Transition to Parenthood Series

By Sasha Taskier, LMFT

By Sasha Taskier, LMFT

Conversations for Expectant Parents - Part 2

In part 1 of this series, I discussed the importance of setting some time aside with your partner and/or future co-parent to discuss some of the topics that might be helpful to connect over and learn both how you are feeling and thinking about the topic, as well as your partner/co-parent. It is often surprising what can come out of these conversations, and it is always helpful to learn about your partner’s hopes, assumptions and fears prior to the moment you are faced with a difficult decision or conversation. 

Part 2 is perhaps a little less sexy, but just as important! The topics of discussion in this post are Finances, Maternity & Paternity leave/ Family Leave and the transition to Childcare. Again, the point of these conversations is not to set anything in stone, but to begin to understand your own thoughts and feelings around these topics, and to better understand your partners’ as well. With a deeper, more clear understanding of your wishes and goals in these areas, you can begin to plan and make decisions with greater intention.

 

Finances

This is a tricky topic because of course, every family has different budgets and financial capabilities and constraints. Decisions around building a family and all that entails, require thoughtful financial consideration; many choices are measured by both priority and financial constraints. A few things to think about and discuss:

-       What does our current family budget look like, and how do we expect it to change?

-       For couples that currently keep separate accounts, and put their shared expenses into a joint account or credit card, how do you hope to divvy up these new financial responsibilities?

-       Have we budgeted for our hospital stay? (despite those lucky few with fantastic insurance, you will likely be required to pay a significant hospital bill at the end of your stay.)

-       It may be helpful to a) talk with your healthcare provider to understand what hospital you will be delivering at and b) connect with your insurance provider to understand a potential range (it will vary for every birth due to length of stay/ procedures done, etc.)

-       Have we created a fund to help us buffer the transition between a two person home and three person home?

-       If one parent decides to stay home with baby, what will that look like for our budget and how do we navigate this shift in roles? (this deserves its very own post!)

-       Are there people in our lives who may have recently gone through this transition? Can we talk to them about their financial experience and things to be mindful of?

-       What are our expectations of ourselves and our partners financially as we transition to becoming parents? Perhaps this taps into our family of origin model, or traditional gender roles we witnessed growing up or are actively working not to replicate.

-       Do we have someone that can help us navigate our financial goals?

-       Have we thought about creating a will and getting life & disability insurance?

-       Are we able to begin saving for our child? Perhaps discussing a savings account and/or a 529 education plan with a financial advisor may be a goal within the first few years.

 

Maternity & Paternity Leave

This topic aligns really closely with finances. Many parents in the United States do not get paid leave; in fact, the US is the only developed nation in the world that does not have a national mandate for paid family leave. That being said, many companies do offer paid maternity leave for a certain amount of time, and the topic of paternal leave is becoming more open and accepted.

Discussion questions:

-       Do you know if your employer offers paid maternity and paternity leave?

-       For how long?

-       Is there room to extend, perhaps at a partial pay rate?

-       What is the culture around taking this time in your workplace? (this may be especially relevant to working fathers where parental leave has not been the norm or expectation.)

-       What are the spoken and unspoken expectations for yourself and your partner?

-       Ideally, how much time would you like to take off after the birth?

-       How does the idea of taking time off work feel for you? Is it a relief? Is it anxiety inducing? Maybe both!

-       Does it have longer term ramifications on your role/standing/potential for promotion etc.?

-       If there is no paid leave, how will that impact your choices and your family’s financial position?

-       Is this something you can begin to save for, in order to create a financial buffer?

 

Childcare transition

Depending on where you live, the demand for child care may be very high. In Chicago (and other major cities across the country,) it is recommended to put your name on a waiting list for daycares in the early months of pregnancy in order to get a spot by the time you are ready to go back to work. Or, you may decide you want a babysitter/nanny, you may have family upon whom you can rely for childcare. Or, you may decide to stay home with your child. There is no right or wrong choice - it’s about what is best for your family, your needs, and your budget (and remember, these decisions are not set in stone; you can always alter the plan if one decision is no longer working for you and your family!)

Discussion questions:

-       What are the specific professional constraints of our jobs? (for example: do you work late evenings, weekends, half days, etc.)

-       How do these specific schedules align with childcare decisions?

-       For example: Working late may be challenging with a daycare that closes at a specific hour. Working part time may lend towards a part-time babysitter for flexibility. Working weekends may require a special scenario, unless a co-parent can step in.

-       What is our childcare budget, and how do we decide that?

-       Do we have beliefs or thoughts about what would be best for our family?

-       Do we have spoken or unspoken concerns or fears about this step, or a specific option?

-       Do our families/ support systems/ friends have opinions that they have made known to us? How does that impact our feelings and decisions?

I am sure there are a number of important topics that can be included in this list. Think of this as a place to start, and use this as a resource and a conversation catalyst. See what doors open as you begin to explore and question some of these decisions, individually and as a couple.

You can read Part 1: here

You can read more Transition to Parenthood posts, here:

-       Postpartum Depression

-       Becoming a Mother

-       Couple & Co-Parent Conflict

-       Sex after Baby

-       The First Year of Parenthood

Transition to Parenthood Series

By Sasha Taskier, LMFT

By Sasha Taskier, LMFT

Conversations for Expectant Parents - Part 1

There are a million and one things I wish I had known before becoming a parent; how to put a breast pump together, how to decipher between hungry tears or tired tears, how to manage sleep deprivation without screaming at my spouse, how and when to introduce solid foods successfully. The list goes on and on; the fact is, most of this stuff is learned “on the job” - and that can be hard to prepare for (especially because so many things will be unique to your family and your baby.)

However, there are a few topics that I think every soon-to-be parent would benefit from spending time talking with their partner and thinking about, so that when the time comes, less of your precious energy is spending working through these logistics and making hard decisions, and more of it can be focused on taking care of yourself, your partner, and your new baby.

This is Part One of a two-part series in which I’ll introduce my first 3 topics: Birth Plan & Preparation, Feeding (Breast & Bottle), and Support & Family; I’ve included open-ended questions related to each of these areas in the hopes that it helps you to get the conversation started!

Birth Plan & Preparation

There is often great emphasis on this aspect of the pregnancy; in the US, our medical model requires multiple check ups with doctors and birthing professionals, and even, preparatory classes focused specifically on labor and the birthing process. Of course, these are exceptionally helpful, but I fear they can also give women a false sense of control over a process that requires flexibility, and potentially a last minute change.

There can also be a great amount of shame and pressure attached to this process; some women feel judged for their choices - whether it is the choice to birth without the use of medication, or the choice to use medication and/or an epidural. There is even shame attached to cesarean births - when a mother feels like a failure for not being able to have a vaginal birth or feels like her meticulous birthing plan has already gone awry.

One lovely and comforting response to this topic comes from doula Erica Chidi Cohen & author of Nurture, (one of my favorite pregnancy resources). She writes:

Currently, the term ‘natural birth’ creates more division than cohesion between women, which is what I think makes it problematic. ‘Natural’ is not an explanatory term and it doesn’t give women agency to optimize their birthing experience, especially for the predominant number of births taking place in hospitals. You can advocate for yourself better by using the real terms. When I hear a client say they would like to have a ‘natural birth’ or ‘I’m trying to birth as naturally as possible,’ one of the first things I’ll say to them is, ‘However you’re going to move through this process is going to be natural to you.’ No matter what a birth ends up looking like, there’s nothing unnatural about it, because it’s natural for women to be pregnant and have a baby” (emphasis mine)

Discussion questions:

- Do I have either spoken or unspoken expectations of myself or my partner around labor?

- Do I have beliefs or fears around the use of medications or epidurals?

- How can my partner support me during my labor and during our hospital stay? (this is one that can be explored more usefully through resources/birthing classes)

- Who do we want in the room? Who would we like to have at the hospital?

- Where do we want to give birth? (Nurture has an excellent section on making this decision and weighing the trade offs for hospital vs. at home births.) Do we agree on this?

Breastfeeding & Bottle Feeding

Recently there has been a more open, honest dialogue about the challenges and potential difficulties related to breastfeeding. It can be painful, not intuitive, and sometimes, women require the help of a professional to teach them how to breastfeed their baby. Most of us no longer live in communities where multiple new mothers gather together at once, taken care of by their mothers, aunts and grandmothers. We are more isolated now that we have ever been in human history, and this is one area of motherhood where we see the impact.

Over recent decades there have been significant policy shifts on the breastfeeding vs. formula debate, and the impacts connected to each choice. Currently, there is a significant push from pediatricians and medical professionals to breastfeed at least until your child turns one (American Academy of Pediatrics.) However, it is important to note, that this is not the model of all developed nations, and this is often not an option (or a desire) for many women.

(I really love this resource: Fed is Best, which offers resources and support to women who are breastfeeding, bottle feeding or a combination of both!)

Discussion questions:

- Do you have spoken or unspoken expectations of yourself or your partner as it relates to feeding your newborn?

- Do you have deeply held preferences or beliefs around the choice between breast milk and formula?

- What are your beliefs around who makes these decisions? Does mom/birthing parent have veto power/ultimate choice, or is this ultimately a team decision?

- Do you know how you were fed as a child? How long did your mother breastfeed, if ever? Does that impact your decision?

- Do you plan to take a breastfeeding course, or hire a lactation consultant to help in this endeavor?

- What are ways that non-birthing parent/father can support breastfeeding partner/mom in her goals, whatever they may be?

Support & Family

There are countless models for how to incorporate family, in-laws and support systems into the arrival of your baby. Some parents want their own parents in the delivery room, some feel more comfortable with the waiting room of the hospital, and some would prefer for their family and friends to wait until they are home for a visit. There is no right answer… and it can be hard to know what you will want because (likely) you’ve never been in this situation before.

Three ideas from my own experience (that will not fit for everyone, but can give ideas!)

1. I once read the advice that after the baby comes there are no guests, just helpers (I wish I remembered who deserves credit for this line!) Meaning, if people would like to come and meet the baby, give them a job, ask them for some help, even in a small way. Perhaps, can you bring over some lunch? Would you mind walking the dog? Can you sit with the baby while I shower? Can you clean the dishes in the sink? This may feel awkward and uncomfortable, especially for those of us who struggle with asking for help - but, I can assure you, that is what your friends and family are there for, and they are happy to do it. [Extra helpful, if non birthing partner/Dad can take this on, that way, birthing partner doesn’t have to use her energy or bandwidth to think about it, especially in the early days and/or if she is breastfeeding around the clock.]

● Another point to mention; in the early days and weeks, mostly if you decide to breastfeed, the majority of the baby work will fall to the birthing parent/mom; much of the help in the early days is helping to take care of YOU (nutrition, shower, sleep, a few minutes to yourself), and your home/pets/other children/etc. Keep this in mind when you think about who can come to help you and how!

2. Create a meal train! Perhaps you’ve heard of this service - you can create a signup sheet for family and friends to bring you meals at your preferred times/dates. They can either drop off the meals or, they can stay and enjoy the food with you! We did this for our closest friends, creating opportunities for them to come over and meet the baby, and cook dinner for all of us to share together. It was a stress-free and lovely way to reconnect with our people and community and it felt a bit like hosting a dinner (without the cooking part!)

3. Be clear about your boundaries and needs. Every family has a different culture around this time; discuss with your partner what you think you will need and how much you can handle. For us, this meant, staggering visits from friends and family so that we wouldn’t be without help for the first 4-6 weeks, but we would never have more than 2-3 people visiting at one time. This will look different for everyone, but it may be helpful to create a calendar for visitors, and this is another task that non birthing partner/Dad can manage and coordinate, in order to take it off of birthing partner/Mom’s plate in the early days and weeks. It is also helpful to be clear with visitors and guests, especially if they are visiting from out of town, that you are a) either happy to host them, or b) prefer that they stay in a hotel/airbnb/with a friend etc.

Discussion questions:

- Do you have hopes or expectations for who will be around during or closely following the birth?

- Are there religious or cultural rituals/practices and expectations that need to be planned and accounted for in the early days and weeks? Who can help you organize them?

- How do you feel about visitors - staying with you, and for how long? How many people at one time would feel comfortable?

- Do you have members of your family who can be helpful at specific tasks? (ie. a great cook in the family can make dinner for everyone during their visit! Dog lovers can be in charge of walking the dog!)

- How do you want to navigate this and communicate it to friends and family? Does non birthing partner/Dad feel comfortable managing these communications, even with non family members or in-laws?

I hope this was helpful and can be a catalyst for further conversation between you and your partner / co-parent. The next conversation topics will focus on Finances, Maternity & Paternity Leave, and the Childcare transition. Keep an eye out for Part 2 in the coming weeks!

You can read more Transition to Parenthood posts, here:

- Postpartum Depression

- Becoming a Mother

- Couple & Co-Parent Conflict

- Sex after Baby

- The First Year of Parenthood

Transition to Parenthood Series

By Sasha Taskier AMFT

The First Year of Parenthood

As 2018 comes to a close, I find myself transported back to the end of 2017, when I was just a few days away from giving birth and becoming a mother. It feels almost impossible to think that I now have a one year old, and while the end of 2017 seems like it was just yesterday - the growth, change and complete transformation make it feel like a lifetime ago. 

As I continue to read, discuss (and experience) the topic of matrescense (read my post here) and the transition to parenthood in both my personal and professional life, it is clear that while becoming a parent is instant, the transformation is multifaceted, complicated and comes in waves. 

The same is true for the transition to co-parenting. You and your partner are both experiencing a personal transformation (which may happen at different rates, and in different ways), AND the level of teamwork, support and coordination required of the couple is greater than it has ever been. 

Here are some of what I found to be the most helpful lessons for individuals and co-parents for the first year of baby! My hope, as always, is that transparency and discourse will help validate your experiences and continue to create a space for these topics to be explored and discussed amongst other mothers, parents & between co-parents!

1.  Maternal Gatekeeping is a term I first heard in How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids by Jancee Dunn.  The term refers to a very common occurrence: a mother openly and perhaps aggressively criticizes her partner for doing things “wrong” with the baby. Whatever it may be - changing, feeding, carrying etc. Mom guards the role of “baby expert” and rather than getting the help she needs (and wants!) she is cutting her partner’s confidence down with each critique. 

Eventually, this results in a parent (usually a father) feeling so demoralized and attacked, that he retreats from the parenting arena, leaving mom to her own devices, and feeling potentially abandoned and isolated. This is also where the team mentality can shift; mom thinks, its me & baby against the world because we are alone and my partner isn’t helpful, rather than the preferred position of mom & dad being a unified team, managing and troubleshooting the demands of parenting together. As you might imagine, if the first mindset (mom & baby against the world) is maintained long term can have very serious ramifications on the couple’s relationship both as lovers and co-parents.

So, my recommendation is, let your partner learn how to care for the baby on his or her own. Let them have the opportunity to put the diaper on backwards, or play too quickly after eating … they will learn. If the learning curve feels too scary, perhaps try a softer start up, like “Thank you so much for feeding the baby, it is so helpful. I have noticed that when I do this (what you’d like to see your partner doing) the baby reacts positively.”  Then leave the room, or the house, and allow your partner to take ownership over the task. No one needs to be micromanaged by their spouse.  

If this sounds really familiar, perhaps explore some of these questions - why do I need to be the baby expert? Am I scared to share this role with my partner? Who benefits if I am the only parent who feels confident with our child? What are the cycles and patterns that come up for us when this happens?

2. Create a sleep agreement with your partner. There is nothing worse than when your baby gets up in the middle of the night and you and your partner are fighting over who will be on baby duty. While biological mothers have greater sensitivity to their baby’s cries (thanks, evolution!), we are not exactly our most generous, patient selves at 3 am. A simple solution is agreeing beforehand, so everyone can be on the same page. Figure out what works for your family - if that is taking turns every night, or allocating certain days of the week - know the plan before you go to bed, so if you do have to get up, you can just focus on the baby and don’t have to worry about fighting with your partner.

 Same goes for sleeping in! Figure out what works for your family (work schedules/travel etc. allowing) - and give yourselves an opportunity to catch some precious sleep in the morning, (especially if your baby is an early riser!) Just make sure you agree to it the night before, so there is no unnecessary conflict when you could be depositing an extra hour into your sleep bank. 

3. Find your easy, accessible ‘self care’ go-tos, and do them often. Everyone knows the expression, you cannot pour from an empty cup. If you are not giving yourself at least something during the week, you are likely not able to show up for your child, your spouse, your job etc. Figure out a few simple, affordable, & quick escapes for yourself that make the biggest difference, and figure out a time during your week that you have some childcare, some wiggle room, or negotiate taking turns with your spouse (maybe you get the morning, they get the afternoon, or you get Saturday, they get Sunday - whatever works!) 

Some examples - a bath; reading a book, going for a run outside, meeting a friend for a walk or coffee or drink. These all can be done in an hour and make the world of difference. Do not skimp on this. 

4. Do not give up everything from your life before baby. We live in a society where the culture of parenting can be relentless. (Great article here.) There can be a narrative that once you have a child you have to give up on your old life. While yes, there is a lot that will change, you are still you. Becoming a parent doesn’t mean giving up on everything but your kids. In fact, you will be a better parent if you model your dedication to lifelong hobbies, the importance of taking time for yourself, and that adults are still allowed to have fun. 

If you are a lifelong soccer player - find a way to stay in a weekly league; if you are a painter - find a way to make time to go to a painting class or paint at home (while someone else watches the baby). Yes, it will be hard to find the time and it may potentially be painful to separate from your child for a few hours, but you are investing in yourself long term and that will only make you a better version of yourself, and therefore, a better parent. And hopefully it goes without saying, support your partner in their own efforts - it will serve you both.

5. Find ways to enjoy staying in. One of the biggest transitions parents name is the amount of time they stay at home. It never used to be a big deal to grab dinner, go to the movies, or meet up with friends in the evening - now, unless you have a babysitter (or are a very lucky few who have live in support), you are putting the baby to bed, and staying in yourselves. Embrace this shift and try to find opportunities to enjoy it, both individually and as a couple. 

This might mean watching a new series together, or picking up at home yoga practice that you can do in the living room, it could even be cooking your way through a cookbook you’ve been drooling over; all of these are activities you can get into solo or enjoy with a partner or friend in the post baby bedtime hours.

6. Prepare for the financial surprises and stressors that will arrive with baby. There is a lot you can do to try and make the first year with baby a little less stressful financially. When you first become pregnant (or before, if you are super organized!), you can begin by saving monthly for funds that can go towards extraneous hospital fees, decorating the nursery, saving for maternity leave (if you do not have paid leave, or if you are planning to extend your time at home without paid leave), and extra childcare and every day costs. 

Obviously there are certain things one can anticipate - like diapers for instance, but it’s hard to anticipate everything. Give yourself a little wiggle room and realize that it takes many months to adjust to this new little person in your home. A little person whose needs may change and shift faster than you can change your budget. You may decide breastfeeding is not for you - and have to start spending more money on formula. You may decide that the last thing on earth you can do is clean your home, and you need some extra help. Or perhaps there is a change in your child careplan, and you need to switch things up last minute. Whatever it is - be gentle with yourself and your partner - and realize that perhaps the hardest part of parenting is relinquishing control.  

6. Budget extra time to your departures. You may be used to getting yourself ready and out the door; perhaps it takes you a cool 15 minutes, or you know you need an hour. You and your partner may have the same idea around time (ie. both of you prefer to be 10 minutes early, or are always running 30 minutes behind schedule!) but a lot of couples struggle to align around time and it causes a lot of repeat conflict. 

Now, add a little human into the mix! It’s going to take some time to figure out how long it takes to get your little one ready (with all their accessories/ depending on the season etc.) Once you know that, add another 10-15 minutes. Somehow, transit always takes a little longer than you anticipated and since time management is already a hot button for so many couples (even without children!) adding an extra time cushion a helpful way to avoid unnecessary partner strife. 

7. Milestones will happen - comparison is not your friend. It is hard not to compare ourselves to others in our day to day. Somehow, it seems even harder not to compare our little ones - especially when we see them side by side with another. It’s tempting to ask the parents about milestones, or even brag about your own baby’s accomplishments…totally normal, AND, be mindful that these can create a source of anxiety around milestones that happen at different rates for different kids. For the most part, barring any sort of serious condition or developmental delay, your child will crawl, your child will feed themself, they will learn to walk and talk because we all do! Try not to get stuck on the comparison train, and work to stay present and enjoy the time with your little one, because it’s likely you will look back on this time and miss the early days. 

8. There are parts of parenting that you may not like. That doesn’t mean you don’t love your child, or love being their parent. This one feels like the most *shameful* topic and that’s why I want to address it; to me, this is an extension of the conversation around not loving your baby immediately. There is a lot of pressure on parents, mothers specifically, that they love everything about time with their child. While that certainly is true for many parents, it is absolutely not the only truth. Having a baby can be exhausting, infuriating, boring, and isolating (amongst other feelings!); and it can be interspersed between moments of joy, wonder and love. It is mixed, and it is hard to ride that wave day in and day out. 

Some parents choose to be with their children 24/7, and others choose (or do not have the choice) to go back to work, which inherently limits their time with their children. I know some parents who wish more than anything that they could stay home with their babies, and others who thrive being at work and find that they are better parents because the time with their babies is more precious. There is no right answer. Do what works for you -- you can love your child with every part of your being, and also dislike parenting them at times. You can enjoy reading books and playing, but bath time and feeding may feel like your personal hell. It may be the reverse for others. Do what feels good for you and your family and do not let yourself feel like you’ve failed because parts of this don’t come so easy.

Additional resources on the transition to parenthood: Becoming Us, Elly Taylor

How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids, Jancee Dunn 

The Birth of a Mother, Dr. Alexandra Sacks, M.D.

• Watch her TED talk

Survival Guide for the Fourth Trimester, Christina Caron for the NYTimes

You Might Not Love Your baby Immediately, Sara GaynesLevy 

 

Transition to Parenthood Series

By Sasha Taskier, AMFT

By Sasha Taskier, AMFT

Part IV: Sex after baby.

Most of us have heard the age-old narrative that your sex life disappears after you have children. You are exhausted and sleep feels substantially more important than sex; perhaps your focus and intimacy is on the baby – not on each other; or, perhaps your body no longer feels desire or arousal the way it once did. No matter the reasons (and there are countless more), for some, it is a terrifying prospect that your once beloved sex life may be one of the casualties in the transition to parenthood.

There is good news: Your sex life does not have to disappear when you become a parent. It does, however, have to change and evolve for your new life and the new (very significant) constraints of having a baby. The key is to approach this change with care, curiosity and flexibility for yourself and your partner.

Let’s visit some of the significant constraints that new parents face in rebuilding their sexual relationship and therapeutic strategies you can use to address them:

1. Sleep Deprivation; This is perhaps the biggest reason that parents name when they discuss the difficulty in reigniting their sexual relationship, post baby. Especially if your child hasn’t begun to sleep in longer stretches, the idea of trading in precious sleep for sex is hard to imagine.

It’s also important to note that sleep deprivation and exhaustion can impact your hormone levels, increase anxiety and irritability, and has been associated with greater conflict between partners. It’s hard to imagine wanting to have sex or any type of physical intimacy when your sole focus is trying to maintain enough energy for a baby whose needs are continuous.

Strategy: Take turns with the night time feedings and early wake ups (if you can) so each of you can get some longer stretches. Offer support if you know your partner is especially tired. If you are breastfeeding, your partner can sit with you during a middle of the night feeding - even if he can’t “do” anything, his presence is important and signifies that you are a team. You may be sleep deprived, but you are exhausted together, and can see the experience as a bonding one. Sex might not be on the table at this point (it is likely you will want to wait until you have more energy) but building the foundation of your new co-parenting role can be incredibly intimate, and knowing you are a united front will ultimately translate into an easier transition towards physical intimacy when the time is right. (There is nothing that will put you in the mood less than fighting with your partner about who is more tired. So, try to stay on the same team and avoid the rabbit hole of sleep resentment.)

2. Hormonal impact; the hormonal impact on your postpartum body can be very significant. Many women report feeling like they’re on an emotional roller coaster in the first few weeks and months after giving birth. (Read more about the signs and impact of postpartum depression and anxiety here.)

Breastfeeding mothers are producing a hormone called prolactin, while necessary for lactation, it is also responsible for lowering libido. Breastfeeding mothers bodies often suppress ovulation and their lower estrogen levels impact cervical mucus. Vaginal dryness may be an issue – causing sexual intercourse to be less enjoyable and even painful. If that wasn’t enough, breastfeeding also lowers female testosterone, which contributes to overall decreased libido. Source

Strategy: Talk to your doctor or therapist about concerns if you notice signs of postpartum depression or anxiety in yourself or your partner. If you are ready to have sex but it feels unpleasant, you can use a water-based lubricant to help with vaginal dryness and consult with your doctor for other alternatives. Most of all, remember what your body went through; give it time, and communicate if you are in pain. Share with your partner what you know about the shift in your hormones and the potential impact that may have on your libido. This will help create an environment of openness and help him or her understand that your lack of arousal may not be about them at all (they will likely have their own beliefs and reasons for why this is happening.)

3. Mismatched needs & expectations; This bullet point could be the topic of an entire book. Childbirth in couples (both heterosexual and homosexual) is entirely one-sided for a period of time. The parent who gives birth will inherently bear the burden in a different way, and if she breastfeeds, that one sidedness can continue for months (or years) postpartum. All this to say, that especially in heterosexual couples, fathers may have a difficult time understanding the multitude of changes happening in his partner’s mind and body. These factors impact desire and arousal, and it may cause frustration and confusion between partners that there has been a significant change in the couples’ sex life and perceived desire for one another.

Strategy:  Talk about expectations with one another; so much of this chapter requires an open, honest dialogue about what is happening for each of you. Many partners may make assumptions about the reason for the changes in their sex lives; without asking your partner what they are feeling, both emotionally and physically, you may be completely missing the mark (and missing an opportunity to help.)

If this topic feels particularly fraught or scary, I’ve listed a number of resources at the bottom of the post that you and your partner can look to and, you can always schedule an appointment with a couples therapist or sex therapist to better understand and process the new sexual dynamics in your relationship.

4. Body insecurity, low self-esteem and not feeling sexy; Women – you just did something miraculous: you grew a human life inside of you for the better part of a year, and then went through a significant medical event in order to deliver the child. Your body went through a trauma and you may not be feeling your best, or look the way you did prior to your pregnancy.

In our current medical model, women have a 6 week postpartum check up (after a vaginal birth) in which, if everything is ok, they can be “cleared” to have sex with their partner. OBGYNs often hear their patients begging for more time, asking for a medical excuse to postpone this event, while many fathers are waiting anxiously for the green light.

Strategy: There is absolutely nothing wrong with not feeling ready at that point to jump back in the saddle; be gentle with your body and yourself. You may need more time to heal than a 6-week window. Take it slow and do what you need to do in order to feel your best. That can be anything from making sure you take a shower each morning, to putting on some makeup, to making sure you go for a walk outside and feel the fresh air, and drinking enough water each day. Self care looks different for each of us.

5. Overwhelmed by the new workload & lack of time; There are only so many hours in a day. Those hours are significantly decreased when you take on a newborn feeding schedule, or are chasing a baby around. Your free time feels virtually non-existent, and it can feel like there is a never-ending mountain of work (both domestic and professional) that builds. These stressors can act as a “brake” to halt sexual arousal and desire (Nagowski). If our minds are always thinking about what needs to get done or how stressed we are, we will likely have a much more difficult time transitioning to a sexy mindset.

Strategy:  If we know our sexual drive and desire is negatively correlated with stress levels, this can be an opportunity to our partners not to complain about the lack of sex, but to ask – “what do you need help with?”

Parents need to practice self-care in order to be able to think about accessing desire for their partner. Often, this means lightening the load for your partner so they can have time to get back to themselves, and momentarily step out of mommy or daddy mode. Give them some time to see their friends (and get out of the house), to exercise (increased blood flow increases libido), and make sure you both are hydrated and fed (you need energy to have sex.)

Another helpful strategy for some is to schedule sex. For the partners who would like to increase the frequency in their sex lives but struggle to find the time in their schedules, try planning ahead. Either create a sexy calendar invite for your partner to let them know you are thinking about them, or have a standing date/time that you can connect physically. This requires a regular check in to make sure expectations are clear and flexibility with changing schedules. (For example, sending a text mid-day for your weekday “sexy time” to ask if your partner is still interested and committed to the plan for the evening. This not only helps avoid disappointment if things change, but can also help to build anticipation as the day goes on.)

6. Relying on baby for intimacy; This is a common trap for many new parents, especially new moms. As mentioned above, there is an evolutionary “one sidedness” to childbirth that is much more pronounced in the first months and year of a child’s life. Mothers often find themselves with longer parental leave to bond with the baby, and may choose to breastfeed, which requires nearly constant touch and necessary attunement with a baby’s feeding schedule.

This bonding is incredibly special, and it can be all consuming. This connection can feel so intense and magical that it begins to replace your partner’s intimacy. This quote from Esther Perel, in her book, Mating in Captivity, describes this phenomenon beautifully:

“Children are indeed a source of nurturance for adults. Their unconditional love infuses our lives with a heightened sense of meaning. The problem arises when we turn to them for what we no longer get from each other: a sense that we’re special, that we matter, that we’re not alone. When we transfer these adult emotional needs onto our children, we are placing too big a burden on them” (Perel; Kerner & Raykeil, p. 50)

Strategy: Make time for your connection outside of baby. As a couple, you need to build your reservoirs of connection physically, but also emotionally and intellectually. Sometimes date night can be just for that – for connecting, talking, laughing, eating. You can even try a “no baby” rule on date night - talk about anything but the baby. Remember how and why you connected before you became parents. Another favorite tip about date night from Esther Perel!

(Side note about date night: It can be hard to feel sexy and in the mood after a full meal, late at night. Be clear about how you’re feeling and help to differentiate between date nights and sex. If you wait for sex only on date night, it may be a while, and it can heighten the pressure around the evening.)

This list of constraints and strategies is obviously not exhaustive, and quite honestly just scratches the surface of this topic. I focused mostly on parents who are transitioning to parenthood for the first time, with one child and many of the strategies are “mother-centric”. Below are additional resources that I’ve found incredibly helpful and normalizing for couples in this stage of their transition to parenthood.

Additional Resources:

  •      Love in the Time of Colic, Ian Kerner & Heidi Raykeil
  •      How not to Hate your Husband After Kids, Jancee Dunn
  •      And Baby Makes Three, John & Julie Gottman
  •      Becoming Us, Elly Taylor
  •      Come As You Are, Emily Nagowski

Transition to Parenthood Series

By Sasha Taskier, AMFT

By Sasha Taskier, AMFT

PART III: Couple & Co-Parent Conflict

In conversations with new parents, one of the topics that often gets overlooked (and hidden) is the shock that the transition to parenthood can have on the couple. Some couples do transition to co-parents seamlessly, but more often than not, there is an enormous amount of stress associated with this shift, and growing pains to navigate.

[Before diving in, I want to acknowledge and honor that people (individuals and couples) enter into parenthood in a myriad of ways; for the purposes of this post, I am focusing on couples that have been together as romantic partners prior to becoming parents.]

As if the addition of a tiny human wasn’t stressful enough, the transition from partners to co-parents can be one of the most fraught, and often deprioritized. Suddenly, you now have two relationships to foster – your romantic one, and your co-parent one. (There is an upcoming post on the romantic relationship post-baby, stay tuned!)

Often, in times of transition we experience a spike in stress, depression, anxiety and conflict. This applies to everything from moving to a new city to losing a job, and even losing a loved one. Transitions are some of the hardest things we go through as humans – and frequently, we have trouble navigating the new environment we find ourselves in.  Couples can have it particularly hard – as each parent attempts to navigate the demands of parenthood for themselves, they also have to simultaneously make that adjustment as a team. As you can imagine, or you have already experienced, this new territory (plus sleep deprivation) can create the perfect storm for couple conflict.

Why is it important to minimize couple conflict?

While I think most of us can agree that fighting with our spouse is generally unpleasant (and unwanted), we may not have enormous incentive to change our behavior and curb our conflict. Conflict doesn’t just impact our marital satisfaction and mental health, it also impacts our physical wellbeing. There is research linking hostile couple conflict with heart disease, and a slower rate of healing. (Dunn, 55). If that isn’t incentive enough, we have learned that children, even our babies, react negatively to conflict.

Researchers at the University of Oregon were able to conclude that infants as young as six months old react negatively to angry argumentative voices (Dunn, 23). According to Julie and John Gottman, children three to six years old believe that they are the cause of their parents fighting, and children ages six to eight tend to pick sides between parents during conflict (Gottman).  In fact, psychologists have found that the day after a conflict, mothers are better able to compartmentalize and return to normal parenting mode with their children, whereas fathers had a much harder time returning to family life, therefore impacting their relationship with their children. They found that the conflict between parents often spilled over for the father, and resulted in friction between him and the children even days after the fight (Dunn, 24).

So, what does this mean for childhood development? Researchers from Notre Dame found that kindergarteners whose parents fought frequently were more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, and struggle with behavioral issues by the time they reached seventh grade (Dunn, 24). Babies raised in unhappy marriages have shown a plethora of developmental problems, from delayed speech and potty training to inability to self-soothe (Gottman).

It is unrealistic to assume that you and your partner will never fight. In fact, it would be a disservice to your children if you never showed them conflict at all. Think about it as an opportunity to be on your best behavior to show your children that people can be mad and still love each other. Those two things can certainly co-exist, but the important part is to model fair fighting.

 

Tips for fair fighting & Reducing Conflict:

1.     Active Listening Techniques (Dunn, 72-76)

1. Emotion Labeling – helping to name your partner’s emotions (if you see frustration, you might say – “you seem frustrated”); naming and validating these emotions can take the person from a purely emotional state to a more reflective, rational state (Dunn, 73).

2. Paraphrasing – simply restating your partner’s message in your own words; this tells them that you are listening and absorbing what they are sharing with you.

3. Offering minimal encouragement – this is offering either non-verbal nods, or verbal “mhms” and “yeahs” in order to convey to your partner that you are still tracking them while they speak.

4. Asking open-ended questions – The goal is to avoid yes or no questions but to give your partner more space to share; you can do this by saying “can you tell me more about that?” or “I didn’t understand what you meant by that, but I’d like to. Can you help me by explaining further?” (Dunn, 75).

5. Using “I” Messages – The “I” message allows you to share your feelings in a less provocative manner. Rather than saying “You are always late!” you could try “I feel so frustrated when you’re late because …”

2.     What NOT to do – Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Gottman, )

1. Criticism – insults, using phrases like “you always…” or “you never…”

2. Defensiveness – counterattacking, whining, denying responsibility

3. Stonewalling – freezing out your partner and shutting down mid conversation; 85% of stonewallers are men because they tend to become so overwhelmed by conflict that their limbic system shuts them down, unable to take in new information (and leaves their partner in the lurch.)

4. Contempt – cynicism, attacking your partner’s character, eye-rolling, mocking, and sarcasm(!)

 

3.     Take a time out

Sometimes, conflicts can just become too overwhelming and out of control. If you are “deadlocked” – take a break. Gottman found that it takes approximately 30 minutes for the chemicals released during a conflict to exit the body. After this time, come back together and try discussing the topic with some of the included tools (Gottman).

 

4.     If all else fails: here is a helpful script (courtesy of Julie & John Gottman and Jancee Dunn)

[Share hidden soft emotion, like hurt/sad/betrayed/isolated] when [describe what happened without blame]. Then, [State your need clearly]. [admit your role in the conflict] and [accept influence]. Finally, [repair.]

For example -

[share soft emotion] I felt hurt when [what happened without blame] our childcare plans fell through last minute and I was left to figure it out by myself since you were out of town. [ask for what you need] I need you to help me set up childcare and backup options so that the burden isn’t entirely on me. [admit your role] I was already stressed when this happened, so I totally acknowledge that I lost my cool with you. [accept influence] I trust your ability to help choose babysitters so I would love your input. [repair] I’m sorry I lost my temper when we discussed this before and I’m hopeful we can get through this together.

Sources & Resources:

Dunn, Jancee. How not to hate your husband after kids. Little, Brown and Company, 2018

Gottman, John M., and Julie Schwartz. Gottman. And Baby Makes Three: the Six-Step for Preserving Martial Intimacy and Rekindling Romance after Baby Arrives. Three Rivers Press, 2007.

Gottman, John M. and Silver, Nan. The seven principles for making marriage work. Cassell Illustrated, 2018.

Transition to Parenthood Series

By Sasha Taskier, AMFT

By Sasha Taskier, AMFT

PART II: Becoming a Mother

We are all taught to believe that pregnancy & motherhood are magnificent times in a woman’s life and that we, as women, intuitively transition into parenthood. What we aren’t taught is that often this transition also comes with shock, disappointment and fear. One of the reasons I wanted to write this blog series is to shed light on certain parts of this transition that may not be discussed as easily or openly in our communities and amongst our friends. In this post, I will be exploring some of the stories and myths around becoming a mother.

I recently listened to an interview with Dr. Catherine Birndorf, MD – a psychiatrist and obstetric gynecologist, who specializes in perinatal mood disorders, working almost exclusively with pregnant and postpartum women. She referred to the period of becoming a mother as “maitrescence.” Similar to adolescence, which we widely acknowledge to be a time of intense struggle and transition, maitrescence is another highly destabilizing time in a woman’s life, yet it often doesn’t get the same attention or acknowledgment.

Becoming a parent is a massive identity shift; once it happens, it is forever. You may have months and years to think about it and prepare, but the transition is instant; one moment your baby is safe and secure inside of you and the next, he or she is out in the world, needing your nourishment, warmth, and safety. You are responsible for a tiny little life and it is terrifying and wonderful all at the same time.

Many of the struggles Dr. Birndorf sees in her work are about the expectations women have about motherhood, and the disappointment and confusion that sometimes sets in when those expectations do not meet reality. Here are some of the thoughts I’ve heard and had on the difficulties of becoming a mother:

  • There is a narrative that I heard constantly when I was pregnant. That is, the moment you see your baby, you will be instantly attached and in love. Yes, many women do feel instant love and connection to their baby, but for others it takes more time to bond and experience feelings of love. It can be embarrassing, or even shameful to admit that your experience is outside this “norm.” More often than not, we keep these ‘shameful’ feelings a secret and let them ruminate.                                                       
  • You may need to mourn the loss of your freedom. Often we cannot even conceptualize the immense sacrifice that motherhood entails until we are in the throws of it all. Learning to give up your solo time, to no longer be able to run out of the house for an errand or walk the dog without a plan in place, or to have an impromptu date night with your partner – these are all difficult adjustments.                                                                                                                                                                        
  • Productivity is a trap and it is not serving you. Many of us measure the success of our days based on how productive we were. Give yourself permission to step off that productivity treadmill during this transition – because feeding a newborn (every two hours!), feeding yourself, and trying to sleep somewhere in between, is a full day. This is not the time for more work (or to worry about checking things off a to-do list, no matter how much your internal overachiever wants you to!) One helpful tactic I like to fall back on is to ask myself, what would I say to my best friend if she were sharing these feelings with me?                        
  • Your body has just gone through a major trauma and depending on your delivery, you may be in a huge amount of pain, and unable to care for your baby the way you hoped you would in the first weeks. Treat your body like you are treating your newborn – with care, concern, love and patience. Again, what would I say to my best friend if she were in this position? Can we work to show the grace and love we show to others, to ourselves?                                                                                                   
  • You are no longer the center of attention – for the doctors or your partner. For nine months you are under the care of a doctor every month (and eventually every week); you have a treasured spot in our society as a pregnant woman and often you are doted on, cared for and pampered like you have never been before (totally deserved by the way, you are growing a human life.) But, often all of that love and attention (from doctor, from partner, from the world) is transferred over to baby, and you may be left wondering where all the attention went. (Women are often not required to see your doctor until six weeks after your delivery, while newborns see his or her pediatrician 3-4 times in six weeks.)

This is such a hard thing to acknowledge, and it might feel embarrassing or inappropriate to say that you need some extra love and attention when there is a little baby in the picture. Honor those needs and communicate what you are feeling to both your partner and your doctors.

  • Becoming a mother can elicit questions that might feel overwhelming; Am I ready to be a mother? Who do I want to be as a mother? What do I want my child to experience in their childhood? But also, how was I mothered? Are there pieces of that story that are upsetting or triggering? Setting time aside to truly reflect on these questions can be daunting, but the reward is just as much yours as it is your baby’s.

If all of these weren’t enough, you may be experiencing a shift in your hormones, sleep deprivation, depression and anxiety symptoms all while you are caring for a newborn. See my post about Postpartum Depression (& Perinatal Mood Disorders) in Part 1 of The Transition to Parenthood series.

Additional resources & books:

More about Dr. Catherine Birndorf, MD and her most recent projects: https://www.themotherhoodcenter.com/         

Postpartum Support & Information

Nurture by Erica Chidi Cohen

Bringing up Bébé, by Pamela Druckerman

Great with Child by Beth Ann Fennelly

Art of Waiting, by Belle Boggs

SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

NorthShore MOMS Line
1-866-364-MOMS (866-364-6667)
The NorthShore MOMS Line is a free, confidential, 24/7 hotline staffed by licensed counselors who can help you find the information, support and resources you need to feel better. You don’t have to be in crisis to call.

Introducing: The Transition to Parenthood Series

By Sasha Taskier, AMFT

By Sasha Taskier, AMFT

As some of you may know, I had my first child at the beginning of this year. Welcoming this addition to my family has been so special, incredibly emotional and, at times, completely overwhelming. I am so grateful for the many Mamas who have shared their stories both personally (and in writing,) helping to bring the variance of experiences into the open.

A theme that continues to surface is the importance of being aware and informed of the potential challenges, risks and changes that may arise during this major transition. This way, if /when something comes up, you can identify what is happening and give that experience a ‘name.’ Once it is named, you can externalize your symptoms; step outside of the feeling momentarily and recalibrate your response. Most importantly, you can know you are not the only person with these thoughts and feelings.

My hope is that through this series, more mothers and fathers can be empowered to seek solidarity in their experiences, better identify any symptoms they may have or see in their partners’ and open a dialogue for parents to explore the gifts, challenges and surprises of the transition to parenthood.

Part 1: Postpartum Depression

As a therapist, one of the biggest risks that I am mindful of is postpartum depression. It is likely you have heard of PPD and how scary it can be, or perhaps you know someone who has experienced it; for those who haven’t, postpartum depression is a mood disorder that can affect women after childbirth.

“Mothers with postpartum depression experience feelings of extreme sadness, anxiety, and exhaustion. After childbirth, the levels of hormones in a woman’s body quickly drop. This leads to chemical changes in her brain that may trigger mood swings. In addition, many mothers are unable to get the rest they need to fully recover from giving birth. Constant sleep deprivation can lead to physical discomfort and exhaustion, which can contribute to the symptoms of postpartum depression.” - National Institute of Mental Health

While I am able to identify the symptoms of PPD and help my clients navigate and treat their own experiences, this does not mean I am in any way immune from the experience itself.  I found myself feeling all sorts of emotions in the weeks after my daughter was born. I was sleep deprived, my hormones felt like they were on a rollercoaster and I was overwhelmed by the demands of a newborn baby. I could cry at the drop of a hat, and found myself snapping at my partner (who was also going through his own transition!) After a few weeks, getting outside, exercising, getting support from other mamas in my community, and allowing time for my hormones to normalize I began to feel more like myself. Knowing that all of these symptoms are completely normal and even to be expected, made them much easier to weather (both for myself and my partner.)

While many of my symptoms dissipated after a few weeks, that is not always the case and it is so important to recognize this risk;

“While many women experience some mild mood changes during or after the birth of a child, 15 to 20% of women experience more significant symptoms of depression or anxiety…Women of every culture, age, income level and race can develop perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Symptoms can appear any time during pregnancy and the first 12 months after childbirth.” – http://www.postpartum/net

Here are some helpful questions to ask if you feel that you or a loved one may be experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety:

·       Are you feeling sad or depressed?

·       Do you feel more irritable or angry with those around you?

·       Are you having difficulty bonding with your baby?

·       Do you feel anxious or panicky?

·       Are you having problems with eating or sleeping?

·       Are you having upsetting thoughts that you can’t get out of your mind?

·       Do you feel as if you are “out of control” or “going crazy”?

·       Do you feel like you never should have become a mother?

·       Are you worried that you might hurt your baby or yourself?

(Source: http://www.postpartum.net/)

If you answered yes to one (or a few, or all) of these questions - please know, you are not alone in these feelings and with informed care, you can prevent a worsening of these symptoms and can fully recover. There is no need to continue suffering. Please see below for additional resources and emergency support if necessary.

Post Partum Depression (PPD) is one of many experiences that can arise from the transition to parenthood. Other areas to consider are the couples’ transition to parenthood including changes in arousal and desire, the new division of labor at home, financial responsibility and continuing to find ways to practice self care as parents. I will address these and many other topics in my new Transition to Parenthood series. Stay tuned!

Additional Resources & Supports:

Http://www.postpartum.net

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/postpartum-depression-facts/index.shtml

https://www.babycenter.com/0_postpartum-depression_227.bc

SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

NorthShore MOMS Line
1-866-364-MOMS (866-364-6667)
The NorthShore MOMS Line is a free, confidential, 24/7 hotline staffed by licensed counselors who can help you find the information, support and resources you need to feel better. You don’t have to be in crisis to call.