When our first baby was born, my husband and I lived several hours away from our families. I had never felt so alone and stressed out.
I was 25 years old then, and as I look back on it, the hospital personnel must have been out of their minds to allow me -- a, inexperienced, immature, selfish young woman -- to take that cherished baby girl home. The weight of such an immeasurable responsibility was a beloved burden from the beginning. Bringing my daughter from the womb's hidden place to the world's open space was simultaneously as terrifying as skydiving and as comfortable as kicking off my shoes. That was 13 years ago, but it seems like yesterday when I remember how it felt to be a mom for the very first time.
I don't know how I would have gotten through those first weeks without a church family close by. I had a Sunday School class full of Christian sisters who ministered to me in precious, practical ways. One woman came and spent the baby's first night at home with us so that my husband and I could sleep. Others came with dinner, diapers, gifts and groceries. Best of all, they came to me with their experience and advice.
These women knew the ropes of new motherhood. Many of them knew what it was like to be far from home. They understood my feelings of anxiety, fatigue and inadequacy; they had been there. They knew what it was like to envision dreams of motherhood played out on a spotless, clutter-free set that's home to a perfect baby and a glamorous, model mom. And they knew what it was like to see those dreams rudely interrupted by a click of reality's remote. All moms have visions of sugarplums dancing in their heads when it comes to newborns, but rarely does life answer to the dictates of our dreams. For example:
• Mom dreamed of a natural delivery, but an emergency C-section must be performed.
• Mom wanted only certain people in the delivery room, but she ended up feeling like her baby's birth was a sideshow.
• Mom envisioned being wheeled out of the hospital with her baby in her arms, but because of minor complications, Mom is released from the hospital before the baby, and for now, she goes home alone.
• Mom pictured herself as proudly confident and ready to care for her child, but instead, she feels inadequate and scared without the hospital personnel.
• Mom planned to breastfeed, but it is just not working out for her.
• Mom visualized a happy family where baby makes three, but Daddy is overseas, and this new adventure is hers alone.
Today there is a burgeoning generation of new moms who need to be understood. Not only must they manage the normal adjustments of body and mind to new parenthood, but they must cope with the stress of having a husband on active duty, deployed or awaiting deployment. Like a police officer's wife or a firefighter's spouse, day after day they deal with the nagging persistency of the question, "What if he doesn't come home?"
Any woman can experience depression, but because of the added level of stress, these military moms are at a greater risk for some form of post partum depression. As Christian women, how can we step in to help these new moms adjust to motherhood and minimize their chances of emotional difficulties after giving birth? Here are a few suggestions:
If you live near a military base, contact the chaplain's office. The chaplain knows which wives are alone, and he will point you in the right direction. Also, ask around your circle of friends. Most people know someone personally who is serving in our armed forces.
Offer emotional support.
New mothers are so busy giving of themselves that they don't even realize when their own emotional tanks need refueling. Be generous with your hugs. Offer the gift of companionship by hanging around, bringing a meal over to share with her or phoning her just to listen.
Help her make sleep and rest a priority. Offer to spend the afternoon with the baby so she can nap. Spend a Friday night at her place and plan on getting up with the baby so she can get a full night's rest.
Make a financial gift.
When there's not enough money to go around, a woman easily can feel anxious, especially when she's the one trying to hold down the fort. If you're able, loosen a tight budget with a generous cash gift.
Motherhood is a journey that develops a selfless humility in even the most immature, inexperienced, self-centered women. Before we know it, we have laid down our lives for our children, gladly giving the last piece of pie, the last bit of patience, the last breath of strength, the last zzz's of morning, and the last nerve at the last minute on the longest day. Like a soldier who sacrifices the comforts of home, the kisses of his bride, and the cries of his firstborn, it is a beloved burden.
Rebecca Ingram Powell (www.rebeccapowell.com) is the mother of three children and the author of "Baby Boot Camp: Basic Training for the First Six Weeks of Motherhood." A monthly columnist for ParentLife magazine, she offers guidance to moms in her column, "A Mother's Heart." She lives in Nashville with her husband, Rich, where she homeschools and continues to write about parenting.
© 2004 Baptist Press. All rights reserved. Used with permission.