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7 eye-opening reasons why new moms don’t share their scary thoughts

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The awesome responsibility of caring for a newborn naturally warrants a heightened sense of vigilance. Sometimes this necessary state of watchfulness can be confusing. At every turn, a new mother believes a crisis is looming. Afraid of slipping and dropping the baby, she holds them extra tightly while she goes down the stairs. Afraid of a disaster in the night, she keeps herself awake to hear the silent sounds of breathing. If she falls asleep from sheer fatigue, she dreams of causing the baby harm through her own negligence.

Here are some reasons why postpartum women don't share these scary thoughts:

1. The ambiguity factor

One reason why postpartum women don't talk about the thoughts that are having is that they are not sure what is "normal" and what may be problematic. This is due to the overlapping experiences between women with postpartum anxiety or depression and women with no such diagnosis.

For example: fatigue, loss of libido, moodiness, weepiness, changes in weight, sleep disturbance, and low energy can all be attributed to anxiety and depression, yet they are also considered to be within normal expectations for postpartum adjustment. Because moods and other internal experiences are expected to fluctuate following childbirth, women sometimes decide it is best to brave any discomfort and hope it goes away by itself.

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Unfortunately, scary thoughts are not easy to ride out. What's more, without proper assessment, a woman's worry about these thoughts can rapidly disintegrate from initial concern to panic.

2. The critical inner voice

The shame that can accompany upsetting thoughts is unbearable. What is wrong with me? How can I be thinking these things? Good mothers don't think such terrible thoughts. Often, the only explanation that makes sense to a mother who is trying to reconcile this disturbing experience is that there is something profoundly wrong with her, something is broken inside. Maybe she is close to insanity. Or maybe she is not fit to be a mother. Either option, or anything in between, is a nightmare. This nightmare stuns many women into silence. They hope that if they can just hold their breath and carry off this role-play, their awful thoughts will somehow go away. In some instances, the thoughts actually do go away. Usually, they do not.

Other women tirelessly try to push the thoughts out of their minds, but are distraught when the thoughts return in full force. Some women can express the horror of their thoughts along with the abysmal shame that accompanies them, but, for many, the actual articulation of the specific thoughts, the words they fear would somehow make the thoughts come alive, remain locked inside.

Women say they are embarrassed, ashamed, mortified, humiliated and guilty beyond description. They say they feel hideously exposed, naked, repulsive, raw, nauseous, ugly and sickened by their own thoughts. Some say they feel so appalled by the nature of their thoughts that they feel inhuman, as if only a monster could possess and admit such atrocities.

An important point here is that high level of distress indicates that the scary thoughts are ego-dystonic, or incompatible with the woman's sense of herself. Although it is never easy to experience such high levels of distress, there is considerably more concern when a woman expresses no such distress or displays no strong affect attached to this worry. Thus, a woman's agitation is often a signal that anxiety is the mechanism at work and not something more worrisome, like psychosis. Knowing this can reassure both the distressed mother and her healthcare provider.

Shame-based barriers to disclosing one's thoughts can be fueled by the critic inside one's own head. With regard to the critical inner voice, mothers report they are reluctant to reveal scary thoughts because they:

  • Fear that they are the only mother who has ever felt this way and that no one could possibly understand.
  • Believe that the thoughts they are having are an indication that something is terribly wrong.
  • Worry if they admit this, they will indeed be crazy.
  • Worry they will be locked up or institutionalized.
  • Fear that saying it out loud will make the bad thought a reality.
  • Believe that good mothers don't think these thoughts.
  • Hate themselves for having the thoughts and remain stifled by intense shame and guilt.
  • May not be comfortable talking about how they feel, in general.

3. The sentencing

Many women say they are extremely apprehensive about being labeled or diagnosed as mentally ill. Although it's true that a number of women diagnosed with postpartum anxiety or depression express relief in knowing that it is a real medical condition that is treatable, most continue to feel burdened by what others might think. Any stigma attached to motherhood presents as an oxymoron of sorts; it weighs heavily on the heart of a mother trying to do her best and impedes postpartum healing.

Common barriers related to what others might think are:

  • Worry that someone will judge them.
  • Worry that someone will label them as bad mothers.
  • Worry that someone will take their baby away.
  • Worry that their partner or family will deem them incapable of taking care of the baby.
  • Don't think a health provider wants to know or can even help or may not trust them to understand and respond appropriately.
  • Don't see mental health issues as part of their provider's job description.
  • Have concerns about confidentiality and what may happen if they reveal what they are thinking.

The bottom line here is that if mothers are not careful, this propensity to condemn their thoughts or behavior in some way shifts the authority of these thoughts in the wrong direction, thereafter empowering the thoughts even more. Women need to speak on their own behalf, trust their inclinations to reach out for support, and worry less about what misinformed friends, acquaintances or healthcare providers might think.

4. The depression factor

Women with depression think negatively. Some theorize that biological factors influence negative thinking, which can lead to depression. Others claim that pessimistic or negative thought processes can contribute to the emergence of depression. Though this question of biology versus cognitive factors in depression is up for debate, experts agree there is a significant and constant correlation between the two.

When thoughts are distorted, perceptions become darker, scarier, and magnified out of proportion. Nerves are exposed, leaving women feeling hypersensitive and thin-skinned. This feeling of over-exposure can create a sense of mistrust in the outside world; women can grow suspicious of how others might respond to knowing the "truth" about what they were thinking and feeling.

Depression is a very self-absorbing illness. It can rob women of their desire to seek appropriate care and can interfere with any effort to even try. Depressive thinking can inhibit attempts to deal appropriately with scary thoughts by distorting or exaggerating the possible outcomes of disclosing. Making a good decision on one's own behalf is stymied when everything is perceived through the lens of depressive thinking.

5. The propaganda factor

There are tons of misunderstandings and misperceptions surrounding this phenomenon of scary thoughts during motherhood. This lack of knowledge spans from woman to woman, to healthcare professionals, and to society as a whole. Postpartum women frequently find themselves at the mercy of well-meaning, but often misinformed, family and friends. Family and friends can be incredible sources of support, but they can also unwittingly sabotage a mother's recovery with false information.

In addition, dedicated health care professionals are not always correctly informed and can react in ways that cause further difficulties for a struggling mother. Generalizations that are splashed in print or other media outlets may not be pertinent to a mother who is suffering, or, they may be totally irrelevant or erroneous. Internalizing more negative information can reinforce the inherent resistance to seek help. It is best not to place too much emphasis on unsubstantiated statements and always check out the sources of information that may be potentially agitating.

6. The community factor

The stigma of mental illness is pervasive. It remains steadfast, in spite of current wisdom and widespread attempts to inform and enlighten women and healthcare providers across cultures. Although we must be alert to specific cultural expectations that can impose high standards for mothers to meet, we cannot ignore the research literature, which consistently demonstrates that communities with strong social support provide shelter and yield lower rates of postpartum depression.

This dichotomy can send mixed messages to the mother who is trying to juggle her desire to comply with expectations from all directions. The message to new mothers should be for her to prioritize her social support, regardless of the pressure she feels from either a perceived stigma or cultural mandate. In many cases, and in many cultures, women claim that, despite ongoing and abundant support, the expectation to only express positive feelings attached to the mothering experience remains high.

The tendency for women with acute distress to suffer in silence persists, reinforcing the concern that social support systems, though crucial to postpartum healing, remain inadequate to some extent. Perhaps the greatest menace is the inability to accept the presence of negative thoughts and feelings during this time. Only when this takes place can we expect postpartum women to speak from their heart and break through their reluctance to disclose.

7. The 'what if' factor

The best way to summarize the anxiety-drenched roadblocks to disclosure of scary thoughts is to view them in terms of "what ifs." All or any of the previous-mentioned barriers culminate to create this ultimate deterrent: What if something bad happens as a result of my disclosure?

When you are in, or expect to be in, a potentially anxiety-provoking situation, such as disclosing your scary thoughts, you might respond by focusing on imaginary dangers. This is referred to as anticipatory anxiety which is typically characterized by what-if thinking patterns.

For example:

  • What if they take my baby taken away?
  • What if they call Child Protection Services?
  • What if they think I'm a bad mother?
  • What if they don't like me?
  • What if they think I'm crazy?
  • What if they put me in a hospital?
  • What if they think I could really hurt my baby?
  • What if I really do hurt my baby?
  • What if this means I really AM crazy?
  • What if my husband leaves me?
  • What if I never get better?
  • What if I can't really trust this person?
  • What if they can't help me?
  • What if they can help me, but I am labeled for life?
  • What if my friends/neighbors find out (and think I'm crazy)?
  • What if my mom (parents, family) think I am not a good mother?
  • What if someone at my other children's school finds out, and this affects my other children?
  • What if people at work find out, and it affects my career?
  • What if letting someone know how I feel makes it more real somehow.
  • What if I will always feel and think this way?

Imagine if we put all of this anxiety to good use!

It is possible, conversely, to have a list of what-ifs with a positive spin:

  • What if I talk about what I'm thinking, and I get the help I need?
  • What if my husband (family, friend, doctor) reassures me, and I am comforted by my decision to talk about this?
  • What if by talking about this, I get relief, and I feel less guilty?
  • What if talking about it frees me up to make room for other feelings, such as joy or serenity?
  • What if I trust myself and the people around me and take a leap of faith that I will get help or reassurance?
  • What if I discover that what I am feeling and thinking is not so bizarre and that lots of other women feel this way?
  • What if it's true that the way I am feeling is a common response to motherhood?
  • What if I believe this can and will get better?

Generally speaking, it appears that postpartum women appreciate being able to talk to a sympathetic and supportive listener, allowing them to express their fears and unburden themselves. Intervention at this level rests with efforts to increase awareness of their irrational fears, while establishing a context in which women can feel safe to express what they think and feel. Once this begins, women will learn to feel more confident about the process and will be better equipped to restructure some of their thinking patterns and begin to heal.

Adapted from Dropping the Baby and Other Scary Thoughts co-authored by Karen Kleiman and Amy Wenzel, PhD. Originally posted on Psychology Today.

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By: Justine LoMonaco


From the moment my daughter was born, I felt an innate need to care for her. The more I experienced motherhood, I realized that sometimes this was simple―after all, I was hardwired to respond to her cries and quickly came to know her better than anyone else ever could―but sometimes it came with mountains of self-doubt.

This was especially true when it came to feeding. Originally, I told myself we would breastfeed―exclusively. I had built up the idea in my mind that this was the correct way of feeding my child, and that anything else was somehow cheating. Plus, I love the connection it brought us, and so many of my favorite early memories are just my baby and me (at all hours of night), as close as two people can be as I fed her from my breast.

Over time, though, something started to shift. I realized I felt trapped by my daughter's feeding schedule. I felt isolated in the fact that she needed me―only me―and that I couldn't ask for help with this monumental task even if I truly needed it. While I was still so grateful that I was able to breastfeed without much difficulty, a growing part of me began fantasizing about the freedom and shared burden that would come if we bottle fed, even just on occasion.

I was unsure what to expect the first time we tried a bottle. I worried it would upset her stomach or cause uncomfortable gas. I worried she would reject the bottle entirely, meaning the freedom I hoped for would remain out of reach. But in just a few seconds, those worries disappeared as I watched her happily feed from the bottle.

What I really didn't expect? The guilt that came as I watched her do so. Was I robbing her of that original connection we'd had with breastfeeding? Was I setting her up for confusion if and when we did go back to nursing? Was I failing at something without even realizing it?

In discussing with my friends, I've learned this guilt is an all too common thing. But I've also learned there are so many reasons why it's time to let it go.

1) I'm letting go of guilt because...I shouldn't feel guilty about sharing the connection with my baby. It's true that now I'm no longer the only one who can feed and comfort her any time of day or night. But what that really means is that now the door is open for other people who love her (my partner, grandparents, older siblings) to take part in this incredible gift. The first time I watched my husband's eyes light up as he fed our baby, I knew that I had made the right choice.

2) I'm letting go of guilt because...the right bottle will prevent any discomfort. It took us a bit of trial and error to find the right bottle that worked for my baby, but once we did, we rarely dealt with gas or discomfort―and the convenience of being able to pack along a meal for my child meant she never had to wait to eat when she was hungry. Dr. Brown's became my partner in this process, offering a wide variety of bottles and nipples designed to mimic the flow of my own milk and reduce colic and excess spitting up. When we found the right one, it changed everything.

3) I'm letting go of guilt because...I've found my joy in motherhood again. That trapped feeling that had started to overwhelm me? It's completely gone. By removing the pressure on myself to feed my baby a certain way, I realized that it was possible to keep her nourished and healthy―while also letting myself thrive.

So now, sometimes we use the bottle. Sometimes we don't. But no matter how I keep my baby fed, I know we've found the right way―guilt free.


This article is sponsored by Dr. Browns. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


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Learn + Play

Adele's albums have soothed many hearts through hard times, and now she's going through a big relationship transition of her own.

The singer is separating from her husband Simon Konecki, the father of her 6-year-old son, Angelo James.

"Adele and her partner have separated," Adele's people wrote in a statement to the Associated Press. "They are committed to raising their son together lovingly. As always they ask for privacy. There will be no further comment."

Our hearts go out to Adele. Of course, she doesn't owe anyone any further explanation or discussion of her separation, but by announcing it publicly, she is shining a light on a family dynamic that is so common but not talked about as much as it should be: Co-parenting.

Parenting with an ex is a reality for so many mothers. According to the Pew Research Center, "the likelihood of a child – even one born to two married parents – spending part of their childhood in an unmarried parent household is on the rise."

Angelo James' experience will be similar to many of his peers.

"Increases in divorce mean that more than one-in-five children born within a marriage will experience a parental breakup by age 9, as will more than half of children born within a cohabiting union," Pew notes.

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Adele and Konecki already know a thing or two about how co-parenting works, as Konecki has an older child from a previous relationship.

They can make this work because so many parents are making this work. The reality is, two parents can still be a family, and be a team for their child without being romantic partners.

Decades ago, co-parenting after a divorce wasn't the norm, and a body of research (and the experience of a generation of kids) has changed the way parents do things today. Today, divorce isn't about the end of a family. It's about the evolution of one.

Research suggests joint physical custody is linked to better outcomes for kids than divorce arrangements that don't support shared parenting and that divorced couples who have "ongoing personal and emotional involvement with their former spouse"(so, are friends, basically) are more likely to rate their co-parenting relationship positively.

Co-parenting is good for kids, and clearly, Adele and Konecki are committed to being a team for Angelo James.

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News

If you've had a baby in a hospital you know that those first few nights can be really hard. There are so many benefits for babies sharing rooms with their mamas (as opposed to being shipped off to those old-school, glassed-in nurseries) but tired mamas have a lot of conflicting messages coming at them.

You're told to bond with your baby, but not to fall asleep with them in the bed, and to let them rest in their bassinet. But when you're recovering from something that is (at best) the most physically demanding thing a person can do or (at worst) major surgery, moving your baby back and forth from bed to bassinette all night long sure doesn't sound like fun.

That's why this photo of a co-sleeping hospital bed is going viral again, four years after it was first posted by Australian parenting site Belly Belly. The photo continues to attract attention because the bed design is enviable, but is it real? And if so, why aren't more hospitals using it?

The bed is real, and it's Dutch. The photo originated from Gelderse Vallei hospital. As GoodHouskeeping reported back in 2015, the clip-on co-sleepers were introduced as a way to help mom and baby pairs who needed extended hospital stays—anything beyond one night in the maternity ward.

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Plenty of moms stateside wish we had such beds in our maternity wards, but as but Dr. Iffath Hoskins, an OB-GYN, told Yahoo Parenting in 2015, the concept wouldn't be in line with American hospitals' safe sleeping policies.

"If the mother rolls over from exhaustion, there would be the risk of smothering the baby," she told Yahoo. "The mother's arm could go into that space in her sleep and cover the baby, or she could knock a pillow to the side and it's on the baby."

Hoskins also believes that having to get in and out of bed to get to your baby in the night is good for moms who might be otherwise reluctant to move while recovering from C-sections. If you don't move, the risk of blood clots in the legs increases. "An advantage of being forced to get up for the baby is that it forces the mother to move her legs — it's a big plus. However painful it can be, it's important for new moms to move rather than remaining in their hospital beds."

So there you have it. The viral photo is real, but don't expect those beds to show up in American maternity wards any time soon.

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News

A new study has some people thinking twice about kissing their bearded partners, or maybe even letting those with beards kiss the baby—but there's a lot to unpack here.

According to Swiss researchers, bearded men are carrying around more bacteria than dogs do. A lot more. But read on before you send dad off to the bathroom with a razor and ask him to pull a Jason Momoa (yes, he's recently clean-shaven. RIP Aquaman's beard).

As the BBC reports, scientists swabbed the beards of 18 men and the necks of 30 dogs. When they compared the samples, they learned beards have a higher bacterial load than dog fur.

Dudes who love their beards are already clapping back against the way the science was reported in the media though, noting that the sample size in this study was super small and, importantly, that the scientists didn't swab any beardless men.

The study wasn't even about beards, really. The point of the study, which was published in July 2018 in the journal European Radiology, was to determine if veterinarians could borrow human MRI machines to scan dogs without posing a risk to human patients.

"Our study shows that bearded men harbour significantly higher burden of microbes and more human-pathogenic strains than dogs," the authors wrote, noting that when MRI scanners are used for both dogs and humans, they're cleaned very well after veterinary use, and actually have a "lower bacterial load compared with scanners used exclusively for humans."

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Another important point to note is that most bacteria aren't actually dangerous to humans, and some can be really good for us (that's why some scientists want us to let our kids get dirty).

This little study wasn't supposed to set off a beard panic, it was just supposed to prove that dogs and people can safely share an MRI machine. There is previous research on beards and bacteria though, that suggests they're not all bad.

Another study done in 2014 and published in the Journal of Hospital Infection looked at a much larger sample of human faces (men who work in healthcare), both bearded and clean shaven, and actually found that people who shaved their faces were carrying around more Staph bacteria than those with facial hair.

"Overall, colonization is similar in male healthcare workers with and without facial hair; however, certain bacterial species were more prevalent in workers without facial hair," the researchers wrote.

A year after that, a local news station in New Mexico did its own "study" on beards, one that wasn't super scientific but did go viral and prompted a flurry of headlines insisting beards are as dirty as toilets. That claim has been debunked.

So, before you ban bearded people from kissing the baby (or yourself) consider that we all have some bacteria on our faces. Dads should certainly wash their beards well, but they're not as dirty as a toilet.

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News

New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo is on a mission to level the playing field for young women and provide them with the tools for success. In 2017, he implemented free two- and four-year public colleges for New Yorkers, and now Cuomo is adding a budget proposal that would provide on-site childcare at community colleges.

Under the proposal, single parents participating in the program would also have access to tutoring and help when applying to four-year schools. It's the kind of idea that could be a game changer for parents in New York state.

Currently, childcare centers are subsidized for student-parents but can still cost parents $50-$60 a week; under Cuomo's budget proposal, childcare would be free. Students who are already enrolled in similar programs acknowledge that the benefits are enormous.

"As a single parent of two children going to school full time, I wouldn't be able to come to school and afford for childcare," says Michelle Trinidad, a student at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) and parent to a 4 and 5-year-old. "Thank goodness for BMCC Early Childhood Center that is very much affordable. It gives me the opportunity to advance my career and be confident that my son is in good hands. School is hard enough on its own, having reliable child care means a lot to me and my children."

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The plan is a part of Cuomo's 2019 women's justice agenda, legislation that addresses the gender wage gap, as well as economic and social justice for all New York women. According to a 2017 report from the Institute for Women's Policy Research, 11% of undergraduates, or 2.1 million students, were single mothers as of 2012, which has doubled since 2000. Additionally, that same study found that 4 in 10 women at two-year colleges say that they are likely or very likely to drop out of school due to their dependent care obligations.

"This is an exciting initiative for New York that addresses a critical need, and if implemented, will have a far-reaching impact on various aspects of society, especially for the next generation," says Ryan Lee-James, PhD an Assistant Professor at Adelphi University. "I view this initiative as both a direct and indirect pathway to address the well-documented achievement gap between children reared in poverty and those growing up with higher income families, as it provides moms, who otherwise may not have had the opportunity, to further their education and thus, afford their children more opportunities."

Additionally, many view campus childcare as a safe haven for college students. "During my 18 years working in campus childcare, I have witnessed how the student-parents can complete their courses and stay focused by having childcare on campus," says Sori Palacio, a Head Teacher at BMCC Early Childhood Center. "Parents usually express how thankful they are for having their children traveling with them to school as well as having their children nearby while they complete their degree. They concentrate in academic work without worrying about their child's wellbeing. This service helps the entire public by preparing more people to serve the community."

Parents have so many barriers when it comes to accessing higher education, but free childcare could be a game changer that benefits multiple generations.

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