By: Ash Spivak Natalia Hailes
"It's no secret that the postpartum period is just hard. After growing and carrying a human for almost 10 months, you perform what is likely one of the most challenging physical and emotional feats of your life—birthing that baby. And then you find out you're just getting started!
During postpartum, you're healing physically and emotionally while a new, adorable human is entirely reliant on you (and requires way more work than while you were passively growing them). Add in little sleep, changing hormones and doing this all during a pandemic.
Becoming a parent forces us to confront some of our biggest fears—loss, lack of control, change, the unknown. But here's the thing about being in the postpartum period during this pandemic. You are sharing those fears with a whole lot of people out there: all of us are being forced to confront them.
It's like we're arriving at a jungle with no paths and no maps. But whether you recognize it or not, you are already starting to pave your way.
We have no control over how long this pandemic will last or what the outcome will be. The only thing we do have some control over is how we move through it.
One guaranteed way to move through postpartum during a pandemic with more grace and ease is to prioritize your own well-being. Taking care of yourself is taking care of your baby. The actions we are being asked to take to minimize the spread of COVID-19 mimic those that are necessary in the early postpartum days: stay home and slow down (if you have the privilege); care for yourself so that you can care for others. Just like on the airplane, you need to put your mask on first.
For some, circumstances will make this even more challenging (those who have lost jobs, are working full-time and homeschooling and in the postpartum period, those needing to return to the frontlines, and those in essential jobs). While our capacity may be great, we are also only human. We never really know the path. We can only focus on how we move through.
Here are some ways to prioritize your postpartum well-being right now, even during a pandemic.
Ask for help
You can't do it all on your own. While the physical isolation from your support systems is no joke, it's important to remember that you are not isolated in this experience. Even during these times there are ways for others to pitch in. Have someone set up a meal train or set up a fundraising page if you are in a tough financial time. Therapists, postpartum doulas and lactation consultants are all working virtually. Book appointments and put it all on your new baby registry—way better than another onesie!"
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
l"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."
By Carmela K Baeza, MD, IBCLC| Art By Ken Tackett
"Some dyads (mother-infant pair) start their breastfeeding relationship in harsh circumstances. Frequently, due to medicalized births and unfavorable hospital routines, there are so many interferences to initiate breastfeeding that by the time mother and baby arrive home they are already using bottles and formula – despite mother having desired to exclusively breastfeed.
These mothers often feel that they do not make enough milk and that their babies prefer the bottle. They will make comments like “my baby doesn't like my breast”, “I cannot make enough milk”, “the more bottles I give my baby, the less she likes me”, and so on. This can become the road into postpartum depression.
Those mothers who are intent on breastfeeding will often look for support, and may find it in a midwife, a lactation consultant or a breastfeeding support group. These health care professionals or counselors may offer the mother to work on her milk production by expressing milk from her breasts (either with her hands or with a pump) and feeding that milk to the baby, as well as putting baby on the breast.
And this is what we call triple breastfeeding.
Imagine: mother puts baby at her breast. Baby suckles for an hour and a half, falling asleep frequently. Mother will tickle him, speak to him, encourage, often to little avail. After an hour and a half, mother will unlatch the baby (he never seems to come off on his own), put him in the crib, set up her breast pump and begin pumping, going for at least 15 minutes on each breast. Halfway through, the baby wakes up and cries – he´s hungry. But he was just on the breast for almost two hours! Mother turns off the pump (and so little milk has come out!) and feeds her baby a bottle of formula. She cries. She feels exhausted, useless, and unable to meet her baby´s needs. She has not left the house for days, because she is immersed in a never-ending cycle of breast-pumping-feeding."
Facing parental burnout? Use the magic word.
By Pooja Lakshmin|October 18, 2019
"While swapping horror stories of PTA wars, overscheduling and toddler meltdowns, parents these days will inevitably ask one another, “But, are you taking care of yourself?”
Self-care has become the panacea for an over-exhausted, workaholic American culture. And if there’s one job that spells constant fatigue, it’s being a parent. But how does self-care happen in a country where more than half of married couples with children have two parents working full time, and mothers are not only spending more time at work but also more time taking care of children?
It doesn’t help that the images we’re sold of self-care include meditation apps and Peloton binges. For mothers in particular, with self-care just an app click or exercise class away, there is a haunting sense that if you feel burnt out, you must not be taking care of yourself. Cue more stress and guilt."
By Penny Simkin| October 27, 2009
"Author/lecturer, doula, childbirth educator, Penny Simkin, PT, talks about pain in labor and the concept of "when pain becomes suffering."