As submitted for publication in the Recorder Community Newspapers, August 10, 2006

August is a great month to soak in the sun, eat ice cream, and take a refreshing dip in a pool. But did you know that it is also the most popular month to have a baby? Last August 370,000 babies were born. It makes you wonder what will happen to the birth rate when global warming finally thaws the December chill.

As wonderful and awe-inspiring as having a newborn can be, our shining image of the experience sometimes blinds us to the more mundane and even darker aspects of it. So, we sometimes struggle with the reality.

If you are a new mother (or soon to be one), the best way to prevent this from happening is to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally. You can do this, in part, by recognizing the myths of motherhood and replacing them with the facts.

Myth #1: When a mother first sees her new baby, she is overcome with maternal love and immediately bonds with her baby.

Fact: A mother’s first response to her baby can be deeply affected by the physical experience of giving birth, concerns about her own or her baby’s health, and many other factors. Approximately forty percent of mothers feel no more than neutral to their babies. Also, new mothers are often as, or more, aware of relief than love. They are relieved that their ordeal is over and their baby is normal. This reaction commonly lasts up to three days.

Myth #2: Having a baby is a purely positive experience that leaves women in a sort of euphorically loving state. It is a natural part of the life cycle, so there’s no reason to be particularly stressed over it.

Fact: Having a baby changes everything! Forever! With children comes a fundamental change in how a woman sees herself as a woman and how she sees her primary relationship with her partner or spouse. Many women are also adjusting to defining themselves as mothers, rather than as working women. And, these concerns are in addition to changing hormones and fatigue. Scary, isn’t it?

That’s why emotional distress so often accompanies having a baby. Women can experience a range of unexpected and difficult emotions, sometimes including profound sadness, anger, and anxiety. If you are overwhelmed by this new reality, try to remember that parenting is rewarded with plenty of beautiful moments.

However, social support and attempts at maintaining a positive perspective are sometimes not enough. About one in every eight new mothers experience postpartum depression. Some symptoms of this depression are difficulty or intense anxiety in caring for your baby or carrying out other normal daily functions, feeling hopeless, lacking an interest in caring for your baby, and having strong impulses to harm your baby or yourself. Women who experience such symptom should seek professional help. To find resources and more information about postpartum depression, you can go to or call 800-328-3838 (postpartum hotline).

Myth #3: Once women give birth, their maternal instinct will tell them how to care for their infants. In addition, mothering just happens. It does not require any special actions or any special attention.

Fact: Again, mothering does not equal being loving. Although it certainly includes loving your child, there is a lot more that goes into the job. Mothering is a skill, not an innate ability. Women, as well as men, need to learn to care for children.

Knowing how and when to feed an infant, changing diapers, reading the meaning of cries, quieting a baby—they are all examples of jobs none of us are born knowing how to do. Emotionally supportive teachers, relatives, and friends can be extremely helpful in guiding new parents. Mothers can do well following their instincts within the context of such a supportive environment.

It’s easy, from the outside, to think that mothers have it easy. What do they really have to do all day? Even mothers sometimes ask themselves these questions. But, the job is deceiving. In reality, it is tiring (no sleep), time consuming (infants need constant attention), and frustrating (what do you do when he just won’t stop crying?!).

And, while I have been focusing on mothers, fathers don’t have it easy either. We all know they need to support the mothers, right? Or, are they supposed to be an equal parenting partner? Whichever way a father sees it, he is going to need to work with the mother, which is often difficult to do. She is struggling with her role, so she can be too difficult to read. A father might question: Am I supposed to help out now? Or, let her do it? And, even if he wants to help, he might feel inadequate. He very well might be inexperienced, untrained, and unsupported in learning how to care for his new baby.

With all of these struggles, having a family has its wonderful side. Gazing into your newborn’s eyes is no less than a miracle. But, this miracle must be cared for and, as we all know, it does not come with a manual. So, remember that starting a family is a life-changing task that is as simple as loving; yet as daunting as caring for a miracle. But keep in mind neither lasts forever. To repeat a most fitting quote about raising children (I just wish I could share with you where I heard it), “The days are long and the years are short.” Cherish it all.

The Recorder Newspapers has over 250,000 readers and publishes weekly editions in 19 newspapers, which cover Morris, Somerset, Essex and Hunterdon counties of New Jersey.

Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
Basking Ridge, NJ