Happy with Baby with Guest Catherine O'Brien

Catherine O’Brien is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and felt completely ready to have a baby yet after the birth of her first child she discovered that she was completely unprepared to manage the expectations of parenthood and relationships. She created Happy with Baby to provide parents with the advice that she wishes she had. Tune in to hear Catherine talk with the Mental Health Mamas about the importance of taking care of yourself, why we feel unprepared for parenthood, and why she likes to be called Batmom.

Notes and Mentions

Visit Catherine’s website: https://www.happywithbaby.com


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Transcript

Serena: Hey Everyone, I’m Serena.

Tina: And I’m Tina and we are the Mental Health Mamas.

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Serena: Welcome to No Need to Explain, we are so glad you’re here.

Tina: First, as always, a quick disclaimer.

Serena: We come to you NOT as mental health professionals or experts in the field, but rather as the parents of kids who struggle with their emotional health.

Tina: If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, please seek professional support. You’ll find a variety of resources in our show notes and on our website, NoNeedToExplainPodcast.com.

Tina: I know it’s been a few years, but I wonder if you can remember what it was like when you first became a parent?

Serena: Hmm. Yeah, perhaps more than a few years! Although I do actually remember it quite clearly. I became a parent for the first time at 23 and I really thought I was prepared for what it would be like. I had many years of experience babysitting and I loved kids and babies. And I thought, how could it be hard, right? Yet I can still remember those first moments after bringing my newborn home, standing in my apartment thinking...now what?? I don’t even know what to do now. What about you Tina? What was becoming a parent like for you?

Tina: Well, mine was a little further back than yours. My oldest is 27 and I too felt super ready to be a parent and yet….I was fairly blindsided. She was not a sleeper nor was she a good eater and I was exhausted, I felt inadequate. Those feelings were just so very real! And I also remember the feeling of the world stopping, or at least I was unaware of anyone else functioning in the world. Make sense?

Serena: Yep, that makes total sense. Like many of the things we talk about here on the podcast, it turns out it’s normal, right? Most new parents think that they are totally prepared for the new arrival and yet…

Tina: Right. And we are bringing you a guest today to talk about this very thing. Catherine O’Brien has written a book called “Happy with Baby; Essential Relationship Advice When Partners Become Parents”. This book brings together Catherine’s experiences as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist along with her own sense of vulnerability in feeling unprepared to manage the expectations of parenthood and relationships after the birth of her first child. Catherine, welcome to the podcast!

Catherine: Thank you both so much for having me here today.

Serena: So let’s jump right into the idea that none of us really feels prepared for parenthood. I mean, Tina knows me well and can confirm that I approach every new experience as a learning experience. That means that I read all the books, do all the research and make all the plans. Having a baby was no different and yet as I shared a moment ago...the reality was so different from what I had expected. Catherine, what’s this all about? Why do we feel this way?

Catherine: Well, first of all, I talk to new parents all the time that feel exactly the way you both described a minute ago. And I think it is because as much as we try to plan (and some of us are big planners and some of us are not), there’s no way to really plan for what you’re going to feel like in the moment. We have no idea what we’re going to feel like when something happens to us. And I think oftentimes too, we have expectations that something is gonna go a certain way and then it doesn’t. The baby doesn’t sleep or the baby is a picky eater or you’re having trouble with breastfeeding or whatever it is. Things are difficult and then since we had these expectations it really kind of knocks us for a loop.

Tina: Yeah, for sure. To say the least. One of the focuses of this podcast has been about self-care and how important it is to parents and well, human beings. In fact, I believe we talk about it in just about every episode, right Serena?

Serena: Mmhm.

Tina: We love that this is a significant part of your book and not only that, but it’s the very first section which you’ve called simply, “Taking Care of Yourself”. Tell us about why you chose to start the book with self-care and why you see it as important to new parents.

Catherine: Yes. So I asked the parents that I work with to answer or evaluate three questions on a daily/weekly/monthly basis. And the first one is, what am I doing to take care of myself? The second one is, what am I doing to connect and take care of my relationship? And the third one is, what am I doing to take care of and bond with my child? And I feel like it is not sustainable to do the following two questions long-term if we’re not first making sure that we’re taking care of ourselves. It’s one of the hardest ones. It’s usually the last one on the list. It’s the ones I talk to parents all the time that they’re not doing. I believe I mentioned before we started on the recording that I struggle with myself too on an ongoing basis. Make sure, like, what do I need to do to take care of my mental health, my physical health, to be able to continue to be a good parent, to be a good partner to my husband. And it’s really hard to do those other things if we’re not making sure we’re taking care of ourselves.

Serena: So what do you say Catherine, to parents out there who are just overwhelmed and I can’t do it, I can’t take care of myself. I don’t have time. How do you talk them into it?

Catherine: Well I think it’s not about these big, grand gestures. I think we hear self-care and, at least the moms I’ve talked to, I don’t have time for a pedicure or I haven’t had my hair done in awhile or any of those things. We think those are the things of self-care. Those aren’t. Those are. Those are great if you like to do them but I think it’s also about the little things. And I know that of course there are people who would disagree with me but I think it’s also making sure we’re getting those showers. Getting a shower, I think, is a necessity and we need to do it. It’s those basic things that we need to make sure that we’re doing that we’re starting with to build on to other things. Like if you’re not even making time to do that for yourself then you’re, it’s gonna be harder to do the big, grand gestures. So I think it’s about doing small things, it’s taking those small moments. It’s if maybe the baby goes down to sleep and I know there’s a pile of laundry to do but I also know I need to rest, I’m gonna lay down for five minutes and then maybe get up. Or not. Depending on how I’m feeling. So it’s checking in with myself and what does my body need, how am I feeling, what do I need in this moment versus, yeah, there’s a lot of other things that need to happen but they’ll eventually get taken care of. So it’s making sure you start with, what do I need right now? I have a few minutes. Do I need to do something else? Now that my kids are older too, they play sports and I’m always like, oh good, I’ll go to their practice and I’ll sit there and do work. But now I started…I don’t have to do work. I don’t have to check my emails. It’s after 5 anyway, why don’t I take a book and read a book or do something else or go for a walk or something like that to take care of myself because that’s what I really need in these moments. So it’s like instead of feeling every moment I have, I have to fill it with something for someone else, I can fill it with something for myself.

Tina: That is so true. For sure. It’s those little things and the guilt that surrounds that, right? We don’t have to be (Serena, wait for it), we don’t have to be perfect, do we?

Serena: Well I was just going to comment on the idea of a shower and I learned that the hard way that that was the thing that I needed to feel like a human being. You know, if my husband left for work before I got a shower, that just was all day, right? Feeling like, ugh.

Tina: Yeah!

Catherine: Yeah!

Tina: Catherine, you and your husband have been leading workshops for couples for a number of years now and he also wrote this book with you. One of the things that stands out to me in this book is that we get to hear about the challenges and conflicts from both parents including the perspectives of both you and your husband. It’s rare to be able to see the whole “story” in this way. And it’s familiar too, right? The themes that come up again and again are around unfair division of parenting duties or other household tasks and keeping score of one another, not knowing or understanding what the other person needs and conflict over the “right” way of doing things. Can these conflicts be avoided or is this all just inevitable when adapting to the needs of a growing family?

Catherine: Well, I believe that when you’re in a relationship with someone there’s always going to be disagreements and conflicts. When you’re tired and exhausted and feel like you’re on this hamster wheel of sorts too doing the same things every day and trying to figure out how to do these things, I think there’s definitely going to be conflict. But I think it’s also important to acknowledge to each other that things are changing and will continue to change and to check in with each other to understand how each of you are feeling. Because you’ll feel different things and you’re also gonna feel some of the same things. And so I think it’s making sure you’re on the same page in the sense that you understand where each other is coming from. So, my husband and I still have conflicts. We teach this workshop. I would like to say, oh yeah, we’ve mastered all the skills that we teach people. I mean, we haven’t. I mean, we do, but it’s constant work, right? You constantly have to work on having a good relationship with each other. It just doesn’t, it’s just not always easy. We have to make the time. We have to find the small moments to get in with each other during the week and also make the time for the bigger moments and the dates and little getaways and things like that.

Tina: Yeah and it sounds like that communication…I loved that you said “checking in”. I think, you know, just like we don’t check in with ourselves, I think just taking that moment of busyness and checking in with each other.

Catherine: Right. Well and I think what happens too, before we have kids, I don’t know if you guys remember experiencing this but before kids I took for granted doing things for myself. You know, being able to take care of myself and work out when I wanted to and having a bigger moment, going to get my hair done when I wanted to. And then my husband and I eat dinner together every night and, you know, be able to go away for the weekend or go for a long walk with not having to think about anything. And then the baby comes and it’s not as easy to do those things, right? Because we’re having to figure out, where’s the baby going to be in this moment? We’re taking the baby with us and as a mom I’m constantly thinking like 10 steps ahead of what’s gonna happen next and what do I have to plan for and how many diapers or snacks or different things. You know, so constantly thinking ahead and not necessarily being in the moment with how I’m doing and what I need right now.

Serena: There is a part in your book that I love so much that I hope you will be willing to share it with our listeners. It’s actually the title of one of the chapters and it is, “I’m Batmom, Not Supermom.” So tell us Batmom, what does that mean?

Catherine: Well first of all, I love that you love it. And it has a special place in my heart for several different reasons. First of all I feel like I’m a recovering, wannabe Supermom. But I know that she’s not attainable or sustainable as a mom or a person. And so when I was writing this book and talking to one of my editors about who I thought Supermom was and it came out, well, what about Batmom? It’s like, oh, I love Batmom! Because my husband is all about superheroes. I knew nothing about superheroes prior to…I mean I had seen Batman and Superman and things like that, but I didn’t really know anything about them and now I’m well versed in the difference between Marvel Comics and DC Comics and everything superheroes. So I was like, yes, tell me about Batmom because Batmom…she’s resourceful, she asks for help, she seeks experts and friends that have strengths that she doesn’t have to help give her the tools to add to her toolkit. So she has Robin who is willing to help her out and has her back when she’s having a bad day. And then there’s a Commissioner Gordan who’s wise and can see what’s not working and offer ideas for different plans. And there’s also Lucius Fox who’s super-creative and artistic and can make great outfits. And then, you know, she does have Alfred, Batman’s butler but it’s not like we have butlers. I don’t have a butler but it’s just saying that there’s always someone there to help lend a hand if you listen and you ask for help. Because usually there are people offering it. You just have to take it and be OK taking it. And then of course she has all her other superhero friends. They have their strengths. You know, maybe she does have a Supermom friend. I feel like I have one that she seems to magically get everything else done but then she thinks I’m the Supermom. So, you know what I mean? We all see strengths in other people that we don’t have and I think that’s good and that’s important and we need to lean on each other. So I’m definitely a Batmom. It’s much more attainable to me and I don’t feel like I have to do all the things perfectly and right and at super strength.

Tina: So Serena, we have coined a…Catherine is gonna lend us that Batmom. We are now Batmoms. OK, thank you.

Catherine: You are welcome.

Tina: We hope it’s not copyrighted because we’re going to be using it.

Catherine: I haven’t, no. I hope nobody else has it either.

Tina: I don’t think so. It’s the first time we’ve heard it. One of the questions we like to ask our guests is about what they wish they had known earlier in their journey, whatever that journey might be. You’ve written an entire book based on what you wish you had known when you had your first child. What is something we haven’t talked about today that would be important to share with the world in terms of wisdom you’ve gained along the way?

Catherine: Well, I don’t know if it’s something…I mean I think I have already talked about this but I just kind of want to reinforce that piece of asking for help, taking help, reaching out for help. I feel like oftentimes we feel like we’re the only ones struggling or not enjoying all these moments with our children and get frustrated with our partners when things don’t go right. But in my, not only my professional experience but my own personal experience as well, there’s always somebody else there that has been where we’re at and maybe has a good ear to hear how we’re feeling and be able to validate us, encourage us with what we’re going through. And I think we need that support now more than ever. I mean we’ve always needed it, I just feel like it’s more and more evident all the time that we cannot be doing this parenting journey alone and we need that support.

Tina: Yeah.

Serena: I really wish that I had had a book like this when I had my first child. I think the idea that you’re normalizing how hard it is is super important. I think it would be an awesome gift for any expecting couple. So where can people find your book? And how might they connect with you?

Catherine: Yeah, thank you for that. You can find my book on Amazon or anywhere books are sold or you can just go directly to my website, HappywithBaby.com and there’s a link at the top about where you can connect to buy the book as well. So I’m on social media at, on all social media platforms @HappyWithBaby.

Tina: Allright. My new baby gift for every couple that I know. There you go.

Catherine: Awesome! Aw, thank you.

Tina: Catherine, thank you so much for joining us today, sharing this awesome book and we Mental Health Mamas like to normalize and this was an incredibly normalizing conversation so thanks for that!

Catherine: Thank you.

Tina: So podcast friends, we are, as always, grateful for all of you listening and supporting us. You can help us out by visiting Apple podcasts, leaving us a review, subscribing and please share with others. You will find more content on our website, NoNeedtoExplainPodcast.com. You will also find an email address and we would love to hear from you by email.

Serena: And this is your gentle reminder to take good care of yourself while you are also taking care of your people.

Tina: Thanks again for listening!

Serena: Bye!

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