This is part two of my blog series, “It Takes A Village: Support in Parenting.” To read part one, please click here.
Transitioning to Parenthood
Whether becoming a parent is planned or a surprise, no doubt most couples spend a lot of time and energy getting ready for baby. This often involves months of preparation: reading a variety of books on pregnancy… researching the best in car seats, high chairs, strollers, cribs, monitors, etc… creating a baby registry and/or attending a baby shower… buying and putting together baby equipment… washing and folding baby clothes, blankets, etc… the list goes on and on. Many women also choose to attend classes on labor and childbirth as well as baby-related topics such as breastfeeding, CPR, and/or infant care.
But, somehow… I’m not sure how… preparing for PARENTHOOD gets left off the list. Not always, but most often we spend SO much time and thought and energy preparing for labor, childbirth, and the immediate postpartum period that we forget to put much thought into what comes afterward.
Have you heard the saying, “Children change everything”? They do… and until you have one, you don’t quite understand how much one little person can change so much about you and your life. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, right? I actually had a nurse in one of my childbirth classes ask the group to spend a little time thinking about life after birth… and it wasn’t until that moment that I realized how little thought I had put into what the day-in, day-out parenting of a young human being was going to be like.
As it turns out, this kind of preparation (when it happens) makes a difference. Studies show that the birth of a child impacts parents in all aspects of life—from daily tasks and free time to relationships and sense of self. And, parents who have a more realistic idea of what this impact will be for them tend to adjust better after baby is born.
Isolation in Modern Parenthood
As anyone who has had a baby can tell you, those first few weeks and months after birth are filled with many varied (and sometimes contradictory) feelings. Taking care of a tiny, defenseless, completely dependent human being can leave you joyous and exhausted, elated and scared, relieved and overwhelmed. In addition, the sheer amount of work that goes into caring for a baby leaves precious little time for anything else.
Combine that with our modern lifestyles of urban sprawl, separated extended family, and little societal value placed on maternity/paternity leave, most modern parents end up feeling isolated at one point or another. As I said in part one of this series:
We’ve all heard the expression, “It takes a village to raise a child” … so how did modern, urban society become so conducive to parental isolation? Some are lucky enough to become parents with a wonderfully supportive, close network of family, friends, and like-minded fellow parents in place, but more often parents must make a conscious effort to seek out community, and that’s not easy.
Even if you have a close network of family and friends, they may not be physically close (most of my immediately family lives 2 states away), or you may fundamentally disagree with their opinions about and techniques for parenting. The “Mommy Wars” seem to constantly be present—whether the discussion is breastfeeding or working outside the home—and if you don’t think modern media makes it worse, you might have been on a desert island when Time magazine’s “Are You Mom Enough?” article came out last May.
Lack of Formal Support
Another roadblock to building a sense of community with other parents is our modern medical system’s lack of formal support programs for mothers and fathers. The hospital where I delivered my first baby had free weekly support groups—one for new moms, another for moms of toddlers, and a third for breastfeeding support. I ended up going to the breastfeeding support group when my son was 4 weeks old because of some issues, but continued going every week until I went back to work just for the social interaction with other moms and babies.
Fast forward three years: I had moved to Orange County from Los Angeles and was about to deliver my second baby… and despite conscious efforts to find some sort of support group or maternal network to help me after birth, I was unable to find anything similar to what I had the first time around. Part of the reason I taught Mommy & Me Playgroup classes was to help other moms build the community I so desperately needed when my daughter was born.
Resources for Overcoming Loneliness
Fortunately, there are some ways to help new moms build an informal support network… though they require you to be a bit proactive about it. Below are some links to articles and resource sites with more information.
Pregnancy & Baby: How to Keep Your Social Life
Attachment Parenting: Overcoming Isolation After Baby Arrives
Ask a Mum: Loneliness in Motherhood
The Leaky Boob: 22 Ways to Nurture the Nurturer
La Leche League International: www.llli.org
The Happiest Baby: www.happiestbaby.com
Coalition for Improving Maternity Services: www.motherfriendly.org
Childbirth Connection: www.childbirthconnection.org
Be Prepared: A Practical Handbook for New Dads: www.beprepared.net
Join the Conversation
Tell me what your experience was like. Did you spend much time during pregnancy preparing for parenthood? How did your birth experience influence your postpartum period? What sort of support did you have after birth, or what do you wish you had that you didn’t?
I look forward to hearing from you.
Read Part Three: Feeding Your Baby here.
*A version of this article originally appeared on Belly Sprout’s Blog.
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