As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I’m partnering with UnityPoint Health, my long-time healthcare provider, on a “Life After Baby” series sharing, you guessed it, my life after baby! So often an overly-rosy picture is painted about postpartum life, and you know I like to keep it real, so I’m excited to have these conversations with you. If for no other reason than to let you know you aren’t alone in your struggles.
Today we’re talking postpartum emotions and mental health because holy smokes, postpartum emotions and mental health. If you’ve been there before than you know it can be a doozy.
Having our babies was the best decision Ben and I ever made but of course it hasn’t always been easy! While baby #2 has been easier than baby #1 – going from 0-1 baby was much harder for us than going from 1-2 – adding another human being into the mix that relies on you for absolutely everything is stressful. Not to mention the responsibility falls into your lap immediately following a traumatic event like childbirth. Yes, childbirth is a beautiful thing, and I’m so glad we went the planned c-section route for Cameron because we could schedule it with my doctor whom I love and adore, but it was certainly no picnic and childbirth can be especially traumatic when it doesn’t go as planned. Which seriously, I’ve met so few women who’ve had their children come into the world “as planned”!
I’ve mentioned that Lincoln’s delivery was traumatic for both Ben and me. We attended multiple birthing classes and read all the books, yet were hardly prepared for what went down in the delivery room in 2013. I had a serious case of the baby blues for several weeks afterwards when my emotions were up and down and up and down (you may remember I cried when Ben suggested we upgrade our Costco membership?!) The worst part was being fully aware of my mood swings but not being able to control them. What can I say other than, hoooormooooones! To top it all off I was walking around with an undiagnosed autoimmune disease which left me feeling sick as a dog, extremely fatigued, and like my head was in the clouds. Needless to say, I was spiraling.
At the time I convinced myself that all new Moms felt the same way. I wasn’t sleeping, eating right, or exercising, so of course I didn’t feel like myself! Routine follow up appointments with my providers at UnityPoint Health, where I truthfully answered postpartum depression screenings, didn’t reveal a problem in that area, but still I knew something was off. With Ben’s support I returned to my doctor’s office determined to get an answer and was eventually diagnosed with Celiac Disease, which was triggered by childbirth. In the months that followed, my body started to heal, the brain fog cleared (mostly – I still struggle with this to be honest,) and my emotional state began to stabilize. That said, it took an entire year to truly feel like myself again.
Postpartum life has been completely different this time around with Cameron – we’ve come a long way in the past month and a half! Having perspective and knowing what to expect has made all the difference. Sure, the two weeks after he was born when I was missing Lincoln like crazy were brutal. Despite having three other people in the house, I felt lonely at times. Eating peanut butter sandwiches for what felt like every meal was less than ideal, and going through it all on little, broken sleep made everything feel ten times harder. But, I knew these feelings were normal and my hormones would eventually (hopefully) even out, which they did. I know this isn’t the case for some women though, so I’m going to touch on clinical postpartum depression in a bit.
All that said, in today’s Life After Baby post I want to share 10 tips that have worked for us in finding our “new normal” after the birth of our second baby, overcoming the baby blues, and what the providers at UnityPoint Health say to look for if you suspect you have clinical postpartum depression. I’m certainly no child-rearing expert but the difference between how things are going this time versus last time is remarkable. I’d love to hear your tips and experiences too, so please chime in in the comments section below!
10 Tips for New Moms
Leave the house. Sure, going out with your newborn can be intimidating, but it’s so important to leave the confines of your home every day. It was either five or six days postpartum with Cameron when I found myself staring at the wall completely spaced out. Then I realized I hadn’t left the house in two days. Even if it’s just a quick trip to the store to get some milk (as a passenger if you haven’t been cleared to drive by your doc!) it’s worth it to be reminded that the world is still turning outside of your little bubble.
Find real Mom friends. We’re talking mom friends who will keep it REAL with you. The ones that tell you they “babysat” their 2 and 3 year old via monitor while working in the other room when you ask how they get things done with 2+ kids at home. The ones that go into gruesome detail about their bout with thrush when you think you might have it (and thankfully didn’t! ??) The ones that confess their infant spends a ton of time in their carseat after telling them your second-born is more familiar with their bouncy chair than the first. Motherhood is stressful – find a tribe of friends you can be vulnerable with.
Work baby into your life. Versus working around baby. I did this backwards with Lincoln, insisting we be home for every nap so he could sleep in his crib, and saying no to social invitations if it meant we wouldn’t be home by 7pm sharp for bedtime. Little did I know that newborns are incredibly resilient, and baby wearing is a very good thing. Life will not end if baby dozes off-schedule while you’re trolling the mall with your toddler or spending time with friends because you need social interaction with adults. Working baby into our daily life vs drastically changing it to over-accommodate baby has been a game changer for me.
Treat yo’self. As parents to newborns we can’t control much, so find something you can control and treat yo’self to it. For me it’s tidying up the house multiple times a day (I know, I know, but seeing a million toys scattered around the living rooms gives me raging anxiety.) Maybe for you it’s starting every morning with a hot cup of coffee. Making sure you shower everyday. Getting a weekly manicure. Napping when the baby naps. Enjoying a little wine and Halo Top after the kids are in bed. Figure out what helps you feel like a whole person then do that as often as possible.
Hand over the reins. I was extremely protective of Lincoln his first year. It took a lot of convincing from Ben to go to the grocery store alone for even 30 minutes! I understand now that it’s healthy for me to occasionally give up control and more importantly, take time for myself. Ok, to be honest I still hate leaving Cameron, and Lincoln for that matter, but we have so many capable, loving people to care for them and I’ve been leaning into that more this time around.
Be a yes (wo)man. Just say yes. You want to bring food over? Yes. You want to come hold my baby while I tackle any of the 500 things on my to do list? Yes. You want to babysit so we can go on a date night? Yes. If you’re offering to help, I’m saying yes. I tried to “do it all” with Lincoln and it was exhausting. These days I accept any and all help that’s offered.
Minimize visitors. This may sound counterintuitive to several points above, but as an extreme introvert I’m emotionally recharged by being alone or with just my immediate family. While it’s important to accept help when you’re in the weeds, especially if you’re feeling overwhelmed with the baby blues, it’s also ok to say no to visitors, or now is not a good time if the stress of “entertaining” is too much. Trust me, people will understand.
Stop worrying. Quit worrying that you’re spoiling your newborn (you’re not,) that they’re not on a schedule (they will be eventually,) that you’ll never sleep again (you will,) and that your house will be a disaster for all eternity (well, actually, it might be…) You’re enough, you’re doing enough, pretty much everything is a phase, and your life WILL feel normal again. Trust me, just roll with it. (source/love)
Ask for help. If feel like something isn’t right or getting better after your baby is born, seek help now – don’t wait! If you suspect you’re experiencing more than the baby blues, which 80% of women experience for up to two weeks postpartum, call your provider. According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately one in eight women suffer from postpartum depression and it can affect any woman regardless of age, race, income, culture or education. Common symptoms include:
- Feelings of worthlessness; excessive guilt
- Loss of pleasure or interest
- Loss of energy, tiredness
- Low (anxious or depressed) mood
- Psychomotor agitation (restlessness, jittery, hand wringing)
- Poor concentration, memory
- Poor appetite
- Sleep disturbance
- Suicidal thoughts (seek help immediately; National Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK)
In my opinion, it’s so unfortunate that the U.S. not only offers shorter maternity leaves than other parts of the world, which has been found to be associated with an increased risk of postpartum depression, but our society can cause feelings of shame if a woman is vocal about experiencing these symptoms. No woman chooses to have postpartum depression and there’s no way to prevent it, either. It happens, and we need to support one another to seek help and TALK ABOUT IT! Last weekend over coffee my friends and I were connecting over the fact that nobody talks about the hard parts of physically having a baby, and what can happen immediately afterwards. It’s so unfortunate.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression, or want to speak to a professional, reach out to your local provider. If you are not 100% sure who to contact, call your local hospital, clinic, or OB-GYN and ask to be directed to support resources regarding postpartum depression. If you live in Iowa, Illinois or Wisconsin, UnityPoint Health provider services are available to help. Visit www.unitypoint.org, select the location you live in, and then click the “Find a Doctor” tab to find a provider near you.
Enjoy it! I recently attended a baby shower for a friend who’s about to become a first time Mom (to twins, no less!) Before we left she said, “I’ve heard all the horror stories about having a newborn – please tell me what I get to look forward to!” Well here it is – their one-of-a-kind scent, the funny faces they make while getting burped, softer skin than you knew existed on the bottoms of their feet, pudgy neck rolls, fuzzy hair after a drying off from a bath, that unforgettable first smile, the feeling of melting into each other in the rocking chair…I could go on and on! It’s cliche but true – the days are long, but the years are short. Enjoy these tough yet precious moments because once they’re gone, they. Are. GONE (sob!)
Photos by the one and only Lindsey Koch, serving the Minneapolis and central Iowa area!