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Changes After Giving Birth – Feelings, Lifestyle, Roles, Relationships

Your baby has been born. The pregnancy you may have felt would last forever is finally over. Labor and delivery, experiences you could previously only speculate on and wonder about your ability to handle, have been faced and put behind you. The nine-month build-up of anticipation has climaxed.

Some women, who were awake for the birth of their child, experience quiet satisfaction after a job well done, are relieved that it is over with, and are ready for sleep. Others feel great joy and excitement, are exuberant, bubbly, sometimes giddy, and very talkative - not at all interested in sleeping. Some cry - sometimes from joy, sometimes from relief of tension and/or discomfort, sometimes from a combination of these.

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“I was very emotional. I cried a lot and could not believe this beautiful child was all ours.”

“I don't know why, I can't explain it, but I just welled up with tears and sobbed. I was so happy, but I couldn't stop crying for several minutes, and even then, I was feeling very emotional and teary-eyed and shaky.”

Some new mothers who were sure they knew what they would feel are surprised at their actual reactions.

“I always thought that at that moment I would become very emotional - but I was literally speechless. Mark and I both stared at our baby in disbelief, unable to say a word. My first comment was something about how beautiful the umbilical cord was! Once those first moments of shock were over, there was a rapid release of tension that permeated the delivery room.”

“Mostly, I was surprised by my lack of emotion - something my Lamaze instructor had warned me about, but which I hadn't really anticipated happening to me. My husband felt the same way. We were very tired and happy that the hard stuff was over and kind of numb - not a bad feeling, just not much of one. It wasn't until the next morning that we really became excited.”

If you were awake for the birth of your child and had the support of your mate through labor and delivery, quite possibly you were filled with feelings of joy, excitement, and wonder.

“I was really in awe. Just amazed and shocked!” “I was totally amazed. Couldn't shake the feeling that this baby was mine.”

Some new mothers claim immediate feelings of love for the new baby.

“I instantly fell in love with my child and all new maternal feelings arose quite naturally, at the first glimpse of my child on the delivery table.”

lf labor was exhausting for you, you may not feel so exhilarated or have the energy to give anything of yourself for a while.

“I was so exhausted that I didn't even feel like holding the baby - even though I was so happy, since she was a girl after two boys.”

Others experience mixed emotions:

“I knew I was saying goodbye to a part of myself. I was no longer a girl and a wife; I became a mother, too. I was sad and yet happy, for a new life was beginning, not only my baby's, but my own and my husband's.”

If you were not particularly excited about becoming a mother in the first place or are not happy about adding another child to the family, you may not have adjusted before delivery to the idea of having this child. Your feelings after delivery therefore may be of sadness, quiet, and disinterest. Your thoughts and comments may focus on an event unrelated to the baby - like an upcoming move or a planned vacation. This is usually temporary and after you've had time to look at, hold, and get to know your baby, feelings for and acceptance of the child will probably come.

If you've had a long and difficult labor and delivery experience, forgive yourself if you are not overjoyed and immediately interested in the infant who you may consider the cause of it all. Later, in your own time, after you've had a chance to recuperate from the stress of the experience, your interest in the baby will develop.

If you were sedated during the birth, your first recollections of the post-delivery period may be of a figure standing beside your recovery room bed, trying to wake you up. Through the fog of sedation you may recall hearing a voice that seemed to shout at you, telling you the gender of your new baby. “Baby? Did I have the baby yet?” You may have felt a sense of disorientation. “Where am I? What happened?” Because of your medication, you may not even recall a few moments later that someone had attempted to communicate with you and may in fact later complain, “No one even bothered to tell me whether the baby was a boy or a girl.”

Many women who were asleep through labor and delivery comment that they feel a time gap - a space in their lives they cannot account for and weren't a part of.

You might find yourself asking, as one woman did, “How did I get this baby? Where did she come from?”

You may even wonder if the baby is really yours, knowing full well that there are hospital procedures to prevent accidental switching of infants. For women who did not expect to be sedated, the awakening is more shocking than usual:

“I awoke with a flat tummy. I was confused. What happened to me? Did I have a baby? Two nurses came into my room. One asked me to urinate and the other asked me whether I wanted to feed the baby. I remember thinking, 'I guess I had a baby.' I took the baby in my hands and then I had to ask the nurse if it was a boy or girl! Then I felt guilty: why didn't I know the gender of my own baby? I could not believe that I had a girl. I even thought that the nurse brought me somebody else's baby. I tried to bring back my memory but all I remembered was being in the labor room with my husband.”

Feelings of disassociation may be highlighted when upon leaving the hospital with the baby, you must sign a piece of paper stating that you recognize the baby as yours. Of course, the numbers on your ID bracelet match those on the baby's, which logically means mother and baby were identically braceleted before leaving the delivery room. Nevertheless, you may not feel the baby really belongs to you. Since there was no opportunity for immediate bonding with your infant, because you were asleep, it may take you longer than a non-sedated mother to feel and develop a sense of attachment and belonging to the baby.

Even if you were awake throughout labor and delivery, there may be bits and pieces of the experience which you cannot remember at all, while other segments are very vivid and will probably remain with you always. Many women try to reconstruct their experiences by asking whomever was present - a nurse, the doctor, their mate - detailed questions like: “What did I say when the baby was born? Did he cry right away? What happened next?” and making statements like, “I can't remember being wheeled through the hall or getting onto the delivery table or being in the recovery room or what the doctor said about the baby.”

If you are concerned or upset about any part of your labor or delivery, discuss it with your mate and your doctor. Ask any questions you may have about exactly what happened and why. Any occurrence that was even remotely upsetting should be talked about. Don't let your questions build into fears; ask them and clear your head.

“It took me six months of suffering by myself to get up the nerve to ask my obstetrician if the temporary drop m my baby's heartbeat toward the end of labor meant that he could possibly be brain-damaged - even though he appeared normal and was developing nicely. I was assured that what had happened was usual for that stage of labor. Why did I wait so long to ask!”

“I was embarrassed to ask my doctor questions. He knows I'm a nurse and assumes I know everything. If I had asked why did this happen or why did that happen, I was afraid he'd think I was dumb.”

The first time you see your baby, you may be disappointed in his or her appearance, having expected a much better or at least different looking baby. Your fantasy version of what a newborn baby or your baby should look like may not match the real product. The shock may dilute your overall excitement and make you wonder how you really do feel about this new person. It may take a while for you to get accustomed to your baby’s face and accept him or her as truly yours.

Feelings of disappointment over the sex of the infant can take away from the joy and excitement of the event of birth. Sometimes there are so many pressures from one's family or mate in the form of openly expressed desires for a child of either sex (“I want a girl…I'll be so disappointed if it's a boy… ”), blatantly expressed demands (“You'd better give me a boy…”), or simply assumptions that the baby will be one sex or the other (“It's going to be a girl. I'm sure of it. Look at the way you're carrying…”).

If you were under pressure to produce a child of a particular sex, do not take the blame for not coming through. Remember that you are not responsible for the baby's gender. As a matter of fact, physiologically speaking, the father determines the baby's sex and, to date, science has not discovered a fool-proof way to insure you will conceive a baby of the gender of your choice.

If you have allowed yourself to expect a specific sex, you stand a 50 percent chance of being disappointed. You also may be very disappointed if you have just given birth to your second, third, or even fourth child of the same sex and desired a child of the opposite sex. It's important for you to see the baby for what he or she is: an individual with a distinct personality, a human being who has come into your world to be reared, loved, and enjoyed, and who really doesn't know what all the fuss about sex is, anyway. The baby's gender and physical appearance do not change the fact that this child is yours and needs your care and love.

Some women experience a feeling of loss in the days following childbirth. Even though they know quite rationally that they have actually gained a child, there is a loss after birth - of bulk, of weight, of the live being which they had carried within them during the months prior to delivery. They may miss feeling the baby move inside them and the exclusivity of the relationship they had with their child while it was in the womb.

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If you had a comfortable and happy pregnancy, you might especially feel this sense of loss and miss the extra attention your pregnancy had brought from your mate, friends, relatives, doctor, and even strangers. You may miss the feelings of anticipation you had before giving birth, the telephone calls from interested friends and neighbors.

All too often after delivery there is a shift in the attention of others away from the new mother to the new baby - at a time she especially needs to feel a continuation of the loving care and concern she felt during pregnancy. Visitors rush to the hospital nursery to admire the baby after briefly congratulating the new mother, and although most new mothers do enjoy unwrapping and admiring presents, they are, in the final analysis, still gifts for the baby.

To some degree, your emotions are affected by your hormones, and after having a baby your hormonal levels are out of balance for some time. Until leveling off is achieved, while in the hospital and even after you come home they may play havoc with your emotions. You may find it difficult to deal with the resultant sudden changes in your mood at unexpected times. From feelings of joy and contentment with your new baby and the role of motherhood, you may swing to feeling sad, teary-eyed, or even break into crying jags without warning or explanation. Minor happenings may assume gigantic proportions to you. The smallest upset may bring floods of tears. Even a happy event may set you off in sobs.

Understand that a word, gesture, statement, or even your own thoughts - which ordinarily would pass almost unnoticed - now, during postpartum, may trigger exaggerated responses.

“In the hospital I cried a great deal. The whole painful experience was just overwhelming. I more or less expected it, since I was depressed the first two times also.”

You might feel embarrassed at these sudden outbursts and not know how to handle the situation. You may be completely at a loss to understand or explain your strange behavior and, as a result, feel frustrated and foolish on top of it all. You may think you are losing your mind, recalling horror stories of women who did just that after having a baby. You are not losing your mind, just losing your cool, if you start taking this behavior seriously. The horror stories you may have heard about women after childbirth were probably about isolated cases of severe postpartum psychosis - not the normal baby blues or waves of depression which commonly occur to many women. Postpartum psychosis is another matter and occurs so infrequently that it is unlikely to happen to you. The best thing to do about postpartum emotional swings is to just let them pass.

Perhaps you can get into the habit of saying aloud or to yourself, the next time you feel weepy or whatever: “Here we go again. As soon as it passes, I'll be back to myself.” As soon as it passes, do go about your business. If it takes a little longer to pass, help it along by calling a friend, getting out of the house, or doing whatever you can to elevate your mood. If you dwell on each incident - in your own head or in discussions with others - it only tends to make matters worse. Accept the fact that you need no particular reason for your reactions. It does not necessarily mean that you're unhappy or miserable. It probably and very simply means that your hormones - those very powerful and influential substances within you - have not yet returned to their pre-pregnant levels.

While still in the hospital, you might find yourself thinking more about your physical discomforts and recovery than other aspects of new motherhood. The full realization of being a mother and all that goes with it has probably not yet reached you because the total responsibility of the new child is not yet yours. There are still nurses and doctors twenty-four hours each day in whose charge the baby is. In fact, you and your baby are in the care of others. When you arrive home, babe in arms, that blanket of security is lifted and you are then more likely to fully digest the reality: “This is it; the baby is all mine; I have no one else to turn to!” If you have the help of a baby nurse or other person for a week or so, these feelings may occur when she leaves.

“It hit me that if I can't stop her crying, or get her to drink, I can't just ring a bell for a nurse to help me!”

The sudden shock of total responsibility for every decision you will make regarding this baby - knowing how to handle every possible situation - can seem overwhelming.

“I am responsible for this brand new human being who is totally dependent on me!”

Or, the reality of an additional child in your realm of responsibility: “I thought she was beautiful and precious but was scared to death realizing that I had three children who depended on me.”

While initially you might react with feelings of warmth, love, and the desire to care for and protect this child, as the days pass and you realize what caring for the baby involves, you might be surprised at some nagging feelings of resentment rising within you. Such total dependency means you must sacrifice some portion of your freedom. You will be called upon to give of yourself, your time, your resources in order that he or she will thrive - quite a challenge! In addition, there may be fear: “Will I be a good mother? Will my baby love me? Can I adequately care for it? If something happens to me, who will care for the baby?” Being a mother, having to give of yourself when you're least likely to feel physically up to giving because you're so exhausted, can be very difficult. You may resent the baby's need of mothering. “I know she needed to be held and cuddled and soothed. But I had this strong feeling, as I was rocking her in my arms, that I needed to be held and rocked, too!” New mothers need mothering themselves, during the early postpartum period.

And in return for all your giving and caring, during those early weeks, you receive very little response from the child in return. The baby may cry a lot, sleep a little, and completely confuse you about his or her nutritional needs. When you finally figure out what's wrong and the crying stops, the baby doesn't even smile to thank you. In addition, the baby continues to get the gifts, the attention, the company, and the love. People are visiting the baby, not you; asking how well the baby is doing, how many hours the baby is sleeping, and how much the baby is eating! Even your mate may come home, scoot right past you with a quick “Hi,” and head for the baby! Although he may try to give his love and attention to the woman who has just brought forth this new person, amidst the kissing and kudos for her part in this, his attention is understandably drawn to his issue: the new baby.

Feelings of jealousy toward my own child? you might ask yourself in horror. Yes, possibly. And more common than you might think.

“I wasn't pregnant anymore. That was all over. Finished. Not being pregnant put me in a different category. I wasn't the star anymore. The baby took center stage.”

“I'm the mother of the child everyone is so interested in; I'm the one who carried him in me all those months and just went through physical and emotional stress to give birth. Don't I count anymore?” If you are experiencing such thoughts and feelings, it is wise to express them directly, instead of harboring them within you and letting resentment and hostility build. Set aside time to sit quietly with your mate and tell him what your feelings are without laying blame. For example, try saying: “I feel left out of your life. I feel neglected and unloved and uncared for” - instead of “You don't care about me. You ignore me. All you care about is the baby.” When words come out in an accusatory way, your mate's reaction will usually be one of self-defense instead of feelings of caring about you.

Perhaps your mate goes to the other extreme and ignores the baby entirely. He may want to sit and unwind a bit after returning from his day away from home before going to the crib and may not appear to be as interested in all aspects of the baby's care and development as you are. He may not hold or play with the baby frequently and you may view that as a rejection of your child and maybe even of yourself. Perhaps he is the kind of individual who finds it difficult to respond to a baby until the baby is older and more responsive. It is quite possible that when your child begins to smile, lift his or her arms to be picked up, or begins to walk and talk, your mate will become more involved.

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“One thing I had to cope with after the birth of our child was my husband's not being as excited With the day-to-day achievements of the baby. Since I am involved twenty-four hours a day, I see every little new thing the baby does, but the father is much more removed. I had feelings at first that maybe he didn't love the baby as I did, but now I feel that he just needs more time to get to know the baby.”

It is important to tell your mate that you are concerned about his lack of attention to the baby and discuss what you are both feeling so you can avoid misunderstandings.

You may be aware and perhaps surprised that your mate is feeling jealous of the baby and is resentful of all the attention the infant is receiving from you!

“My husband, who was so excited about having a child, became jealous and angry.”

This is a very common reaction from new fathers and is quite understandable. Now that the baby is part of your life, the time you spend with your mate has to be lessened to some degree. It may be difficult for you to deal with his feelings of jealousy. You may find yourself trying to justify the time you spend with the baby and feel upset that your mate is jealous of his own child who needs the attention for survival.

“Why am I having this additional hassle? It's bad enough that I resent all the extra time taken away from the two of us. Who needs him to be jealous on top of that? Besides, the baby is his child as well as mine!”

“Caring for my baby comes easy, but there is jealousy on my husband's part, which I do understand somewhat. The baby does demand much of my time and attention, which my husband had dominated before. We talk about his jealousy and try as best we can to change his feelings.”

“I resent my husband's jealousy, but I realize that I had time to prepare for my child during my pregnancy - feeling the baby grow, visiting my doctor, and experiencing the actual physical emergence of our child. My husband, although he was actively interested in my pregnancy and childbirth, could not quite grasp the feelings that I, the female carrying the child, could. He was first faced with the responsibility of our child's birth. There was a sudden shock. Being a male in our society, he was not as prepared as I was for parenthood.”

On the other hand, you and your mate may spend much time together playing with and observing the baby's actions and expressions, marveling at the miraculous work of art you both took part in creating. Nothing seems as beautiful as the sight of a sleeping child (especially to exhausted parents) and the knowledge that you are bringing him or her contentment and survival. All of your baby's achievements - the first smile, rolling over - are eagerly anticipated and shared.

It's only natural that topics of conversation between you and your mate will revolve around the baby's daily growth and development, eating and excretory habits, sleeping and crying periods, likes and dislikes. Other topics will probably include your lack of sleep, your mate's lack of sleep, your feelings of frustration and resentment, and your reactions to the baby's grandparents' advice, concerns, and grievances! For variety, there might be mention of baby photographers, diaper services, disposable diaper prices, convertible baby furniture, and whether or not to hire a babysitter and, if so, which one - and if none is available, what to do. Even when you attempt to find other topics for conversation, you'll probably find yourselves inevitably talking about the baby again. This is to be expected; for the first few months the baby becomes the focal point of your lives. Realize though that as you both adjust to new parenthood it is important to begin to get back in touch with old interests and/or develop new ones in addition to your interest in the baby. Your conversations then will still include discussion of your child, but you will find they broaden to include your new pursuits as well.

Preparing and enjoying a simple dinner with your mate will not be the cinch it was before. You both may have to accept cold soup and dried-out steak as a matter of course or resort to sandwiches. One of you might hold the baby while the other eats and vice versa - hardly the epitome of togetherness, and certainly grounds for frustration. Some babies choose to be fed every night at their parents' dinnertime. Even changing the dinner hour does not fool them. One new father we know had to cut his mate's food so she could eat with one hand while supporting the baby with the other. He was lucky; his mate was breastfeeding and had one hand free - if she had been bottle feeding, while she fed the baby, he would have had to feed her!

The home you both may have taken such pride in furnishing may begin to resemble a laundromat with clean clothing on one chair, dirty on another. There simply may not be enough time in the day to care for yourself and a newborn, keep a spotless home, plus sort out laundry. You'll both have to temporarily adjust to the fact that only the most essential (if any) housekeeping should be done during your first weeks at home.

The subject of resuming sexual relations can be extremely difficult to handle. Even after you've been given the “go-ahead” by the obstetrician, you may not be ready to do so.

For several weeks or months following childbirth and possibly until after your first menstrual period, your sexual desire may be absent or minimal because of the lowered estrogen levels in your body. Lower estrogen levels are also responsible for the decrease in vaginal secretions which can cause sex to be very uncomfortable or even painful. Fear of pain may then cause your vaginal muscles to constrict instead of relaxing for easier entry. This combination - lack of desire, lack of secretions, constricted vaginal muscles - may make you worry about your sexuality. Because it is known that sexual desire triggers the release of vaginal secretions, you may mistakenly presume that the lack of secretions means you no longer desire your mate. Your ability to achieve orgasm may also be delayed several months – possibly even a year.

“I wondered what was wrong with me. I wasn't particularly interested or passionate, but I wasn't exactly disinterested. Yet I was dry. So how interested could I be? I worried about this until I found out from talking to other new mothers that they had the same problem.”

“I lost my ability to respond. When he used to just touch me, I'd get all tingly and wet. Now, he can do all sorts of things and I just lie there feeling so guilty and hoping I can drum up some reaction.”

Be assured that vaginal secretions are governed by the hormonal balance in your system and will return to normal after the estrogens and progesterones level off. This may take several weeks or months and generally lasts longer in breastfeeding than in bottle feeding mothers.

Your doctor may prescribe an estrogen cream lubricant or you can purchase a tube of surgical lubricant (such as KY jelly), which is clear, odorless and water soluble, prior to resuming relations. Applying some to the penis and the vaginal opening will ensure more comfortable and relaxed relations until natural secretions return.

You may be sore and fear that the first sexual experience after delivery will be painful and uncomfortable, especially if stitches had been used to repair an episiotomy or tear in the perineum after the birth process.

Some women experience extreme pain when attempting intercourse. This may be caused by an accumulation of nerve endings inadvertently brought together by suturing of the episiotomy. It may take several weeks until the super-sensitivity disappears. In extreme cases this condition may require surgical correction. More frequent intercourse helps de-sensitize the area but because the initial entry is so painful, patience and understanding are essential from both partners.

“At first after the birth I was afraid. I still am, but then I take hold, relax, forget, and enjoy. Because of the sharpness of his entering me, it hurts, but only if I expect it to and tense up.” (Three months postpartum)

You may be putting off the first postpartum sexual encounter because you believe that your vaginal tissues were so stretched by the birth of your baby that you are too loose to satisfy your mate or be satisfied yourself. You can help the situation by doing the vaginal tightening and releasing exercises (Kegel) several times each day (about five to ten contractions at a time) to improve muscle tone and control. During intercourse you can use your ability to contract these muscles for greater mutual pleasure.

You may worry about becoming pregnant so soon after giving birth or that you're not healed enough inside for intercourse. You may be reluctant to resume relations during the time you still have the lochia flow. Your breasts may be heavy and very tender and you may feel embarrassed if your nipples leak during intercourse. You may also worry that your child will awaken and interrupt you - not a groundless fear.

“The baby has radar. She knows when to cry!”

If your baby sleeps in your room, you may be concerned that your lovemaking will in fact awaken him or her and that it may be damaging for the child to witness you having intercourse. If you have these fears, consider making love in another room. There is no known reason to limit lovemaking to bedrooms. If, however, there are other children in the house, and there is no other room in which you could have guaranteed privacy, it might be wise for you to move the baby to another room while you relax and enjoy lovemaking in your bedroom.

If you are breastfeeding, you may have mixed feelings about your mate fondling or orally stimulating the breasts which now provide nourishment for your baby. You may have a conflict between the pleasurable sexual feelings that accompany nursing and the sexual feelings accompanying your physical relationship with your mate. Some women, breastfeeding or bottle feeding, feel it is “wrong” or “dirty” to use the same passageway the baby came through for sexual gratification. Your inner conflicts may not be simple to put into words, but may be related to a sense of right and wrong, good and bad, clean and dirty. Motherhood and sexuality may not, in your estimation, mix. They may represent entirely different things to you. If you feel this way, be assured that as you adjust to new parenthood these feelings usually change.

You may not understand how your mate can desire you sexually; you may feel unattractive and not sexy at all. Not fitting into regular clothes during the first weeks after delivery can be very demoralizing. The flabbiness of your abdomen and the fear that you will never look attractive again may not be conducive to good feelings about your body. Explaining your feelings to your mate can go a long way toward easing the tension between you, if resuming sexual relations is being hampered by your self-image at this time. If your sexual desire is diminished and he knows that your lack of interest is in part due to your negative feelings about your own body and not wanting to be seen by him as yet, he can better handle an extended waiting period. He would understand that your feelings have nothing to do with him and he could help you through this period with warmth, understanding, and dimmed lights.

Your decreased interest may simply have a lot to do with just plain fatigue. Exhaustion from a demanding day with a new baby, plus the emotional stress that accompanies new motherhood and the knowledge that your sleep will be interrupted during the night ahead, is hardly a basis for sexual desire. All your creative energies will probably go into devising ways to catch up on sleep. Sex may not be a viable priority until you are feeling more rested.

If you are reluctant to resume sex, it is important to discuss your feelings with your mate. Be sure to explain why you feel the way you do so you can help alleviate feelings of rejection on his part and he can better understand what is really happening.

“He really thought I lost all interest in him and that it was all over between us. I found it hard to tell him that I was scared that sex would hurt. I thought he'd think I was just making up an excuse.”

“I was embarrassed to tell him that I didn't believe he could still be sexually interested in me after seeing our baby being born. He told me that he wants me more than ever now.”

“I felt so ugly with my flabby stomach and my stretch marks that I didn't want him to look at me. It was a turn-off to me and I thought it would turn him off. When I finally was able to explain my feelings, he convinced me that he loved me and didn't give a damn about my stretch marks. I loved him for it.”

“There was still some vaginal discharge several weeks after delivery and I felt uncomfortable, actually embarrassed about it and unsexy because of it. Luckily he pressed me into talking about it, telling him what really was holding me back. What a relief. He understood my feelings.”

Even if you feel rested and interested enough, there remains the question of when!

“I always have and still do enjoy the sexual relations we share. Only problem is finding time to do it!”

“By the time the baby is off to sleep for the umpteenth time the dinner dishes are finally cleared away (at midnight), the half-sorted laundry is pushed from our bed onto the floor, I plop under the covers and breathe a huge sigh of relief - who has the strength or the interest or the physical desire for sex? There is just nothing left for me to give, or want, except sleep!” (Three weeks postpartum)

“After several weeks of 'wanting' but not finding the time for sex due to exhaustion, the baby crying, etc., my husband and I met en route to the bathroom one morning at 3 A.M. I looked at him and said, 'What do you know. We're up and he's asleep. Let's go!’”

Many other women find that they feel much closer to their mates after childbirth. This closeness is accompanied by a strong desire for physical expression and some women find that lovemaking has never been more frequent or more satisfying than since childbirth.

“I feel sexier somehow and more of a woman. And sex is absolutely fantastic. Our lovemaking was always rewarding but now it's a total experience.” (Eleven weeks postpartum)

“I'm all for resuming sex. When I first got home from the hospital, I had no interest. I was too on edge from coping with the kids. Now I am becoming more relaxed and thinking about me.” (Two weeks postpartum)

After a broken night's sleep and a 6 A.M. awakening, you may crave an hour to go back to sleep and may be lucky enough to be able to do this. You may consider yourself more fortunate than your mate in this respect because he cannot go back to sleep; he must get out of bed and get to work. On the other hand, you might find yourself plagued with jealousy for his being able to leave. the house each day without the baby and assorted paraphernalia, without being responsible for the baby's needs all day, and without feeling confined, limited, and cut off. He gets a daily dose of a change of environment, a relief from baby care, and escape. He might not be overjoyed at the thought of going to work each day, but you may be jealous of what you view as a more interesting existence. You may feel angry as the door closes after him and you are left with a sense of abandonment as you face the day's cares alone. You may feel bad about not having the time or energy to fulfill your mate's needs, not to mention your own. You may feel torn apart by “all the people” who need you: the baby, the baby's father, other children, and of course, yourself! Sometime the tension can be overwhelming.

“When I go through a whole day with not even five minutes to myself, that's the day I just sit down and cry my eyes out. I feel so helpless, stuck, frustrated.”

“How can I make everybody happy and still save some happiness for myself? I can't do everything: feed the baby, diaper her, wash her clothes, love her, sing to her, walk with her, clean the house, shop, cook the meals, mend the clothes, wash, iron, spend time with John, have sex with John, go out with John, and take care of myself and my need like shower, dress, eat, wash my hair, put on cosmetics, read, pursue hobbies, socialize. It's too exhausting!”

In addition, you may be resentful because your mate does not understand why you are so exhausted and can't finish everything you want to get done each day. Try to understand that it may be difficult for him to imagine exactly what your day is like without having experienced it himself. Hearing about and living through are very different experiences.

It is possible that at this time you may even be having doubts about your relationship or marriage. If you are having second thoughts, be assured that this happens to many couples at this time. Emotions run high in both new parents. There are excessive and sudden pressures and concerns descending upon them within a brief time span. The baby's cries can be irritating and the demands unceasing. And much as you may want to talk to your mate, you may not have much uninterrupted time for discussing problems. All this in addition to the physical realities of the mother's recuperation process and prevailing exhaustion do not provide the best possible circumstances for good feelings to thrive.

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If you find yourself thinking your relationship is one huge mistake, try to postpone any further thoughts about it. This is not the time. Allow yourself at least six months to get past the initial adjustment period. No one should make judgments or decisions about major issues when in a depressed or agitated state of mind.

“I wanted to leave but I had no place to go. I felt that he was inconsiderate, uncaring, unhelpful, and downright nasty. I felt all alone in my concerns and caring for the baby - our baby - and felt that he couldn't care less! But now that the baby is over two months old, things have gotten easier. I can see now that a lot of my feelings had to do with not getting enough sleep and both of us were irritable. And I can understand now that he had some strong emotions working on him too! I'm glad I didn't leave; it would have been a mistake.”

We believe that the postpartum period is one of the crises of life. Relationships are on very shaky ground. Major decisions should be postponed until solid ground is restored. Then, when hormones have leveled off, when the baby is letting you sleep more, when the shock of new parenthood is past, when the pressures are reduced, when you’re feeling more mobile and self-assured, and after you've both read this book, perhaps participated in some postpartum rap sessions, and gotten past the crucial period, you can better discuss your differences your feelings, your relationship, and your future.

On the other hand, many couples say they have never been closer than since the baby's birth. They express feelings of love, closeness, togetherness, one-ness, which they attribute to having shared in the creation and the birth of the child - especially those couples who witnessed together the first few moments of their baby's life.

During the first days home you may discover that your baby cries, and we mean really cries - not only when hungry, but even after being fed , diapered, cuddled, soothed, rocked, and loved. He or she may cry at the same time every day (often in the evening) or at different times each day. As a new parent, you may find that even when your baby is not crying, you have become so accustomed to hearing cries that you imagine them. You may discover that you can't even enjoy a shower because you think you hear the baby. However, if you check, more often than not the child will be fast asleep.

If your baby cries a lot, your feelings of concern and sympathy can lessen as your stress tolerance level is reached. It is well known today that continual noise pollution from airplanes, electronically amplified rock music, loud motors, etc., is bad for our ears and entire organisms. It can affect our state of mind and our digestive processes. Crying is noise; incessant crying is constant noise and a constant source of stress to those present, including parents. If, in addition, there are other causes of stress occurring at the same time - a dog barking, the telephone ringing, the TV blaring, other children crying, yelling, whining, talking, demanding attention - the recipient is unquestionably under a lot of stress. Since stress tolerance levels vary, each individual reacts differently to a given situation. But a woman who has just undergone childbirth and whose hormones are out of balance, who is fatigued from the birth process and lack of sleep, who may be overwhelmed by being responsible for a new human being and possibly is shocked by the dramatic changes in her lifestyle, who is perhaps unsure of her abilities to cope, who is possibly being pressured by relatives to do things their way, whose bottom is sore and back is achey, and whose body image is not what she'd like, may not have a high level of resistance to the stress of noise. You may find you especially cringe when the baby cries in public or when friends or relatives are visiting. “I used to worry that people would think I wasn't a good mother if I couldn't get him to stop crying.”

It might help you to think of the baby's cries as pleas for help, an indication that he or she is hurting and unhappy, not just being difficult. Tuning in to what the infant's feelings may be, what the cause of the crying may be, or where the pain or discomfort is located can help to diminish your annoyance and increase your care and sympathy, which in turn can lead to quieting his or her cries.

Many new mothers find the most difficult thing to deal with is a baby who cannot be soothed and continues to cry for long periods of time. After trying all she possibly can on her own, perhaps consulting with other new mothers and perhaps even calling her own mother, she usually, eventually and quite reluctantly, calls the pediatrician for advice. Such advice varies with the physician's philosophy on child rearing. After making sure there's nothing physically wrong, some say, “Let the baby cry for twenty minutes; pick up the baby; check the diaper; give the baby some water; try holding, rocking, cuddling again, and then put the baby back and ignore the crying or you'll have a spoiled child.” Others blame nutrition: “Maybe the baby's not getting enough nourishment. Let's try solids.” Whom does the new mother blame? Usually herself. “This is my child. Why can't I figure out what's wrong?” “I'm the mother. I should instinctively know what to do!” There's nothing quite like the feelings of guilt and frustration the mother of a constant crier experiences even though intellectually she knows the crying is not her fault. After all, she's done everything she can.

If the situation continues day after day, night after night, either constantly or on and off, the incessant crying and loss of sleep take their toll on the new parent. If she follows the advice to let the baby cry it out, she may be unable to go about her business, sleep, eat, or even think while her baby wails. If she holds the baby constantly, she may worry that she is “spoiling” him or her. In either case, she may become nervous and upset. Her helplessness at being unable to soothe her own baby may even turn to anger and many a new mother reports having yelled at her baby, “Why don't you stop crying! Stop it!” - some while holding the baby and angrily shaking it. Some feel an urge to strike the baby. Then come feelings of guilt or shame for having behaved this way toward a helpless and innocent child.

“There I was. I couldn't believe it was happening. I was hovering over this poor creature and yelling at her to shut up and be quiet and stop crying! All the while I knew how ridiculous it was. My screaming only frightened the poor little thing and she cried more, this time in terror! Of me! A wave of guilt and pity came over me and I picked her up and held her tight and we were both crying.”

“I couldn't stand the crying after awhile. I wanted to throw him out the window! But I didn't, of course. And what prevented me was being able to tell my husband, not holding the feelings in.”

If you ever experience feelings like these, understand first of all that they are normal manifestations of an anger you are feeling. Know also that there are self-help groups, such as Parents Anonymous, made up of parents who have had the same destructive feelings toward their children. They want to help you re-direct your anger away from being hurtful to your child. While it is normal to have occasional destructive feelings toward your child, it is not normal to act on them by abusing or neglecting your baby. Because no one can really know if and when he or she will ever need to use it, we advise that everyone have the phone number of such a group easily accessible. If you ever feel you may actually take out your anger directly on the child, call the number any hour, twenty-four hours a day; no one will ask for your name. Your call can be a lifesaver.

Such groups help you to understand that you are not a bad person for having negative feelings toward your baby. They help you learn to get your negative feelings out in ways that do no harm to the child or to you. The simple act of letting off steam to the person at the other end of the phone, even yelling and crying out your frustrations in total confidence, can do wonders for your family life.

You may find yourself very concerned and possibly guilty about the conflicting emotions you might be feeling toward your new baby. “I love him so much and then wish him out of my life. How could I really love him if at times I resent him so much?” You may be having second thoughts about whether or not you made the right decision about starting a family after all and now that you've had the baby it's too late to change your mind. This gives rise to the feelings of being trapped within a situation that's out of your control. After all, you cannot change the fact of the baby's existence. You cannot change the fact of motherhood; you are a mother! Such conflicts are very common. It might help if you reflect on the range of feelings you experience in your other relationships. For example, you don't constantly feel the same emotions day after day toward your mate, close friends, or your own mother. The feelings may range from love to annoyance to anger to love again, and each emotion may have different intensities at various times. This is also true in your relationship with your new baby.

Some new mothers even have frightening dreams or fantasies involving harm to their babies.

“I used to dream about leaving her at the supermarket in a carriage parked outside and just walking away.”

It is common for women to experience negative feelings toward their babies at one time or another. After all, it is precisely the baby's entrance into the world that changes a woman's life so drastically and causes some degree of inconvenience and discomfort.

You cannot constantly feel only love and warmth toward your child. You can, humanly, feel other emotions as well and still be a caring and loving parent. After all, how can you feel only love toward someone who is depriving you of sleep, interrupting your meals, demanding your constant attention, playing havoc with your relationship with your mate, etc.?

Usually the loving maternal feelings predominate and you somehow manage to get through difficult days and nights in a series of weeks which become better as the baby adjusts. Talking about your feelings with another mother who may feel the same way can do wonders to minimize your resentments and whatever guilts result.

You may even find yourself laughing about a tense situation: “You mean your baby was up at 3 A.M. also? They must have made a pact in dreamland to awaken and make us miserable!” Many things are accomplished when you are able to express your feelings to another woman in a similar situation. You are letting off steam and not hurting , the child in any way; you can learn some new strategies to help handle problem situations; you will realize that you are not unique, that other new mothers have similar feelings and problems.

In the early weeks, feelings of inadequacy and insecurity are common. “Am I doing the right thing? Am I holding him correctly? Will she slip from my hands in the bath? Will I be a good mother? Will I know when he's sick? Should I let him cry or pick him up? What gave me the idea I could be a mother? I can't handle all of this… I'm not ready.” These feelings are common when a baby nurse or other helper leaves. “Why was she able to do things so easily when I'm so awkward?” They are compounded by the advice and comments the new mother receives, not only from friends and relatives, but even from strangers on the street. How can you feel secure in your decisions about your baby when on one block someone tells you the child is overdressed and on the next, another stranger tells you he or she is underdressed? This can extend to a feeling of hesitancy to call the pediatrician with questions and problems that come up. “I was afraid to sound stupid,” “I hated to call and ask a question I know the doctor has been asked a hundred times.” When in doubt, call.

Infant care and parenting are not inherited abilities. We all must learn the skills involved. As a new parent, you may never before have been exposed to new babies. The way you may learn how to care for a baby is by learning to care for your own. Pediatricians should recognize this and expect extra calls from new parents. If your pediatrician belittles your concerns or in any way makes you feel foolish for calling, you are using the wrong pediatrician. After all, could you drive a car the first time behind the wheel, ride a bike, cook a fantastic gourmet dinner the first time you tried? Similarly, don't expect to be an expert diaperer, bather, or burper the first few times you try. You need time and practice. You will have questions and make mistakes along the way, but this should be expected.

“On the fifth day I felt really down. I felt insecure about everything. I wasn't sure of being a mother. I wasn't sure of being a wife. Just all depressed.”

“I put myself into a tizzy wondering if this is right or that is right. It is incredible, though, how easy the actual care of the baby is. I was quite concerned before his birth about bathing, dressing, when will I know he is ready for shoes, etc. But it has been relatively easy. This may sound really silly, but I was even worried about when do I send him to school. Do the school authorities notify you or tell you in the papers?”

Another feeling often expressed is a new mother's reluctance to admit that she needs help to get through the early weeks. “What's wrong with me? Why can't I handle this? My mother was able to do everything herself when she had me and my brothers and sisters!” Don't compare yourself to anyone else. Your abilities and needs are yours alone and if you need assistance, accept your need as a fact - a need, by the way, that most new mothers share.

There is no reason for you to prove to anyone, least of all yourself, that you can do it all alone. By determining to so prove yourself, you will be fighting against great odds. In your efforts you can overburden yourself and therefore be less able to cope. This can lead you to feel you are incapable of handling your responsibilities and make you feel unsure of yourself as a person, leading to depression.

You may be surprised at all the energy and time this tiny little being takes out of you.

“How can one 5 lb. 8 oz. bundle be the cause of such disorder, disharmony, and exhaustion? It's unreal.”

“After working twelve years and being thrown into the baby world: shock! Other mothers somehow don't admit they're unhappy or walk the floors with their baby! I wish I at least had some hint that there's another side to the buttons and bows and booties. I'd have been better able to handle it.”

“All during my pregnancy people would only say pleasant things about raising children. I am not complaining, but I just did not know about the difficult times.”

Your baby's temperament probably has a lot to do with your feelings toward him or her. If the infant sleeps a lot, wakes up for feedings, and goes back to sleep without much fuss, why wouldn't you be delighted with your new parent role? Such babies seldom disturb their parents' routines, and when they do, their simple needs are easily satisfied and the parents in turn are pleased with their ability to cope.

You may even be able to follow the maxim that says. “Sleep when the baby sleeps,” and be fairly well rested. But, on the other hand, you may discover that some newborn babies do not sleep all the time. In fact, your baby may sleep for surprisingly brief periods of time, hardly enough for you, the new mother, to lay your weary body down for a rest, close your eyes, and begin to drift off before there are cries demanding another round of attention. And even when the baby does sleep, how can you nap when every insurance company, baby photographer, friend, and relative calls to offer services and congratulations. And if you have a toddler around m addition to the new baby, there is certainly no way for you to sleep when the baby sleeps. At night, when the baby is finally asleep, the laundry is folded, and the dishes are done, you may find you're so tired that you're not interested in anything at all - you may just want to go to sleep.

Babies who sleep away the days are likely to be up at night. During the first six weeks or so, it is unusual for new parents to sleep through a night without awakening several times in response to the baby's cries. And once you do fall asleep, it might be so lightly that if the baby's breathing pattern changes, you may find yourself wide awake and dashing to the crib to see if everything is all right. Many new parents, especially new mothers, seem to wake up several times each night during the first weeks just to check the baby. Breastfeeding mothers often awaken moments before the baby in anticipation of an early morning feeding; and if the baby is bottle fed, someone must get the bottle, heat it, and feed the baby. You can see, therefore, why we keep emphasizing the importance of getting your rest whenever you can.

If your baby is costing you a large part of your most prized postpartum possession - your sleep - you may be surprised at the intensity of the negative feelings you have for him or her. As you drag your weary body from your warm bed yet another time during yet another night to answer the impatient cries, do you feel only great love and desire to please? Or, is it possible you're feeling some degree of annoyance, resentment, or anger? And when you do, do you feel guilty?

“Sometimes when I get very upset with the baby, I feel ashamed because, after all, what if something happened to him - it would be on my mind the rest of my life that I complained about him. I think one of the most important things would be for parents to understand that their feelings of anger, despair, etc., are normal and that everyone experiences them. It’s how you deal with them that's important.”

Being extremely fatigued is a common compliant of new parents. When you are too tired to think or to do things that you ordinarily could do very well, you may begin to lose faith in your abilities. You may think you’ll never be able to handle the task of motherhood m addition to your other responsibilities and find time for yourself and your interests. Understand that during this period any estimation you make of your capabilities is being made on the basis of your tired, lackluster, perhaps physically uncomfortable self. You must keep in mind that fatigue is a state which may last several weeks or months but does improve when the baby, according to his or her own timetable, begins to sleep through the night, and you and your new baby get to know each other and settle into a routine. By the baby's sixth week, most new parents report a welcome change to greater normalcy and rest.

Any change in your life requires a time for adjusting to it; so it is during the postpartum period. As time goes on, you will become better organized. You will be able to accomplish more. For now, rest when you can and do only the bare minimum of housekeeping or none at all!

The first few times your baby does sleep through the night you may awaken with the frightening thought, “Was I so tired that I slept without hearing her cry?” or even “Is the baby okay? Why is she so quiet?” Breastfeeding women often awaken painfully aware that they missed a feeding during the night. The engorgement and wet nightgown due to leaking breasts are signals that something different has occurred. Of course, concern turns to relief when you realize what really happened and that your nights will gradually be more peaceful from now on.

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With time, the continued release of your tensions and frustrations, and the baby's settling into a better schedule, you will probably find yourself feeling resentment less and less frequently. Some mothers marvel at how much more they enjoy their babies when they are two or three months old and recall how differently they felt during the early weeks.

“My feelings about the baby keep getting stronger. It's hard to believe you can love someone so much.”

“I seem to love her more each day. It's a growing thing.”

“I enjoy every waking hour and miss the company when he is sleeping.”

Although it is important to get out of the house as a family and as individuals to help avoid the negative feelings of isolation and resentment, going out to a movie, restaurant, visiting, or even shopping is no longer the simple process it was. You now have to consider the additional person in your midst - and the paraphernalia that goes along with him or her. Or, if you decide to go out without the baby, you've got to hunt down a reliable babysitter. You can't suddenly decide to meet your sister for lunch and the theater in the city or your mate for dinner and dancing at your favorite restaurant. You must consider the baby's needs. If you do decide to find a sitter, you may have to deal with conflicting feelings. You might think that wanting to “leave the new baby,” or “get away from the baby” means that you don't love the baby, don't like your new role of motherhood, or are shirking your responsibility. These feelings might be reinforced by relatives or friends who pressure you by direct word or innuendo to be a “good” mother and not leave the baby with a “stranger” (i.e., anyone other than the person giving the advice).

Your feelings of wanting to get away from the baby from time to time may be in direct conflict with your general desire to care for your child. “If I want to escape,” you might ask yourself, “why did I choose to have this child in the first place? Maybe I made a mistake. Maybe I'm not cut out to be a mother.”

Motherhood need not be an all-or-nothing role. You can be a mother, have other needs, and require periods of time away from motherhood. In fact, such periods can work to enhance your positive feelings toward your baby by giving you relief from the responsibility of childcare.

Remember, the rearing of a child, although it has its joys and compensations, is nevertheless a difficult task. Most people working full-time jobs need time off, rest periods, coffee-tea breaks, and vacations. Motherhood is no exception. In order to do your work the best possible way, you might need the same benefits most full-time jobholders need.

On your initial step out, you might experience strong regrets and anxieties while you're away because you may feel that no one knows your child as well as you. But the chances are that when you return you will find that all went well and that your anxieties were groundless.

The social life you enjoyed before the baby also changes. Can you imagine staying out to the wee hours now, knowing that the baby will be up and waking you at 5 or 6 A.M.? What about entertainment expenses? Are you now in a position to afford the theater and a babysitter? And if it's difficult enough to arrange a simple home-cooked dinner for just the two of you, you might not want to chance having friends over to dinner.

After the baby, your conversations with other adults may change drastically. Your childless friends may not truly be interested in the minutiae of child care, yet in the early weeks you will probably have a need to discuss these things. Also, you may not have had the time to read a current bestseller, see the latest movie, read the newspaper, or even watch television, and therefore, may find it difficult to take an active part in conversations.

Although there is a definite need for new parents to talk about their recent birth experience and the new baby, it is important to be aware that this tendency to talk only about parenting can become a habit and remain a part of you. If you don't want to fall into such a mold, make a conscious effort to develop interests, partake of different activities, and make new friends - all of which will help you to have a more interesting and well-rounded life. If you so desire and it's convenient, take the baby with you!

You and your mate will benefit from such new dimensions within your relationship, your growing child will gain from an interesting family life, and you will feel more comfortable at social gatherings when you can converse on several topics in addition to childbirth and child-rearing. You may find that some people look down on those who choose to stay home with a child, valuing only those jobs that bring financial compensation. When asked what you do, you may find yourself saying, “Oh, I'm just a housewife,” apologizing and putting yourself down as a reflection of society's viewpoint.

This attitude deserves re-thinking on your part. If you have chosen to stay at home and give most of your time to childrearing and homemaking because it feels right for you and meets your particular needs and beliefs about parenting, this is your choice - and if it is right for you and your family, it is the right choice.

On the other hand, there will always be people who look askance at those new mothers who choose or need to return to work. The implication is that such mothers can't be “good” mothers if they are away most of the day. Even a mother working part-time will occasionally hear someone say, “Well, at least you'll have some time with the baby.” A common comment regarding any working mother is: “Why did she want a baby if she couldn't wait to get back to work?”

There are several answers to this:

  • She may for financial reasons need to return to work.
  • She may have discovered, after the fact, that being at home caring for her baby and home on a full-time basis is not what she thought it would be and she needs other avenues of fulfillment in her life.
  • She may have planned to return to work all along, knowing in advance that she wanted to combine childrearing with another career.

If you are pursuing outside interests and/or are working full- or part-time, you may find you have very little - other than new baby talk - to share with other women who are staying at home and not leading your lifestyle. You may in fact find men's conversations more appealing and may be aware of resentment from those women present who cannot or do not join in your areas of conversation.

If you do decide to return to work, it is best if at all feasible to postpone this for several months, for a number of reasons. First, this will give you and your baby the best possible opportunity to establish the very important bonding process considered integral to the development of a close mother-child relationship. Second, as we have said, the first few weeks are not representative of what new parenthood is all about. If your decision is not being made on the basis of financial need, you would do well to wait until the chaos is over and you've had some time to adjust to being at home before you decide to go back to work.

If, however, you feel so strongly that staying home is unbearable, do go to work as soon as possible, but real in: it is important to hire someone to care for your child who shares your views about childrearing issues: It's also important, whenever possible, to insure that this person will remain in your employ for several years to provide your child with a consistent caretaker.

Money is tighter after a baby is born, especially if one of you left the nine-to-five world to stay home with your child and suddenly you must adjust to living on one salary. You may find yourself thumbing through cookbooks for new ways to prepare hamburger instead of steak, and casseroles may become a new way of life. You may suddenly find your wardrobe doesn't reflect the latest styles. Dining out may be at fast food places instead of fancy restaurants and you may become an authority on the location of inexpensive movie theaters. Your funds might be so low that you have to turn down invitations to parties because you can't afford the sitter and feel funny about bringing the baby.

The new mother who had contributed to the total family income before the birth of the baby may be accustomed to having money available from her own salary to do with as she pleased. Now that the family income is coming from only one source - not her - she finds herself in a very uncomfortable position: that of having to ask for every dollar she needs. For a woman who is used to this as a way of life, it may or may not pose a problem. However, for a woman who is not used to it, this situation can be psychologically demoralizing and is a potential troublemaker in the relationship. It's like “going to Daddy” for money, perhaps feeling obligated to justify the need.

Both partners should discuss this - preferably in advance - so that a suitable arrangement can be worked out to avoid the growth of resentments and hostilities. Now that the new mother is spending her time caring for their child, her investment in the marital relationship is not any less in value than his, and its benefit to the family unit is unquestionable. Income - although brought in by one person at this time - is nevertheless family income and should be regarded as such. Perhaps an agreed upon sum of $75 or $100 can be kept in one place in the home for easy access by either partner. Assuming the relationship is built on trust and fairness, each partner can feel free to dip in when necessary for daily expenses, gift buying, or whatever, and let the other know when funds are getting lower. This way, feelings of total dependency, inadequacy, and inferiority - resulting from “having to ask” - are removed.

Many of today's women are entering motherhood at later ages than ever before - in their late twenties and early, mid-, and late thirties. Quite often this means that such a woman has been in the working world for five, ten, or more years and has gotten accustomed to the particular lifestyle that goes along with it. Even so, many such women happily anticipate the change from “going to work” to “staying at home.” They look forward to the change of pace, which they feel offers a welcome relief. Many find peace and contentment and are pleased with their decision to stay at home with their new baby.

“A major concern of mine was how I was going to react to leaving work after twelve years. I was not as upset as I thought I would be. Perhaps I was ready for motherhood.”

“I never realized previous to motherhood what a joyful and exciting and totally wonderful experience a baby is. I feel no regrets about the lifestyle I left behind. It was my choice to assume a new lifestyle and I have taken it on with all good feelings.”

However, many other women are shocked by the enormous contrast between one way of life and the other.

“I must admit it is entirely different than I thought it would be. Much more difficult. I thought my time home with the baby would be similar to the days I stayed home from work for whatever reason. On those days I would perhaps sleep a little later, read when I wanted to, eat lunch when I wanted to, go out when I wanted to. In other words do whatever I wanted to whenever I wanted to do it. I remember how, near the end of my working career, I told everyone how I was finally going to be able to read the whole New York Times every day. Well, my son is several months old and I'm only now getting through part two of the local paper.”

“Once I realized that life was not going to be like it was before, I was okay. I naively thought everything would be the same and it wasn't. Again, once I relaxed and realized, hey, this is the way it's going to be, I was fine. I can't imagine life without him now.”

One of the first realizations that things are different is the shock of being totally cut off from other adults. There are no people to talk to or work with, no mental stimulation as a matter of routine, no planned lunch hours or coffee breaks.

Some women complain of how easy it is to lose touch with the styles people are wearing, the latest controversial books and topics of conversation, etc. Feelings of isolation and abandonment are common.

“I had my first baby at thirty-one, and I live all the way out in the suburbs. My worst problem is that I feel so stranded!”

If most of your friends are still employed in jobs outside the home, your opportunities for telephone socializing to help break up your day (considered a necessity by most new mothers) are limited. You can't expect a friend to enjoy a friendly chat with you when her job demands her attention.

If you are new in your neighborhood, have no friends or relatives accessible, and/or haven't met any other new parents in your community because you've been traveling to and from work until now, you probably will experience strong feelings of isolation. Being alone with your baby each day without adult contact for a period of weeks and months can contribute to depression and negative feelings toward the baby.

Perhaps you have adjusted easily to your new lifestyle because it suits your needs better than your previous way of living or because your previous way of living was more demanding and stressful or less fulfilling. But if your new lifestyle comes as too sudden a change and you have difficulty adjusting to the many differences between the old and new, you may question your intelligence or sanity for having chosen this way of life. You may spend parts of each day comparing your before and after daily life routines and find yourself longing for the old nine-to-five job, even if you hated it. This is a common reaction during the early weeks at home.

It is understandable and natural occasionally to yearn for the times you were without the cares and responsibilities of new parenthood.

“I yearned for my working days, in the office, I mean, when I had a place to go every day, get up, get dressed, put on make-up, feel like a person. My working friends envied me because I could relax (ha!) at home in jeans all day and do my own thing and not work for somebody else! Not work for somebody else? All I do is work for somebody else! And then when I say all these things, I feel guilty because I wanted the baby and now that I have him, what do I expect? It's not his fault. I just didn't know what it would be like, that's all. If someone had told me some of the negative things, instead of only the nice things about having a baby in your life, maybe it wouldn't have been such a shock.”

If you wish, you can mix motherhood with a part-time job, nights, weekends, or whenever you can leave the baby with its father or other responsible person; or you can work from the house and not have to leave the baby at all. You can become involved in local organizations take a course, join a club, see shows, visit museums, form or join a rap group, with or without the baby, as you choose. Being an individual apart and in addition to being a mother can fill your need so that motherhood doesn’t continue to give you “trapped” feelings and you can better enjoy the time spent as a mother.

“Working outside the home has made both jobs more rewarding. It makes motherhood more pleasant.”

“Immediately after our daughter's birth, my husband changed jobs. I have found this very hard on me for his hours are long-twelve to fourteen hours a day and when he comes home, he is tired. I understand this, but these are times I resent being home alone for such long periods. To combat this loneliness, I have joined a dance class and a bowling league. The contact with new and different people is invigorating. It's just returning home to an empty house and having to wait until seven or eight to see my husband that drives me up a wall.”

It may hit you hard to realize that being a parent means you are no longer just a partner in a one-to-one relationship. You must adapt that relationship to include all that was before - love, sex, friendship, etc. - plus all that comes with a child. It may seem overwhelming and you may worry about your ability to achieve this. As long as you and your mate are aware of the goal - adding parenthood to your roles while keeping your original one-to-one relationship alive - you can strive toward it in your daily lives and eventually achieve a happy result.

At the same time, other relationships are also being formed: between mother and baby, father and baby, and possibly sibling and baby. As the relationship between the two original partners undergoes change, so do the relationships between the new mother and her parents and the new father and his parents. In addition to whatever roles the two of you have played in other people's lives - sister, brother, daughter, son, grandchild, friend - you are now looked upon as parents. Particularly outstanding may be your own realization that you are no longer just somebody's child; you're also somebody's parent! And while this may be a tremendous adjustment for you to make, it can be a big adjustment for your parents as well.

Everyone feels older when a new generation gets its start, especially new grandparents. While the beginning of a new life is a momentous occasion, it also marks a milestone on the road toward the end of life. When a first grandchild is born, grandparents often realize that they've already lived more years than are left to them. They also may tend to evaluate their own job of parenting by how many of their tenets you follow in raising your child. If your methods differ drastically from theirs, they may see it as a personal rejection. Although childrearing methods change drastically over the years, it's sometimes hard for grandparents to realize that the methods they so strongly believed in and were encouraged to follow are just not being utilized today. To better understand your parents' feelings, try to envision your small newborn twenty years from now. He or she may welcome your advice, maybe even seek it out, and you might have this same relationship with your parents, but he or she will want to be as free to make his or her own choices as you do now. Give a few moments of thought to how you'll feel about this. Will you quietly allow your children to make their own mistakes as you probably expect your parents to allow you to do now, or will you follow the natural urge to warn them? We're not trying to make a case for grandparental control, just for an understanding that they are parents too and still feel the same concerns about you and your baby that you feel toward your newborn.

And what about your grandparents? A fourth generation in the family is exciting, but tends to draw attention away from the elder's problems and concerns, at least temporarily. In a society that tends to brush aside its older people, loss of attention is a serious concern. Great grandchildren can also be the final confirmation that your grandparents are indeed old.

“When I was pregnant, my grandmother was afraid that I and other relatives and friends would become so involved with my new baby we would forget to visit her. She lives in a home for the aged and was accustomed to having me visit often. She realized that this might not be possible after the birth of my baby and felt fear and an increased sense of loneliness and isolation. Fortunately, she was able to tell me her feelings and I was able to reassure her that she would not be forgotten.”

This grandparent's generation grew up in a period when the entire family lived nearby, spent much time with each other, and consulted with the older family members before making decisions. Today's nuclear families seem alien to those of her generation.

If you have brothers and sisters, especially if they are significantly younger than you, they may view the baby as an intruder in a close and special relationship which had developed with you over the years. They may fear you'll no longer be available for long talks and spending time with them. They may resent the extra attention the expectant mother gets and feel jealous of the gifts later showered on the new child.

It is also important to realize that all of your relatives may not be overjoyed watching your baby hold court at a family gathering. New babies certainly are appealing and new parents feel a strong sense of pride watching their offspring goo-gooed at, but your recently engaged cousin who wants to show off her ring and discuss wedding plans or the cousin whose four-year-old is saying and doing the cutest things is likely to feel left out and even annoyed.

If you sense feelings of anxiety or concern from members of your family, try to let them know that you're aware of and understand their feelings. The granddaughter mentioned earlier told her grandmother how excited she was about the impending birth because she was thrilled her grandmother was still with them to watch her new child develop. Letting jealous relatives know in advance that you'll still be concerned for their needs and giving them a sense of importance can do wonders when your schedule does become tight and you can't fit in a visit. If this does happen, you might tell your brother or sister how much you yourself miss the time you used to spend together. By all means make your own decisions about whom you'd like to visit or invite and how often, be true to your own needs, but keep in mind that a little understanding will go a long way toward keeping family resentments to a minimum.

If you are exposed to petty family squabbles, your stress level may be reached earlier than usual. It may be necessary for you, for example, to announce to your family that you do not want to hear any of their arguments, that you refuse to play the role of mediator or judge, and that you insist on having peace and quiet in your home. Your physical and emotional welfare depend on it. “Even after the name was already on the birth certificate I still had to hear their arguments about which side of the family to name the baby after.”

Your welfare and your family's welfare also depend on your not overextending yourself by taking on additional responsibilities such as the care of another person - perhaps an ailing or older relative - during your postpartum period when you need to be cared for! If at all possible, temporary arrangements should be made for this person's care.

As new parents, you both may have conflicting ideas and feelings regarding child care. If each of you has been brought up under widely differing doctrines of childrearing, there are bound to be discussions and probably arguments and hurt feelings, especially if there is pressure from friends and relatives to do things their way. Keep in mind the super-sensitivity of the postpartum period and postpone heavy discussions and decisions concerning childrearing with your mate. Whatever decisions must be reached - involving immediate care such as holding or feeding the baby, whether or not to let him cry, etc., must be discussed at a quiet time (not while the baby is screaming or when a third person is presenting his or her views) and in soft, loving, understanding tones of voice from both partners.

Thoughts of having a baby in your life usually evoke the happiest of images: holding, cuddling, feeding, dressing up, the first smile, growth, changes, sitting up, the first step, etc. But rearing a child, just as with other good things in life, has its own set of negatives to go with it. Each important or gratifying job or career has many assets but also many difficulties, hard times, and dirty work. The same is true of parenthood. There are many joys, pleasures, and benefits to be derived from and during the rearing of children, but there are many difficult and frustrating roadblocks along the route. Most parents are not sorry for having traveled it.

“Parenthood is a blessing and I enjoy it totally. Both of us wanted to be parents and our baby was a planned happening. She has added so much warmth and love to our lives that it is impossible to express fully. We waited four years for this event and I'm glad. I am now ready to give up one lifestyle and begin a new one which can only add a new dimension to my life.”

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“I feel attachment, love, concern, affection. These feelings have increased, doubled, tripled! And he's a very important part of my life. I am very happy being a mother.”

“I had a happy childhood myself, with great parents. They always made me feel that children were a pleasant experience. I grew up this way and hope to pass this philosophy down to my children.”

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