It's no secret that the postpartum period is just hard. After growing and carrying a human for almost 10 months, you perform what is likely one of the most challenging physical and emotional feats of your life—birthing that baby. And then you find out you're just getting started!
During postpartum, you're healing physically and emotionally while a new, adorable human is entirely reliant on you (and requires way more work than while you were passively growing them). Add in little sleep, changing hormones and doing this all during a pandemic.
Becoming a parent forces us to confront some of our biggest fears—loss, lack of control, change, the unknown. But here's the thing about being in the postpartum period during this pandemic. You are sharing those fears with a whole lot of people out there: all of us are being forced to confront them.
It's like we're arriving at a jungle with no paths and no maps. But whether you recognize it or not, you are already starting to pave your way.
We have no control over how long this pandemic will last or what the outcome will be. The only thing we do have some control over is how we move through it.
One guaranteed way to move through postpartum during a pandemic with more grace and ease is to prioritize your own well-being. Taking care of yourself is taking care of your baby. The actions we are being asked to take to minimize the spread of COVID-19 mimic those that are necessary in the early postpartum days: stay home and slow down (if you have the privilege); care for yourself so that you can care for others. Just like on the airplane, you need to put your mask on first.
For some, circumstances will make this even more challenging (those who have lost jobs, are working full-time and homeschooling and in the postpartum period, those needing to return to the frontlines, and those in essential jobs). While our capacity may be great, we are also only human. We never really know the path. We can only focus on how we move through.
Here are some ways to prioritize your postpartum well-being right now, even during a pandemic.
Ask for help
You can't do it all on your own. While the physical isolation from your support systems is no joke, it's important to remember that you are not isolated in this experience. Even during these times there are ways for others to pitch in. Have someone set up a meal train or set up a fundraising page if you are in a tough financial time. Therapists, postpartum doulas and lactation consultants are all working virtually. Book appointments and put it all on your new baby registry—way better than another onesie!
Even in a pandemic, you still know what is best for you and your baby. Your history, circumstances, body and baby are different from your friends', your sister's and your neighbor's. What works for them won't always work for you. You get to decide how you make it through that jungle. And the good news? There isn't one right way! Turns out, messing up is actually much harder to do than you think.
You sleep when you can
When the baby is asleep, it feels like it is finally your time to clean the house, get to your emails and pay the bills, but it's impossible to overstress how important it is for you to rest. This will ultimately make it so that you can do all that other stuff more efficiently later. Even if you can't actually pass out, putting on some soothing tunes and closing your eyes can make a big difference in how you feel.
Set expectations in advance
Everyone is going to feel differently about visitors and baby exposure during this time. Set expectations for your family and friends ahead of time. Let them know if you require masks upon entry, if you aren't letting anyone visit yet or if they'll only be allowed outside if they come over—and send this to everybody so no one feels like they're being singled out.
It's easy to feel lonely during normal postpartum times and to lose track of the last time you spoke to another adult. During a pandemic, you might feel even more isolated as you will likely have fewer visitors and fewer places to go. Reach out to others! Join a Zoom party, use FaceTime or find a new parent group. These too have gone virtual. You are not built to do this alone.
Follow the 5-minute rule
Every day, you get a minimum of five minutes that are solely for you. Take a walk around the block, stand outside by yourself to take a few deep breaths, have a conversation about non-baby related things. Blast your favorite song in the shower. So where can you sneak in a few minutes to feed yourself? A few minutes can make a big difference. You have permission to prioritize it.
Creating rituals around your feeding times can help you feed yourself as you feed your baby. Have something delicious to eat or drink. Watch your favorite show. Listen to a podcast. Call a friend. Mark this time as something special for you, too.
Remember that you can do hard things
Because birth and the transition to parenthood is so ordinary (in that so many people go through it), we tend to forget how extraordinary the experience actually is. It is no small deal. What you have done—what you are doing—is hard, selfless, exhausting. And beautiful.
We often forget that it is possible to hold seemingly contradicting emotions at the same time. That's why the perinatal experience speaks so directly to the strength and wonder of the human experience—because while it can make us feel overwhelmed, it also shows that we are really just that capable.
Remember that all of this is temporary
When you're in it, it feels like it will never end, the truth is, change is constant. Whatever you feel today shall pass. It is already passing. It is already changing. There are always small shifts happening and when we start turning our attention to those, when we start celebrating even the seemingly littlest of wins, they start to add up.
This doesn't mean the goal is to always feel great, or that this pandemic won't have lasting implications. It just means that it is impossible for us to be where we are right now forever, and that we can allow ourselves to feel that whole range of human experience: Holding seemingly contrasting emotions together, and knowing our abilities are extraordinary.
Written by Ash Spivak and Natalia Hailes, co-authors of Why Did No One Tell Me This? The Doulas' Honest Guide For Expectant Parents.