Dear Online Counselor
I’m not sure how to start this. But it seems easier to talk to a stranger right now. I’ll just jump right in? I haven’t been able to sleep for what feels like days, maybe weeks. I’m tired but when I go to bed I toss and turn then I might fall asleep, maybe for a few hours and then I’m up again. Look I’ve lost my train of thought, what was I saying? I’m getting worried now because I might not be able to do my job soon if this keeps up.
You have a six-month-old baby, no wonder you’re not getting much sleep. Many mothers are totally exhausted after the first six months. All our fears and worries will come home to roost when we’re home with Baby. It helps to talk about them with others because it balances out those crazy thoughts which just make it harder to relax and sleep. My son was already one when I found out that kissing him wouldn’t spread killer germs to him because his immune system was receiving a boost for at least 8 months from the breast milk! I’m not sure if I wouldn’t still have waged germ warfare like I did but I’d have had one less crazy fear/worry.
New Mom/NM: Sorry I had to stop for a bit. My six-month-old was fussing so I went to see what was wrong. Of course, Daddy’s nearby but he won’t hear a thing. It’s just me, with the diaper changes, the feedings, laundry, cooking and a job in the morning! Okay, I said I wouldn’t lay all this on you like that and I’ve already started.
OC: You’re not “laying anything on” me. This is what I am here for. What you’re experiencing is very normal for a first-time mother. It is a ton of work raising a baby, and very, very tiring. It also sounds like you are feeling drained by having to do so much of the childcare yourself, and you sound frustrated that the baby’s father isn’t doing more. Having a first baby is a very big adjustment for any couple. It causes stress for both parents separately and also for them as a couple.
Have you talked to your baby’s father about wishing he would help more with the baby? Does he know how you are feeling emotionally and physically? He may seem clueless because many times first-time dads feel useless and in the way because they don’t see how to be useful…they don’t breast-feed, they’re scared they’ll be too rough with such a little one…a bunch of insecurities like new moms. It’s okay to ask /tell him what specific things he could do to make things easier for you and help you feel less exhausted.
NM: My eyes have begun to feel heavy. Okay, so where was I? Oh yeah. Can’t sleep. Who can I talk to about this? Is there something you can recommend that I can take while breastfeeding a six-month-old?
OC: Perhaps it would be helpful to speak with your OBGYN doctor who might be able to recommend something to help you relax and sleep? Or ask Baby Daddy to run a bubble bath for you and hand Junior over in exchange for some self-soothing time. Just getting a break for a while may help the brain quieten down. We need sleep to function well or we lose our concentration, we forget things…we begin to feel like we’re in a fog. Then we can’t be at our best at home or at work.
NM: And I hate that! Going to work and leaving my baby every day. Do you have children? At the risk of offending all men, I think men have it easy with the fathering thing. And I hope you’re not one of those women who’s going to sing the praises of motherhood like it’s a walk in the park.
OC: [Laughing] Not at all! I think being a mother, especially a working one, even with all of its satisfaction can also be very challenging and stressful, especially during the first year. Is there any flexibility with your or daddy’s work hours or any part of the job you/he could do from home?
NM: I feel really sleepy now but I’m almost scared to go to bed.
OC: Why do you say that you are scared to go to bed? I remember feeling afraid that I wouldn’t hear my son if he cried and that something would happen to him. You’re sleepless because what if Baby needs you and you’re so tired, sleeping so deeply that you don’t hear him? My son was one and a half when a friend told me I needn’t worry….that we moms have a built-in radar to pick up the cry of our baby even with hundreds of crying babies and millions of other sounds around. Just think how much sleep I could’ve gotten if I’d know that!
NM: The only time I feel less pressure is when I cry…yeah and that’s for another conversation, I could fill a bucket!
OC: Yes I understand where the pressure can come from: on our own after everyone had happily come around the first few months; each day bringing a new fear, uncovering new insecurity. What I knew to be me, what my body shape was, how I handled every day, how I related to those around me was suddenly so different; morphing into someone I didn’t recognize. Steadily growing to resent Baby Daddy who could escape into his manhood and out to the street while I was trapped at home in my mommy role. My thoughts weighed me down, the physical exhaustion made my arms and legs work slowly; not tasting my food while eating in shifts. When someone spoke to me, I was sure I responded but sometimes only the barest words came out, the rest forming in my head but not on my tongue. I smiled or thought I did but it was a struggle to lift the sides of my mouth. Feeling angry all the time but not recognizing the emotion. I did everything I was expected to do, throwing baby-related social gatherings, doing housework, job work but I wasn’t there. Would the real person please stand up? I truly understand.
NM: Thank you. It means a lot to know that someone else has felt like this. Well, I’m going to check on the baby, dishes are washed, formula ready, work clothes ready, laundry folded.
OC: I’m glad you reached out. I think you’ve raised a number of important issues here like feeling isolated; having crazy thoughts that come from insecurities and lack of sleep; suddenly feeling like you’ve lost your identity; separation anxiety from going back to work; feeling unsupported but not thinking to ask for help….all rolled into hormone charged emotions! You’ve taken a very important first step in acknowledging you need some help right now, and this is a sign of strength!
How could the people in your life like family members, friends, co-workers, or neighbors help you now? Do you know anyone else with a baby who you could share tasks and stories with? Sometimes groups or drop-in centers for mothers and babies in your community can be a great source of support for first-time mothers.
Let’s arrange a time for our next chat…I’d like to hear if any of my suggestions were helpful.
I’m here for you….and there’s a whole world of moms there for you too.
NM: G’night. Thanks for listening. I’m hearing that I don’t have to do it all on my own!
Sallye Forth is a mom working outside of the home, a psychotherapist and friend. She knows firsthand that poor sleep and nutrition, physical fatigue and pain combined with social isolation may be the first steps to Post-Partum Depression. Major depression even suicidality, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia may be the end result. Help is out there for you; please ask.