Expectant Parents Mental Health Check-In with The Motherhood Center

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We had a great mental health check-in recently with The Motherhood Center. Thanks to everyone who came! Here are a few takeaways that came up in the session that are possibly relevant to all of you.

For more, check out the Park Slope Parents Birthing Toolkit, which has tons of resources and words of wisdom to help you through pregnancy and delivery in the time of coronavirus—including a full section on Caring for Your Mental Health.

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It’s normal to be worried between visits, to count the days in between, and to crave that reassurance that everything is okay. Those feelings can be exacerbated by the reality of virtual check-ups and not getting to see test results or hear the baby’s heartbeat. Try to stick with the facts, stay in the present, and hold on to what you know rather than overwhelming yourself with the worst-case scenario.

 

There’s no right or wrong way to feel. It’s okay to be sad or disappointed. It’s okay to be happy. It’s understandable if you feel disappointed or robbed of the more fun aspects of pregnancy or have a feeling of “this isn’t what I signed up for.” On the other hand, you may feel the baby kicking and be joyful and excited about the new addition to the family. You may experience a wide range of emotions throughout any given day, and all of them are valid and relevant.

 

Feeling overwhelmed is normal. Some of our tangible support systems may not be available right now. Although it’s not the same as in person, virtual support can be a huge relief if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Virtual doulas can give you tips via FaceTime and Zoom before the baby comes so that you feel more comfortable and prepared for labor and delivery, and they can also help talk things through once you bring the baby home. You may also need to consider the different ways you’re going to cut yourself some slack. For instance, if you have a toddler, be okay with more screen-time right now. If you and your partner normally cook from scratch every night, be okay with delivery right now. It bears saying again: These are unprecedented times, and you do not need to expect yourself to function as if everything were status quo.

 

Throw away the idea of “should.” The thoughts in your head that say “I should feel blissful” or “I shouldn’t be angry” can be ways of talking yourself out of your feelings. Instead, allow yourself to experience those feelings, accept them, and breathe through them.

 

Much of what you’re experiencing may be a form of grieving. Baby showers, clothing swaps, meetups with other expectant parents on a blanket in the park—it makes sense that you’d be disappointed to miss these things. Read the article “That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief," and create space for you and your loved ones to feel negative feelings. That can mean anything from “I’m bummed I can’t get a sonogram today and see the baby” to “I’m angry at the government for not being prepared.” Even being happy about your baby can bring up feelings of guilt right now when there is so much sadness and loss in the world.

 

We all have different levels of stress that we are comfortable with. Some people are more highly stressed than others. Once you move farther away from that baseline, the more anxious you may be feeling. If you start feeling more overwhelmed than normal, if your sleeping is off (although remember you’re growing a little human inside of you, which takes a lot of energy), or if your eating has changed drastically, consider checking in with the folks at the Motherhood Center or a therapist to get a mental health checkup. Remember that the greatest gift you can give your baby is a parent who knows how to take care of their mental health.

 

We’re all going to do this differently. Social comparison can be a hindrance to your mental health. If another couple is doing it differently than you, that’s okay. Limit your exposure to social media if it doesn’t feel good. You do YOU and be where you are.

 

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Decision fatigue is real. Thinking through all of the decisions around pregnancy could be exhausting even in pre-corona times. With newly added questions about the safety of the baby, older kids, grandparents, and more, coming up with decisions becomes a heavier burden. Planning is always a good thing, but hold true to the idea that this too will pass and decisions won’t always hold the scary, overwhelming weight that they do right now.

 

Figure out your level of comfort with visitors. These decisions look different for everyone, so do what feels comfortable to you and be explicit with friends and family about what you need from them, whether that means meeting up from six feet apart or staying apart for the time being.

 

Move past the idea that asking for help is a sign of weakness. You may resist asking people for help in general, and that struggle may be compounded now. Practice asking for help on a regular basis, both with your partner and with others. While those outside of your inner circle may not be able to contribute through in-person, tangible ways, you may still be able to find a role for them to play. Remember that it’s a gift to another person to let them help, whether that means picking out items for the baby (my husband loved doing research about strollers), making you meals, buying you groceries and postpartum supplies, or doing a Costco run. Ask fellow parent friends to text you encouragement or have them put together a baby album of new photos. Don’t feel obligated to send thank-you notes for all of this helping, but if you do, you can even have a friend help with the notes!

 

Talk about the division of labor before the baby is born. In the beginning, especially for breastfeeding parents, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and find yourself searching for ways to be in control. That can take the form of stubbornness around your one “right way,” leading to the exclusion of your partner or them feeling like they can’t do anything right. Sheryl Sandberg talks about the Double Double Shift during coronavirus, with women being forced to take on not only work and childcare but now also homeschooling (if you already have an older child) and helping elderly or vulnerable relatives. To avoid being flattened by all those extra shifts in the early days after the birth, talk to your partner and find ways that they can feel like they’re helping when you’re tied up with pumping or breastfeeding—it could be as simple as fetching snacks and water for you. Discuss the five love languages and find out what each partner might need. For one, it could be words of affirmation (“you’re doing amazing”), and for others, it could be acts of service (bringing breakfast in bed). Talk all of this out now—with the understanding that things might shift after baby is born—so that you can start practicing.

 

Be kind and compassionate with yourself. You’re doing the best you can, and that is good enough. Come up with a mantra to help you squelch some of the “I’m not good enough” thoughts and feelings, and put it up on the fridge as a reminder.

 

Self-care is especially important right now. Getting comfortable with self-care and making it into a habit now will help you prepare for the times you feel overwhelmed with the new baby. Note that self-care doesn’t necessarily mean having other people take care of you. Figure out NOW how YOU are going to help take care of yourself. This may be more of a challenge right now, as certain self-care methods like massages and manicures aren’t available. Instead, you might journal, take an extra long shower with your favorite music playing, or treat yourself to a long walk.

 

10 Tips for Handling Stress during COVID-19

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Stay in the moment, and be present. When you find yourself thinking about the “what-ifs,” the worst-case scenarios, and all the unknowns, bring yourself back to what is right in front of you. One way to do this is the five senses exercise: Slow down and identify five things that you can see, four things that you can touch and feel, three things that you can hear, two things that you can smell, and one thing that you can taste.

 

There are lots of things that you can’t control, so focus instead on what you can control. We can’t choose when lockdowns will end or when we may return to work or see our family again, but there is plenty we can control. We can decide what we are going to make for dinner, what show we are going to watch, when we will do the laundry, and when we will take a long hot bath.

 

Introduce a sense of structure and meaning into your day by setting small and accomplishable goals. It’s easy for days and weeks to blur together and for time to feel increasingly meaningless. Combat this by creating schedules and celebrating small victories throughout the day when you check an item off your list.

 

Create rituals and designated spaces that separate the different parts of your life. Many of us are in small NYC apartments, but we can do our best to create designated spaces that represent our different hats. For example, set up a space that you only use for work. When you are done working, introduce a ritual that suggests a transition to another section of the day, like making dinner. Twirl around three times, jog in place for five minutes, or whatever feels right to you. This ritual represents the transitions that used to separate one hat from another—for example, leaving work and our professional self behind was separated from getting home and jumping into mom mode by a walk to the subway station and a train ride. Also, make sure that your bed is for sleeping (and intimacy) only. If you confuse your bed with a work space, it can lead to interrupted sleep cycles and lower-quality rest.

 

Create mantras. Come up with a positive mantra for yourself: This too shall pass, I’m doing the best I can, I’ve got this. Write it on a piece of paper and stick it on the fridge or another visible place. Encourage your partner and children to remind you of this mantra frequently, especially if they notice that you might be struggling.

 

Let yourself experience all of your feelings. This is no time to sweep your feelings under the rug. We are all having a host of complex feelings right now, and they are shifting rapidly throughout the week, the day, and even the hour. We might feel a moment of gratitude for spending more time with our children, followed by a moment of intense irritation that they are constantly asking for things. We may feel thankful that we don’t have to take the F train into work every morning during rush hour and also grieve the loss of our separate professional self. There is no right or wrong way to feel—and that’s true at all times, but especially during a pandemic.

 

Stay away from social media. Sadly, our culture promotes perfection even though it’s an ideal that doesn’t exist. There is a constant pressure to present our best self even if that self doesn’t reflect how we actually feel. I can’t tell you how many moms have said to me, “This Christmas picture here where we all look beautiful and are smiling, one minute before we took this picture, I told my husband I never wanted to see him again because I was the the one who just spent two hours on my own getting the kids into these clothes and their hair into ponytails.” The lens of social media presents an altered reality, and it can make you feel “less than.”

 

Practice self-compassion. Be kind to yourself. If you don’t feel like doing things, whether that’s work, the dishes, exercise, or laundry, give yourself a break and let yourself put them off. Integrate self-care as much as possible into every day.

 

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Replace unhelpful thoughts with more positive thoughts (a principle from cognitive behavioral therapy). Unhelpful thoughts are lurking everywhere right now: What if I lose my job? What if we can’t pay the mortgage? What if my baby is not developing properly because no other family members are around to interact with them? Replace those thoughts with realities: Right now I have a job and I am doing good work; I am financially stable at the moment and have been able to pay the mortgage so far; my baby is getting plenty of love, attention and stimulation from me and my partner every day.


Practice mindfulness. Even an easy, quick meditation can allow you to reap the benefits of mindfulness. Expectful is a great resource for short meditations specifically for new and expecting mothers and parents, and Insight Timer is another resource to check out.