This is a challenging time.
You are not alone.
Caring for your mental health after having a baby is incredibly important for all parents. Postpartum depression is the #1 complication from childbirth, and anxiety can be just as common throughout the postpartum time. During this time of ongoing fears of COVID-19, the vulnerable postpartum transition may have additional layers of fear, anxiety, trauma, and complexity that need to be addressed. Thankfully, there are some things you can control during this time. By adapting your postpartum plan to include realistic support and actionable resources, you can help improve your sense of control. The more you talk about your mental health, and have a plan in place for various scenarios, the less scared and blindsided you will feel, no matter what happens.
Find a Professional Mental Health Provider
Do the legwork now, even if you do not need professional mental health support at this moment. It will make your life so much easier if you ever do need this support. The majority of mental health providers have shifted to virtual support during COVID-19, so help is still available! If you are not sure where to start you can always check the Postpartum Support International (PSI) provider directory.
Focus on the Entire Family
While the birthing parent experiences significant hormonal, emotional, and physical changes after giving birth that can contribute to changes in mood, it’s also important to monitor and address the mental health needs of partners, dads, and non-biological parents since they can develop a postpartum mood disorder as well. The emotional wellness of the entire family is important. For any new parent, having regular check-ins with a trusted friend or family member, and getting professional help if needed can make a huge difference.
Anticipate Potential Trauma
Planning for the birth that you envision for yourself is empowering, but most often not everything goes as planned. COVID-19 presents more complexity for the birth experience. Hospital policies are constantly changing. Perhaps you had planned to have a birth doula or a support person with you and that is no longer an option. Added stress in hospitals and amongst medical staff also may result in an experience that isn’t as calm as you had hoped for. Or maybe your hospital stay may be shorter than planned. All of these variables can feel traumatic, and it will be important to recognize and process any trauma that you may experience as part of your birth in the time of COVID-19.
Remember, trauma is defined by anything you perceive to be traumatic. It does not require a formal diagnosis or near death experience to be traumatic. It could be having a cesarean when you really wanted a vaginal birth. It's very important to voice out the questions that come from what you went through, along with any rage, fear, sadness, and talking too about the moments that could be felt as positive. It’s possible to regain control and start finding a path toward healing. Talking about it with people who specialize in this can really help whenever you feel ready.
Grieve That Your Postpartum Experience May Be Different
You may have been counting on your parents, relatives, friends, or a doula supporting you during your postpartum recovery. In many cases, this may no longer be an option, and it’s important to acknowledge any grief that may arise. While postpartum is a special, sacred time to share with those who are close to you, your baby’s life will be long and full of love from adoring family members and friends. It may help to remind yourself of all the interactions that are to come, while also allowing yourself to feel disappointed and sad during this time. Allow yourself to feel your feelings. Let them be, and acknowledge them when they appear. Give yourself grace, and honor (not fight) these feelings of grief.
Manage Expectations and Disappointment From Family and Friends
Not everyone is on the same page about what “social distancing” actually means and how to keep themselves and others safe. It will be important for you and your partner to determine what (if any) physical interaction feels ok with you — under the guidance of your baby’s pediatrician and your care provider — and make those boundaries very clear with family and friends. Sometimes, new parents opt to not have visitors in their homes for the first few weeks of baby’s life even without a pandemic as part of the equation, as it gives them time to bond together as a family unit. Make your boundaries for this time known amongst your family and friends and take advantage of virtual communication as much as you feel comfortable to stay connected. While FaceTime or Skype are never going to replace your family and friends being able to come over and hold the baby, it can be a great way to stay connected.
Reframe This Time
During this time of fear and uncertainty, it can feel so empowering to tune into yourself and get curious about what you want to feel with your baby at home. Shifting thoughts of fear and anxiety into an opportunity to focus on what you want to feel and invite into your sacred space (meaning, YOU have the control here!). Ask yourself:
How do you want to feel? What does it look like?
How do you want to remember this time?
How do you want your home to feel?
What is most important to you?
Replace “I Should” With “I Am”
During challenging times like these, it’s important to try and let go of the “I should” and instead focus on the “I am.” Thinking less about what we should be doing — as defined by outside expectations and external pressures — and instead focusing on all we are doing in each moment can lead to a more healthy state of mind. You can try reframing thoughts like this:
I should feel happy because my baby is here, but I’m worried all the time.
I am taking the best care of my baby possible and I am allowed to feel worried.
I should not go to the pediatrician because I will risk exposing my baby to illness.
I am listening to my pediatrician’s recommendations and trusting my instinct as a parent.
I should be trying to sleep when my baby sleeps.
I am doing the best I can to get rest whenever I am able to.
I should write thank you notes and order baby announcements and keep up with all of the things in my household.
I am responsible today to take care of myself and my baby, and I am doing a great job.
I should reach out to family and friends to share updates about my baby.
I am taking care of myself and my baby right now, and everything else can wait
Ride the Wave
The wave of emotions experienced during the postpartum period will vary in frequency and intensity. While some of these emotions are expected, others can be more difficult to navigate. You may not be able to understand or even describe what you are feeling, especially with difficult emotions. This is OK. Tuning into yourself and reviewing your postpartum plan can help you understand your experience, and get you connected to care more quickly. Remember, emotions are like waves in the ocean. They consistently come and go without your control, and every wave that goes up, comes back down again.