It’s not a secret that I’m pretty passionate about maternal mental health. Actually, it may not be something I’ve communicated very well in the past. So maybe it is a secret and I’m outing myself! Anyway, if there is one thing that keeps me in doula work it’s maternal mental health. How we feel and the stability of our emotions have an incredible impact on how we parent. How we perceive our births and those first few months postpartum have a huge impact on us for the rest of our lives.
Postpartum is already an incredibly emotional time. Our hormones are going crazy as they transition our bodies from pregnancy to no longer being pregnant and often lactating. Our brains have just completely rewired themselves to bond with and parent this new little person. And if it’s the first baby, we are adjusting to a completely new way of life. We need the best start possible here to thrive.
My own experience with postpartum depression (or rather mood disorders) started as what I would describe as anxiety. I did not fit the descriptions of postpartum depression that I could find. I was functioning. My baby was cared for. I got up each morning and went to work. I made it to church on the weekends. I still showered. I concluded that how I was feeling must just be parenting. Except I wasn’t okay. My brain was in a state of semi panic all the time. I couldn’t breath. I was paralyzed be the 99 bajillion things in my head. This progressed to the occasional panic attack. I didn’t get treatment until my daughter was three. By then, things had progressed passed just anxiety. I didn’t realize how bad I felt until I felt better.
In my case we also had a series of very significant life events happen in the year before her birth and in the two years after. I remember constantly trying to figure out if how I felt was because I was postpartum or because of our life circumstances. Nevertheless, I needed treatment and I fell through the cracks.
My takeaway is this: Parenting is hard. Having a new baby is hard. All of this is hard and you are changed. But. BUT. Postpartum mood disorders don’t always look like depression and we do ourselves and new mothers a disservice by continuing to promote that model. It may take a few weeks but you should feel mostly like yourself (just with your heart now running around outside your body). The things you enjoy in life should not completely disappear. You should still get excited about things that you did before even if you have less time to pursue them. Panic attacks are not normal. Flashbacks and PTSD symptoms are not normal (and are terrifying common among postpartum women). These are signs that things are not as they should be and you may need outside help.
Surround yourself with support. If your family and partner don’t understand, seek support elsewhere. Support groups that are specifically for postpartum mood disorders can be incredible. One of our local hospitals here in Indy has one I highly recommend. But so can general parenting support groups like Breastfeeding USA or ICAN or MOPS. Sometimes just knowing you aren’t alone makes all the difference.
Sometime, though, you need more than just support and it’s time to talk to your doctor. If your OB is unsupportive or blows you off, find a doctor who is supportive. It doesn’t have to be an OB. Medication is not evil and doesn’t have to be forever but it can be lifesaving in the short term.
This is why I’m a doula. As women, as mothers, we deserve better. Our mental health is incredibly important and impacts every aspect of our lives. We need our struggles to be recognized and taken seriously. It’s vital to our lives and our families that this is the case. Our children deserve it as much as we do!
Things have been quiet around here again! I’ve been working feverishly on a GentleBirth VBAC course that I’ll be announcing soon! So excited! But in the meantime, let’s talk about postpartum. Here's what I've said about it before.
Everyone knows that having a baby is amazing and a huge life change. More and more families are realizing that having a doula along for their birth can make an incredible difference in outcomes and how they feel about that very physical shift to parenthood. But what about after you bring that baby home? Those first few weeks or months with a new baby are amazing! You are adjusting to adding a new person to your family and having a tiny person be completely dependent on you. Sometimes it can be a little overwhelming and incredibly hard. A postpartum doula can help. Here are five reasons to hire a postpartum doula:
1) You were never meant to do it alone. It used to be that the women in the family or community came around new mothers and supported them physically and emotionally through those early weeks. Some cultures still have traditions that involve caring for the new mother those first 40 or so days after birth. Here in the US, many women are not close enough to their families for that to be practical. Also, many new grandmothers are still in the midst of their own careers and it’s not possible for them to take that time off either. As a postpartum doula, I can help fill some of that space.
2) There are lots of questions. Bringing a new baby home, especially your first baby, makes you realize all the things you'd didn’t know. Even if you read every book and have been around lots of babies, there is something about having your own and that tiny person completely dependent on you that makes you realize just how much you’re winging it. As your birth doula I can be helpful for all those questions too but as a postpartum doula, I can be with you and offer in person support.
3) She’s there to support YOU. You make the decisions. You ask the questions. It’s your baby. I’m just there to give you information and help you along the road. Sometimes (always) well meaning friends and family have opinions. Sometimes those opinions are helpful. Sometimes they are so not helpful. As a postpartum doula, it’s my job to support what YOU want.
4). Hands on real help. Need a nap or a shower? I can make sure that happens. Did your toddler absolutely destroy your house while you were breastfeeding? I can fix that. Have you been surviving on instant oatmeal because you can make it with one hand? I even do some meal prep and a quick run to the grocery store.
5) I’m there to listen to you. After you have a baby, your hormones are going wild for awhile. Often that brings some emotional upheaval. Add in maybe a birth that didn’t go quite how you wanted it to or care providers that were less than amazing and you might be working through some stuff along with those crazy hormones. Sometimes the people we love are so excited about the baby, they forget about the process you, the birthing woman, went through. Baby is here and well so let’s move on. They mean well, but that’s not always helpful from an emotional perspective. In addition to the practical stuff I do, I’m also a shoulder to lean on and an impartial person to process with and I can help you find additional resources if you need more than I can offer.
This list is just FIVE reasons to hire a postpartum doula. There are plenty more. Postpartum doulas work is focused on the early weeks of bringing a new little one home but work with families as long as they need them. Personally, I love being able to work with families as their birth doula and then also postpartum. To watch the journey of excited expectant parents to confident mother is pretty incredible. Find out more about how I can support you postpartum or my postpartum planning services.
It’s been a bit quiet around here in my electronic world the last few weeks. I’ve been busy. There have been babies born, vacations taken, and life lived! And one big project that’s finally ready to be announced! You may have already seen the event on Facebook and it’s already for sign ups here. I am so excited to be offering Your Postpartum Plan on October 29th at 10am. This will be offered quarterly, so if you aren’t quite there yet, look for it again in January. I’ve been working on this for awhile, pulling from here and there. I’m delighted with what I have and know that it will benefit you as you welcome your new baby into your family
We all know birth is a big deal and something that doesn’t happen to us every day. We expect that and prepare for that through classes, planning, and hiring support in the form of care providers and doulas. It’s unknown to us. Bringing the baby home doesn’t seem as unknown. We see babies out all the time. Everyone does it. We figure that it can’t be that hard and we’ll figure it out. And yes, you do figure it out.
But just like birth and breastfeeding, a little bit of information and some preplanning can make a huge difference in how you adjust. And bringing a new baby home, especially your first baby, is a huge adjustment. You know about all the stuff they “need” and your home is prepared but our hearts and attitudes take adjusting too.
Postpartum mood disorders are higher in the US than many other industrialized countries and a new baby puts incredible pressure on our marriages and other relationships. The Gottman Institute “discovered that 67% of couples experienced a precipitous decline in relationship satisfaction in the first 3 years of the baby’s life.” That HUGE! Children are AMAZING and parenting is HARD. There is no way around that. But we can teach and learn ways to help mitigate some of the impact on our relationships.
I am so excited to walk through that time with you and help you communicate and find ways to plan ahead so it can be just a little easier!
You can read about my own postpartum experience here.
There is so much to say about postpartum. Much more than can be said in one post. Or even ever really can be said in words. So this is my first shot at it. There will be many more.
Postpartum is such an important, life changing, magical time. We are getting to know our baby for the first time outside the womb. We get to see all the sweet little movements we’ve spent the last few months feeling. It’s pretty incredible. It’s also hard and overwhelming. Very few new parents I’ve spoken with don’t have a sense of complete inadequacy. We focus so much on birth prep and pregnancy and kind of assume things will fall into place when we bring the baby home. Make no mistake, knowing what’s going on during pregnancy and prepping for birth IS important. But so is what happens after. Today I’ll start talking about that shift.
Our culture puts so much emphasis on youth, beauty, and our bodies. We assume that once the baby is born and gone from our body that we will revert back to our normal selves rather quickly. Or we hope and strive for that at least. But the thing is, even for those whose bodies do recover quickly, there is no reverting back to our pre-pregnant selves. We’ve been through an experience, both physical and emotional, that changes us forever.
Physically, even our skeletal structure has changed enough that a scientist looking at our skeleton years after we’ve passed will be able to tell that we’ve had a child. For nearly all of us, our bellies carry signs of the life changing event for the rest of our life. Signs of healed stretch marks. Our belly buttons just a little bit wider. The skin just a little looser than it used to be. For others, the signs are obvious and never leave. Even Jennifer Garner has had to explain her baby belly.
My point is, we do ourselves a disservice thinking we’ll go back to our old selves. I read an article recently that we all bear scars as a result of becoming mothers. That really resonates with me. It’s true. Our bodies are never the same because WE GREW AND GAVE BIRTH TO A WHOLE NEW HUMAN! Our lives will never the the same because we now see everything through the lens of a parent. Nothing will ever be the same.
Read about my own postpartum challenges here.
Adina Nelson, CD(DONA)
I am a birth & postpartum doula and chlidbirth educator practicing in North Idaho.
She was there every step of the way for me and my husband...I thank Adina for everything she helped us with. She truly is a special person and we will be forever grateful for her! ~Erin