Monday, May 30, 2011

..and Baby Makes Five

The following is an excerpt from my book: Hell...p! I'm A Stepmother. I chose to post this today as I see a lot of confusion and often some rather unrealistic expectations in people who are deciding to bring an 'ours' baby into their step-relationships.

About two years into my marriage the thought of having a child of my own became very appealing. I’m not sure that I would have chosen this path had it not been for my stepsons. As I confessed earlier, I was not the most maternal of women. By that stage however I thought that since my life had already changed so dramatically and I was doing the mothering bit anyway, I might as well go for the ’real thing’. Once decided, I became very excited by the prospect and was disappointed when it took eight months before the ever-handy pregnancy test gave a positive reading. Nothing though had prepared me for the moment I laid eyes on my very own baby. I’d had no idea that holding my own little bundle of joy would make such a difference. The maternal instinct that had been lacking so sadly before, kicked in powerfully as soon as I heard the first pitiful cry from my delightfully tiny new baby son. It was like falling in love and changed the colour of my world to a mellow hue of pink. I recall to this day how gazing at my child made me see my stepsons with a new love and understanding. I suppose my heart was so full of this new, never before experienced feeling that it simply spilled over onto everyone - hormones probably had a lot to do with it too……!

Having a child with their new partner often has great appeal to stepmothers. Those with no children from a previous relationship may, like me, want to ‘go the whole hog’. Others might feel that having a child of their own might balance the scales a little in their favour. In stepfamilies where both partners are previous parents the new baby may be seen as the bridge between the two sets of children, the cement of their new relationship, perhaps even as the glue to hold the two families together. These reasons however, no matter how understandable, are never good enough to create a new life. Children created from any motive other than as an expression of their parent’s love are disadvantaged from the start and are far more likely to end up as stepchildren themselves.

Whilst the thought of adding a baby to your stepfamily might have great appeal, it pays to bear in mind that you’ll have to get through nine months of pregnancy first. This thought may not faze you if you have been through the experience before and found it an enjoyable and easy one. For first-time mothers it could be a more daunting prospect.

Some things to consider:

Workload – In order to care for your unborn child as well as yourself you need to ensure that you don’t overdo it. If you currently have a heavy workload, you will need to find ways of lightening the load.

Rest – You may get tired more easily and may need to make time for some afternoon naps.

Stress – As stress is not only damaging to you but also to your unborn child, it is important that you learn to deal with it and reduce it as quickly as you can.

Emotions – If you are battling with feelings of anger (rage), resentment (hatred), anxiety, depression or any other such emotions it might be better to put your thoughts of pregnancy on the backburner for a while.

Be aware that pregnancy causes hormonal changes which can make you feel more peaceful and placid, or can have the opposite effect and make you feel more easily aggravated, restless and upset.

If you decide to go for it, the new addition can have profound effects on everyone in a stepfamily. Frequently he or she, at least initially, is loved by all. Even the most self-focused teenager may be enchanted by the new baby and display something akin to likable behaviour in its presence. For the stepmother who is a first-time mother having her own child usually means slipping into a more natural and comfortable role with her step-charges. She is, after all, a real mother now! This is generally also true for the stepfather. Whilst the new addition can bring a greater sense of togetherness, stability and joy to the stepfamily, it can also make a stepmother’s life even more difficult as the reality of caring for a baby as well as the rest of the stepfamily may come as a rude shock. This certainly was my experience.

When my stepchildren realized that this new creature they had dutifully inspected in hospital was actually coming home to invade their space and compete for the already stretched attention capacity of their dad, their response wasn’t favourable. In keeping with their personalities, one child became more passively resistant and insular, the other more hyperactive, demanding and troublesome. With the reality of night-feeds and the penetrating shrill of the alarm clock intruding on my exhausted slumber reminding me to organize my stepchildren for school, the new-found pleasures were overtaken by the pressures of many new responsibilities which, added to all the already existing ones, often seemed almost too heavy to carry. The honeymoon was over!

Being jolted into the harsh reality of the plain hard work of caring for a new infant as well as the existing stepfamily can be a very rude shock. This can be particularly destabilizing to the stepmother who was hoping for an easier life as a result of the new family member. Added to the physical strain, the emotional impact of the other children’s jealousy and their competition for your or your partner’s already limited time, attention and affection might be overwhelming.

The first few months after bringing home your ‘bundle of joy’ is the time you are most vulnerable. The combination of the let-down after your birth experience ‘high’, physical exhaustion, disappointment about the children’s responses (yet another loss of expectation) is a potentially dangerous one. Enlisting help is of utmost importance at this point. Spouse, grandparents, other relatives, friends and community support groups (e.g. church) can be invaluable resources. Just someone minding the baby while you catch ‘forty winks’ might make all the difference. Life looks so much brighter after some rest!

Having a new baby in the home can be such a wonderful time which passes all too quickly. It can’t be emphasized enough how important it is for both you and your infant that you get as much pleasure, enjoyment and fun from this experience as possible. The personal happiness which is likely to flood over you at this time will overflow onto everyone else in your family. They will love it too!

Helpful hints:

  • Don’t be too brave for your own good – ask for help!
  • Together with your spouse, find practical ways of reducing the physical strain - enlist your relatives, friends or neighbours.
  • If you can afford it, hire a nanny (even just temporarily). If you can’t, get help through Community and Welfare Services.
  • Let someone know if you feel unable to cope.
  • Share your problems, thoughts and feelings with someone you trust.
  • Join a step-parenting support group. If you cannot find one, join a parenting help group or something similar.
  • Understand that if you don’t adequately care for yourself you cannot effectively care for anyone else.
  • Know that feeling good about yourself has a spill-over effect.
  • Make time for yourself.
  • Be kind to yourself.
  • Remember that this time will pass.

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