We are thrilled to begin introducing our panel of experts, starting with sleep expert and parenting coach Patience Bleskan. Patience currently practices in the Denver metro area as a doula, parenting coach, educator, and group facilitator. Visit her website to learn more about her work.
As the mother of 4, Patience Bleskan supports mothers with both the personal and professional perspective. She has had her own experiences with postpartum depression, loss of community, and balancing a career with raising a family. These experiences and her passion for helping others understand children is what drives her life.
Stephanie has attended Patience’s sleep support group in the past, and was extremely impressed by her skills as both a sleep expert and a group facilitator. She had the opportunity to ask Patience some questions about her perspective on new motherhood, finding support, and the power of women gathering together in a group. Read her responses:
The HerStories Project: What do you perceive as the biggest challenges and most significant areas of need for new mothers?
Patience Bleskan: During pregnancy, women start to build and create an image of themselves as a mother. We create pictures in our head of what being a parent will look like, and feel like. We create birth plans, learn to change diapers and how to swaddle. No one ever pictures that motherhood will look like the entire family crying at 2 am exhausted and wondering if it is possible to just run away. The disconnect of the image we created before baby arrived and the reality of the daily grind with a newborn throws us for a major loop-de-loop.
Expecting women need to be taught realistic expectation before baby arrives. The image they have of mother will happen, when baby is closer to a year old.
The HerStories Project: How does sleep deprivation affect new mothers?
Patience Bleskan: The simple answer is that sleep deprivation is one of the key factors leading to postpartum depression.
The more complex answer is that sleep deprivation is an interesting phenomenon in America. We don’t value sleep as a culture, it is just something we squeeze in. There is almost a badge of honor that comes with being so busy you don’t have to get a good nights sleep. When baby arrives, getting things done is still a greater priority then sleep for ourselves. So in the first weeks we do, do, do and then crash.
Taking naps in the middle of the day, leaving dishes and laundry undone does not fit in with the supermom image. Lack of sleep wears us down until we only feel like a shadow of who we were before.
THSP: What do you think women gain from attending sleep support group?
PB: Sleep group is a place where women can come and be honest about how sleep is going. Tears happen often in group as a new mom is able, for the first time, to really admit how tired she is. There is so much pressure from our doctors, mothers, and even strangers to have a baby who sleeps well. This creates growing anxiety for new moms. At group women get to be reassured their baby is normal and the way they feel is normal. They also leave with more information on sleep and how to make changes if they need to, but that is secondary.
THSP: Please share any observations you have about the power of women gathering together with other women who have similar needs and circumstances.
PB: My favorite moments in group are when the mothers share their experiences with each other. I often say parenting was never meant to be a solo sport. When mothers gather together we create the environment where women and children flourish. A mom in sleep group for the first time relaxes at a deeper level when another mother says, “I was there and it gets better.”
Play group is one place where parents and children get to come and just be together. We can share about anything from our crazy parents taking too many birthday pictures, to how did you camp with your infant. The families are all in the same place developmentally.
It makes a huge difference in the well being of the mother to see others dealing with what she is dealing with.
THSP: We are interested in how the changing needs of the baby over the first 12-18 months affect the mother, as baby’s patterns evolve and the haze of the first few months wears off. What kinds of support does a mother typically need after the baby’s first 6-12 months? How does a baby’s changing sleep needs after the first 6-12 months typically affect a mother, in your experience?
PB: I don’t think the mother’s need changes after the first 6-12 months. The challenges are just different. As baby gets older parents often struggle with how to balance their own needs with the needs of the infants. Since the child is not as all consuming, parents can struggle to know what they should expect their child to do. Going back to work and balancing the desire to work with the desire to be at home creates guilt all the way around. You can’t work the way you use to, and you are missing time with your child. It can feel like a lose, lose. If you are staying home it can feel secluded, and not valued. You can feel you are not contributing enough. Another struggle that comes in during this time is the relationship between the parents. It is often pushed to the side when baby is so little and demanding.
Now that baby is older you have to redefine your relationship not just as a couple, but as co-parents. This is can be very difficult. Having your community and support in this aspect can be critical.
Baby’s needs change very quickly and dramatically over the first 12-18 months. They go from completely dependent beings to moving communicating humans. Every new development with baby brings up yet another curve for the first time parents to navigate. This is why being in community with others is so important. Seeing and hear other mothers and children navigate the development of new skills creates an understanding of what is typical behavior and what needs to be taught or learned.
For sleep, the 12-18 month time is usually when sleep starts to become more stable. This can be a good time for the mother whose child is now sleeping a good one nap a day, going to bed and sleeping most of the night. For the child who is still waking often it can feel disheartening. After the first birthday the brain is much more ready to regulate sleep like an adult does, which means changes can usually improves sleep very quickly. We often hide other issues behind our baby’s sleeping patterns. If baby is still co-sleeping or waking, we can avoid confronting our relationship issues that have developed since baby arrived.
We are so happy to have Patience as part of The HerStories Project! We will continue to introduce our experts each week- stay tuned!
And don’t forget to take our HerStories Project New Motherhood survey!
Patience Bleskan spent the majority of her life learning to better understand how children learn, and how adults, teachers and parents, affect who children become. As a toddler she walked around nursing her baby dolls and in high school her final term paper discussed how parents can teach children to make good choices.
As she went out into the world her choice of work was easily made as she became a preschool teacher. Patience continued to work with young children as a teacher while she received her Bachelors Degree in Psychology from the Metropolitan State College of Denver. She wasted no time before continuing her formal education with a Masters degree in Early Childhood Educational Psychology from the University of Colorado.
While Patience learned a great deal about children and the many theories of development during her schooling, her study of the Reggio Philosophy of Early Childhood Education made the biggest impact in her professional life. The schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy have become the benchmark for high quality education for young children. Patience has attended numerous conferences on the Reggio Approach and was able to study directly with Carla Rinaldi from Reggio in 2002.
After teaching preschool for seven years, Patience Bleskan founded her Parent Education and Coaching Business in 2004. The work began with classes for parents, but has grown to include groups, consulting, preschool training, keynote speaking and doula work. She has now worked with hundreds families from all over the country.