By Jane I. Honikman, MS
I initiated a radical social concept in the 1970s with my friends to support new families in our community. We believed men and women shared equally in the conception, birthing and raising of our children. There was a community gap, however, in our transition from couple-hood to parenthood. We wanted change.
Our existing community where we lived, worked, learned, prayed, and played was disrupted when our babies were born. We were struggling young parents, away from our families, and inundated with professional advice. What we lacked was a supportive environment where we could share our highs and lows, and not be judged or criticized when we admitted to feeling overwhelmed, scared, or inadequate.
It was about making friends, learning about community resources, and gaining confidence as new parents. We founded Postpartum Education for Parents (PEP). This volunteer organization has been sustained since 1977 by trained volunteers. Its success is based on a simple approach. Parents need and deserve nonjudgmental emotional support.
- Identify your honesty GAP: The truth about your pre-pregnancy past matters. At conception each partner brings a personal history to the womb through DNA and life experiences. It is important to speak openly about your past and future expectations. While this may feel scary it is a conversation worth having.
- Identify GAPS in your transition to parenthood: The first step is to connect with those who are having similar experiences. During pregnancy there are midwives or doctors caring for you. Do you have opportunities to make new couple friends who are also pregnant?
- Identify GAPS in your conversations: Ask yourselves if you are talking about any challenges, decisions and fears you might have about becoming new parents. Both men and women have hormonal shifts during pregnancy. Has your midwife or doctor mentioned how these changes affect your moods?
- Identify the pregnancy disconnect GAP: Pregnancy is a window of opportunity. Community agencies exist to provide a sense of belonging and security. Isolation and struggling alone are not healthy for the relationship with your unborn child and for you as a couple. Parents-to-be should be referred to local support resources before difficulties develop.
- Identify your peer support network GAP: Social interactions are essential for optimum physical and mental health. When offered the chance new parents will build lasting friendships and strong personal relationships through peer connections. Every community should offer social support opportunities.
- Identify your postpartum professional help GAP: During pregnancy, the medical system gives the mother and your unborn baby routine care. Is the father involved? What happens after the baby arrives? The focus shifts to the newborn. If either parent requires mental health intervention, what happens?
- Identify the shared parenting GAP: Nurturing yourselves and your children takes time, patience and commitment. A healthy family means sharing the work and pleasures of family life with others. Good parental mental health leads to a beautiful community. Is this happening for your new families?
For over forty years I have witnessed the development, dynamics and growth of family support networks. Their emphasis is a non-medical approach to ease the adjustment to parenthood through social support. Through actively listening to parents' concerns and frustrations appropriate referrals to professionals and resources can take place. The continuity of care for new parents is the key towards prevention, early intervention and optimum treatment of stress and illness.
Jane Honikman, M.S. co-founded Postpartum Education for Parents(PEP), co-founded the Postpartum Action Institute, and founded Postpartum Support International (PSI). Jane wrote the Community Support for New Families, I'm Listening: A Guide to Supporting Postpartum Families; My Diary: A Postpartum Journey from Pain to Purpose; Postpartum Action Manual: How to Provide Comfort, Encouragement, and Guidance to New Families. For more information visit www.janehonikman.com. You can also follow Jane on Facebook. Permission granted for use on DrLaura.com.