By Heather Ouida
Pregnant women have lots of questions.
They often turn to people like Renee Sullivan for guidance and support.
In honor of New York Family’s upcoming Baby Show, we had the privilege of talking with doula, parent coach and Mommybites support group director Renee Sullivan about the many common questions and concerns on the minds of expectant moms.
The first thing I want to talk about is a mom’s birthing choices—I feel like there is a lot of judgment around this. What should moms consider when deciding what scenario they and their family unit are most comfortable with?
You bring up a really good point. In the world today there are so many choices, from a traditional birth with just your OB/GYN at the local hospital to working with a midwife or a doula in other settings, including possibly your home. When you become pregnant, other people start sending lots of opinions your way. Some people do great with lots of opinions and resources and then sort through them to make a decision, while others like to act a bit more intuitively to decide what may be best for them. The hardest part is being able to spend the time to figure out what is really right for the family unit and not heed all of the different advice that is offered.
What do you think is the best way to tell people you are pregnant—especially your boss?
I’ve had moms who have very close relationships with their employers just come right out and say it. I’ve also had moms in the groups who have been six months pregnant and still hadn’t told them. Getting clear on what timing works best for you is really the best way.
For me, the theme of there not being black-and-white answers to becoming a parent carries through to almost everything we will talk about. Parenting just does not happen like that!
[Laughs] In the groups, moms always ask, “When does it get easier?” and I say, “Well, I have a 6-year-old—I’ll let you know.” The cool thing is that we get wiser and we get more proactive, so parenting doesn’t get easier per se, but we get smarter. One of the moms in the groups said, “I realized that becoming a mom has activated a super gene in my brain.” Becoming a mom helps us do so much more, take on so much more and be so much more. There’s a pot of gold on the other end, but we’re not sure if we’re going to meet a troll or a leprechaun along the way.
Speaking of meeting trolls along the way, even though I was warned about not sleeping after having a baby, I was truly unprepared for what chronic sleep deprivation felt like.
Yes, it’s one of those things that you can try your best to describe, but until you’ve actually had your baby, you really don’t know how prolonged sleep deprivation can feel like. It’s the intensity of it. Never in our lives have we ever needed to always be on. Once you’re a parent, you’re always a parent. So I look at this not just as the difficulty of sleep deprivation but the whole bigger umbrella, which is that we’re always in motion, always moving forward, always changing in ways we were not experiencing pre-baby.
How can pregnant moms deal with changing body issues?
It’s hard to see when you’re pregnant, but as soon as you have the baby, so much of our body concerns wash away. We all of a sudden get what’s real—it makes us understand what’s really important. It’s like when you’re in the airplane, it’s really hard to see the destination. No matter how much you prep for the trip, read the guidebook and do all your research, you never really know what it’s like until you land.
Just to get a little shallow for one second—what’s your magic secret for stretch marks?
One of the best things is to stay as moisturized as possible, whether that’s using expensive creams, olive oil or cocoa butter. Another thing that helps is doing our best to gain weight slowly during the pregnancy and losing weight slowly postpartum.
OK, let’s talk sex—pre-natal sex!
Ah, the first question a pregnant woman should ask herself is “Do I want to have sex?” [laughs] Some moms want to have sex—keeping in mind you should always check with your OB/GYN) But for other moms, with all the changes of body and emotions, they just don’t want to and that’s OK, too. It’s important to communicate to your partner that not wanting to have sex does not mean you’re not attracted to them, but rather that with all the changes going on, you may not be feeling the need for it right now.
Keeping in mind that moms return to work after having a baby for many reasons, what are some of the things that come up in your groups around going back to work?
Whether you are a stay-at-home mom or a mom who works outside of the home, both want the same thing: balance. Everyone just wants to do what’s right for their family. How we define balance is different for everybody. Every few months, you should ask yourself, “Am I fulfilled? Am I happy? Am I getting enough ‘me’ time? Enough baby time?”
I hesitate to even ask this next question because I don’t want to perpetuate the craziness, but should new moms even begin to think about the whole New York City preschool scene?
You know, the whole idea of trying to predict the future doesn’t work well for anybody. I’ve seen so many women worry and worry about preschool, only to be transferred for work or move to the ’burbs or overseas. But if you feel like you’re hearing too many rumors and could use a solid overview of the process, I like Victoria Goldman’s Manhattan Directory of Private Nursery Schools.
There’s a great John Lennon quote that says, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”
Exactly! We fully experience emotions and stress and then it shifts, and all of that stressing was really wasted energy. The more we can trust ourselves, believe in our child and live in the moment, the less stressed we’ll be with everything—not just preschools!
I know some moms worry that they are doing their children a disservice by raising them in such a fast-paced city. What do you tell them?
Yeah, New York City definitely has a different energy than other places. I think it’s important to consciously build in daily downtime for your children. There is so much activity in the city and often not enough quiet time. Researchers have said that children need quiet time to process and synthesize all the external input and everything they have learned through the day. If you can create this balance, New York City is a wonderful place to raise a family.
Heather Ouida is the co-founder of Mommybites, formerly known as babybites. Renee Sullivan leads expectant and new mom groups around the city. Visit the new mommybites.com network for extended education, support and advice to families with children of all ages.
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