Beating New-Mom Stress
Having a baby can be magical -- and crazy. Here's how you can make your life easier
See Shades of Gray
One week, I was "Melanie Howard, Award-Winning Journalist," and the next week, after my daughter was born, I wasn't. At least, that's how I felt. As much as I adored my baby, I still had dreams about my job from which I'd wake up in tears, convinced I'd never be a writer or work again.
When women today become mothers, most of them have been in the workforce, so they are switching from a job where they've been an "expert" to one where they are totally inexperienced, says Kendall-Tackett. Not only that, but suddenly they are completely responsible for all the needs of another human being, and their new "boss" isn't going to give them clear-cut feedback in the form of evaluations and raises.
For women who stay home or switch to part-time, it also may change the balance of power in their marital relationship or how people treat them, says Kendall-Tackett. For mothers who return to work, there's the push-pull of family time versus work time and the constant guilt that they're not doing enough on either front. In both situations, women may feel alone, depressed, and unsure of who they are anymore. Kendall-Tackett did. "That for me was a shock as a new mom," she says. "I thought, this is it, my life is over." Instead of thinking in black and white terms about motherhood versus work and "the old me" versus "the new me," experts say new mothers should think in shades of gray. It's less overwhelming to look at a change as something you are doing for a while, rather than forever. (This isn't just a mind trick. Note that Kendall-Tackett has written several books since her "life was over," and, obviously, I'm writing this story.)
Mothers should realize that the decision to return to work or stay home is highly personal. "For some families, it's too hard to sacrifice the money a woman earns, while others might decide that eating Hamburger Helper is easier than having Mom returning to work," says Dryden-Edwards. Whatever your choice, says Kendall-Tackett, if you can think through why you're doing it and feel good about your decision, you'll be less anxious if others question you.
Tiffany Boone recently started working on an occasional basis for a local catering firm, despite the fact she has to drive nearly an hour to her mother's to drop off the children. "It barely pays my gas," she admits, "but it's the biggest stress relief. I get out of the house, I get to have adult conversations, and I know the girls are with my mother."
For both at-home and working moms, support can help the adjustment to parenthood, says Murray. "You can join a mothers group, which is particularly helpful for at-home mothers or during maternity leave," she says. "You can also start 'networking' in parks and talk to others who are going through this change." Since Pam Cerrie became a new mother, she's reached out through online support groups and has spent whole days on the phone with an old college roommate who also had a new baby.
New moms also need to remind themselves of who they are besides Mom, says Murray. "Getting out and doing something that you used to do before the baby came can really help you see the forest for the trees," she says. Plan something every other day, she suggests, whether it's a haircut, a walk with a friend, or an exercise class. If your budget won't allow for a sitter, be ready to roll when your husband gets home from work, or join a babysitting co-op. Pam Cerrie relaxes with quilling, a decorative hobby, while Tiffany Boone pursues photography.
"Just remember, whatever you do, it has to be what is best for you," says Dr. Dryden-Edwards. "Be creative. Standard advice on reducing stress may help, or it may not. Just find something that's constructive and healthy for your life. If it works for you, well, that's the test."