I want to scream these words for all the mothers to hear.
All the mothers who are holding their heads just above the water line. All the mothers who are gasping for air, trying to make it through the next hour let alone the entire day or week.
You are not alone.
Over the last few days, this Fayetteville Observer news story has saddened our community. I can’t pretend to know what was going on here, but…I do know how stressed, stretched beyond her means, and alone she may have felt. It is an incredibly heart wrenching story all around, and unfortunately an all too common one. Being a mother is hard work. Add in a deployed spouse, and that feeling of despair and loneliness and stress is only magnified about a million times.
While this story depicts a possible extreme, there are varying degrees of postpartum depression and even postpartum psychosis. Societally speaking, we spend so much time and energy focusing on pregnancy and childbirth that we often forget or barely acknowledge the postpartum recovery phase (also known as the 4th trimester). We research all the latest baby gear, plan the nursery and stock the closet and dresser full of the cutest, tiniest clothes. We consider what we eat and drink. We prepare for the birth by taking classes, reading books, gathering all the opinions of all the people. We make a birth plan and pack the perfect coming home outfit.
Plan for it. Give it the time and thought it deserves, YOU deserve. Sit down with your significant other, spouse, husband, partner, and familiarize yourselves with the symptoms. Create a postpartum plan. Ask yourself these questions:
Who will be home with me during my recovery?
Who will be there to ensure I’m nourished, hydrated, and rested?
Who will I reach out to if I need to talk to someone?
What will I do for myself every day? Once a week? What does “self care” look like to me?
Who makes up my support group? Where are they located?
Is my health care provider supportive and knowledgable?
And don’t forget about your spouse/partner. Who are they going to reach out to? Who can help make sure they’re rested enough to support you?
During prenatal visits with clients, we often discuss the use of a code word. The code word is a word that only the 3 of us (mother, her partner, and me–the doula) know. It is a word to be used only if the mother is absolutely done and needs to make immediate change to her birthing plan (ie, she now wants an epidural rather than proceed with her plan to go medication free). Consider implementing this technique for postpartum use. Come up with a code word that you share with those closest to you, that you can utilize when you need to reach out. Your support people will know it is a serious matter.
Another tip that clients have found helpful during their postpartum recovery is gauging their emotional well-being by rating how they felt their day went. (You can include your spouse/partner or close friend in this as well so they can provide additional perspective. They know you. They can help gauge when you aren’t acting like yourself.) Keep a calendar handy.
At bed time, reflect and look back at your day.
Were you more emotional? Did you have a hard time coping with daily tasks? Were you super stressed? Did you have a great day filled with smiles and laughter? Was it just an okay day? On a scale of 1-5 (one being a bad day, 5 being the best) rate your day and mark it on the calendar. Over the course of a week or two, you’ll be able to see if you’ve been having more bad days than not. You’ll be able to show this to your provider or counselor/therapist, so they can better help you. You can take it a step further and journal about your day. What made the day bad? What made it great?
And of course, consider hiring a postpartum doula. We know what is considered normal recovery and we will encourage you to reach out to other professionals, or your health care provider if recovery is out of the norm. We’re available to listen! Sometimes just having an unbiased, friendly face around can make a world of difference. And while we chat, and sip on some tea or coffee, we’re happy to fold your laundry or prepare some meals or snacks so you can focus on you. So you can be the best version of you.
You do not have to feel like you are drowning.
For more information on postpartum mood disorders, please visit http://www.postpartum.net/learn-more/tools-for-mom/