Children's books and book reviews - reading resource for kids, teachers, librarians, parents

Author interview with Melanie Bowden on *Why Didn't Anyone Tell Me?: True Stories of New Motherhood*

Click here for more information on *Why Didn't Anyone Tell Me?: True Stories of New Motherhood** by author/illustrator Melanie Bowden

Parenting book author Melanie Bowden on
Why Didn't Anyone Tell Me?: True Stories of New Motherhood

Interviewer Marie D. Jones: Melanie, you wrote this book because you feel women are not given enough information about what happens AFTER they have their babies? Why do you think the emphasis in our culture is on “before and during” childbirth, with little discussion of what happens afterwards?

Melanie Bowden: This is a truth that still baffles me and why I felt there was such a need for my book. I read many parenting books when I was pregnant with my first daughter, but none of them said that I might have difficulty breastfeeding, that babies can cry all day long, and that sleep deprivation would bring me to my knees! I was blown away by how difficult it was. Since I’m an intelligent woman who had babysat a bunch, I thought I was prepared for caring for an infant. Boy, was I wrong! The realities of 24/7 baby care quickly overwhelmed me.

I think our culture has not realized how isolated new mothers can be now since so many of them don’t live near family and may not know their neighbors. Fifty years ago things were different and there were societal support systems in place to help new families. People were better about reaching out to their neighbors and, often, family lived close by. We need a culture shift back to where it’s okay to offer (and accept!) help during stressful times of life whether it be birth, death, an illness, or an accident. It’s not only okay to get the nurturing you need after birth, but it will help you be a better mom.

I also think doctors need more training in dealing with a new mother’s emotional and physical needs. It’s ridiculous to think all a new mother requires is a six-week postpartum medical check-up and the rest will be smooth sailing. Our society as a whole needs to wake up to the fact that mothering new mothers is essential for healthy families and that support must continue through the first year postpartum or longer.

The stories of these women speak of fear, anxiety, depression, anger, despondency, shame, guilt and utter exhaustion. What common threads did you find in all of the stories told in your book?

The common threads were the great need for both emotional and practical support, exhaustion, struggles with the amount of things you need to learn after birth (like breastfeeding, deciphering your baby’s cries, putting together and working baby items like the Diaper Genie, etc…), incredible love for their children, acceptance that it’s alright and healthy to ask for help, struggles with maintaining their own identity and managing unpredictable postpartum hormones.

Another common thread was what a difference planning, while pregnant, for lowered demands on the mother after birth. Whether it was hiring a postpartum doula, lining up housecleaning help, asking friends or relatives to come help, or freezing meals in advance, arranging for their own care greatly eased the strain on the new mother.

One of the stories, that of a woman named Eleanor, includes the quote “I think women are made to feel diminished and wrong throughout pregnancy and childbirth.” Can you talk a bit about why society is so negative towards what should be the most honored and cherished human experience?

This is another area that baffled me as a new mother and still does. I found the time after I gave birth to be the most vulnerable time of my life, and when I was the most sensitive to criticism. Yet so many people felt the need to tell me how I should be doing things differently. I think people want to believe that what worked for their family is the only way to raise children, but every family must find their own way. We need to respect each other’s differences about how we parent. As long as the family is healthy and happy, does it really matter if they let their baby use a pacifier even though you didn’t with your children?

The best thing you can do for a new mother is to compliment her and let her talk about what she is dealing with. If she wants advice, she will let you know, but be careful about questioning how she does things. Respect that she will do the best she can for her and her baby, even if it might not be the way you would do things.

Jennifer’s story talks of her extreme exhaustion, and her body “hitting a wall” physically. Other than sheer exhaustion, what are a few of the other most prominent physical and emotion issues new moms face that may not be discussed very much in most “what to expect when you’re expecting” books?

Anxiety, pain during breastfeeding, painful recovery from either a vaginal or cesarean birth, crying easily, depression, stress about finances and managing the house, stress about dealing with relatives (including your partner), and feelings of being a bad mother. Also, anger was big issue for me. I was quick to snap at my husband and even the baby at times when I couldn’t figure out why she was crying. The sleep deprivation and relentlessness of caring for an infant can really wear you down.

If all new moms were getting the help they needed and had some breaks from child care, I think we would see much less incidence of child abuse as the first year of life is when the greatest occurrences of abuse happen. The first year of a child’s life is also when parents have the highest rates of divorce. It can be a time of so many emotional adjustments and we need to support parents through this important phase.

One woman shared her feelings of guilt over not being able to breastfeed. How can women learn to overcome feelings of unworthiness even as they are taking on the most important role any human being can take on – that of a mom? Seems we as a society lay less guilt trips on politicians who commit crimes than we do on new moms who cannot breastfeed!

This is so true! I think the problem is our society has glorified the “martyr mom.” The woman who will do anything for her children, even if it means sacrificing her own well-being and her other relationships. The catch however is that being a martyr mom does not make you a better mom, just a stressed-out, exhausted mom. If a mom is using guilt to propel her through the day, she is being drained of energy that could be focused on her own self-care and the care of her children. To overcome these feelings, women need to look at the big picture. Do you want to be a mom who doesn’t have her own identity and who is miserable because she’s so exhausted? Or do you want to be a mom who makes the best choices she can for her family because she’s rested and confident that she can make those decisions?

It can be very hard to trust your instincts about motherhood, especially with the first child. We need to instill in moms that they have the strength to make the right choices for their situation. It may not be everyone else’s choice, and that’s okay. I also think pre-parenting classes can make a big difference in how a new mom handles all of the decision-making that new motherhood brings.

You include at the end of each true account some advice for new moms. What is the one most important piece of advice these women shared with you for dealing with postpartum challenges and coming out the other side a true survivor?

To seek out and accept help at the first sign of a problem. Don’t wait. Dealing with issues right away will lessen the severity of the problem. Talk, talk, talk to other moms, friends, family members, a doula, your doctor, or anyone else who will listen and help you problem-solve. You are not the only one going through these issues, believe me!

Melanie, you describe yourself as a “postpartum doula.” Can you briefly explain what that is, and how you or any other doula can help women adjust to the many pressures of coming home from the hospital with a new baby?

A postpartum doula is a trained professional who helps ease the transition that every new baby brings to a home. Postpartum doulas usually work for three to four hours at a time, but they can work longer hours or provide overnight care. They care for the baby and older siblings, perform light household chores (like laundry and dishes), run errands, provide breastfeeding support, or just let the new mom take a nap or have a good cry. A doula is there to give emotional and physical assistance and answer a new mother’s many questions so that the mother can focus on resting and bonding with her baby. Doulas can also provide information on local resources for parents.

Melanie, for a woman reading this who might need help, can you suggest a few resources they can turn to (as well as buying your book!)?

There are so many that it’s hard to pick just a few! Postpartum Support International (1-800-944-4PPD), La Leche League (1-800-LALECHE) or a lactation consultant (for breastfeeding issues), Doulas of North America (1-888-788-DONA) or other doula organizations, your doctor (if they don’t answer your questions sufficiently, seek out another medical professional), a mom with older children whose parenting you respect, female relatives, and moms with children the same age as yours.

Marie, thank you so much for this opportunity to share about the issues that new mothers face. I hope it didn’t sound all gloom and doom! One of the wonderful things about the women in my book is how much they want to reach out to other moms and help them have a better experience than they did. They offer great tips and support that I hope other young mothers will find useful in their own parenting journey.

click here to browse children's board book reviews
click here to browse children's picture book reviews
click here to browse young readers book reviews
click here to browse young readers book reviews
click here to browse young adult book reviews
click here to browse parenting book reviews
  Marie D. Jones/2006 for curled up with a good kid's book  

For grown-up fiction, nonfiction and speculative fiction book reviews,
visit our sister site Curled Up With a Good Book (