Welcome to motherhood!
Here’s a baby! But you don’t get the same experience with pregnancy, childbirth, or early motherhood as other moms have.
For many new moms (and even veteran mothers), this pandemic has been a trying time to bring a new life into the world.
The other night I got together with one of my longtime best friends, and it was the first time in a very long time.
During the course of the pandemic, we’ve both given birth, and spent significant time at home trying to juggle jobs and toddlers, attending to our marriages, and grief. We’ve gone to prenatal appointments alone, birthed beautiful baby boys, missed opportunities to celebrate and opportunities to be cared for by our communities.
Things have been, in a word: hard.
So for those of you that are entering into those early stages of parenthood, either for the first time or the tenth time, know this: you are not alone. And here are some tips and bits of encouragement for you in this pandemic world.
You’re right — this is hard
Let me go ahead and shout this one from the rooftops: THIS IS HARD.
If you’re wondering if postpartum is supposed to be this hard, the answer is no.
I’ve had two kids: one before the pandemic and one pandemic baby.
With both, the experience has been difficult.
But if I’m being honest, the experience surrounding having my second child a year into the pandemic was definitely harder in many ways.
And it’s 100% ok if you feel like, “it shouldn’t be this hard.”
Yes, parenting is a difficult job.
It’s messy and exhausting and can feel very, very lonely. No matter when you have a baby.
But just know that it’s not in your head — you’re doing a really hard thing. During a really hard time.
And I’d put money on the fact that you’re doing a pretty kick ass job.
Its ok to feel robbed of the experience you wanted, but don’t sit in that feeling
This is a tough one, because that feeling of being robbed it totally normal.
I feel it. The friends and family I’ve known who have had children during this pandemic have felt it.
But being a first time mom in pandemic is a different ballgame.
You don’t get a lot of those moments first time parents get. Like both parents being at the prenatal appointments. Or having the opportunity to have more than one birth partner. Or visitors in the hospital.
And its OK to feel like its not fair.
Because you’re right, it sucks that your experience of entering into parenthood is different than what other people have gotten to experience.
But while that feeling is totally valid — be careful not to dwell in it too much.
You’re right. It sucks. But whether its the way you wanted to do it or not, you’re doing it! You’re going to have a baby (or already have)!
Mental health issues are already pretty prevalent with pregnant and postpartum moms, and they’re pretty prevalent during pandemics as well.
So while it’s ok to acknowledge and yearn for the pregnancy and postpartum experience you would have liked to have, it is critical to remember that you need to focus on caring for yourself and your mental health during this process as well.
And if you can’t find a way to get out of a place of resentment and depression about the experience you’re having compared to what it could have been — find ways to provide yourself with some self care; look into a postpartum doula; or find local mental health services like a therapist that works with new mothers.
It’s ok to pay attention to your needs and advocate for yourself
Most people have experienced some kind of hardship in the wake of this pandemic — new parents or not.
And when we’re suffering through our own struggles, it can be incredibly easy to focus only on ourselves and lose sight of those who need us.
So while I fully support and believe in being mindful of others, realistically sometimes people in the thick of difficult times just can’t see past their own struggles.
So make sure that you’re not relying on others to pinpoint any signs you may be struggling. Don’t rely only on the people around you (however many you may have) to point out and question signs of postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety. Don’t wait for them to notice you just need a nap. Or could use a break from your baby.
Make sure you’re advocating for yourself where you can.
And lean on your friends and family as well other resources you’re comfortable with.
Remember that you are part of a parenting team
Whether that parenting team is yourself and a live-in partner, a partner in a separate home, a community of family members, or a self-made community of friends, it’s critical to remember that you’re not alone.
Part of being a parenting team means that you should be able to lean on that other person when you’re struggling. And this goes both ways.
No matter who is part of your parenting team — leaning on each other and communicating how you’re doing a lot helps.
Even if you don’t feel less exhausted, but that reminder that you’re a team can be an amazing source of comfort when you’re struggling.
Cultivate positive relationships
Whether you’re doing a shelter in place, are going about business as usual, or somewhere in between, cultivating positive relationships can be a critical help for new parents and new mothers in particular.
We’re meant to be in relationships with people — whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert.
Whether you have one best friend or a whole group of friends and family members you can lean on, now is a time to pay particular attention to the types of interactions you have with those people.
For some reason, people really can’t hold their tongue around new mothers. Offering unsolicited advice and sometimes harsh observations (yes, I know my stomach sticks out — I just had a baby! you may want to respond).
Now is a good opportunity to trim back those relationships that don’t benefit you and grow those relationships that feed you with positivity.
Because having a new baby is HARD. Have we already said that? Well, it bears repeating.
With my first son I was blessed with friends who came over and helped me try to get my newborn child to sleep when he was up all night.
I didn’t really get that with the second child.
But you know what I did get? Friends who checked in on me. Who sent meals and gift cards to food delivery services. Friends who said the right things — offering encouragement and camaraderie.
At the end of the day, people who love you are still there. It can just feel harder to connect right now.
Fresh air helps
Let’s make one thing very clear — I am not saying that fresh air is going to cure the struggles that you’re facing.
But fresh air will be good for you. And for your baby too if you elect to take him or her with you.
Pandemics are isolating and stifling. Especially during a time period where new parents already tend to struggle.
So whether its a walk, bike ride, or literally just opening a window try to get that literal breath of fresh air every day.
Find something each day that makes you feel good
If you’ve ever struggled with your mental health, then you likely know that finding something that makes you feel good can be really hard.
Whether that’s because you’re feeling numb, or overwhelmed by life. Or because doing that thing you love takes too much effort.
But if you’ve struggled with your mental health, then you probably also know that its almost always worth it.
Even if you’re not struggling with postpartum depression, the constant isolation of a pandemic and the isolation new moms already feel just compound feelings of unease and overwhelm.
So if you can, try to find something that makes you feel good each day. Something aside from snuggling that sweet baby of yours (because I know its the best thing in the world, but being touched out is a real thing).
If you’re just so tired and burnt that you can’t think of anything that makes you feel good, then here are some possible ideas:
Go for a walk
Color in a coloring book
Cook something (even if its simple)
Go for a car ride alone
Listen to your favorite song (maybe even dance around)
Do a face mask
Get your nails done
Take an exercise class
Talk on the phone to someone you love
I have always struggled with anxiety, personally, and the pandemic made it really difficult to get out and do some of the things that I love to do.
So during a time that is naturally a pretty isolating time (hello, postpartum period!) I found that things like going for walks, working out, and cooking were all items that I could find space for in my week to help hold me up.
If you can’t think of anything that might boost your mood, it may be time to talk to someone.
Either your spouse or a friend who knows you well and can provide you with some ideas. Or even a therapist to help you through this time period.
I know having a therapist has helped me to cope.
Have reasonable expectations for the postpartum period
American culture tends to treat the postpartum period as a vacation.
Which is odd, since so many people have a family of their own and have know first hand the struggles that new parents face.
When I went out on maternity leave with my boys, both times I had people tell me (some seriously, some joking) to enjoy my vacation.
How anyone who has ever given birth would qualify that time period as a vacation is beyond me.
Your body needs time to heal. I’m talking weeks (actually, technically you’re not fully healed for nearly a year, but you’re typically functioning pretty normally before a year).
So give yourself grace when your body doesn’t look the way you expected it to after giving birth. You grew ended up giving birth to a child! That takes time to recover from.
Chances are high you’re not going to be able to run a marathon, build a house, or go sky diving right after you have a kid — so keep your expectations for postpartum realistic.
Things like going for regular walks (after clearance from your doctor), going on short excursions or trips, and enjoying time with loved ones are all reasonable.
But don’t overextend yourself.
And more importantly (especially if you don’t know what’s reasonable for your body or your family ahead of time), get comfortable backtracking. With saying that you thought you could do something but you’re realizing now that it may not be the best thing for you.
Mothers get to change their minds. And most of the time, another mom will totally understand.
Find ways to connect
Sometimes pregnancy can be isolating, but that time after giving birth (especially in a pandemic) can make it extra hard.
Getting support from people you love can help. Whether its your parents or your chosen family, support and connection can really help a new mom, whether you’re struggling with depression or not.
Children are exhausting. Amazing, but exhausting. And the people that love you will love your child as well.
Even if you don’t have family nearby or you don’t have close relationships prior to giving birth, there are a lot of ways to connect and find support.
Churches, gym classes, art classes, and playgrounds are a couple of places you could potentially connect with other parents face-to-face. But there are also likely local Facebook groups for moms where you can connect with people who have children the same age as your child or who have similar interests.
There are tons of mothers on Instagram you can connect with too (including myself).
We live in a time of electronic connection.
Which doesn’t replace face-to-face connection, but it definitely helps. Especially during a pandemic.
So find ways to get the support and connection that all new parents need.
Because pandemics are hard on our mental health, on our relationships with others, and with each other, and with our own bodies.