Giving birth to a child always has been stressful. Aside from the physical demands that pregnancy and labor make on a woman’s body, there are also concerns about the newborn’s health and lack of sleep that immediately follow delivery. Now, new mothers have another stress factor to contend with – the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to research, the coronavirus is taking a huge toll on new and expecting mothers. Fearful doctors and nurses wear extra layers of protective gear. Newborns are being whisked away from mothers at hospitals. And when they return home, parents are faced with social distancing, which only increases the usual isolation new moms often experience. It’s no surprise that levels of postpartum depression and anxiety – previously impacting one in seven women – have been on the rise since March of this year.
Fortunately, many organizations are here to help, including Motherhood Understood, an online platform, community, and story-sharing hub for moms affected by pregnancy and postpartum mental health issues. CEO Jen Schwartz founded the platform after surviving severe postpartum depression and anxiety with the birth of her son. Only after recovering did she realize how many women suffer in silence, alone and ashamed. Motherhood Understood is committed to providing connection, education, resources, and support, so that no woman has to suffer from perinatal mood and anxiety disorders in isolation, and all women get the help they need to thrive in motherhood.
In addition to running Motherhood Understood, Schwartz speaks and moderates events, writes for other media outlets such as Thrive Global and Healthline, and consults with organizations and brands on how to create content and products that serve mothers. Recently, she won the Impact Fund Grant from Janssen, the pharmaceutical arm of Johnson & Johnson, and used it to launch Maternal Mental Health in Minutes, a new educational video library breaking down pregnancy and postpartum mental health illnesses, treatments, and how you can support the women in your life who are suffering.
Here, Schwartz offers her seven expert tips for surviving pregnancy and new motherhood during the pandemic:
1. If you think something is wrong, even if you don’t know what it is, don’t suffer in silence. The best type of person to reach out to if you’re worried about your mental health is a therapist and/or psychiatrist who specializes in pregnancy and postpartum mental health. You can find local specialists via the Postpartum Support International Helpline (1.800.944.4773) and their new online provider directory.
2. Be open to medication if needed. If you’re really suffering and your provider suggests going on an antidepressant because it will help you feel better and give you the push you need to take care of your mental health, realize that it’s no different than taking an antibiotic for a case of strep throat – something you would do without even thinking about it. Needing medicine is not a weakness. It is one way you are taking care of yourself and that shows strength and resolve.
3. Let yourself not be okay. You have to feel the feelings to be able to move through them. If you aren’t okay, let yourself not be okay. Cry, rage, lie in bed, do whatever you need to do. Sometimes strength is saying, “No, I’m not okay right now.”
4. Feed your baby in the best way that works for you and your mental health. There are so many opinions out there about how you should feed your baby. We hear “breast is best.” Fed is best. But, above all, mom’s mental health is best. If one way of feeding isn’t working for you or it’s really taking its toll on your mental health, stop.
5. Ask for and accept help. You’re not supposed to do this by yourself. We need help and there is nothing shameful about asking for it. In fact, motherhood is much more enjoyable when we do have help. What help and supports can you put in place? What can you afford? This could be a postpartum doula, a cleaning service once or every other week, a grocery or meal delivery service like Instacart or mealtrain.com, a nanny or babysitter. Also, when someone offers to help, for example, they ask to set up a meal train for you, say yes. Of course, right now with Covid, all of this takes getting creative, but make sure you speak up for what you need. You can’t do this by yourself and you’re not supposed to.
6. Set boundaries. You have limited time and energy, especially as a new mother. You are allowed to say no to anything that doesn’t serve you, and that includes spending time on Zoom calls with family members! If it exhausts you or makes you feel bad, you don’t have to do it and that doesn’t make you selfish. It means you are practicing self-love.
7. Find a group of moms who are real with each other. It’s so important to have even just one mom friend who you can be yourself with and admit how you really feel. Don’t waste your time with moms who judge or give you unsolicited advice. You want the mom who is going to say, “I get it. I’ve been there, too. It’s okay to feel this way.” Even in Covid times, we need support from our female friends via phone calls and Zoom chats. Also, don’t underestimate the power of group text messages. Digital support is still support.
From the moment she began to battle postpartum depression and anxiety the year her son was born, Schwartz wanted to help other women be prepared and educated about maternal mental health illnesses. When her son turned two, she wrote her story and launched a blog called The Medicated Mommy. Immediately, she began to receive messages from hundreds of other women who had had similar experiences. So, she grew her blog into Motherhood Understood, a place for all moms to share their stories and find support.
“I was meant to take my experience and transform it into something that could help other women,” says Schwartz. “Going through postpartum mental health issues led me to discover the voice and strength I always had inside me but was too afraid to tap into. I’ve been able to turn a very traumatic experience into something positive that helps many women.”
Schwartz encourages other women to take a leap of faith if they’re unhappy in their careers. “We only get one life to live. I wish I’d had the courage and self-confidence that I have now back when I was in my 20s. Figure out what makes you happy and go for it.”