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Postpartum Blues Makes Mom Resent
Dad's Closeness to Baby

QUESTION: My husband and I had our first child 4 months ago. Our baby smiles at him and talks to him more than she does me. She seems so much more responsive to him. I feel she is too used to me, being home all day with her, and when daddy comes home, he's the star.

I feel alone a lot since he works and we have been moving around a lot. We have moved 3 times in the last year. I have tried to talk about this to him, but he says my baby loves me and so does he and I shouldn't worry so much. He says I need confidence. I agree. But I also need empathy, understanding, and sensitivity. I feel that my baby doesn't like me; and, I feel my husband doesn't understand me.

I'm sure other mothers out there feel this way. I need perspective. Do you have suggestions for how to work my way out of this negative rut?

ANSWER: Many women experience postpartum depression in the year following their baby's birth. Becoming a mother is one of the most profound but least recognized of any life transition. This accounts for difficulties in postpartum adjustment, as women are not supported through this period of adjustment. You are in the midst of the postpartum period and may be experiencing "postpartum blues" due to the changes in identity that motherhood brings. This enormous change coupled with our society's general devaluation of motherhood could be contributing to lowered self esteem and depression. Moving and having a child precipitate major life stress. No wonder you may feeling unconfident in yourself and lonely to boot!

But you are right to want to get out of the negative rut of seeing your husband as the "star" and your baby as not liking you. Your intent to want to enjoy rather than feel jealous of your daughter's relationship with her father is a credit to your ability to parent, which often includes an ability to see the forest even when you are amongst the trees. Your question indicates that you are trying to develop a larger perspective which is the job of any good parent! These troubling perceptions of your daughter are likely to be symptoms of depression based on your circumstances. Becoming a mother for the first time can be a very isolating experience, particularly if you have moved not just once, but three times in the past year!

Consider joining a mother's group and sharing your feelings with other Moms. Develop friendships and activities outside of your husband and daughter that can recharge your batteries. Perhaps your baby is reflecting your own relief and joy when your husband comes home. Your own negative feelings about yourself may be misplaced onto your daughter. It is most likely you are lonely and unhappy due to life changes. Do not project this onto your relationship with your daughter. You are running away from the real cause of your pain when you believe that your baby dislikes you.

Instead of using jealousy as a distraction, address your problem of isolation. Since you are new to your area, you may not have the developed friendships and activities that would bring enthusiasm into your life. You may be overly dependent on your family to provide the excitement and stimulation you need. Leave your husband with your daughter one day a week (weekends perhaps) and get in touch with your individual needs and desires. Although being a mother is a very powerful framework for self definition, give yourself the time to remember who you are away from motherhood.

Instead of overloading your family relationships, seek to build outside connections and interests that can rejuvenate you and address your sense of confidence in yourself. Be honest with yourself. Accept that you are experiencing much loneliness and change, and because you may be suffering some depression, your child is not getting the reflection of vitality that Daddy can give her when he comes home. It is also unrealistic to assume that being with your baby all day can compete with the new energy of a parent who has not been doing the daily childcare! If your roles were reversed, your husband might well be the one who was depressed, and your experience of homecoming would be equally joyous. Remember that your life has changed more than your husband's life when you became parents. He still goes to his job, but your job of mothering is new and more than full time! Your jealousy does not stem from your daughter's relationship to her father. But perhaps it is your husband's relationship to the outside world that you crave.

Build in some separate couples time to catch up with one another and maintain some of the specialness you want to experience in your relationship with your husband. However, things have changed, and you will have to make room for your daughter's needs, too. The couples' relationship is also adjusting and in flux!

Allow yourself feelings of sadness about this. It is natural that sadness would come up when you see the two of them interacting with such "up" energy. Take your feelings as a sign that you need to direct energy towards finding a place for yourself in your life that is nourishing to you. If you are artistically inclined, take an art class. If you play music, join a musical group of some kind. Try yoga, dance or any other class that might be of interest to you as a start. But take yourself seriously!

Responsibility and empowerment are two sides of a coin. Your daughter depends on your leadership. By nature of your parent role you are positioned to make a difference in your life and your daughter's life. She is not! You are in charge of your life and one of the leaders of the family. By taking action to face and resolve your own depression and lowered self esteem, you and your daughter win. If necessary, seek counseling to support your efforts to build confidence at this time. Refocus your energy towards your development. You will find that your independent interests as well as adult companionship during the day will be likely to improve your feelings about your situation.

Helplessness in response to a problem fuels depression and can become a downward spiral. Stop this cycle by taking action on your behalf. Taking care of yourself will benefit your daughter. Remember that mothers have needs too!


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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