It's that time of year again!
Christmas trees in every window, lights all aglow, and... COVID. And a new baby.
Maybe this isn't the Christmas you planned when you first saw those two lines or the words "pregnant" flash. I'm sure many of us thought this pandemic would blow over by the summer. But here we are, a whole pregnancy later and we're stuck birthing in a new world. One with even less postpartum support, compounded by the holidays and the glaring reality of less social interaction.
The old Elvis song starts wailing in the background- "I'll have a bluuue (blue-hoo- hoo- hoo hoo) Christmass without youuu..."
Break it down Elvis:
Suffer with Seasonal Affective Disorder? Feeling a little "postpartum"?
We'll get into why I hate the term "postpartum" (and yes, air quotes are necessary) later, as its TRULY a post all it's own. But lets distinguish what may be going on with your mind right now.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, or seasonal depression as its commonly referred to is the cluster of symptoms folks may experience when the winter season rolls around. Its very prevalent in regions that experience much shorter daylight hours, cold weather, and high precipitation (all things that make you want to be a hermit anyway.) It can be treated by light therapy, exposure to sunlight, cognitive behavior talk therapy, and in more severe cases, antidepressants (typically Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)). Usually no baby, but if your baby isn't a fresh squish and you only feel gloomy when its gloomy out, then this may be you.
Baby Blues is a very mild form of depression that coincides with the normal drop off in pregnancy hormones. 8/10 when someone says they "had a little postpartum" they're referring to this. You may cry sometimes, feel a little moody or snappy, feel worried about your parenting decisions and life choices (Yes, we ALL wonder who in their right mind let us make a baby and take it home), and have a loss of appetite and janky sleep patterns (um, hello, new baby.) However this is NOT postpartum depression (what people THINK they're abbreviating for...). Baby Blues typically presents 2 or 3 days after birth and usually resolves around 2 weeks or so. Its super short term, and generally routine and mindset changes, plus a little village support knocks it out.
Now the big kahuna are the PMADS, or perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. Again, its own post soon, but for brevity- this includes postpartum and antenatal depression, postpartum anxiety, bipolar disorder (postpartum presentation), PTSD, and postpartum psychosis. These conditions present weeks to years after birth, and you're more at risk if you suffered with mental health before or during your pregnancy, experienced a traumatic birth, pregnancy/ infant loss, or intimate partner violence. These are serious conditions that may warrant clinical care: therapy, medications, etc. The symptoms are like baby blues, but times 10. Your thoughts may be intrusive and scary. You need to have a conversation with your provider(s), or reach out for a referral (I'll link some resources below.)
"I had a little postpartum."
Yeah, me too. A "little postpartum" that lasted 8 months. And guess when it manifested? Yup, the holidays. I remember laying in bed at my mother in laws on the verge of tears, my then therapist calling to tell me he had to cancel because of a family emergency. WHAT ABOUT MY EMERGENCY JIM*?? I pulled myself together and cooked a whole Christmas dinner. Seeing my two families together gave me some peace to know I'd make it to my rescheduled appointment. It also gave me a break from my terrible latching baby, because everyone wanted to hold her. WELL ITS A WHOLE PANDEMIC WHIT, I CAN'T DO THAT. I know. But we can pivot.
Find your village. Or leave it.
For some of us, family is everything, and surrounding yourself with your loved ones is the comfort you need to get through trying times. Set up virtual family reunions, commit to having regular phone conversations with a trusted friend or family member. Perhaps you can convince Grandma to quarantine before your little one comes so she can be available to help out. Or maybe they're just TRYING YOU. Listen to what your heart AND mind are saying. If you need to take a break, do it. Shut down your social media, put your phone on DND, decline that 100th Zoom family meet. Either way, you know what you need, and don't feel apologetic for it.
Find a Support Group
Postpartum related, breastfeeding, general parent. Find one that interests you, and bonus points if its free and drop in. That way you don't feel committed to "show up" when you're just not feeling it. But being amongst a group of like individuals can be really cathartic, and like I said above, yes, we all really do question who let us have kids. We also all bumped their heads getting them in the car seat. Sorry baby.
Speak With Your Doctor
"Okay, yeah, so I did all those things girl but I'm still a hotmess.com. I love my family but they can't help me and Stacy from support group said it gets better but I think sis lied."
It may be time to have a conversation with your doctor and ask for a referral to mental health services. Anyone who gave birth in the last 10 or so years is probably aware of the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Screen. Its not perfect, but it does give insight to what's going on if you're honest. Keyword, HONEST. Don't sugarcoat or downplay how you feel in this time. Doing so may delay you in getting the support you need. Its okay to not be okay sometimes, or be the "strong" person. I'm a Black woman, we play the strong card well. Know that any good care plan can be flexible and should respect your desires- barring no harm to you or your baby.
2020 has been a shitshow, but you've made it this far!
Resources for Consideration
Postpartum International- Get Help
Google your local community family organizations, breastfeeding clinics, therapists, etc. as they are typically hosting their own small groups for parents. Have your own group? Email me and I'll try to get it added to my post or create a separate resource guide.