Cafe' Recap: Caring for Mama Amidst it All

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and we are determined to show the world that #maternalhealthmatters. Today's cafe topic was about one of the most basic ways to care for our mental health - by taking care of ourselves!!

Erica: Good morning! Welcome to this morning’s topic: Caring for Mama Amidst it All. Motherhood is hard. In those early postpartum days, we are adjusting to a life of interrupted meals, interrupted sleep and the stress of caring for a helpless infant. And as our children grow, carving out time for yourself can continue to be a challenge. Being a mother shouldn’t mean we neglect ourselves, but it does change the time we have to care for ourselves and our needs change! Today we’re going to chat with some mothers about ways we can care for and nurture ourselves. Before we begin, I want to give our panelists a minute to introduce themselves.

Jilayne Luckey: 4 children (3,5,7,9); struggled with PPD and Anxiety (leader of PMAD group), homeschools her children.

Kristin Morgan: one son, 13 months old. Mental health counselor, thought she would be exempt from postpartum issues, but struggled a lot with postpartum anxiety and still has hard days. 

Candy Beers-Kim: pediatric sleep consultant and yoga teacher. Loves to empower women through evidence-based information. Has a 2 year old daughter and had severe postpartum anxiety; still has triggers sometimes. Struggled with guilt of not always enjoying motherhood, which turned into severe anxiety. 

Shana Clark: was new to the area when pregnant with her now 2 year old son; really difficult postpartum period...20 months out would still consider herself 'recovering', and very much supports the PMAD group!

Erica: As a reminder, I am up here today ONLY as a facilitator. If at any point anyone in the audience has a question for one of our panelists please feel free to jump in. Let’s begin!

Q: What does selfcare mean to you in the immediate postpartum period, like the first 3 months after having a baby? What are the things that you prioritized?

Jilayne: Communicating. If you need to cry, you cry. My husband would constantly ask what was  wrong, and I didn't know, but it was OK. I just needed to do it. Communicate openly with your support system so they know how to help you so you CAN take care of yourself. If you need a couple of hours break so you can sleep, let them know that.

Candy: My husband is the type of guy who wants to fix things, and it was hard for him to empathize with me. He would say 'you know those thoughts aren't true'; but I didn't know that! It was hard to communicate how real the thoughts were feeling. Finding a therapist was really essential for me.

Erica: Here is are some examples of things we can do to improve self-care:

  • 1. Be realistic. - You have even less time now that you have a baby. You don’t have to do it all.
  • 2. Simplify your life. Focus on what is most important to you and cut back on unnecessary activities.
  • 3. Establish a new routine. It takes time to find a regular rhythm for everyday tasks with a new baby, even for experienced moms.
  • 4. Ask for help. Tell loved ones how they can help, and don’t be afraid to discuss concerns with yourhealthcare provider.
  • 5. Learn to let go. Trying to do too much doesn’t leave enough time for what’s really important to you.

Q: Shana, what are your thoughts about our list? Do you agree or disagree? What jumps out at you? Why?

Shana: Learning to let go was one of the most important things for me. I had all of these expectations about what life would look like after having a baby, and it didn't look anything like that. It's like thinking you're going to climb Mt. Everest, but realizing you can't do that, and maybe can't even do the hill in front of it right now. I think letting go of expectations would have helped me a lot.

Kristin: I think they're all really important, and I know we always say 'ask for help, ask for help', but it's so true. I had mastitis when my son was 3 weeks old, with a 104 fever, but I refused to wake my husband up to tell him how horrible I felt when I was trying to calm a fussy baby in the middle of the night. I thought 'he has to go to work, he has a new job, this is my job.' That wasn't my husband's fault; it was on me to communicate that I needed help, because what was going on at that moment was more important than anything that would come up during the 9-5 on his job the next day. 

Jilayne: I felt like I couldn't ask for help with my third child, because I hadn't had PPD with my first two, and I shouldn't feel this way now. That I shouldn't have had another baby if I couldn't take care of them. I really should have reached out to my support system more.

Erica: I recently read that, “a lot of new mothers are so busy taking care of their babies that they forget to take care of themselves. The can lead to stress, exhaustion, and a sense of being overwhelmed. It’s important to take a few minutes each day to nurture yourself and find healthy ways to relax and relieve stress. Some moms say that meditation, prayer, and relaxation techniques, like deep breathing and positive visualization, give them a short but much needed break in their daily routine.”

Q: What are your thoughts on this quote? Would you agree/disagree? What things help you?

Candy: The hard part about mental health is that it's kind of like, "Here are your coping skills, just use them and you'll feel better!" But the problem is that when you are experiencing PPD and anxiety, you can't access those coping skills, so you feel like you have nothing to hold on to.

Kristin: We have this stigma around the word 'illness' in regards to mental health, like if you are labeled with anxiety or depression it will follow you your entire life. Taking care of yourself may mean going to counseling and/or using medication, and THAT'S OK! It doesn't doom you to a life of 'mental illness'. 

Q: Jilayne and Shana, what does selfcare mean to you now in your life with older (and multiple) children?

Jilayne: I know when I start to get tense, screaming and/or frustrated with my husband, that it's a signal that I need to step back and evaluate what life looks like right now. If we need to slow down the schedule, what we may need to pull back from, so that I feel more sane. If that means that I need to do something for me and ignore the house, then I do it. If I wait until 'everything is perfectly in order', it will never happen. I need to throw myself into what makes me, me. Whether that's writing or painting or going and getting ice cream by myself and not sharing with anyone! And I pray. 

Shana: I think I'm still learning how to care for myself. I think a lot of moms don't have ways to care for ourselves, or the ways we are used to caring for ourselves maybe aren't as accessible right now. However, as my son grows and is more independent, I'm getting more time to do the things I like to do. I like to do 'homesteading', and am able to now involve him more in those things. I am definitely enjoying the toddler stage more than the baby stage (but I know some people are the opposite). It's easy to get focused on what you're not getting when you're not able to do it. But when I look back, I can see where those moments do arise, and it's good to pay attention to those moments when you get them, and enjoy the craziness in the moment. :) I keep a running list of things I want to do, and when 'the stars align' and I'm able to do them, I try to just be grateful for that time when it does happen. 

Audience comment: Sometimes if I've had a horribly long day, I make sure to let my husband know before he comes home that when he gets home, I am going to take a few minutes for myself. It lets him have time to mentally prepare, and I know I'm going to get that break. 

Audience comment: I think it's important to remember you can shop around for a therapist/counselor. Not everyone is going to click with you, and vice versa, and that's OK. Find someone that is a good match for you. The same with friendships; make sure you're surrounding yourself with people who are going to be able to support you and be a help and not a hindrance to you. There may be different seasons of friendship, and that's OK and normal. 

Kristin: the therapeutic relationship is very important, and a professional therapist will not be offended by the fact that you canceled with them, because they know that's part of how it works. Also, peer support is so, so important. Working through something usually means it's going to be rough and hard at first, then get better...like physical therapy; it's going to feel bad before it feels better, but it's worth the hard work!

Audience comment: my husband helped me establish a routine so that I didn't have to ask for help, because I am horrible at it. For example, we have a routine of him doing bath time, so I get a built-in break.

Jilayne: yes! especially if you're dealing with PPD and anxiety...know that bad days can come. I recognize now that for me, even a few years later, those times come right before my period begins. I know now that it's coming once/month, and I can prepare for it. I don't schedule much for those days; we watch a little bit more TV, we don't do as much schoolwork. I mentally prepare myself for those days, knowing that a lot of lies will come into my mind that feel real, even though they're not, and I lower my expectations for myself and others.

Erica: I know self-care looks different for everyone. Some women need a shower everyday to feel normal. Some women don't.

Audience member: yes!! I once had a women tell me to everyday say to myself: "Today, to be the best mother I can be, I need to _______." And that looked different everyday. Some days it was a shower, some days it was a hot meal by myself. Sometimes that meant bringing the baby swing into the bathroom and the baby crying but I got that shower and got it done and felt like myself. 

Erica: I think we keep hearing people say that we feel like we need permission to take a break from our children. IT IS NOT A BAD THING TO WANT A BREAK FROM YOUR CHILD. It's not wrong to want silence, or to not have someone attached to you, etc. :) 

Candy: The wanting to take a break is something that triggers my anxiety. 'What if something happens if I'm not around her?' I KNOW that it's good for us both to have a break. I enjoy going to the gym, feeling healthy and working part-time, and those are things that are good for me. I would get jealous of other women who went to the gym everyday, but then I realized it was because they felt comfortable leaving their children in the childcare, where I was choosing not to. It's often a choice. Choices are hard, but we do have a choice.

Jilayne: I have no problem putting my children in the living room and putting on a movie, then going to my room and watching something for ME, that doesn't involve Daniel Tiger or Lego Ninjas. Just so I have an hour to myself where I can lay with the lights off and eat the chocolate I've hidden. 

Erica: For those preparing for their first or subsequent child is there anything you would recommend they do beforehand? What do you think of this list?

  • 1. Learn as much as you can.
  • 2. Talk to people you trust.
  • 3. Think positive.
  • 4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Candy: I would like to add something to the list: self-awareness and self-compassion. I think if we could help women gain these things before having a baby, it would make such a big difference in their motherhood experience.

Erica: I would also say know your resources. Medical, professional, peer support...know what your options and choices are, where you are!

Shana: I would say all of the above...I learned as much as I could about the baby, but I didn't learn about postpartum mood disorders. If I do it again, I would say learn as much as you can, because knowledge is power. Also, finding good, positive people to be around who support you and don't judge you. It may not be the circle you're around at the moment, and it may take time to find those people again. Even family/your own mother. You may have to change the dynamics of relationships to find the best support for yourself during that time. I had a perfect baby; he wasn't colicky, he wasn't hard and I felt guilty for having such a hard time because of that, because I didn't have 'reason' for having a hard time. Be gentle with yourself, and don't compare to other mothers; everyone is dealing with something. We shouldn't beat ourselves up.

Kristin: I felt like having a baby shocked my system. I'm definitely not a newborn person; I like toddlers a lot better. I think the next time around, I'll have more perspective to say 'I don't really like the first 9 months or so, but I know this will pass, and we'll have a blast when they're a toddler!'

Audience comment: my husband works in mental health, and he helped me to do just the basic things: open the blinds, go for a walk, establish a routine, etc. So now I reach out to other new moms to check in with them and see how they're doing, even in the most basic ways. 

Erica: social media can get a bad wrap, but I think it can be so good! If your newsfeed is dragging you down, then you're following the wrong people/wrong things. Change your input - it can completely change your perspective.

Jilayne: I think too, really knowing your identity. I didn't feel fully comfortable with myself as a mom until after my fourth child. I think knowing who you are, and remembering that--even in the midst of change--is very important. So you don't wake up one day and think "Is this it? I don't remember who I am anymore." For me, part of that is investing in the PMAD group every 2nd and 4th Monday of the month; it fills me, it brings me life!

Erica: What do you want to leave our audience with today?

Candy: Allow yourself the integration of your previous life and your new life. Allow yourself to mourn lost friendships/changed friendships, loss of 'old life', etc. And having really honest mom-friends. I have a friend who told me 'I don't miss my kids when I'm not with them!', and that was huge for me; it helped to take a lot of the pressure off and relieved some of that mom-guilt I was feeling!

For more info on our PMADs support group, please visit here.

 

Alisha Meador

Alisha Meador is mother to 2 wonderful and wild little boys. She has an obsession with all things British, is an aspiring writer, amateur yogi and pretty decent backyard homesteader. She is so thankful for this motherhood community.