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New mom: Can you "build" a support system?

QUESTION: Until I had my baby a month ago my life revolved around work. Now that I'm a stay-at-home mom all that is gone. I don't see my friends anymore and when we talk we don't seem to have the same things in common. I know I can't depend on my partner to fill all my needs -- and I am very needy right now. How can I begin building a new support system?

ANSWER: Indeed, motherhood is one of the most underestimated transitions in our culture. Postpartum depression occurs in part due to the fact that we fail to support mothers through this family life passage. The first year of new motherhood can be lonely, especially if we do not know many other parents. Becoming a mother is one thing that women say defines differences between themselves and other women, more than any other life experience. While there will be some friendships you keep, others may fade, or go major changes.

Organizing your life around a child means that you must let go of your old life, and sometimes the friendships you shared when you were single no longer fit into your new life style. While there is much joy in your relationship to your new baby, there is also much loss!

You are right to recognize that you are "needy" and that your husband cannot fill all of your needs. Still, it is his job to nurture you by talking with you about your feelings and helping you organize your life together so that you can pursue and develop new friendships and keep the old ones that remain vital. You are in this together, after all!

Consider the following suggestions to help build your support network:

Join a new mothers support group
Many women find this to be the one most important activity that they did for themselves as new mothers. Listening to the changes other women are experiencing and the questions and struggles of parenthood not only helps you feel less alone, it creates opportunities for friendships based upon similar needs and interests.

Some of the deepest bonds you will make may come from forging connections during this life transition. One of my clients still meets monthly for dinner with her "new mothers" group. Their children are in junior high school!

Engage in activities that bring you in contact with other young families
Look in your community newspaper for activities such as baby fairs, or parenting conferences that are offered in your area. Attend community events that bring you in contact with other young families who will be resources for you as your child grows. Joining the YMCA for example, may offer opportunities for swim lessons for babies. LaLeche league, if you are a breast-feeding mother can also bring you in contact with other mothers in your community, as can a baby-sitting co-operative, where you exchange baby-sitting time with other parents.

Balance your own needs with motherhood
Do not forget your separate needs as a woman during this period. You are a developing person who is adding motherhood to your experience. Read my article "When Women Become Mothers" for suggestions women give on maintaining their sense of personal development when they become mothers. Although there are activities and interests you will cut back on, in this first year of motherhood, do not assume that you will have to give them up!

Maintaining your own interests, albeit at a reduced level revitalizes you and keeps you in touch with people that share your other interests. Whether it be ceramics, jogging or a new cooking class, why not save some time for pursuing your own interests?

Do expect your husband to build community, too!
Organizing your life around a new baby (following a time when your life was structured with work goals and adult activities) means that you are probably experiencing more changes than your husband. His daytime hours and friendship connections still revolve around work. He will need to empathize with the ways this transition is different for you than for him. But he should not stop there!

Expect your spouse to be involved in primary decision-making about caring for your child, even if he is not the one to do it. For example, he should have an opinion about what pediatrician your child will see, rather than leave you alone with the decision. Primary caretaking activities like changing diapers and calming a fussy baby, should also be activities he does, even if you are usually the one doing them because you are staying home. It is also your husband's job to reach out to other fathers in the community. New fathers groups are becoming more common, and can bring him in touch with other dads outside of the work setting. Dads, too, can help build their family's support network!

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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