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Postpartum

"This, too, shall pass".... and other phrases new moms don't want to hear

"This, too, shall pass".... and other phrases new moms don't want to hear

It never fails. A new mom posts on Facebook about how she hasn't slept more than 2 hours in a row since...she can't remember when, or about the fact that she's been wearing the same clothes and messy bun for 36+ hours, or about how the baby has gone through 6 outfits in the last 4 hours, or about any other early-newborn woe. Cue the comments flooding in. 

"The days are long, but the years are short."

"Hold that sweet baby while you still can; they grow up too fast!"

"This is the easy part! Wait until she's a teenager!"

"At least....."

"Have you tried......?"

"You should......."

"I know how you feel."

And the classic, "This, too, shall pass."

These comments are well-meaning, of course! The commenters have good intentions, and genuinely want to help the mom have a positive perspective of this stage in parenting. Unfortunately, statements like these essentially silence the mother's very valid feelings. 

The postpartum time can be very isolating for a mother, even if she is surrounded by family and friends. The isolation is exacerbated by remarks that are dismissive of her frustrations and concerns since she won't really feel heard or understood.

So what can we say instead? Try some of these and see how much more supported the mom feels:

"I'm here if you'd like to talk."

"You're right; this is really hard."

"What is your biggest struggle today, and how can I help you right now?"

"Can you tell me more about ____ ?"

"It's ok to not be ok."

"I'm free on Tuesday. What can I bring you or do for you to make this a little easier?"

So, the next time you see or hear a new mother expressing that this is really hard, think of some phrases to validate, support, and empathize with her. And don't forget to offer your physical help too!

"I had the Postpartum"

"I had the Postpartum"

In the United States, I have found that we have a big secret. Everyone tells pregnant women what to expect during pregnancy, what they think the birth will be like, and maybe even how to care for a newborn. What we DON'T talk about so much is what physical and emotional changes a new parent may experience. So I'm going to talk about it here!

"Postpartum"

When I say "postpartum" what most people think of is the myriad of mood disorders that may be present during the postpartum period, such as postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, the baby blues, and postpartum psychosis. The word "postpartum" literally means "after birth" and describes the first 6 or so weeks after a baby is born. So a woman can be "postpartum" and not have a postpartum mood disorder. They're two separate terms.

I'm not going to presume to tell someone what they will experience after the birth of a baby, but I do want to bring awareness to the very wide variety of emotional and physical responses that are possible. Here are some words women I know have used to describe how they felt during their first 6 weeks after having their babies:

Raw, vulnerable, leaky

On edge, soggy, sleepy, in awe

Mighty - for delivering naturally. I was on a high!

Dazed. Sleep deprived.

Alone, isolated, exhausted, invisible

Happy but fatigued. Swollen. Uncomfortable and uneasy. Unorganized.

Consumed

Exhausted, overwhelmed, underprepared

In love, happy, engorged, like a mammal, beastly, like I can conquer all.

Depression, defeat, migraines, withdrawn, alone

Exhausted, invincible, overwhelmed, grateful

Elated, powerful, proud, exposed, dependent, naive, and wild (I had extreme and mixed emotional responses)

Dreamland (I'm a mom???), scared, sad, exhausted, worried about everything

Overwhelmed, elated, alone, disappointed (not in my child), amazed, in love, chaotic, drowning, handicapped, helpless, primal. Tons of conflict in my mind and heart and extreme feelings working against one another.

Strong, in love, exhausted, emotional

As you can see, there are some words that pop up frequently (exhausted, much?) but there are also some very diverse descriptions there! There's no right or wrong way to experience these first few weeks. It's a losing game to compare yourself with any other model you see - tv shows, celebrities, or even your family and friends! Some women are packing up their babies and going to the park within the first week, and some don't put real clothes on and leave the house for a solid month or more. It's important to do what feels right for you and your family.

Ask your postpartum doula for local resources for new parents. This might include feeding support groups, meal services, play groups, counselors, massage therapists, cleaning services, placenta encapsulation specialists, etc. If you are concerned about your mental health, or if the feelings of sadness and weepiness do not get better little by little, contact a mental health care professional who specializes in postpartum care. And pass along your experiences so postpartum won't be a secret anymore!

Parenting as a Highly Sensitive Person

Parenting as a Highly Sensitive Person

"Mommy, do you want to play with me?"

My eyes won't focus. They are too tired, for no good reason. I haven't left the house yet today. Or yesterday. Or possibly the day before; I can't remember. Sometimes outside is too much. I want so badly to be able to enjoy the sunshine, the clouds, the caterpillars, the blades of grass, the flowers my sons pick for me. The chirping birds, the possibly illegal rooster down the street, the big trucks driving by, my children's singing.

But each of these things brings a pang of overstimulation, like a fuzz-covered knife to the sensory processing mechanism in my brain. 

For the first time today, I get down on the floor to play with my oldest son. The other two are napping, and this one is bored without his playmates. Yes, he should be able to entertain himself for a little while, but he also just needs his momma sometimes. The thought of playing with him fills me with dread, and a wave of guilt flows through me. I know we will have fun, if just for the 10 minutes my brain can handle it. But I also know that afterwards I will need to hole up in a dark and quiet room in an attempt to recover from the stimulation. By then, though, someone else will need me. So I make this small sacrifice. Not every day, but today, I say yes to his bid for playful interaction.  

I tend to view my sensitivity as a negative aspect of my parenting: a disability of some sort. I'm afraid that I pull back too much, or shush them too much, or don't play with them enough, or don't take them to enough parties. I get irritated too easily. I don't do enough crafts with them. I let them watch too much Netflix. I wince when they tackle me with morning hugs and kisses. I don't enjoy them enough.

But lately, I've been intentional to notice the ways that my hyper-sensitivity is actually an asset in my parenting. 

Part of the reason that highly sensitive parents are so easily overstimulated is because we notice more and feel more deeply. We understand them in ways no one else can. We can read their emotions and proactively prevent many frustration-based breakdowns with a few words of explanation. Before they become verbal, we intuitively know why they are crying (most of the time) and can show them that we will meet their needs, which leads to an abundance of trust. We fully see and honor their uniqueness and autonomy, and recognize that their feelings are as big as an adult's. We let our love flow freely. 

So if you find yourself beating yourself up because of the negative aspects of your parenting, become more aware of the ways those "negative" traits are actually beneficial. Look at the other side of the coin and realize that you are a gift to your children. 

Guest Post: Five Things I Know about Perinatal Mood Disorders

Guest Post: Five Things I Know about Perinatal Mood Disorders

Most of us know someone who has had some experience with a Perinatal Mood Disorder (PMD).  It’s an all-too-common condition that approximately 14-25% of women who are pregnant or who give birth will experience.  That doesn’t mean that it is limited to the most commonly known PPD (postpartum depression).  There are a few different conditions that can affect the mental health of pregnant and postpartum women.  

Two recent studies have shown that postpartum anxiety and postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) are much more common than previously thought.

As it turns out, not only is postpartum OCD much more common than previously thought, it appears as though postpartum anxiety may actually be more common than Postpartum Depression (PPD).  It is not nearly as frequently screened for as PPD, but we have learned recently that it can affect as many as 17% of women as early as two weeks post baby, and that it can remain more common than PPD even 6 months later.

You can develop postpartum mood disorders up to 12 months after you have your baby.

You can also develop them anytime during your pregnancy.  If you are experiencing symptoms, even at your baby’s first birthday, don’t write them off, seek help.

It can be difficult to differentiate between the exhaustion and disorientation that comes with pregnancy and new parenthood and a mood or anxiety disorder. 

New parenthood (and pregnancy) usually includes times of sleep deprivation, exhaustion, and can even be accented with loneliness, increased or lack of appetite, and sadness.  All of these things can be symptoms of PMD or anxiety.  Having a postpartum doula to offer unconditional support, a safe space to ask questions and let out fears and concerns, and to have help with finding the right rhythm for your particular family’s unique needs can help when you feel overwhelmed.  Support and rest is critical for new families, and while a doula can’t guarantee that you or your partner won’t experience PMADs, he or she can help with the other stuff so you are better able to discern when medical help is needed.

And speaking of partners…

Your partner may be just as likely to experience postpartum depression as you are.

While most of the information focuses on fathers, all partners can experience postpartum depression.  They may experience similar symptoms as their partners, but they also experience other unique symptoms such as irritability, detachment, and emotional withdrawal.

Your birth experiences will affect your postpartum year, and can affect whether you develop a PMAD.

Stay with me on this one.  It isn’t the actual end result of your birth that matters on this point.  In fact, it is “a [mother’s] perceptions of those experiences.”  We all know (or we should all know) that neither a doctor, nor a fully prepared couple, nor a labor/birth doula can guarantee the outcome of any birth.  The good news is that even when your birth throws you a curveball and things don’t go according to plan, if you and your partner feel prepared, supported, and not judged, you can still come away from your birth feeling positive and empowered, even when it doesn’t go the way you had hoped.  

This where a doula can truly help.  As a doula, our job is to provide a space for the expectant parents to voice concerns, ask questions, feel listened to, and to facilitate their ability to communicate with their chosen and trusted care provider(s).  Even when their birth plans go awry, if they are adequately prepared and supported, they can have the beautiful birth they desire.  

If you or someone you love is struggling with postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD, or PTSD, please seek help from your trusted medical providers.  The wonderful news is that it is 100% treatable and you can recover!  

 

 

Erin Stephens is a labor and postpartum doula, ALC, and the Education Director of Mom2Mom-Ft. Bragg located in Fayetteville, NC.  View her website at www.erinstephensbirth.com 

I Talk to my Son about my Postpartum Body for the Future of Humanity

I Talk to my Son about my Postpartum Body for the Future of Humanity

After I recently gave birth to our third boy, my oldest son was observant enough to notice and talk about my changing body shape in ways he hadn’t before. When he saw my empty belly, with its leftover fat stores and sagging skin, he would excitedly say things like “Mommy! Your belly is like a flat tire!!” and “Your belly looks like a deflated balloon!"

As he snuggled with me on the couch, hugging and kissing my arm, he commented, “Momma, your arm is VERY squishy! SOOOOO squishy and soft. How squishy is my arm?" *squishes his own arm* “My arm isn’t as squishy as your arm.” 

When he would hug me goodnight, he would say, “Mommy, your belly is so soft and comfortable. It’s like a snuggly pillow. I love how warm and soft it is."

It occurred to me that my responses to his observations are of utmost importance. They have the potential to permanently shape his view of women’s bodies, and possibly even his own body image. 

What message would it send if I were to react with hurt, fear, or, even worse, anger when he made such observations about my body? If I were to say, “That’s so mean of you to say my tummy is like a flat tire. Don’t say things like that! It’s hurtful!” 

It would convey that there is something wrong with the way my body looks and feels right now.

What message would it send if I were to react by shutting him down, saying something like, “You should never comment on a woman’s body. Keep your thoughts to yourself.”

While this may be good advice for an adult (seriously folks, let’s stop reducing a woman to what her body looks like, good or bad, especially during pregnancy and postpartum), it sends a message to my 5 year old that there is something shameful about our bodies. It also would discourage any further questions he has about bodies. That safe dialogue between parent and child is SO vital.

What message would it send if I were to answer with, “I know….but my tummy will get smaller soon. I’ll be dieting and exercising to lose the weight.”

Again, I believe this sends a message that it is undesirable for a woman’s body to be larger in size.

So what am I telling him instead?

I’m telling him about the amazing way my body used food to store up energy and grow the baby during pregnancy. And how it holds onto some of those nutrients afterwards so that my body can feed our growing baby. I talk to him about how the womb takes some time to return to its normal shape and size after being the home for our baby. I tell him about how a mother’s pelvis must expand to fit the baby. Through all of this, I control the expression on my face, so that my nonverbal communication doesn’t convey unintentional messages. 

I tell him that I exercise so that my body can be healthy and strong.

I tell him that I eat foods that nourish me, give me energy, and make my body feel healthy and strong.

I tell him that I wear clothes that make me feel confident and lovely.

So maybe I’m not influencing the future of humanity by talking to my son about my postpartum body. But maybe I am. 

this essay was featured on

Scary Mommy