Finding your own way as a mother
means that you must take your needs as well as your baby's into
account. Lyn DelliQuadri, M.S.W., and Kati Breckenridge, Ph.D.,
in their book The New Mother Care recommend that women
develop an attitude of self-care in the early stages of mothering.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to attend to the needs of
your child if you do not take care of your own. Good mothering
is not perfect mothering. Achieving a balance of the needs of
all family members is the key to good-enough mothering, a concept
developed by D.W. Winnicott- a British psychoanalyst and pediatrician
who studied the influence of mothering on child development. DelliQuadri
and Breckenridge sum up Winnicott's philosophy:
The concept of good-enough mothering
is a practical replacement for the idealized standards of the
mother myths and the contradictory theories of the experimental
psychologists, because it tells us that the activities of mothering
can be performed in many different ways and still provide basic,
"good enough" care.
Both the nurturing and the wounds
you received as a child have prepared you for the challenges of
raising your child in your own way. During pregnancy and after,
you will be discovering and defining your own approach to mothering.
There is no magic formula. The most you can achieve is a balance
between your needs and the needs of your child and other family
members. Rest assured that your child does not expect you to be
perfect. Your child shares in your growth and fulfillment. As
you consider what is best for your child, keep yourself in mind.
Your child will benefit from your happiness in life.
Mothers Have Needs, Too
Many pregnant women fear they will
lose themselves in motherhood. Although it is true that the demands
on you will be great, you can look forward to developing your
own interests, and you can pursue goals you have set for yourself.
Motherhood can strengthen your ability to cope and provide you
with a new appreciation of life. Your needs as a person are important
to the health and development of the family. You must take your
needs seriously. Integrating your needs with your baby's and finding
a balance that works is fundamental to family happiness. The following
exercise will help you set priorities as you enter motherhood.
Write down five activities, pursuits,
or interests that are important for you to maintain in the year
following childbirth. Promise yourself that you will look at this
list again in the month after your baby is born. This way your
can remind yourself of the personal interests you want to integrate
Becoming a mother does not need to
rob you of your selfhood. Stay away from martyrdom. Martyrs never
make good mothers; what is gained in giving is taken away in guilt.
The Changing Family
The birth of a baby cannot be viewed
as an isolated event; it is a family event. Whether a baby is
greeted with love, joy, fear, or trepidation depends both on circumstances
immediately surrounding the birth and on much that has come before.
Social scientists say the American
family is in a state of crisis. Changing cultural roles for women
and the challenges of blended and single-parent families add to
the adjustments already needed when new life is brought forth.
Financial and caretaking responsibilities are now shared more
equally between the sexes. This change has given women new freedom,
but it has also produced conflicts for those pulled between the
demands of family and career.
None of these situations may affect
you personally, but changes in society at large influence the
way you experience motherhood. When the very definition of family
is fluid, it is natural that women feel insecure. Today many women
delay motherhood until their careers and relationships are firmly
in place. The postponement creates another set of challenges:
Established lifestyles must shift as women sort through their
need to work and their desire to stay home with their infants.
Is it any wonder that women giving birth today need special support?
First-time Mothers Over Thirty-five
Since 1982 there has been a dramatic
increase in the number of women having first babies at age thirty-five
and later. Baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964 are
entering their later childbearing years, and many of them have
delayed motherhood. According to John Hansen, M.D., who reviewed
the literature on maternal age and pregnancy outcome, these two
factors were expected to increase the over-thirty-five age group's
proportion of total births by 72 percent between 1982 and the
turn of the century.
Statistics on pregnancy and labor
outcome for first-time mothers older than thirty-five are varied
and inconclusive. These women have a higher rate of complication
during labor, including a greater number of Cesarean sections,
but the research does not differentiate those who were healthy
during pregnancy from those with medical problems, such as diabetes
and toxemia. Most authorities agree that if you are generally
healthy, exercise regularly, and maintain a healthy diet, your
chances of having a normal labor should not be any different at
thirty-five than at twenty-five. Statistics, however, do not address
the special emotional concerns and stresses that affect the older
These women bring a different perspective
to parenthood. By the time they reach their mid-thirties, work
and career have usually been paramount in their lives. Even when
career goals are not a major concern, middle age is a very different
time in the life cycle to give birth. Older women may feel greater
loss of their unfettered lifestyle than do younger women. Financial
arrangements in the marriage may shift dramatically if a woman
who previously held a high-paying position is now staying home
with her new baby. These changes may affect a woman's self-esteem
and make for a more difficult adjustment to motherhood.
Finally, women having first babies
later in life often waited because they had fearful expectations
of motherhood. This was true for Cynthia, the woman who had cared
for her seven younger siblings. Because of her own lost childhood,
she was not ready to become a mother until she was thirty-six.
Her reasons for waiting included unexpressed fears that she needed
to understand before she became a mother. This is a different
perspective from a twenty-four-year-old who enjoyed the freedom
of childhood and is now ready to take on the adult responsibilities
of parenthood. Not all women who wait until later in life to give
birth are fearful, however it is possible that those who delay
are in general more ambivalent. The threats of Down's syndrome
and other genetic defects that increase with maternal age also
contribute to their anxiety. Medical researchers have long overlooked
the influence of life change factors on the outcome of labor.
In the quest to understand the higher complication rates for women
over thirty-five, researchers have ignored the emotional lives
of the women they study.
If you have concerns about finances,
loss of your previous lifestyle, or the blending of family and
career, you are among a fast-growing group of women. Your concerns
are real and need to be addressed. Joining a support group and
making daily entries in your journal will help you work through
your fears. Sharing your anxieties with your partner and other
women who are experiencing similar mid-life changes can make the
difference between postpartum depression and a healthy adjustment
in your community. Plan now to join a support group for mothers
after your baby is born.
Freedom and Commitment in Motherhood
Ambivalence is a natural part of
commitment. Working through your mixed feelings about becoming
a mother is an important part of your journey. A friend once said
to me that freedom and commitment are differentiated only by a
verb; freedom is choice and commitment is to make a choice. You
have made the choice to mother. Making choices is an inevitable
part of growing up. Freedom becomes meaningless without commitment,
and the choice to mother can be a profoundly rewarding commitment.
Honor your feelings and remember that your ability to make such
an important life decision means you can create meaning in your
life. Write down your personal reasons for choosing motherhood.
Take time to consider your feelings and thoughts about this decision.
Some of these reasons will be easy
for you to write down, while other thoughts and feelings may be
difficult to express in words. You may wish to come back to this
list after you have experienced motherhood. Your decision to have
a child will become increasingly meaningful to you in the years
ahead, as you learn and grow with your baby, your child, and eventually
It is true that you often hear parents
bemoan the trials of parenthood; however, it is almost impossible
to express the pleasure and gratification that having a child
can bring. To me, the following experience presents one of those
nearly indescribable feelings. I was swinging gently in a hammock
in my backyard, my seven-month-old son snuggled sleepily to my
chest as we swayed rhythmically side to side, listening to the
birds, smelling the moist earth after a morning rain, when suddenly
our rocking movement flipped us into the air. I arched my body
instantly, maneuvering myself to land below my son rather than
on top of him as gravity would have had it. He landed safely upon
me. It was complete and instinctual love that enabled me to protect
him with my body. In the mother/child relationship I discovered
a capacity to love and defend that I had not known before. It
is satisfying to care this deeply, but it is a difficult feeling
to verbalized and share with others. Perhaps this is why it is
more common to hear complaints about parenthood than expressions
of the satisfaction that it can bring. In the days and weeks ahead,
ask other parents what in their relationship with their children
brings them pleasure and satisfaction.
If you are in your mid-thirties or
older when you have your first baby, you bring the benefit of
maturity to motherhood. Knowledge of yourself and others increases
with age. Greater life experience allows you to appreciate the
choice you have made to mother. You may have much more to give
because you have waited. Love and bonding will deepen your commitment.
Experience will be your teacher. Thinking about your reasons for
becoming a mother may help you feel deeper, or renewed, certainty
about your decision.
Copyright 1993 by Shadow and Light
Publications. Reprinted with permission from the author and publisher.
This excerpt may not be reproduced in any manner, including electronic,
without prior written consent from the publisher.