Happy with Baby: Podcast Episode #146
Kristin & Catherine, author of Happy with Baby, discuss the challenges of moving from partner to parent and how that can throw you for a loop. You can listen to this complete podcast episode on iTunes, SoundCloud, or wherever you find your podcasts.
Welcome. You’re listening to Ask the Doulas, a podcast where we talk to experts from all over the country about topics related to pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and early parenting. Let’s chat!
Kristin: Hello, this is Kristin with Ask the Doulas, and I’m joined today by Catherine O’Brien. Catherine is the founder of Happy with Baby. She is a mom of two, and has a master’s is psychology and is also a licensed marriage and family therapist. Welcome, Catherine!
Catherine: Thank you, Kristin, for having me! I’m happy to be here with you.
Kristin: You have a lot going on, especially with your new book. So how do you balance everything as a mom, author, therapist, and having so many different online programs and so on?
Catherine: Yeah, that’s a good question. Very carefully, and some times, some days, are better than others. And I think the number one thing that I’ve learned over the years is I constantly have to check in with myself. I do a lot of things and I like to do a lot of things, and there are times where the balance gets shifted, and then I’m overwhelmed, burned out. It’s been a constant reevaluation, and I think it wasn’t until having kids where I’m finally like, you can’t afford to burn yourself out. You can’t afford to, like, not be able to lay in bed all weekend because you’re so exhausted from a crazy week at work or whatever it is.
Kristin: Exactly. Our kids need us, so there’s no off time.
Catherine: Right, right.
Kristin: So I would love to really get into that family dynamic as it changes from being a couple to introducing that first child. Can you speak to the changes that having that first baby brings to the relationship?
Catherine: Yeah. I think – well, there’s a lot of changes, and I know personally for us, you know, we had a great relationship and liked to spend time together and do all these things, and then baby arrived. He had a lot of needs, and we were learning a lot of new things, and it became stressful. Just even how we communicated because before kids, like, I think we just kind of communicated or knew what the other person was going to do or whatever, but now there were so many new tasks and chores and things to do that it was, like, needing to communicate more, but we still weren’t communicating at the level that we needed. Does that make sense?
Kristin: Yes, and even as a therapist, it still challenges you to communicate your needs?
Catherine: Oh, yes. And I think that was the most – I was finding it really hard and I was getting really frustrated with him, and then I was, like, frustrated at myself because I’m like, how am I not able to do this? Like, this is what I help other people do. Why am I struggling? And we had never had those – that level of struggle before, so it became really frustrating. So I was, like, learning how to – reevaluating how we communicated with each other, and then plus, like, managing all the household chores and stuff, and how we were managing – yeah.
Kristin: And it’s so important to have these discussions during pregnancy versus waiting until baby arrives and figuring it out. Again, like, looking at dividing up household responsibilities. We have an online course called Becoming A Mother, and we talk a lot about budgeting and priorities like you would when you’re building a home or planning a wedding. This is another major life occurrence and really figuring out, is a housekeeper a priority or meal delivery service. Like, really, what is essential that you could outsource? What can your partner or husband take over? What are you able to do? But of course, there is that healing phase, regardless of how a woman births, where you really can’t be doing much the first six to nine weeks.
Catherine: Right, and we shouldn’t. Like, we should – ideally, I think in the best of worlds, we would get that bonding time where we wouldn’t have to do those things, and we could bond with our baby and our partner and have other supports. And that’s just not – you know, unfortunately, it’s not how it is. And so it’s like, well, where do you find those little ways to make things easier, like you said, like being able to outsource food delivery or those types of things to make life easier, if even just for a short period of time. That’s what we didn’t have really set up for us, and so it was really hard trying to do it all, and we would find ourselves – like, I remember, like, 9:00 at night, trying to eat dinner, because we always ate dinner together, and so we were, like, trying to do that, and then it was like, you know, I’m hangry. How are we putting stuff together? It was really hard, and then we’re like, okay, we’ve got it. I remember us looking at each other one day. It was like, we were trying to eat and the baby was crying. You know, like, he wasn’t sleeping and trying to take care of him and eat together, and we’re like, okay, we’ve got to do something else because this isn’t sustainable, eating at 9:00 at night.
Kristin: Definitely not.
Catherine: No. So figuring out how to do that. And then also you have the household management stuff, but then also how do you continue to have that connection with each other and the intimacy, and how are we supporting each other, because we both need it during this time and forever, really.
Kristin: Right. As a couple first and then seeing each other as parents, you know, secondly. And I feel like there are so many stressors with families and breakdowns with communication and divorces happen in those early years, so really keeping that communication, keeping the focus and the romance alive, even if it’s just, like you said, trying to eat dinner together when baby’s sleeping, or if you have other children, when they’re sleeping. Watching a movie or just checking in. And I know for myself, when my husband went back to work right away and I was alone all day, right when he got home, I wanted to talk to an adult human. So I’m, like, expecting so much, and he needed to decompress from work, so we had to work that out, as well.
Catherine: Yeah. Yeah, because there is that decompression time from – we teach a course, my husband and I teach a course together, too, and we call it, like, that second shift. Like, the parent that was outside the home is coming home, and now it’s like, oh, now it’s time for your second shift. Like, what do you need and how much time, and what does that look like? And I think it’s, like, talking about it. And it’s not even that you need those things every single day, but having those little check-in breaks, those moments for yourselves. I think there’s three questions that I encourage all my clients and couples that I work with to talk about, and the first one is, like, what are you doing to take care and reconnect with yourself? What do you need? And we need to look at that. And the second question is, what are you doing to support and connect with your partner? And the third question is, what will you do to, like, nurture and bond and connect with your child? And they’re in that order for a reason, and the reason is, I feel like that first one, is we have to be taking care of ourselves in order to, like, sustainably do the other two long-term. If we’re not putting into ourselves – like, you asked me that question at the beginning of how do I balance it all. It’s like, yeah, I need to constantly check in and make sure that I’m taking care of myself because I can’t continue to do – have a good relationship with my partner and be the kind of parent that I want to be and do my job, for that matter, if I’m not making sure that I’m taking care of my own needs. And then the second question is, we can make sure that we’re bonding and connecting with our partner. We can be better parents when we’re better partners, too, right? Because we need each other. It makes it easier when we can rely on each other and know what each other needs but also when I’m feeling connected and supported by my partner, I feel like everything is easier for me, you know, because he’s there.
Kristin: You’re on the same team.
Catherine: And he wants to be there with me, if I’m not, like, cranky and angry at him or whatever.
Hey, Alyssa here. I’m just popping in to tell you about our course called Becoming. Becoming A Mother is your guide to a confident pregnancy and birth all in a convenient six-week online program, from birth plans to sleep training and everything in between. You’ll gain the confidence and skills you need for a smooth transition to motherhood. You’ll get live coaching calls with Kristin and myself, a bunch of expert videos, including chiropractic care, pelvic floor physical therapy, mental health experts, breastfeeding, and much more. You’ll also get a private Facebook community with other mothers going through this at the same time as you to offer support and encouragement when you need it most. And then of course you’ll also have direct email access to me and Kristin, in addition to the live coaching calls. If you’d like to learn more about the course, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or check it out at www.thebecomingcourse.com. We’d love to see you there.
Kristin: And then do you find as a therapist that it can be challenging for partners to lose the time and intention they got with their partner when a newborn and potentially other children are really demanding a lot of their time and attention? Is there some of that?
Catherine: Yeah. I mean, I think that’s one of the biggest challenges that I talk with the couples. Sometimes one partner is wanting more or feeling like they need more or being kind of left out. One partner feels more connected focusing on the baby, and the other partner is like, I don’t even know what I want to do. And that’s one of the reasons I added that third question. You both need to be doing things that are nurturing and bonding with your child. One parent doesn’t have to do it all. That was eye-opening for me too, and not that I felt like I had to do it all; my husband was – fortunately, he was super supportive and hands-on, but then there were times when I’m like, well, this is how I’m doing it, so I want you to do it exactly how I do it. And it was like, no, no, he’s going to do – he’s going to figure it out on his own. You know, we all have our learning curve, what we’re doing with our children and what we’re comfortable with, and not all of us are teeny tiny baby – you know, like, that’s not our phase. We like them a little bit easier for us and we feel better about what we’re doing when we’re getting a little feedback and they’re smiling at us and we can play with them more. Like, that seems to be easier. But in the meantime, we still need to be doing things to help and support each other like changing the diapers, rocking them to sleep, or whatever that looks like for your family. But that you’re both doing it and letting each other do it and not feeling like, well, I have to do it because I’m the only one that can, or it’s easier when I do it. The baby settles down faster. It’s like, well, you know, give your partner a chance too, I think, within reason, because they need that time on their side to increase the bonding for them, as well.
Kristin: Right, and women who are exclusively breastfeeding can certainly use the extra sleep time if their partner can get baby back to sleep, change the diaper, burp the baby. Then you have that extra time, and they also get that one on one time with the baby, so it’s a win-win.
Catherine: Right, exactly. No, I know, I realize, like – and then it was, like, my favorite things because our kids would wake up in the middle of the night. If I got up with them, it was like all of a sudden, they’re hungry and they wanted to eat, it seems like. And then I realized that if my husband does, he can do a quick diaper change and come back to sleep. They’re not smelling milk or whatever that they’ve decided that now they need a snack or something. So it’s like, well, I think you should actually get up with them because they go right back to sleep, and I’m up for, like, an hour, you know, doing a feeding and all of that. And he just looks at me like, okay. And not all the time, but definitely – we had to figure out how to work those things out, and again, those were conversations because it’s not like one week or one day this scenario can work, but then as they age and they go through different growth spurts, you need to constantly be talking about and figuring out how are you supporting each other, because it’s rough. Like, not getting enough sleep is torturous.
Kristin: Exactly, and it can lead to perinatal mood disorders. I mean, if you’re sleep is just – if you’re not getting caught up, it is very stressful. So as far as your course, you teach the Bringing Home Baby program. Now, is that the one you teach with your husband?
Catherine: I’ve done the Bringing Home Baby program, and then prior to that, we had kind of developed our own program, and so I incorporate some of the aspects of it. We have our own course: Mine, Yours, Ours, Relationship Survival Guide to Baby’s First Year. It’s a shorter course, and we’ve been teaching that for over eleven years now. I think – yeah, this is going into our twelfth year. Our son is turning 13 soon, which I’m saying that and I’m like, is that really true?
Kristin: Right? How can that be?
Catherine: As he was standing next to me yesterday and he’s all, Mom, look how much taller I am than you, and I’m like, oh my gosh, how are you already so huge? We just brought him home. But anyway –
Kristin: I can relate completely.
Catherine: So as they say, it goes by so fast, and I think especially when you’re in it, in those early days, it feels like so long, and especially when you’re so exhausted, but now I look back, and I’m like, oh, my gosh, it does. It flies by.
Kristin: Yes. It’s important to cherish that time, even though it can feel like it drags out.
Kristin: It goes by quickly. So your book is Happy with Baby, an extension, then of all of the work that you’ve been doing in this space? What really led you to take the time and energy to put a book out into the world?
Catherine: Yeah, so like I said, we’ve been teaching this course forever, and the course was – it was basically based upon a collection of, like, thoughts that I wish I would have known. Like, you know, I was nervous when I had our son, our first child, and when I was, like, going through it, I was like, oh, I wish I would have known that. Like, why did no one warn me, or if they warned me, it wasn’t loud enough. Just an accumulation of ideas that I wish I would have known, and I was like, how do I share these? And then listening, going to different moms’ groups or different scenarios and stuff like that, and I was hearing other people talk, and I’m like, oh, so I’m – we’re definitely not alone, and in some circumstances, people were struggling in ways that we weren’t even struggling, but this new parenthood journey is not for the faint of heart. Like, this is hard, and there needs to be more support out there. And so, you know, we put this course together based on that because we were given this opportunity, got given an opportunity to teach a class, and I was like, I have the perfect idea for new parents, and I was fortunate my husband agreed to join me to do it just so that you could get, like, both parents’ perspective. And then kind of as that went along, we got more stories and heard more things, and I was like, I think someone mentioned to me about writing a book, and I was like, yeah, I guess that would be easier than, like, trying to go around the world and do the workshop. No, like, I do have dreams of doing that. So we started like kind of putting the book together and kind of expanding what we teach in the workshop and everything, and that’s just kind of – I feel like I was writing that book for years. It was the biggest, the longest pregnancy ever, trying to birth this book. So yeah, that’s where that came from.
Kristin: And how can our listeners and doula clients find your book?
Catherine: It’s on Amazon and anywhere books are sold online, you can find it. It’s Happy with Baby: Essential Relationship Advice when Partners Become Parents. And you can go to my website, and there’s a link on there you can click on to make it easy for you.
Kristin: And Catherine, you have some online groups as well that parents can join? Fill us in on how else they can get engaged with you.
Catherine: Yeah. So I have been doing for over 12 years now like a meet-up group locally here in Sacramento, and it’s kind of been a lot of different renditions, and when the pandemic started – well, I can’t stop doing the group. Parents need support more than ever. And so I transitioned it to an online Zoom group, and what I didn’t realize is, because I host it through Meetup.com, is that when you click on that it is now virtual, it goes out to the world. So the benefit is that people from all over the world have joined us now. Like, we’ve had people in Ukraine and Canada. So I do that once a month currently, and yeah, it’s open to anyone and everyone. Typically I have pregnant and newly postpartum parents, but then it’s also – you know, sometimes I get parents with older kids, too. So it’s just, like, support for parents – the early stages and a little bit beyond, as well. So just needing to, I think, realize that we’re not in this alone, and I think the beauty of having it go out to the world is, like, parenting issues aren’t different in another country. Like, there’s a lot of similarities. There are differences, but a lot of the same concerns and issues are universal. So it’s just been – I guess it’s one of the things I’ve enjoyed the most is just getting to connect with more people around the world.
Kristin: Yeah, it can be so isolating during what seems like never-ending pandemics, so it’s great that there’s this virtual support as well as class options. Is most of your therapy, then, telehealth, or how are you seeing one on one clients?
Catherine: Yeah, so I am still doing the majority of telehealth appointments, so I can meet with clients all through California, too, so that’s been nice to open it up, as well. Some areas don’t have as much – as many support systems in place, so I think that has been one of the good things, if there are good things about the pandemic, is that I’ve seen a greater source of online support out there for moms and parents and stuff like that because we definitely need it during this time.
Kristin: Exactly. So any final tips for our listeners, Catherine?
Catherine: Any final tips? That’s a good question. I think one of the things I’ll hear from parents is, like, just feeling like, oh, I’m not doing it. There’s more I could be doing, or being hard on ourselves, and I think it’s like, you know, you’re the most perfect parent for your child, and I think if you continue to make sure that you are taking care of yourself, right, so that you can take care of your relationship and take care of your children, then that is the most important thing that you can do for your family.
Kristin: Love it. Any tips for partners who are listening?
Catherine: Talk to your partner. Like, have check-ins! Check in with each other and see how you’re both doing and see what you can do to support each other, but then also, where can you find a little moment during the day or during the week with each other that isn’t distracted by other things. Even if it’s, like, 10, 15 minutes and you’re doing that every day, those moments add up over the week and the month and stuff. But make sure that you’re taking those times to really check in with each other.
Kristin: So true. Thank you! It was so lovely to speak with you, and we will share your resources with not only our doula clients but also our Becoming students. So it was wonderful to meet you, Catherine!
Catherine: It was so nice meeting you, too, Kristin! Thank you so much!
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