Prep for your Postpartum Brain
This is mental health awareness month. And I’ve seen lots of articles going around that encourage new moms to recognize the signs of postpartum depression and anxiety and get help. Super. That’s awesome.
But, you know what’s kind of chapping my ass about it? New moms, in general, are in no kind of shape to advocate for themselves. Not even for a lollipop. Much less for mental health care that can be stigmatized, expensive, or outright unavailable.
I had postpartum depression. And postpartum anxiety. And the entire time I swore up and down that I would be just fine if I could sleep for a few hours. You know why? Because I couldn’t handle one more thing. Not one single thing. My plate was overflowing. I couldn’t motivate to make a sandwich, much less a therapist appointment.
So, in the spirit of maternal mental health awareness, I’m sharing what I *wish* my husband and I had done before the baby came to help with my postpartum mental health. That’s right – these are things you can do BEFORE THE BABY COMES. It’s the same principle as putting the nursery together before the baby is born. Except the nursery is your brain.
Identify a local therapist or doctor that you like
Oftentimes, women see their OB for all things health-related while they’re pregnant and don’t really have a general practitioner. That’s fine until the baby comes out, your OB vanishes, and an impossibly young pediatrician is standing at the foot of your hospital bed. That’s not who you want assessing your mental health. Go ahead and choose a local therapist or doctor before the baby comes. If you don’t like the person, go to someone else. Keep going to people until you find someone you like. Yes, this is time consuming but it’s not going to be any easier when you have a tiny dictator to schlep along.
Go visit said therapist or doctor
Just one little visit. You can even tell them “I’m coming to see you so that if I’m feeling squirrely after this baby comes out, I’ll already know you.â€ They’ll understand. Heck, they’ll probably even tell their doctor/therapist friends about their super smart, prepared pregnant patient from that day.
Make an appointment that you probably don’t need
Go ahead and schedule an appointment with your doctor or therapist for about 2-3 months after the baby is born. You probably won’t need it, but at least it’ll be sitting there on your calendar. And if you or your loved ones have any worries at all, you can always go to the appointment and get a quick check. Best case, you’ve wasted 45 minutes.
Make a list of warning signs
Give it to your partner and close friends. Trust me. If you find yourself in the thick of things, you may not realize you’re struggling. But the people who love you will. Point them to a list of things to watch out for. Here. You can use this one.
Give loved ones permission to send you to the doctor/therapist
Have a conversation with the people who love you. Tell them that you care about your mental health and will probably need their help to keep an eye on things. You can even make them a fancy card that they can hand to you that says “I love you! I’m worried about you! Please call your doctor!”Go ahead and put the phone number on the card so they can call for you.
Give loved ones permission to make an appointment for you and drive you to the doctor/therapist
Some of us (ahem, raises hand) are stubborn. We claim that everything is fine even when literally everyone can tell it is not. Tell your loved ones ahead of time that they have your permission to make an appointment and take you to it, if they are concerned. Promise them that you want to hear their worries. For some reason people are weird about mental health – we see someone bleeding from a giant leg wound and call 911 but if we see some struggling with a mental health issue we tiptoe around and don’t want to hurt their feelings. Postpartum mood disorders are the equivalent of gaping flesh wounds.
Make a list of helpers
When you’re pregnant everyone on Earth will say “please let me know if I can do anything to help!” Mostly we nod, smile, and never call those people again. Maybe try something different. Write down their names. Reach out when you need a little help. Make your partner do it if that’s more comfortable. People love nothing more than to help with babies. Truly. I swear. I would give my big toe to have a baby to bounce and tiny onesies to wash right now. As long as I can give the baby back and get a solid 8 hours of sleep at the end of the day. Show your partner or close friends where to find the list of helpers. Give them permission to call the people on it on your behalf.
Promise yourself you will accept the help
Raise your right hand. Repeat after me, “I [name] am a strong and capable person. I am also about to embark on a physically rigorous, emotionally difficult journey. I promise to accept help on this journey. I will not think less of myself. I will not feel ashamed for asking. I am worthy of receiving help from the people who love me”: I know. It sounds cheesy, but making this promise ahead of time makes you much more likely to keep it should the need arise. It can be really hard to accept help. Every mom thinks she should be able to handle it all. Guess what? No one can. We all need help. Every last one of us. Beyonce has at least 27 nannies and if she can’t do it alone, then no one can. Let the people who love you take shifts with the baby, bring you food, and do your laundry. Promise yourself that if a loved one raises a concern, you’ll go see a professional about it.
Make a plan to get some sleep
This is the cruelest piece of advice. I’m sorry. One of the best ways to stave of postpartum mood disorders is to get rest. Of course, that’s the one thing new moms basically can’t do. So, before the baby comes, talk with your partner or loved ones about how you might get some extra rest if you feel like you’re struggling. That might mean hiring a local kid to come bounce the baby while you take a nap during the day. Or perhaps you decide to introduce a nighttime bottle, given by your partner, if things are going awry. Maybe it’s as simple as your partner bringing the baby to you for nighttime feedings. Then, as soon as baby has eaten, your partner takes the baby away for a diaper change and some soothing while you go back to sleep.
Write your future-self a note
Put it away for a rainy day. What would you want to tell yourself if you were struggling? You might remind yourself that you are strong and wise. You might make note that all things are a phase and this too shall pass. You may want to remember that seeking mental health care will set a great example for your child. Perhaps you want to say that postpartum mood disorders are easily treated and are fairly common. Maybe you just want to remember that you are an outstanding mother, no matter how low you might feel. Whatever you might choose to write, make sure you give yourself permission to feel whatever you may feel and encouragement to seek and accept help.
Doing these things won’t keep you from having a postpartum mood disorder. But, hopefully, you can set yourself (just like you set up that crib) so that if an issue arises, you’re prepared to knock it back quickly. Most of all, your loved ones are prepared to offer you support in that effort. It’s hard to recognize these symptoms in yourself. Let others help. Let the people who love you, love you.