. Which was nice for me. I didn’t know how grandmothers these days felt about their kids, nor mothers in law, but I had my own opinions. For two hours, she helped me get inside her head, which helped me understand and appreciate my own mother-in-law more. A lot of what she said had merit.

And yet, on the whole, I walked away disagreeing with her viewpoint and understanding why I have the conflicts I do with my mother in law. You can turn on Dr. Phil almost any time he is talking about mothers in law and you see it is the same story over and over again… pushy grandmothers who take over their daughter in law’s parenting, spoil the grandkids, and try to ally the husband against the daughter in law. Generally saying manipulative things, making guilt-inducing maneuvers with the grandmothering, and generally believing (if not acting) as the high hoss of the household. Then the pretending innocent stance, and the inevitable marital conflict as the husband tries to protect his mother, defend his wife, reorient the household/kids, and eventually either blows up or sides with one to defeat the other.

And as I have talked with my other friends and seasoned women, here is a brief list of similarities I see among us:

  • Divided loyalties. Husband sticks up for mother instead of wife.
  • Bad fences. In-laws show up when/where not wanted.
  • Draining physical and emotional energy. Times with in-laws are physically and emotionally exhausting because of change, pace, schedule, intentions.
  • Lack of communication. Inability to talk to in-laws about the friction.
  • Martyr syndrome. Daughter in law feels the need to please, impress, or placate mother in law at all times. (Mother in law may feel the same way about the daughter in law!)
  • No mediator. Husband doesn’t want any part of the problem, leaves his mother and wife to figure it out on their own
  • Differing expectations. Husband, wife, and grandkids all see something else as part of the goal/ideal relationship with the grandparents.
  • No peers. Husband can’t listen to criticism about his parents too long; daughter in law needs to vent.
  • No positive, proactive exchanges. So much time and energy is spent on resolving problems, that the relationship with the in-laws is only managed, it never is relaxed and built in love.
  • Oversensitivity. Mother in law and daughter in law perceive nonverbal messages where there wasn’t intended to be any (i.e. especially through things like spoiling the kids, cooking or cleaning differences, privileges or quality time with the kids, etc)
  • Immaturity. When the goings get tough, there is fighting, name-calling, storming out, or other rude and childish behavior.
  • Overprojection; perceived effects on the kids. Kids are largely resilient but parents and in-laws worry about the other’s policies making the kids’ quality of life too horrible.

Somehow we need to all get along. I do not believe grandmothers have “rights” to parent the grandchildren. One day perhaps the courts will declare it so, but that will not make it so (excepting in the rare cases of actual abuse, etc.). And I do not believe grandmothers today are or feel essentially different than grandmothers in the past. They just think they do—perhaps because they are more liberated than previous generations, work and live longer, are wealthier, more independent, more traveled and worldly, etc. But they really aren’t… all grandmothers have battled staying silent when they see their own children making parenting mistakes. All previous generations of grandmothers have reveled in the fact they have grandchildren and now understand so much more about life. All generations have sought to treat their grandchildren to help them know they are loved, and to illustrate the special and different relationship they have with them in contrast to the parents. And almost all grandmothers have wished to see their grandchildren more, and to influence them with the wisdom they have spent long years and tears attaining. It’s just that we don’t recognize why someone behaved they did until we’re in that position ourselves…and then we swear that our feelings are individual, unique, and different.

My mother-in-law, for example, loves to tease her husband about how he doesn’t like to visit her mother (his mother-in-law). And both my in-laws joke about my mother-in-law’s turbulent relationship with her mother-in-law. My own mother did not tell me of conflicts with her mother-in-law but that was probably because she saw her so infrequently and also because her mother-in-law died before I was 3 years old… so not much time for the Grandchildren Effect to raise its ugly head 😉 So somewhere in the back of her mind, my mother-in-law understands the feelings I have towards her, hers towards me, and that we are experiencing something SO common to woman.

And yet, she continues to repeat exactly the treatment she hated. And I continue to feel the hurt I know exactly will come. Awful!

But I still hold onto hope. And my mother-in-law does too. We aren’t ridiculous enough to appear on the Dr. Phil show, and so we hang onto the fact that we both love my children (her grandchildren) and want them to have a strong, bonded relationship with them even if we can’t all get along. And we have our whole lives to figure out how to get along, so hopefully we can keep forgiving and keep starting over. This is actually the hardest part… the forgiveness and blank slate mentality. Most people replay and rehearse the future of pains so they can’t start over. But we are committed to keeping geographic distance and then regularly braving the reunion as if nothing happened the time before… so hopefully one of these times, we’ll start a new history that will grow positively.

And I do believe grandparents have a special need to see their grandchildren, and grandchildren get a special impartation from having grandparents…so I am committed to their relationship even when I disapprove of their methods. It is just that I see grandparenting as a privilege not a right… something that must, at heart, be respected instead of expected. My hope is that my in-laws can learn to respect us as parents instead of as their children, to generally honor our decisions about how we want to raise the kids, to not take over the kids or house when they visit as though they are theirs, and to look forward to building our relationship with them instead of just the grandchildren’s relationship with them. When these things begin occurring, I know we will have reached a place where I feel they respect us. But I have to continue to offer my intimacy and vulnerability anyway, even if they never get it. This is the right thing to do, the only way to break the cycle.

Morning Sickness

Talk to any mother who’s been pregnant multiple times, and she’ll probably have multiple stories about morning sickness. For some women, it’s the same all the time. I have a friend of a friend who’s had nine children and she’s had the same “sick as a dog” feeling every time, for the same amount of time (five or six months), for every child. Now that’s perseverance!

I am one of those women who have had a different experience with each pregnancy. There was definitely something the same about them, but largely they were different intensities, frequencies, and setting-off items. There were also different onset times, ranging from just a couple days after conception (before the missed period) to up to six weeks into the pregnancy (the second missed period).  For my first pregnancy, I had the classic three-month sickness in the morning, abated by some quick saltines, and set off mostly by coffee, manure, meat, or bitter spices. I was also sick in the late evenings which I escaped mainly by going to sleep. For the second pregnancy, I had about two months of diarrhea and sensitive stomach but I thought I just had a virus because I didn’t feel nauseous. When I found out I was pregnant later, it all made sense, but it was not the classic thing. I even had diarrhea in the evening sometimes. For my third pregnancy, I only had two weeks of the classic nausea in the mornings; I barely knew I was pregnant. And I was not sick in the evening, although I wanted to fall asleep by 9pm as usual. And for my fourth pregnancy, I was sick as a dog for almost eight months, unable to sleep without waking up sick, and set off by everything all day, even the smell of my refrigerator!

So morning sickness is as varied as pregnancy: similar generally but very different specifically. There is no one-size-fits-all sickness.

I’m not a doctor, but I believe much pregnancy sickness is caused by acid in the stomach. Different things affect acid production, including stress, hormones, food type, quantity, spices, vitamins and minerals, and position. This is why the typical morning sickness is in the morning (because your stomach is emptier and therefore experiencing the affect of acid more directly, also because you digest over night, which causes acid production), but it is extremely common to have sickness at night too (your day’s amount of food has accumulated and causing the most acid production of the day). Or even overnight. Some women experience much bloating, belching, flatulence, and inability to lay flat because of acid problems. And some even have pain in their upper stomachs or heartburn. If you find tums, pepto bismol, or zantac to be helpful, this is probably why.

I have yet to figure out if there is a connection between iron in the vitamin and acid production, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Iron can definitely make you sick, especially at night when it is being absorbed into your system, and so can taking a multivitamin on an empty stomach. Don’t ever do that!

Of course other things set off morning sickness which have little to do with digestion, including smells and sensations in the mouth. One friend of mine felt it almost impossible to brush her teeth because putting the toothbrush in her mouth caused the gagging sensation. (No kissing for her either, poor thing!). And almost every mom who has sickness finds some smells disgusting that before she never used to notice. Diapers can be a source of contention if you have other children while you’re pregnant, and so can normal cooking smells, the smell of the grocery store, trash, metallic offices, or the car. One of my friends was so sensitive to dirt or dust that she had to carry around a lemon-scented mask for three or four months that she could breathe in, even as she just walked around her house! Don’t feel embarrassed… your house probably isn’t that bad (or the grocery store either). It’s just your nose… pregnancy hormones drastically increase your sensitivity to smell. They can even alter your taste buds, making them hyper-or hypo-sensitive.

Of all pregnancy problems, morning sickness is probably the most annoying. It ruins the otherwise angelic feelings you could be having about the early stage of your pregnancy. It makes your eating very functional—need-based, I mean. You may eat a lot to prevent sickness, or you may eat little. You may gain 10 pounds in the first month or have trouble gaining weight. You may throw up four times a day, or you may never throw up at all. You may be sick between 7-10am every morning or 10pm-4am every night. What is normal is what is normal for you. If things get extreme, talk to your doctor or midwife because there are things that can be done or there may be a problem they should address. But know that you are not going through anything that is not common to woman, and that there is a way to stand up underneath the burden. That is: pjs, bed, and chick flicks… as much as possible! (And a lemon-scented mask, if that’s your thing 😉 )