This Is Not Easy
Christine Sweeney, LICSW Program Manager, Parent Connection, BIDMC
APRIL 13, 2016
I’ve been leading moms groups for close to twenty years now and in that capacity have met a lot of babies and their moms. Many moms start coming to group when baby is just a few weeks old, eager to get out of the house and meet some new mommy friends. They show up to group obviously showered, maybe even with a bit of makeup applied. They report that things are going pretty well, not nearly as hard as they expected. Then there are the other moms, those who come to group obviously not showered, hair thrown back in a ponytail, looking exhausted and sometimes as if they are just keeping it together.
It’s easy to tell which of these groups have been lucky to get a “good baby”, the kind that from the start is pretty predictable… feeds easily, cries only when s/he needs something obvious (such as a diaper change,) is pretty easy to soothe and is content to be put down on a play mat or in a bouncy seat while moms enjoys her shower or a nice lunch.
Then there are the other babies…those of the unshowered, exhausted looking moms, whose lunch consisted of a half-eaten granola bar. . I know what is coming when it is their turn to speak. They don’t know what they are doing wrong and have come to group desperate for answers so that they too can have one of those “good babies”. They are sure that I or perhaps another mom in the group can tell them what to do so that they can put baby down for just a minute or what they can do so that baby will sleep somewhere else apart from lying on their chest. They are frustrated, overwhelmed and sadly disappointed as this is not the experience they imagined when they were pregnant and looking forward with joyful anticipation of meeting their baby. They feel incompetent and very guilty for not “enjoying every moment” as they are often told they should be.
I know I am disappointing them when I try to reassure them that they are not doing anything wrong, and describe how babies have inborn temperament and what that means. Me and the other moms, who have survived the newborn period with a similar type baby, empathize with their struggles, offer suggestions such as baby wearing or bouncing on a yoga ball, reassure them that things will get better…but I know it is not enough. I tell them that they are in survival mode and their goal is not to find the answer to “fix” baby, but to take care of themselves the best they can to get through this time. Say yes to all and any help offered, get out of the house every day at least for a little while, rest as best and as much as they can and keep coming to group.
There are lots of books and websites that address infant temperament, but one that I particularly like and recommend is from Dr. Sears.
One of the most satisfying experiences I have as a mom’s group leader is the time when the fussiness starts to lessen or when mom realizes that she has a pretty good sense of her baby, and while s/he may be high need, she’s figured out some tools that help her best respond to her little one. She will welcome the newcomer struggling, letting her know that she was there too not so long ago and that at some magical moment, it will get better. She will look at that new mom and recognize herself and feel a sense of pride in surviving. That new mom will look at her and see hope. It’s a beautiful thing.