Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How to Be More Than A Sperm Donor: Top 10 Things New Dads Need to Know

1. I doubt you were a great lover your first time out, so why would you expect to know how to be a great dad without any practice? You may not know it yet, but fatherhood can be a lot more fulfilling than donating sperm! Relax, give yourself some time to learn, and have some fun along the way.

2. Diaper duty earns big points. So does feeding, rocking, and bathing your baby. Any hands-on fathering will be a big help to your partner and your baby.

3. You have undoubtedly discovered that your wife isn't much fun right now. She may be weepy, stressed, and a bit less groomed than she used to be. This is normal. The good news is that she will return to something like her old self again once your little family has navigated the gauntlet of new parenthood.

4. Your wife still needs you. Stay nearby and be patient. You may not recognize the woman you partnered up with 9 or 10 months ago, but she is still in there.

5. Your sex life may have taken a nose dive, but you will be able to engage in some adult fun (with your wife!), soon.

6. Nobody deserves postpartum mood disorders, and nobody causes them either. Don't blame each other when the going gets tough. Know that many symptoms will pass on their own in a couple of weeks, and all are treatable.

7. Sleep heals. Mothers typically take the brunt of sleepless nights, but you're probably not getting as much as you need either. Whoever came up with the phrase "sleeping like a baby" didn't know babies wake up a lot! One proven way to help both of you feel better is to support each other in getting sleep whenever possible.

8. Trust your instincts. Different "experts", including the guy in line at the grocery store, will tell you to handle your baby a different way. Trust yourself, your wife and your baby to tell you what you need to know.

9. Your baby needs to play with you. Here is a case where having fun is exactly the right thing. Playing stimulates your baby's mind and body to develop in healthy ways. You may feel more playful right now than your wife, so go for it.

10. Learn when to ask for help. Life can be stressful with a new baby. It should get easier with time. If things get worse, or simply don't improve, it is time to ask for help. Check out www.mommy-muse.com for a wealth of information and great resources.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Life With Postpartum Mood Disorders: Are You Perfectly Normal or Going Insane?

New mothers rarely admit to the full extent of their stress level or to the difficult emotions they live with. After all, women with new babies are supposed to feel blissful, loving and grateful for the miracle of new life in their care, right?

Many new moms fear they will be thought of as unfit mothers if other people knew the truth about their feelings. They may never ask for help because they don't have a baseline sense of what is actually normal and what's not.

What many people don't know is that mood swings, irritability, fatigue, persistent tearfulness, forgetfulness and anxiety are common symptoms in new mothers. The vast majority of birth mothers cope with some version of the "baby blues." The good news is that these symptoms generally pass without any intervention within a couple of weeks. The postpartum mother's' body simply needs a little time to normalize the tremendous fluctuations in hormone levels after giving birth.

But what if the symptoms are more severe and last longer? What if depression, hopelessness, feelings of vulnerability and inadequacy as a wife and mother, lack of interest in the baby or oneself, low level of daily functioning or severe mood swings are part of the mix? Surely this is crazy, right? Wrong. These symptoms are common in the 10% - 17% of women who experience postpartum depression.

What if the level of intensity is ramped up? What if a new mom has unreasonable fears, panic attacks, obsessions about cleanliness and germs, or visions of something bad happening to the baby and not being able to do anything about it? This may indicate postpartum obsessive-compulsive disorder, a bit more severe than postpartum depression, but still in the postpartum mood disorder continuum, and still sane.

What about the women who get sensationalized on the news, the ones who think their babies are from the devil? We've all heard stories about new mothers who think they were told to hurt themselves or their babies. Can these women be sane?

In these cases, they are dealing with the severe end of the postpartum mood disorder spectrum. This is the line between crazy and sane. Only one or two out of every 1000 women will cope with this rare disorder. Their auditory and visual hallucinations can be quite dangerous. Women with postpartum psychosis need immediate medical attention and hospitalization, and yes, their babies will have to be taken care of by other people for a while.

I like to put it this way: Anytime a new mom is worried about the well being of herself and her child, she is probably still sane. After all, it takes a significant level of self awareness to be concerned about one's thoughts and feelings. Rather than judging or ostracizing new mothers with postpartum mood disorders, let's make it easier to get help. Every symptom I've described is 100% treatable, and help is available now.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Belly Dance Prescription: Shake Your Hips and Depression!

I love to watch and participate in dance wherever it finds me, but have found that most dance forms which are typically accepted as “serious” art, including jazz and ballet, have a narrow range of “acceptable” body types. Pregnant and postpartum women with rounded bellies and a new fullness to their hips may be uncomfortable trying to fit inside these strict parameters. Movements that leap and extend away from the earth with long, straight lines do not come naturally to the rounded, feminine form.

Belly dance, on the other hand, consistently helps women of all shapes and sizes express their emotions and feel beautiful in their own skin. In my role as a belly dance instructor, women often approach me to say they are too fat, too thin, uncoordinated, or unattractive because of stretch marks and caesarian scars. They haven't yet awakened to their own beauty and their innate capacity for this fluid dance.

I invite them to join us, perceived flaws and all! If they are courageous enough, a wonderful process unfolds as they enter into a supportive group environment and begin to accept themselves. New dancers expand their energy, strengthen and lengthen their bodies, increase their endurance and reclaim healthy self-expression. Rather than sucking in their stomachs and being ashamed of taking up space in the world, women learn to accept themselves. Bellies begin to be embraced as the center of our bodies and as respected spaces to create new life.

As Lisa Sarasohn of http://www.loveyourbelly.com/ wisely writes in The Women's Belly Book, "Nature does not intend a woman to look like a ten-year-old boy. In fact, nature designs a woman's belly to shelter and nurture new life. A woman's belly holds and protects her womb, promoting the survival of the human species."

The survival of the human species. Imagine that. Something really important, right? Even more than fitting into a skinny pair of jeans with a flat stomach. Sarasohn shines the light of truth on cultural misconceptions, pointing out that "our culture tells us the best belly is one you cannot see, the one that's invisible to the eye." She goes on to say that "Our insecurities about our bellies bankroll the weight-loss, diet products, plastic surgery, advertising, media, shapewear, cosmetics, and fitness industries. Consumed by the idea that there's something wrong with our bellies, we're ready to trade our money for the fixes such industries are pushing....But the insecurities that make us such steady, compliant consumers are artificially induced; we're not born with them." (Sarasohn, 2006, pg. 38-39).

If we're not born with them, then we are free to completely re-evaluate our choices in light of this new information. Let's reconsider how we think about ourselves and our bodies that are born to dance. Do you really want to hand over your self-empowerment to people who have no business controlling how you live, who have never had your best interests at heart?

I didn't think so.

Is it worth it to you to begin to value your body's center once again, if it means you can reclaim your true power and dramatically increase your health and well-being?
I'm hoping your answer is an energetic "YES!"

If so, you're ready to take a deeper look at the magic of belly dance for increasing the grace and flexibility with which you move through all areas of your life! Join me on a journey of healing, transformation and empowerment through my e-book, The Belly Dance Prescription: Shake Your Hips and Depression, available now at Mommy-Muse.com.