New Moms Face the Birth of the Blues

adult-baby-bed-225744By Kathy P. Behan

 Susan Kushner Resnick knew she was in trouble when her infant son started to sleep through the night at four months, and yet she wasn’t able to. Along with insomnia, she also experienced crippling anxiety attacks, a loss of appetite and episodes of compulsive behavior — repeatedly straightening bed sheets and making detailed lists.

Resnick was suffering from a classic case of postpartum depression (PPD), but she didn’t know it. “I really didn’t feel sad,” she said. “I thought that’s what depression was — feeling sad. I just felt frenzied and out of control.”

Resnick gradually started to feel better, mainly due to the help of a nurse psychotherapist, who prescribed an antidepressant and medication to help her sleep. She also joined a Depression After Delivery support group, and enlisted the aid of her husband, who would come home early from work to take care of their baby and 3-year-old daughter.

Prompted partly by frustration, Resnick wrote a book about her experiences. “I wrote ‘Sleepless Days’ because it was the book I needed to read,” she said. “When I was feeling so badly, I thought l’ll be OK if I read someone else’s story and find out that they lived through this.’ There were no books like that.”

Postpartum mood disorders are common, and yet as Resnick found out, information on the topic is surprisingly sparse. Ruta Nonacs, M.D., Ph.D., a staff psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital, an instructor at Harvard Medical School and a new mother explained: “People have known that depression has existed for a long, long time but post-partum depression has only been recognized in the last hundred years, and studied more closely for the last 20.”

The good news is that even though experts still aren’t exactly sure what causes PPD — hormones, stress or a combination of the two — the condition is finally being taken seriously. “People are seeing this as a real entity, that it really does exist, and it can be quite severe,” says Nonacs.

Why has PPD been overlooked? Nonacs speculates that one reason may be because new motherhood has always been viewed as one of the happiest times in a woman’s life.

“It’s kind of a taboo in our culture,” agrees Resnick. “Motherhood is supposed to be so beautiful and fulfilling. If you say that many women are miserable after having a baby, it’s bad PR.”

This may explain why so many new mothers are reluctant to admit they’re having problems, and seek professional help. The problem is often compounded by loneliness. “I think the new mother is particularly isolated,” said Nonacs. “She’s at home. She’s not in the work force. She can manage to take care of her child, but some other things might be falling by the wayside, but there’s nobody there to see it.”

Isolation is something that Carol, a Metrowest mother of four, knows all too well. Even though she keeps in close touch with her sister in Oklahoma, she has few local companions.

“My husband’s never home,” she said. “I’d just love somebody to talk to.” Carol’s baby is almost 6 months old, and Carol says she’s never felt worse. Her profile is typical of a PPD sufferer: Carol worries incessantly, mostly about her kids; she doesn’t get more than four hours of sleep a night; she’s very tearful; she’s “cranky” with her other children; and she’s eating more than she normally does but she’s still hungry all the time. In addition, she lives under a cloud of stress — she has no one to help her with the children; two of her sons have significant learning problems; her parents are recovering from life-threatening ailments; and her baby is plagued by non-stop ear infections.

Yet Carol’s not convinced she has PPD. “I’ve always had stress, but I’ve always been pretty resilient,” she said. “I still don’t really think of myself as depressed, I just need some sleep, and somebody to talk to.”

“PPD often goes untreated,” Nonacs said. “There’s a lack of knowledge in the general population so these women are reassured that things will get better. They’re told this is a phase and it will pass, or that they’re simply not getting enough sleep. Symptoms get minimized.”

Recovery is important not only for the mother’s well-being, but also for her child’s. “PPD can have a significant impact on a baby,” Nonacs said. “Even mild depression can affect how a mother interacts with her child. We have a lot of data that shows that kids who have depressed moms will have more behavioral problems, and they’ll be slower to develop both in terms of interpersonal skills, as well as their motor coordination.”

The good news is that all kinds of help is available. Some studies suggest taking part in parenting or support groups during pregnancy and in the postpartum period can actually ward off PPD. Even when a mother becomes depressed, joining this type of group may also offer significant relief. “These gatherings provide a woman with an extra layer of support in a community where she can talk about issues,” Nonacs said.

Women should contact their ob/gyn or primary care physician for referrals. A mother may need individual therapy, and possibly sleep and antidepressant medications. Other resources include: Depression after Delivery (800-944-4PPD); Jewish Family & Children’s Services (617-558-1278); Postpartum Support International (805-967-7636); the Perinatal Psychiatry Program at Mass General (617-724-6540) or the Hestia Institute in Wellesley (781-431-1275).

Postpartum mood disorders generally fall within the following three categories:


• Onset: Usually about three days after delivery.

• Duration: Less than two weeks.

• How common: Affects 50-85 percent of new mothers.

• Symptoms: Mood swings; irritability; tearfulness; generalized anxiety; mild sleep; and appetite disturbances.

• Treatment: None — resolves on its own.



• Onset: Late in pregnancy, or within the first few months after delivery.

• Duration: Without treatment, may last up to a year.

• How common: Affects 10-15 percent of new mothers.

• Symptoms: Depressed mood; feelings of guilt; exhaustion; hopelessness; significant appetite and sleep disturbances; poor concentration; memory loss; over-concern for the baby; uncontrollable crying; irritability; intense anxiety; and intrusive, repetitive thoughts.

• Treatment: Group psychotherapy; support groups; individual psychotherapy; and sleep and antidepressant medication.



• Onset: Usually within two weeks of delivery.

• Duration: Resolves within weeks with medication.

• How common: Rare — approximately one out of every 1,000 women.

• Symptoms: Restlessness; agitation; irritability; sleep disturbances; confusion; hyperactivity; disorganized behavior; delusions and hallucinations, possibly of a religious nature; and rapid speech or mania.

• Treatment: Mood stabilizers, antipsychotic medication and hospitalization.

The Fright Stuff

beach-life-maternity-51386By Kathy P. Behan

The test results are positive. You’re pregnant.

Whether the news comes from the doctor’s office or from a home pregnancy kit, women trying to have a baby are usually ecstatic when they find out. Visions of an infant swaddled in receiving blankets and cooing contentedly suddenly crowd out all other thoughts. At least for a while. But as time passes, most mothers-to-be acknowledge that some of their initial euphoria is dampened as doubts and fears soon seep into the picture.

One mother may worry about the beer she drank before she knew she was pregnant; another about the allergy tablets she’d swallowed. In my case, I worried about almost every aspect of pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood. I even worried about my marriage. Were my husband and I really cut out for parenthood? After confiding my fears to some of my closest friends —- and nearly every woman I sat next to on the train -— I found that when it comes to pregnancy, worry, like weight gain, comes with the territory.

Nevertheless, one thriving marriage and three healthy babies later, I’ve discovered that even though there is a lot to worry about, there’s also a lot you can do to ease your mind. What follows is a chronicle of the most common fears — and how to exorcise them.

“I was obsessed with the same thought throughout both of my pregnancies,” confesses a 38-year-old mother of two from Crestwood, New York. “I worried that the baby had some sort of abnormality.”

Indeed, giving birth to a baby with birth defects is one of the greatest fears experienced by pregnant women, according to doctors T. Berry Braselton and Bertrand Cramer in their book, “The Earliest Relationship.” And it’s easy to understand why: Having a child is such an intensely emotional and physical investment that it’s devastating to think anything could go wrong.

To banish these thoughts, consider the odds; in normal pregnancies, they’re always in your favor. “Today more than 90 percent of expectant mothers can look forward to a routine and uneventful nine months, followed by delivery of a robust son or daughter,” writes Dr. Harlan R. Giles in the Better Homes and Gardens New Family Medical Guide. You can optimize your chances by taking good care of yourself: Eat properly, get plenty of rest, and stay away from drugs, cigarettes and alcohol.

Another way to keep your fears at bay is by talking about them with an obstetrician you trust. “Doctor’s visits shouldn’t only be physical exams,” says Bernadette Rossi Lehr, a copy editor from Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the mother of two sons. “They should be emotional checkups as well.”

It’s also reassuring to listen to your baby’s heartbeat at the doctor’s office after the third month. For many nervous mothers-to-be, hearing that steady thump-thump is a great relief. Sonograms, which show the fetus moving about, can help dispel worries, although your doctor probably won’t give you one simply because you’re nervous.

If you’re at least 16 weeks pregnant and you’re concerned about the baby’s movement—or lack thereof—your doctor can put your mind at ease by suggesting the “count-to-ten” method, in which you record how long it takes to feel ten fetal movements. You’ll probably be amazed at just how active your baby really is. (If you don’t feel any movements at all in three hours, contact your doctor immediately.)

Compared to concern about your baby’s health, it seems trivial to worry about your unborn child’s sex, but many expectant mothers do. “Because there were only girls in our family, I wasn’t sure that I would know how to take care of a boy,” explains Martha Prozeller of Sudbury, Massachusetts. By contrast, another mother worried about having a girl: “It intimidated me. I thought I’d identify too strongly with her and try to correct in her all the things I didn’t like in myself.”

There’s obviously nothing you can do to change your child’s sex, so instead, focus on the positive. Think of all the wonderful aspects of having a daughter or a son. Luckily, sexual preferences usually disappear at the sight of the newborn.

In addition to the baby’s sex, some mothers-to-be worry that they don’t really want the child at all. These feelings are especially common when the pregnancy was unplanned; but even women who have tried for a long time to conceive are often surprised by, and feel guilty about, their ambivalence toward the baby. This reaction isn’t so surprising. After all, having a baby is a lot like getting married: It’s scary because it so fundamentally changes your life. And as with marriage, you may occasionally doubt—and regret—your decision. But having such doubts doesn’t mean that you don’t really love your husband, or that you don’t truly want the baby.

Physical failures
Some women revel in their pregnant bodies, and others are completely disgusted by them. But even if you have a good attitude about your growing girth, it’s not at all uncommon to believe that you’re no longer sexually appealing. “I felt less attractive when I was pregnant,” admits Lehr. “The irony is that you’re going through the most female of experiences, and yet feeling that you’re the least feminine in men’s eyes.”

Here’s where a sensitive and loving partner can help. “My husband made me feel good about my body every step of the way,” says one mother from Northern California. During my own pregnancy, when the scales climbed to new heights, my husband cheered me on. He assured me that I was more gorgeous than ever before, and I felt wonderful because I knew he meant it—although I did question his sanity.

Beyond altering the size and shape of your body, pregnancy hurls it through one final abuse—labor. Just mentioning the word makes many brave women cringe. “I was terrified,” admits Carolyn Bitetti, a marketing consultant with two sons. “I panicked about how I would deal with it and hated the thought of having no privacy and becoming a public spectacle.”

Even those who’ve been through childbirth don’t always agree on the best way to approach it. “I tried to become as well-educated about labor as I could,” says Cynthia Danaher, a Winchester, Massachusetts, mother of two. “I wanted to learn about the different stages of labor and how to deal with them.”

Rose Beatty a forester from Northfield, Vermont, took the opposite tack: “I purposely didn’t do any reading about labor until the end because I had enough to worry about with all the other aspects of pregnancy.”

Labor may be the worst pain you’ll ever experience. But even though it’s no stroll through the park, it isn’t necessarily a trip through hell. Each person responds differently to labor, and fortunately or unfortunately, you won’t know what you’re in for until you’re actually in the thick of it. Lamaze and other childbirth education classes, as well as information on pain medications should you want them, will help you feel prepared, which in turn will let you feel as if you have some control over the situation. It may also help to remember two things: One, it’s eventually over, and two, it’s pain with a purpose—it’s probably the only agony you’ll endure that brings ecstasy.

And Baby Makes Three
“One thing that scared me was knowing that my relationship with my husband would definitely change, but not knowing how,” acknowledges Beatty. “Because of the pressure of having a child, I wondered if we would be able to maintain a good, loving relationship.”

Most couples are concerned about the same thing. Needless to say, babies are very demanding, and they complicate and change almost every aspect of your life so it’s understandable that couples worry whether their marriage will become a casualty of parenthood. The bad news is, yes, parenthood often greatly alters your relationship. The good news is that many couples report a lot of changes for the better. Explains MaryAnn Long from Scarsdale, NY, “I always thought my marriage would be enhanced by having kids, and that’s exactly what happened. We felt closer together because we had our own family — we weren’t just two individuals. We enjoyed our children so much that I appreciated him more and he appreciated me more.”

One area of your marriage may suffer more obviously than others, however, and that is your sex life. During pregnancy you may find you’re more in the mood for sleep than you are for love, and many women worry that this trend will continue, or worsen, after the baby comes. Christine Cambria, a 37-year-old mother of five, says she never realized how much her sex life would change after the birth of her first child. “It came as a real surprise, but we weren’t upset about it. We just decided it was normal.”

In fact, it is normal. Almost all new mothers report that they lose—at least temporarily—that loving feeling. Although you may never get back to your pre-child sexual frequency, the quality of lovemaking may nevertheless be enhanced. After all, you now have tangible proof of your love for one another in your child. And parenthood may add a new and very attractive dimension to your spouse.

If you are having problems with sex, the solution may simply be better communication. Talk to your husband about your marital concerns and desires while you’re pregnant: You’ll start a healthy habit that should continue long after the baby’s birth.

Almost every woman embarks on her career as a mother without previous experience raising children, and for many it’s a terrifying prospect. “I worried I’d be too rigid and that I wouldn’t be patient, fun, or available enough for my kids,” says freelance artist Theresa Gorman-Kahler, the mother of three sons. “Sometimes I’m not. Then there are other times when I know I’m a good mother.”

Some women worry that they won’t be wise enough to deal with the complexities of parenthood, or that they’ll make the same mistakes their own mothers did. Perhaps the best way to approach these fears is to realize that you’re not always going to know the right things to do, that there will be many good days as well as some disastrous ones.

Nobody, in fact, parents perfectly, and the worst thing you can do is set unrealistically high standards before the baby arrives. For instance, I considered myself to be a highly successful mom when I managed to have myself and the baby out of our pajamas and fully dressed by 2 p.m. during those first few weeks.

Experienced mothers agree that your priorities should center on the health and happiness of the baby, yourself and the rest of your family. You’ll have a better idea of what to expect if you talk to other moms. Join a mothers’ group or start your own with the members of your childbirth class. Read childcare books and talk to your own or your spouse’s mother. It will also bolster your confidence to take a class on baby care at a hospital or community center.

Of course, just when you think you’ve got the hang of it, you may decide to have another child, and you’ll face a brand-new set of concerns. Some mothers worry about the effect of a new baby on the family as a whole; others fear sibling rivalry. “When I’d think about how a new baby would change my relationship with my first child, it was almost like being in mourning,” says Lehr. “I was sad about losing the one-on-one with my firstborn.” Other parents wonder if they’ll be able to love the second child as much as they love the first.

In both cases, parents need to take the longer view. If you’re worried about short-changing the first child, consider the ways that you’re actually enhancing his/her life. For starters, you’re producing a live-in, lifelong friend; they’ll fight and hate each other at times, but chances are they’ll also become loyal allies. You’re also taking the heat off number one—all that attention can be suffocating at times for only children.

As far as cheating the second child, he probably won’t be as well documented in the photo album or baby book as the first, but he’s also gaining a set of older, experienced parents. One New York mother explains, “Aside from time and energy limitations, I think I’m a better mother with my second child. She gets the best side of my mothering—the side that doesn’t panic at runny bowel movements or throwing up.”

There are few, if any, women who can honestly say they faced pregnancy, birth, and motherhood fearlessly. For whether it’s your first child or your fourth, fears spring from a positive source—your deep love and concern for your child, whether he’s born or unborn. That’s why there’s at least something redeemable about these anxieties. But when they become too overwhelming, try to remember that true hazards are extremely rare, and that worrying about unfounded fears doesn’t do anyone—your baby, your partner, and least of all you—any good.

Kathy P. Behan, a mother of three, is a nationally published freelance writer specializing in family and health issues.

New Girl In School Survival Guide

adults-black-and-white-casual-1374542By Kathy P. Behan

Death, yes. Torture, maybe. But hardly anything is worse than your first day at a new school. You don’t know anyone, and you’re convinced you’ll never fit in. You’re sure the first time you open your mouth you’ll make a fool of yourself.

Take heart, you won’t need to call in sick the whole first semester. There’s lots you can do to make your adjustment speedy and less stressful. To help smooth your path through the first awkward days, here’s the scoop from students who’ve been there.

Know Your Way Around

“When I got to high school I spent the first two weeks wandering the halls, looking for my classes,” says Kate, 16. “I felt and looked like an idiot.”

Many schools have orientation programs for newcomers, which give the lowdown on, among other things, the school’s layout. Some schools even have a “buddy system.” Each new student is assigned an “old-timer” who eats lunch with her, helps her find her way around, and answers questions. If there isn’t a formal introductory program, check out the school on your own before classes start. Familiarize yourself with the location of your homeroom, classes, the cafeteria, gym and bathrooms. Sometimes a guidance counselor can also give you a tour.

Dress Smart

“On the first day of classes I wore what was popular at my old private school— a frilly white blouse and tweed skirt,” recalls Jill, 15. “The other kids had on T-shirts and jeans. Talk about standing out in a crowd.”

A wide range of looks is acceptable, but it’s best to follow the crowd at first in how you dress. Don’t wear anything too casual or too formal. Unless your school has a dress code, jeans or cords with a nice shirt are universally acceptable. But whatever you choose to wear, make sure you feel comfortable. Otherwise, you’ll feel and look out of place. By dressing smart, you can look like you belong—even though you may not feel that way yet.

Be Yourself

“I was so nervous about fitting in that I tried to give myself a complete makeover,” remembers Claire, 14. “I tried to look, act, and talk like everyone else. I almost went crazy.”

It’s awfully tempting, sometimes, to leave your old personality and its problems behind at your old school. But usually it’s a lot easier to be yourself and get people to like you for who you really are than it is to re-invent your personality. You may be able to fool people into thinking you’re someone you’re not, but why risk the strain. Is the real you so terrible?

And don’t be pushed into behaviors or situations that don’t feel right. If you don’t want to do something, don’t do it. If it’s offered as the price of acceptance, avoid a major confrontation. Just firmly and politely say, “No, thanks,” and walk away.

Relax and Be Good to Yourself

“When I first started school, I tried not to take myself too seriously,” says Beth, 17. “Otherwise things affected me more than they should. I learned that a bad grade isn’t a terrible failure, and if I don’t have a date Saturday night, I’m not a social outcast.”

When you start a new school and you’re eager to project a positive image, it’s easy to let small setbacks loom large. It takes time to make it in a new school; don’t make it tougher on yourself by having unrealistic expectations. If you expect to win a popularity contest your first week at school or to know everyone in your homeroom, you’re going to be disappointed. You’ll feel more comfortable with each passing day and so will your new classmates; remember, they have to get used to you, too.

Get Involved

“By joining the chess, French, photography, and tennis clubs,” says Gail, 15, “I got to know almost everyone.”

Maybe there’s an interest you’ve always meant to pursue—acting or singing, for example. Getting involved in extracurricular activities makes you feel more a part of the school, with the additional bonus of meeting other kids in a casual and relaxed setting. And sharing a common interest is a great icebreaker. But beware of overcommitting yourself out of desperation or just for appearances. Joining the volleyball team because it’s popular won’t score you any points if you’re bored and net every ball.

Be Friendly

“I tried to be friendly to everyone,” comments Jenny, 13. “I got to know a lot of different people, and then became friends with the ones I liked best and were most comfortable with.”

Set aside some time every day to socialize, especially if you’re shy. Try to get to know at least one person in each of your classes. Be open to meeting new people and don’t be afraid to make the first move. Give people a chance. Even if someone looks or acts differently than you do, he or she may still make a good friend. Strive for lasting friendships. Don’t just try to get in with the “in crowd.”

A good friendship is based on mutual likes, hates, interests and shared concerns. After you’ve established yourself, don’t forget what it’s like to be new; now it’s your turn to reach out to new classmates. And remember that first friends are certainly not your last, so don’t feel you must confine yourself to a certain group. You can’t ever have too many friends.

Kathy P. Behan, a mother of three, is a nationally published freelance writer specializing in health and family issues.

Trials of a Hockey Parent

Cullen Youth HockeyBY KATHY P. BEHAN

Call me a weenie, call me a coward or better yet, call me what I truly am — an overprotective parent. That’s because I was reluctant for my first-grader to take up the sport of hockey.

This reluctance mostly comes from the very real possibility that my son could get creamed. After all, it makes me extremely nervous to think of my precious boy playing a game where most participants are lucky if they’re able to retain more than half of their teeth. I had to be convinced that hockey was indeed a game. I’ve always viewed it more as an excuse for participants to brawl on ice.

Another drawback is that it’s a major time commitment. Being on a hockey team at my son’s level means that he would attend two practices and a game a week. I am not excited by the prospect of spending three hours (or more) a week freezing my toes — and various other body parts — off. This discomfort is heightened by the fact that I would have to attend these sessions with my two younger children in tow. Imagine what fun it is for a 4-year-old and his 17-month-old sister to watch their brother practice.

Because of intense lobbying by my son and former-hockey-playing husband, I caved in and let Cullen join the “Mosquitos,” as they’re so attractively called. (Don’t ask me why, but the teams all seem to be named after particularly annoying insects.) I’ve been alternately angry and pleased about this decision ever since.

For starters, the equipment is unbelievable. Not only do they need tons of it — shoulder, shin and elbow pads, hockey pants, padded gloves, caged helmet, hockey stick and of course, the skates themselves — but it is incredibly expensive.

The other problem with all this equipment is that obviously, you have to put it on. It’s not like soccer where you slip on your shin pads, cleats, and t-shirt and you’re ready to play. Getting ready for hockey is a major investment in time, patience and endurance. Fastening the skates alone is a ten-minute trial.

The good news is that even though this equipment is extremely bulky and unwieldy, it’s also well, very protective. You get the feeling that a kid wearing all this stuff would have to really work at getting hurt. Plus in terms of violence, this hockey bears almost no resemblance to its professional counterpart. Players are not allowed to “check” (smash into your opponents), and even when they do take someone out of a play, most times it’s unintentional. Usually it’s because a skater loses his balance, and brings down other players in the process. It’s a matter of luck as to whether the players he brings down are on his, or the opposing team.

Don’t misunderstand — these kids are actually pretty great. They fall a lot because they try so hard, and they skate so fast. I’m constantly astounded by their excellent level of play.

For his part, Cullen is thoroughly hooked on hockey. He really looks forward to playing, and has informed me that he’d love to practice every day. As for me, in my own fashion, I’ve even gotten into the spirit of things. I offered my son a $5 reward (or more accurately, bribe) for every goal he makes. Of course after he scored twice during his last game, I lowered the ante to a quarter. So aside from sitting in a freezing cold rink, I have to admit that I enjoy watching the games. Seeing these pint-sized people zooming across the ice has been surprisingly entertaining. As for my main compliant, maybe I could ask them to turn up the heat…

Kathy P. Behan, a mother of three, is a nationally published freelance writer specializing in family and health issues.

No Longer Haunted by Halloween

IMG_3630 (2)

Taryn and her husband, Sebastian, still get a kick out of Halloween

By Kathy P. Behan

I have always hated Halloween. I have lots of good reasons to feel this way. For starters, I was always really tall for my age and I’d go trick-or-treating with Kathy, my best friend, and my older sister, Mona. But when I got to be about 9, people would give them candy and before I could get any, they’d say, “You’re too old!” and slam the door in my face. Unfortunately, this happened way too often. I’d be left on the doorstep candy-less and feeling humiliated.

Then there was the year Gloria coerced us into trick-or-treating with her. By this time, my older sister was out with her friends, and Kathy decided it would be more fun if we joined Gloria and her group. We soon learned that these girls were more into tricks than treats.

Three houses into the night, we came upon one that looked deserted. Gloria took out a can of shaving cream and began squirting the front door. She then took an egg out of her side pocket and threw it against a window. My friend and I watched all this in horrified silence. The other girls were laughing and pardon the pun, egging Gloria on. We continued to other houses gathering candy or if the house looked unoccupied, Gloria and her crew would “cream it.”

Before long, we stopped at one dark house where Gloria, no longer content with my watching the proceedings, began to goad me into being a trick participant. I wish I could report that I stood up to the taunting, but instead, I caved into the pressure.

After initially holding out, I began artfully outlining the front door in shaving cream. Suddenly it opened and an old woman appeared. “Who made this mess?” she angrily demanded.

Without hesitation, Gloria pointed my way. What could I say? There I was with the shaving cream in my hand, a blush of shame spreading across my face. After cleaning the door and enduring a torrent of the woman’s angry reprimands, I walked home alone. I was kept company though by memories of Gloria’s insults, the old woman’s complaints and most hurtfully, by my own cowardice.

Looking back, some of my Halloween mishaps were more comical than sinister. Like the time I was dressed up as a witch, complete with long black plastic nails. At one house, we had to pick our candy out of a bowl. In the process I lost a bunch of my nails. As I was trying to retrieve them, the bowl’s owner accused me of trying to take more than my fair share of candy, and unceremoniously, shoved me out of her house. Or there was the time that we were held captive in an elderly couple’s home until we correctly performed an Irish jig.

As if being refused candy and getting into trouble with oldsters wasn’t enough to dampen my enthusiasm for Halloween, being mugged when I was 11 (it’s a long story. I’ll tell you about it sometime) squashed it completely.

Because of my children, up until now, I’ve tried to keep my tawdry Halloween past a secret. After all, they so enjoy every aspect of this holiday. They happily decide what they’ll be, help with all the preparations, and count the days until they’re dressed up and collecting candy.

My favorite one so far was when we brought the kids to California and spent it trick-or-treating with Mona and her family in an exceptionally theme-inspired neighborhood. The residents tried to outdo each other creating steaming witches’ caldrons and makeshift graveyards on their lawns. There was even one house where you had to collect your candy from Dracula while he lay in a coffin.

Over the years, I’ve not only enjoyed trick-or-treating with my kids but also the traditions we’ve developed around Halloween. For instance, we have a pumpkin-carving contest and vote for the best one. Every year my husband makes a scary face, I make a cute one and the kids often base theirs on cartoon characters or super heroes. And no matter where the children are at the beginning of the evening, we all meet up at a certain time to walk around our own neighborhood together.

Thanks to my children, Halloween, for me, has lost a lot of its former sting. I’ve found this to be an interesting aspect of parenthood. Old likes and dislikes take on a different spin because you’re experiencing them from a new perspective – that of your children’s.

So no, Halloween will never be a favorite holiday of mine, but my kids certainly make it bearable, and even fun.

Kathy P. Behan, a mother of three, is a nationally published freelance writer specializing in family and health issues.