1) Nothing will affect a couple as profoundly as having a newborn. It’s a time of tremendous excitement and joyfulness, but it can also be a very destabilizing time, especially if a couple doesn’t have much external support. What can parents do if they don’t have family or friends ready to help out?
“That’s a great question. Lots of couples unfortunately don’t live near family, and it can feel overwhelming as a new parent once the relatives who visit to lend an extra hand go back home again. That old adage that it takes a village to raise a child really is true, so it’s important for new parents to seek other supports close to home - new-parent support and education groups, classes for your baby where you can meet other parents, asking that mom at the park to meet up for coffee or a play date.”
2) Having a new baby can really challenge the couple relationship, too.
“That’s for sure! If you’re feeling like it’s hard to reconnect as a couple after having a baby, you are definitely in good company. As overjoyed as you might be as new parents, having a child also exposes every crack and flaw in your couple relationship. That can feel terrifying to face, especially at a time when you are so exhausted and overwhelmed by all of the caretaking. Also, moms’ bodies can take months to adjust after having a baby, making intimacy much less appealing. If you can be patient during this adjustment as you slowly find your way toward connecting as not only a couple but as co-parents - and keep a sense of humor along the way - you’ll likely find that your bond becomes even deeper as you see your love for each other reflected in this little person you welcomed into the world together. A meditation practice can be very supportive to new parents in that it gives them the opportunity to metabolize lots of what’s coming up both as a new parent and a new co-parent - and can make it less likely that your own emotional triggers will create tension and conflict in the couple relationship.”
3) Do you think the influence of social media, such as Instagram and Facebook have changed our expectations around pregnancy and birth?
“Yes, both for better and for worse. On the one hand, it’s great that parents can find so much information online and connect virtually with other parents. On the other hand, sometimes there is such a thing as too much information - conflicting opinions and guidance can make your head spin - and some using social media present images that depict their family life as nothing but joy and happiness and cute “mishaps” with kids. That tends to breed an environment of comparison, and can cause you to feel bad about your own, much messier family life. But it’s important to remember what you’re comparing yourself to isn’t even real! Parents owe it to each other not to gloss over the gritty side of daily life with kids, while of course celebrating all that’s great about it too.
4) If you’re struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety, what kinds of connection or support can help normalize and address these symptoms?
“It’s important to distinguish between the experience of sadness, anxiety, and irritability that can be present for any new parent who’s exhausted and overwhelmed, and what is truly postpartum depression. If symptoms are affecting your day-to-day functioning and / or your ability to care for your baby - and have been present for more than two weeks - it’s time to seek help. (Talk to your OB-GYN or your baby’s pediatrician, who can give you a referral.) But even if you don’t have diagnosable postpartum depression, the intensity of emotion, sometimes exacerbated by hormonal shifts, can be very challenging for a new parent - especially when you have to be “on” and available for your baby pretty much around the clock. This is where a practice of mindfulness and meditation can really help. Learning how to make room for the sensations that accompany these emotions, slowly and gradually, can go a long way toward helping you feel your best as a mom or dad - and helping you be the best parent you can be. New parents don’t have lots of time to meditate, so we created several meditations in this series that can be done with your baby.”
5) We don’t hear much about dads’ postpartum experience. What’s it like for them? Do they experience anxiety and sadness too?
“Some absolutely do. Research indicates that about 10 percent of men experience symptoms of depression after the birth of a child, which is almost twice the rate of depression in males that is usually reported. There’s some evidence to suggest that fluctuations in testosterone play a role in a man’s experience of postpartum depression. And just like with women, the way postpartum depression manifests for men is unique to the individual - some get bluesy, but others may be irritable, anxious, or foggy. Men aren’t socialized the way women are to pay attention to their emotions, so it can feel quite shocking to a man to discover so much activity in his emotional landscape. Many men who meditate describe feeling better able to handle emotional ups and downs.”
6) You have a beautiful new baby series on the Evenflow app, which focuses on cultivating attunement and attachment. What is attunement and why do we hear so much about the importance of healthy attachment with babies?
“Attunement is the ability to sense into your baby’s experience and respond to her needs. Healthy attachment refers to a balanced, loving relationship where there is room for both closeness and separation; it’s an essential cornerstone for a child’s healthy development. But there is a common misconception among moms that being a good mother means attending to all of your child’s needs perfectly all of the time. Not only is that completely impossible, but it wouldn’t be good for your child even if you could achieve it - what a shock she would receive once she went off to school and realized that isn’t how the world works! Thanks to D. W. Winnicott, a pediatrician and researcher, we know that being a “good enough” mother - one who responds accurately to her child’s needs enough but not all of the time - is actually healthiest of all.”
7) For parents with toddlers and a new baby or another one on the way, how do you bond with your newborn when you’re also chasing after your first child or managing their jealousy?
“Before you welcome your second child, you always wonder how you will love another child just as much. And then when that new baby arrives, your heart expands and somehow there is enough love for everyone. But your older child will have an adjustment period as she gets used to having to share you and be patient. As a parent of more than one, there will inevitably be times when both kids need you and one has to wait. For your older child especially, if you can recognize this as an opportunity to develop some core self-regulation skills - handling disappointment, tolerating frustration, slowing down impulsivity - you’ll have an easier time allowing your own emotions about not being able to be all things to all people. Kids learn a ton of valuable experience in the sibling relationship that will serve them well out in the world. See if you can find small windows of alone time to bond with your baby (while your older child is at school, napping or with the other parent or a caregiver), and small windows of alone time to reinforce the bond you already have with your older child, too (while the baby is napping or with the other parent or a caregiver).”