By Meghan Holohan| April 20, 2020
"After experiencing infertility for almost four years, Sarah and Brian Piett felt thrilled to welcome their new son, Brooks, on February 26. Soon after, the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed life. Now friends and family can’t meet the baby or offer to babysit. As the quarantine lingers, Sarah feels more listless, worried and frustrated.
“Our whole family has really been waiting for Brooks forever and have been on this journey with us. We finally have our baby and nobody can even see him,” the 29-year-old recovery room nurse from Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, told TODAY Parents. “I’ve cried a lot.”
"After facing infertility for almost four years, the Pietts were excited to finally welcome a baby. But that feeling lessened as stay-at-home orders means Sarah feels isolated." -- Courtesy of the Piett family
"Sarah struggled to breastfeed and a phone call with the lactation consultant made her feel guilty about pumping and supplementing with formula. She wishes she had a little more help around the house or could even go to a moms group or walk around a mall.
“I love my baby and I love holding him,” she said. “Sometimes you wish that somebody was here just to hold him for like five minutes to give you a break.”
At her six-week follow up appointment, she scored high on a diagnostic test for postpartum depression. Her doctor gave her a prescription and a therapist recommendation. She feels like being isolated is making her depression and anxiety more severe.
“It sounds so selfish but I keep thinking this isn’t the maternity leave I envisioned. I thought I’d be able to see friends and they’d be able to see my baby and enjoy him,” Piett said. “It just totally all around completely sucks.”
By Anne Miller| April 15, 2020
"When the first pregnancy arrives with little effort, struggling to conceive again can come as a shock."
"The doctor sketched a rough outline of my reproductive organs and nearby anatomy as she talked. The black lines on white paper seemed so sparse, when in reality they represented our hopes for the future. My husband and I had a healthy, smart, sassy, thriving preschooler; but we wanted another child. And with the relative ease of our first pregnancy — three months of trying followed by a clockwork 40 weeks (and three days) of pregnancy — we assumed the second would come easily.
Instead, it took us a little more than two years to conceive. The process hit us like a shock wave, draining our savings and deflating our dreams.
The doctors called it secondary infertility, a sometimes nebulous term that’s often given to women (or couples) who have successfully given birth but are struggling to get or stay pregnant again. As with regular infertility, it’s diagnosed in women who can’t seem to conceive after trying for a year or more (if they’re under 35); or for six months or more (if they’re 35 or older).
For many women, a secondary infertility diagnosis can come as a shock — if you’ve had a baby once, why shouldn’t you be able to have another?
“I had heard that secondary infertility was possible, but I never thought it would happen to us,” said Shannon Stockton, a mom of two girls who are more than eight years apart. “I had gotten pregnant so easily the first time.”
Stockton, who works as an executive assistant for a medical nonprofit, had her first daughter at 28, and hoped to have a second child four or five years later. She and her husband started trying again when she was 33, but she didn’t give birth until she was 37.
“Why couldn’t we figure out the timing? Why wouldn’t our bodies do what they were supposed to do?” they wondered. Their diagnosis: unexplained secondary infertility."
Sixteen women on their personal transformations.
"I Started Saying Yes to No"
By Casey Wilson
"I am a yes person. Shonda Rhimes lived a “Year of Yes” and I have lived a lifetime of yes. In fact, I prided myself on coming from a place of yes, emotionally, whatever that means?
Yes, I'll take a red eye to be at your bachelorette party.
Yes, I'll help the male stripper round up his lose clothes after the music has stopped and everyone else stands around in horrified silence.
Yes, I'll co-lead a self-help retreat for friends in Joshua Tree, despite the fact my own life is in utter shambles.
Yes, I'll hurt when no one wants to attend!
Yes, I'll go to couples therapy with a boyfriend for a year after we stop dating to "tie up loose ends."
Yes, I'll suport your pyramid scheme and buy your chalky shakes and bad jewelry and Flat Earth pamphlets.
Yes, I'll sell those items myself, to little success.
Yes, I'll host. Yes, I'll speak. Yes, I'll march. Yes, I'll give. Yes, I'll be there. And here. And everywhere.
And perhaps most upsetting: Yes, I'll go to your one-person show.
And then I had children. Two spirited little boys. Suddenly I was barely getting to or even halfway doing the things I cared about most: working, deepening my marriage, tending to my precious female friendships, fighting for change and watching every episode of "The Real Housewives."
Something had to give, and it wasn't gonna be The Housewives. It became clear I had to drill down on what was truly necessary. That meant only doing the things it felt (as a friend puts it) "joyful for my spirit to do." I imposed a Marie Kondo-like approach to social commitments and anything that extended beyond the rewarding (yet relentless!) work of motherhood.
It's still hard for me to say no. It's simply not in my nature. I hate to disappoint people, be they a boss or a male stripper. But nothing forces you to create boundaries like having kids. We have only so much energy. I have, maybe, almost...none?
Because that sound we have always been aware of, that dim hum that has been running under our entire lives, grows louder as children are ushered in. It's the hum of mortality.
There's only so much time. We must say no in order to say yes to what is most essential.
Until the time comes to say goodbye."
"I Started to Worry About Failure"
By Nikole Hannah-Jones
"I grew up in a dysfunctional household because my father was an alcoholic, and when I was young, I would lie in my twin bed next to the window and write out the life I planned to lead when I grew up and gained control. I still have the battered, sunshine-colored notebook in which I plotted my future.
Our family was working class. We had no wealth and no family connections to open doors, but the one advantage I can claim was unwavering confidence in my ability to change my circumstance. I did not trust many people, but I trusted myself absolutely.
Even as a young child, I believed in my mind, my work ethic and my ambition. And so, my journal did not record my hopes for the future. It recorded what would be.
I have been afraid of many things in my life, but failure was not one of the. Until I had my daughter.
Because of my childhood, I have spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about all the things I would never do as a parent, all the ways I would be better. I had a determination to create the home life for my dhild that I wished I had growing up.
Yet before she breathed her first breath, when she was just a flutter in my stomach, I began to feel a tightness in my chest driven by a fear that I would not be up to the task. That no matter how much I loved her, I would make so many mistakes, mistakes I likely would not even know I was making, mistakes that would somehow scar my child the way that I feel scarred.I likely would not even know I was making mistakes that would somehow scar my child the way that I feel scarred. The confident control I have exercised over my entire life feels so tenuous now that I am in charge of raising another human being who is witnessing me and all my flaws while her personhood is being formed.
Even now as I now have more empathy for my own parents, I am consumed by the fear that in the most important venture in my life, I will fail. So when my daughter was just a baby, I started writing a journal to her. Over the pages, I tell her how much I love her, how much she means to me, how she has changed my life, and own up when I make mistakes.
My hope is that one day when she is grown up, this journal will allow her to extend me some grace for the failures I know I will make. It is a strange conversion. As a child, I did not find hope a useful thing. But now that I have my own, I often feel as if hope is all that I have."
By Alexander Sacks, MD + Catherine Birndorf, MD| May 9, 2019
Photo: Michelle Kondrich
"Thoughts like these are completely normal, but many new moms feel ashamed of having them. Here’s how to let go of self-judgment and too-high expectations, from reproductive psychiatrists Alexandra Sacks and Catherine Birndorf.
I’ve have been working in women’s mental health for the past decade and my mission has been to educate people about the identity shift that occurs with motherhood, a phase called “matrescence.” Like adolescence, this developmental transition is hormonal, physical and emotional — all at the same time. But unlike adolescence, this transition hasn’t been part of the public discourse, and new mothers often end up judging themselves for these natural feelings. Of course, this conversation also includes the transitions of fathers, partners, and non-birthing parents. To cover the experience of matrescence from pregnancy through motherhood, I coauthored (with reproductive psychiatrist Catherine Birndorf, MD) the new book What No One Tells You; below is an excerpt.
If you’re interested in learning more about the subject and hearing real women’s stories, I invite you to listen to my new podcast “Motherhood Sessions,” where I sit down with mothers and share therapeutic conversations about guilt, perfectionism and many other human struggles. My hope is that by reducing stigma and shame around these topics we can all start to better understand the mothers in our lives — whether it’s yourself or someone you know and love. —Alexandra Sacks, MD
We often hear moms whisper in hushed tones something they’d never tell their friends or partner: “Sometimes I wish I had my old life back.”
Or they wonder, “Am I a bad mother because sometimes I’d rather take a nap than nurse my baby?” These ambivalent thoughts are completely natural, yet many moms feel ashamed of them. We call this the push and pull of motherhood — sometimes you’ll feel pulled toward your baby’s needs and your identity as a mother, and sometimes you’ll want to push it all away.
Motherhood, like all complex experiences, is a mix of both positive and negative.
Loving your child doesn’t change the fact that sometimes the work of caretaking is not fun. Yet for many moms, admitting that there are moments, days or weeks when you want a break is scary, because it can make you ask yourself: “Am I trapped with this feeling forever? What if I made a mistake? Does this mean I don’t love my baby?”
Ambivalence comes up when you find your attention is pushed away from your baby to care for yourself and others in your life, and you don’t know how to make it all work.
With every choice, someone gets shortchanged. How are you not going to feel guilty about leaving a meeting at work to go to the pediatrician? Or sleeping an extra 15 minutes while your baby is fussing, only to find him lying in spit-up? And what about when you’re with the baby but really thinking about returning a friend’s call, replying to a work email, eating dinner with your partner, or sleeping?"
How to shift your mind-set from giving so much of yourself to others.
By Pooja Lakshmin| May 5, 2020
Photo: Dadu Shin
"I was teaching a group of new mothers a few years ago how to recognize postpartum depression and anxiety when a woman raised her hand. “My work is letting me take an extra two weeks of paid maternity leave. I don’t know what to do. I feel bad if I take it. My team will have to pick up the slack. I feel bad if I don’t. I’d be giving up precious time with my daughter.” I responded, “Is there any option you wouldn’t feel bad about taking?”
As a perinatal psychiatrist who takes care of women coping with the transition to motherhood, I meet mothers who lean into their guilt like it’s a security blanket and hold up their self-sacrifice as a badge of honor. Adopting a martyr identity doesn’t always correlate to clinical depression or anxiety. It’s a role that women can inhabit even without a diagnosable mental health condition.
I don’t blame those mothers for shielding themselves under a cloak of suffering. Appearing too well adjusted can be a liability. Leaving your kids in the car for three minutes to get a coffee can be grounds for a call to Child Protective Services and daring to bottle-feed your baby without trying to breastfeed can lead to criticism from strangers.
In 1996 Sharon Hays, Ph.D., a sociologist, coined the term “intensive mothering” to describe parenting that is “child-centered, expert-guided, emotionally absorbing, labor-intensive and financially expensive.” Two decades later, the mental load describes the invisible labor that goes into running a family. We still find ourselves living in a world where most mothers, even while working outside the home, bear the brunt of household work. The coronavirus pandemic only seems to be intensifying that pressure."
Postpartum is already changing. What about during COVID-19?
By Margaret M. Quinlan, Ph.D., Bethany Johnson, MPhil, M.A.| April 22,2020
"Maggie and I are both fascinated by social media discourse, and particularly any conversations that center around bodies and health crises. We've researched the infertility community on Instagram (Bethany never thought to turn to Instagram during treatment), and then we had to make an account for work. This was a very awkward endeavor for us (trained academics who don't have experience marketing our research), but the upside is we've met some incredible people.
Today we are interviewing Chelsea Skaggs of Postpartum Together. Not only does she have an excellent Instagram account with relatable, vulnerable images, but she fosters necessary dialogue about the difficulties of the postpartum period, and she runs an online group for newly postpartum folks. We began by discussing COVID-19 and the postpartum experience, then we asked about her work.
As someone who works with postpartum women, how do you think COVID-19 is changing postpartum experiences right now?
We are seeing a lot of changes for women who are entering postpartum during this season. First of all, many women are grieving the loss of a picture they had in their mind—from the birth experience to bringing baby home to meet the family to have more in-person support. We must have permission and space to grieve that loss while also holding the gratitude women have for this time of their lives. (I remind people that grief and gratitude are not mutually exclusive!)
We have to get more creative with support—how do we stay connected to friends and family and other aspects that make women feel like themselves? Postpartum can be an isolating time already, so adding on social distancing means women need, more than ever, more access to virtual supports and resources to keep them connected. On the flip side, some women have the chance to embrace the slow-down of postpartum. So many other cultures prioritize a slow transition, and in America, we are typically more fast-paced. With COVID-19, many women have the chance to step back, slow down, and have that time to rest and restore while having intimate time with the immediate family."
"How are you and your family doing in all this?
Every day is different for us. I know personally having things I can't control is an anxiety trigger, so I have been extra mindful to carve out time for joy and being present. I am also tempted to measure my value in how productive I am, and right now, my brain needs a lot more time to restore (more sleep and downtime), and I've had to challenge the belief I've held all my life about productivity.
It has been very introspective. Some days feel heavy—seeing the impact on our family, our friends, and extended family, but it also feels so refreshing to be living with fewer complications. The pandemic allows us to remove some of the stressors our family was falling into that aren't part of our values; ultimately, we have "sifted out" things, and I appreciate that. I wish it weren't because of such tough circumstances."
By Dr. Pragya Agarwal| March 8, 2020
"Fertility treatment is on the increase in the U.K., approaching 68,000 treatment cycles carried out every year and approximately 1 in 6 couples (3.5 million people) affected. One in 8 women of reproductive age may face problems when trying to conceive a child, which makes infertility more common than Type 2 diabetes. In 2015, 73,000 babies were born using assisted reproductive technologies, a number that has doubled in the last decade. But, it is still being treated as a niche issue.
Michelle Obama, upon the release of her memoir in late 2018, revealed that she and her husband Barack Obama had used IVF to conceive their daughters and opened up the public discourse around infertility. However, there are no clear workplace policy guidelines on the kind of support that individuals undergoing fertility treatments should expect to receive. Paid paternity and maternity leave has been a subject of discussion and debate in recent years, therefore aiming to make workplaces more inclusive for parents, and women in general. But, fertility treatments have been largely seen as a private matter, and not the subject of robust policy discussions.
In most cases, infertility is surrounded by silence and stigma and women, in particular, are reluctant to share this in the workplace, for fear of being stereotyped. In general, women already face a number of barriers and biases in the workplace. Mothers specifically face a motherhood penalty even before they have a child. In a study published in the American Psychological Association, Eden King shows that discrimination starts the moment a woman announces that she is pregnant. Women encountered more subtle discrimination in the form of rudeness, hostility, decreased eye contact and attempts to cut off the interaction when they appeared to be pregnant (wearing a pregnancy prosthesis) while applying for jobs in retail stores than when the same women did not appear to be pregnant. Implicit unconscious biases and stereotypes are at play here, as women are being penalized for acting out of their feminine stereotype. The study shows that these acts of subtle sexism and microaggressions starting when a woman announces their pregnancy puts her firmly on the "mommy track" and can have a huge impact on her decision to leave the workforce. Women who become mothers also earn less than their childless peers."
By Karen Kleima| April 28,2020
"What if I get sick and can't take care of my baby?
What if my baby gets sick?
What if my partner gets sick?
How do I do this all alone?
Being a new mother is hard.
Being a new mother during a pandemic is almost unimaginable. One of the things we have learned-thanks to the increased awareness and circulation of good, accurate information about maternal mental health-is scary, negative intrusive thoughts about harm coming to the baby are a stressful but common expression of normal anxiety. Almost every single new mother and most new fathers experience the presence of scary thoughts that can range from mildly annoying to excruciatingly painful and debilitating.
It may be hard to distinguish between "normal and scary thoughts" and those triggered by the current extraordinary stressors associated with sheltering in, isolation, quarantining, social distancing and all the other mandates that are imposing gut-wrenching restrictions. It stands to reason new mothers today are bombarded on a moment-to-moment basis with negative thoughts that may feel out of control, never-ending and often shame-inducing. After all, we often hear, "How can a good mother think these thoughts?"
But good mothers do have these scary thoughts. Awful thoughts. Terrifying thoughts. Indescribable and unfathomable thoughts. And if these moms do not find the support and validation they need, the thoughts can swirl around in their heads, gaining momentum from fear. Anxiety is at an all time high right now, for good reason. It's scary outside and some new moms understandably feel out of control with anxiety.
When the anxiety emerges within the context of having a new baby, it often manifests as specific thoughts about something horrible happening to the baby. By accident, or by intent. The guilt and worry can be excruciating."
Finland just gave both parents 7 months of parental leave. Here's why it could drastically reduce postpartum depression in the country.
By Allana Akhtar| February 7, 2020
Photo: Finland Prime Minister Sanna Marin just approved 7 months of parental leave for both parents. Reuters.
"Finland may have made a significant move in reducing postpartum depression among new moms.
The country's government, led by 34-year-old Prime Minister Sanna Marin, will give both new parents seven months of parental leave after childbirth. Pregnant women get an additional month of leave before giving birth.
The updates will replace the country's current policy that provides gender-based pay for four months for new mothers and two months for new fathers, according to NPR. The new policy will go into effect in 2021.
Marin says the move will improve gender equality and is part of her government's plan to pass wide-sweeping social reforms. Marin is the youngest female prime minister in the world, and a majority of her cabinet members are women.
Along with giving fathers more time with their newborns, the progressive policy can improve new mothers' physical and mental health, research suggests, and prevent postpartum depression.
Research finds that having both partners at home after childbirth improves a new mom's anxiety and wellbeing.
While everybody is focused on the baby after it's born, mothers are acutely at risk.
Worldwide, 17.7% of new mothers experience postpartum depression.
While the potential causes of maternal distress are many, new research on Sweden suggests that simply having fathers more available to help out with the newborn can lead to huge gains in mental health for mothers. Sweden has Europe's most generous parental leave, NPR reported, at 240 days per parent.
Mothers are 14% less likely to visit a doctor for childbirth-related complications when fathers are present for the first few of a baby's life. They are also 11% less likely to require antibiotic prescriptions, and 26% less likely to need anti-anxiety medication.
The new National Bureau of Economics working paper, authored by Stanford economists Petra Persson and Maya Rossin-Slater, focused on the impact of parental leave policies in the Nordic country, which offers some of the world's most generous parental leave."
By Allison Aubrey| February 4, 2020
Photo: Chelsea Beck, NPR
"Have you ever noticed how tough it is to be present? We spend so much time planning and worrying about the future or dwelling on the past.
"We're in a trance of thinking. We're time traveling," says Tara Brach, a world-renowned psychologist and mindfulness teacher. "We're in the future, we're in the past."
And all this ruminating gets in the way of enjoying life — we can miss out on the good stuff.
If you reflect on your life, Brach asks, how often can you sense that the fear of failing or not being good enough "was in some way dampening or contracting or pulling you away from real intimacy or spontaneity or enjoying a sunset?"
Life Kit host Alison Aubrey spoke with Brach about her latest book, Radical Compassion: Learning to Love Yourself and Your World with the practice of RAIN. The book outlines the mindfulness tool, RAIN, an acronym for a four-step process: recognize, allow, investigate and nurture.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What is mindfulness at its core. Can you describe mindfulness in a sentence or two?
Mindfulness is paying attention to what's happening in the present moment without judgment.
What is the purpose? What is the benefit of paying attention to the present moment?
We step out of our thoughts about the past and the future, and we actually start occupying a space of presence that is bigger than the particular emotions or thoughts that are going on.
Mindfulness gives us more choice as to how we want to experience things, what we want to say, what we want to do. So instead of reacting, we can actually respond from more intelligence, more kindness. It actually lets us inhabit our best selves."