Having a baby often comes with tons of complicated feelings you might not have been prepared for. Having a baby during a global pandemic—well, that’s a category all on its own. You may have given birth alone without your partner. Maybe the doula you spent so much time working with couldn’t come to support you during labor. The village you lined up to help you take care of your baby has been disbanded, for now, leaving the responsibility solely on you (and hopefully your partner).
You couldn’t wait to introduce your new baby to his/her grandparents and aunts and uncles, but they can’t come over because of social distancing regulations. And above all, you want to be celebrated as a new mother. You DESERVE to be celebrated, but you have to settle for Zoom and Facetime instead. Mama, NONE of this is fair. It pretty much sucks. The isolation many of us feel when we become mothers has taken on a whole new meaning. And what makes all this even more difficult is how much isn’t in your control. For a control freak like myself, this gives me MAJOR anxiety.
Now, more than ever, new moms are at an even greater risk for experiencing a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder (PMAD) like postpartum depression or anxiety. Even with so much still unknown and so much beyond your control, there are many ways you can take care of your mental health during this uncertain time.
Grieve the experience you thought you would have.
It’s OKAY to feel robbed of the experience of becoming a mother. It’s okay to feel sad. You can’t personally introduce your baby to your family and friends. It’s okay to be angry. All these feelings stem from a deep sense of grief that you are more than entitled to. Grieve these losses and feel these feelings if you have them and know that you can grieve and still be grateful for all you do have. Grief does not cancel out gratitude. They can both sit at the same table.
Talk to other new moms.
You are not alone, even though it might feel that way with having to stay home all the time. Do you know other new moms who have also recently given birth? These are your people right now. Set up a regularly scheduled chat with at least one other new mom so you can go through this time together, and don’t be afraid, to be honest. If you don’t know any, check out mom communities like Motherhood Understood on social media. We also love Not Safe For Mom Group, Totum Women, Mother Honestly, and Hello My Tribe. Plenty of new moms are looking for connection, and all it takes is sending one a DM.
Limit your news consumption to a few trusted sources.
Minimize how much news you watch and where you get it from. If you have to watch or read the news, set a time limit each day. Maybe you allow yourself one-hour max. You can also find trusted experts to get information related to taking care of yourself and your baby, such as Pediatrician, Dr. Natasha Sriraman, and Perinatal Mental Health Psychiatrist, Dr. Pooja Lakshmin. Also, don’t ever feel like you can’t call your OB or pediatrician with any questions and concerns you have.
Designate specific worry time.
Assign a certain length of time each day as “worry time.” Choose 30 minutes during a set hour in your day, where you let yourself think about your worries. Grab a journal and pen and write them down to move them outside of your head. If and when other worrisome thoughts come into your head during the day, you can tell yourself there will be more worry time tomorrow and try to push them out. This is often easier said than done and doesn’t have to be perfect. That’s why it’s a practice, so go easy on yourself.
Give your anxiety a name.
Your anxiety lies to you, and she is VERY convincing. The key to managing anxiety is to be able to recognize the thought and know it’s the anxiety talking, not you. This might seem silly, but give her a name. A close friend of mine and I named her anxiety Brenda, and when Brenda gets loud, we say things to her like, “Shut the f**k up, Brenda. You’re a liar, Brenda. No one cares, Brenda.” And then we laugh, which also helps minimize the anxiety.
Find a therapist or support group that focuses explicitly on pregnancy and postpartum mental health.
Therapy is beneficial when it comes to navigating messy feelings. Even though you can’t necessarily go talk to someone in person, most therapists have started offering teletherapy. To find specialists where you live, start with the Postpartum Support Helpline at 1.800.944.4773. If individual therapy doesn’t work right now, try a support group. Check out The Motherhood Center of New York City’s online support groups and the Facebook Group, COVID-19 Maternal Well-Being, which was created by three board-certified women physicians to create an informative and safe space and community for women during this time.
Please know that the postpartum period technically lasts up to one year (we say it can be longer), so you don’t have to have just had a baby to experience any of the above or reach out for help. It’s NEVER too late to get help. For more about Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders like postpartum depression and anxiety and where to find help, get your free copy of Motherhood Understood’s guide, The Mother’s Manual for Postpartum Mental Health.