Sydney McCall Patel
3 Ways to Increase Job Satisfaction for New Moms
Updated: Feb 17
POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION AND LEARNING TO LIKE PARENTING
by Sydney McCall Patel, Marriage and Family Therapist, Marin County, California
A reflection on the early years of motherhood —
I need a moment to be still to see what’s inside. The current pushes and pulls and I cannot find my stroke. I’m lost, unable to find my own voice to soothe. Submerged in these waters I cannot find home. Adrift, overwhelmed, afraid. Motherhood must not be for me.
Therapy can provide stillness in order to see our reflection in these waters. It teaches us to cultivate a kinder relationship with ourselves as we uncover who we are and what we need. When we discover how to listen to what we deeply require, then from that place of being cared for we learn to care for our children.
One thing moms sometimes bring to my Postpartum Depression (PPD) support group and therapy practice is the confession “I don’t even really like babies.”
Yes! It’s always exciting to get some courageous truth. But really what they mean is — I don’t like my job. As a mom. Alone. Sleep deprived. And trying to live up to an unrealistic standard while not getting my needs met.
So, if it applies, those are the three issues I like to address with them first.
Sleep deprivation. Often, primarily, and what I look for immediately as a psychotherapist, is if the mother is severely sleep deprived. And as all of us know who’ve ever experienced that particular torture, it’s not just babies we dislike. It’s pretty much impossible to do this life on a severe sleep deficit. There’s a reason why it literally is a torture. Nothing is more mentally and emotionally disruptive.
We have different responses to sleep deprivation. Some people are profoundly affected by the lack of sleep, have disturbed thoughts and sometimes dangerous actions. My number one priority is to convince postpartum depressed and anxious moms (with babies older than a month — who are able to take the bottle) to muster whatever support they can to get FIVE hours of consecutive, unbroken sleep.
Sounds like an easy goal to shoot for, right? It’s actually very rare for parents to achieve it, and without guidance and support, it can become a chronic source of suffering. Five can be a miracle.
It’s crucial women suffering from PPD arrange, ask for and even demand support to get their five hour sleep on a fairly regular basis.
As a postpartum specialist, I was armed with this knowledge when my son was born. So after a month of 1.5–2 hour chunks of sleep we decided we could spare the money to treat ourselves and our baby to a night doula once a week. You can get that same help with a bottle feeding partner, family member or friend. It was just enough to stay on top of the ball.
It’s a prioritization we kept making and still do. It hurts to have to spend money for help, but it feels like there’s no better time for it than now, in these precious formative years — formative for us as well.
Isolation. Another thing contributing to the difficulty of appreciating this job is isolation. For sufferers of PPD the home can be a particularly dark place. It can seem as though it is swallowing us whole.
I am fortunate enough to be in a position where my partner and I share care. Yet even on the days when I am on I can feel the immediate feelings of isolation. It seems as though I will implode with frustration if I don’t make it out of the house. This experience totally zaps my vitality. To prevent going to such a dreadful energetic place when I’m with my baby I’ve had to become enterprising.
So I have my recipe. When I’m with my son I always try to visit someone. If no one is available then I make sure to get outside in nature. I get a latte and ask for extra foam for the baby.
We listen to music at our favorite outdoor restaurant and dance in our seats as we eat chicken tacos. He became such a regular there they gave him a free onesie that says the restaurant’s name on it.
I push his stroller through fancy neighborhoods and we look into houses I’ll never buy. We share giant muffins where the berries stain his face and most of the muffin crumbles into his neck and the folds of his clothes.
We toss a ball in the town square and strangers giggle at his intensity and sometimes even join us. Suddenly we are no longer alone.
Admittedly this part is a lot more challenging if you have several kids, but it still holds true. So, if you have the space to do it, try to find your recipe. Whatever you do, get out of the house if it’s driving you crazy. Figure out what your recipe is if you don’t already know it. The gift of recipes is they bolster us so we can feel our own support.
False standards. These can be numerous — like loving our babies instantly or being naturally good at mothering. But one I often encounter with my clients is family time, the idea we should all be together when we can be together. For those who have partners it’s a totally understandable desire to want to be with the whole family, but usually there’s a should in there too. And it’s a pernicious one because the partner who works is often refreshed by their work day and coming home is a shift in environment and treat for them, whereas the one who’s been home all day now is expected to — stay at home some more.
I encourage my clients to find creative ways to get “you” time and be honest and clear with their partners about the need for support. Often it’s hard for working partners to understand the particular kind of suffering that 5 day, 6 day, 7 day a week child care brings. Share care, drop-in care in the area, partners/family/friends/neighbors and babysitters can all potentially provide some relief.
As parenting is a job that means you have the right to have it treated like a job. It deserves respect, support and time off. It’s important you and your partner get on the same page around this so there’s an understanding of what allows the job to be rewarding and sustainable.
There are of course many other contributing factors to PPD, but the ones I’ve talked about are skills we can develop to improve our satisfaction as parents. In a society that promotes achievement as pulling oneself up by one’s own bootstraps it can be extra challenging to find the strength, skill and wisdom to lean on others. However, if we step back we can see relying on others has long been what we’ve done, it’s in our bones.
When our natural village is absent we must work even more creatively to have our needs met so our families can thrive.