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Ann Gentry led a riotously hectic life. She had opened two restaurants in different cities in just five years. A self-described workaholic preoccupied by business with nearly every molecule of her being, she had been intricately involved in every detail. But when Gentry gave birth to baby Halle a little more than a year ago, she experienced her own rebirth: Motherhood now directed her feelings, priorities, perceptions and the very purpose of her life.
“For six weeks, I didn’t leave the house and just bonded with her,” says Gentry, 44, owner of the Real Food Daily restaurants in West Hollywood and Santa Monica, Calif. “The theory of the prenatal yoga I was doing was that after the baby is born, you stay home for 40 days and have people wait on you. For me, it was just this great experience of totally zeroing down to this slow pace, because my reality was totally different. I was on the baby’s time zone. I felt I needed to stay in, stay protected, stay off the phone and pull back thoroughly from the world.” Gentry had to learn how to delegate, and she did: Her employees ran the restaurants in her absence.
Slowing down so dramatically is not only soothing, but it’s also necessary for you to get to know the baby, for the baby to get to know you and to understand what your life together will be like.
((Everything changes) Having a baby is life’s most profound metamorphosis. Thrust headlong into motherhood, a woman is transformed psychologically and spiritually, as well as in the practical matters of everyday life. In a flash, what’s important in her life shifts irrevocably. Work, social duties, intellectual pursuits and family obligations pale in comparison with the needs of the baby, who is the all-important focus of a new mother’s consciousness. Life is reduced to two-hour increments: breastfeed, change diaper, calm baby, coo to baby, dance and play with baby, soothe baby, and cajole and rock baby to sleep. Two hours later, the baby wakes to nurse; repeat cycle. The constancy of this early infant care makes dropping out an ideal way for a mother to navigate the first months of a baby’s life.
((It’s just you and the baby) “This is a time when new mothers really go inward and form a relationship with the baby on a very profound level,” says Jane Swigart, Ph.D., author of The Myth of the Perfect Mother: Parenting Without Guilt (Contemporary Books, 1998). “It is a time of tremendous withdrawal from the world, a good, healthy, narcissistic time. New mothers are learning all about this little creature. They are learning what a lot of the baby’s cries and sounds mean. You can only know the baby through your experience as their early caregiver. Getting to know this little baby’s emotional life is a kind of discipline, an emotional intelligence.”
Pregnancy and the immediate postpartum period are typically times of blurred personal boundaries. Night runs into day, baby and mother’s bodies are enmeshed in the constant contact of feeding, and one emotion melds into another. It is almost as if the separation between mother and baby is not complete (postpartum is often called the “fourth trimester”). Many new mothers experience what is called “maternal preoccupation,” the total absorption in their new infants to the exclusion of all else. (Many women also experience “baby blues” during this period. If you are feeling deeply depressed or are unable to care for yourself or your baby, call your doctor immediately.)
“Now, it is ‘everything I do is for you,’” says Carrie Kiester, a resident of Gaithersburg, Md., and mother of 10-month-old Kenna. Kiester runs a medical billing business from her home, although she occasionally needs to go out to meet clients at their offices.