Life in the slow lane
A baby’s need for a tactile, slow-paced, sensual, empathic and emotionally rich environment is vastly different from the task-oriented, achievement-driven world of grown-ups. For many otherwise capable and accomplished new mothers, adjusting to the low stimulus of babyland is rough.
“I remember thinking, here I am, a grown woman in her 30s, married, with a career and a house, yet with this baby I don’t really know what to do,” recalls Linda Shaich, mother of 13-month-old Sophie. “The transition from working career woman to mother is about loss of control. At the office, you can always plan the next 10 minutes, but time is completely out of control when you have a baby. You have to be less goal-oriented and more flexible. It is really a conflict when this baby is crying and needs you, but you feel like saying, ‘Please, can you just give me 10 minutes?’”
The overwhelming concern for the baby’s health and emotional well-being supersedes cultural interests and worldly pursuits. Personal needs are often reduced to sleeping, eating and showering. Parental sex lives can often become compromised. And a career drive may take a back seat to what psychiatrist D.W. Winnicott calls “the maternal preoccupation,” the intense focus on the well-being of one’s child almost to the exclusion of all else.
Colman’s most important advice to new parents is to be open to “dreams and images” so there is plenty of psychological room to renegotiate one’s own identity and the transformation to mother can be fully integrated with the rest of the self. “Explore every possibility,” Colman says, “so you will be in a flexible position to respond to the realities that you discover after the baby is born.