Stress depends on how you think about it.
In 2012, my husband and I moved to a new town. We were over an hour’s drive from our closest family and friends and didn’t know anyone for miles. I was also seven months pregnant. This was my second pregnancy, my first lost at 22 weeks, so I was traveling to my obstetrician once a week for visits and resulted in a highly traumatic labor and C-section delivery.
When we were discharged from the hospital, my husband only had a few days off before he had to return to work, and my in-laws stayed about a week. By the time my son was 10 days old, everyone had left and I was alone, still recovering from major abdominal surgery and adjusting to life with a newborn. From 6 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. every weekday, it was just me and my son. No friends from our old town, no colleagues from work, no family, no one visited. I spent my time watching my baby and worrying about him—googling every twitch, every cry, every nap or nap refusal. I even looked at pictures of baby poop online to make sure my baby’s poop was as it should be.
I was exhausted, as are most new parents, and I was hypervigilant, which was even more exhausting. I rarely slept, I didn’t shower, I ate standing up while wearing my baby so he would sleep. I cried all the time. I analyzed every aspect of my son’s behavior and development. Then I started having scary, intrusive thoughts and dramatic mood swings. I chalked it up to hormones and went about my day—miserable, stressed, and sad. There were frighteningly low points, but I never associated my state with postpartum depression (PPD). I never saw my OB again after my baby was born because the 90-minute drive to his out-of-state office was unimaginable.
In my endless research, I stumbled onto something called mindful parenting. I’d never heard of mindfulness before, but I fell into it completely after reading two paragraphs. “Mindfulness can help new moms!” it said. “Yes! Please help me!” I said. “Mindfulness can ease the burden and lessen the stress of parenting!” it said. “Ease my burden, you miracle, you!” I cried!
I began paying attention. That’s what it said to do. Pay attention. Pay attention to your breath and your mood and the way you feel and the way your baby smells Pay attention to now. And I did. I breathed and paid attention to how that felt. I paid attention to when I began to get angry or sad or feel anxious and noticed what was happening to bring those feelings out. I began to acknowledge my triggers and move on to the next moment.
By paying attention, by being mindful, I was able to accept things that spun me out previously. I still had low points, but I was better equipped to manage and accept them as feelings and moments, and move on.
It wasn’t until my baby was no longer a baby, that I realized I had all the classic symptoms of PPD. What I thought was caused by hormone fluctuations and “baby blues” was actually much more severe. Eighteen months after he was born, I finally consulted my doctor and began treatment. My discovery of mindfulness and mindful parenting helped me realize that what I was feeling was not normal and needed to be addressed. Practicing mindfulness allowed me to ask for help. Gaby Merediz, mother, writer and owner of Make Your Perfect, recommends implementing a mindfulness practice to help make it through not only the early days of parenting but every day after:
You can’t change your life if you’re not aware of it. A general awareness allows you to blur the lines and to be less than honest with yourself. Get real by quickly answering the following questions at the end of every day: What feels really good right now? What doesn’t feel so good right now? What made me feel balanced today? What am I grateful for?
Writing these down in a journal can give you a reference to go back to when you’re stuck in a rut or need to make a change.
You probably have an ongoing mental narrative of comments that aren’t necessarily true. Maybe you tell yourself: I can’t deal with this; I’m a terrible mom; today was a terrible day. For a week, keep track of these negative myths that you tell yourself. At the end of the week, come up with a positive affirmation for each phrase. When you start to hear the negative phrase go through your head, replace it with the positive one.
We often go through life with a huge to-do list. We rarely feel productive, and we often feel overwhelmed. Become more mindful by asking yourself: what is one thing I can do that will make me satisfied or feel content today? This sets you up with a realistic goal that’s within your control. Once you’ve achieved it, you can do the other things on your to-do list, but you don’t have to push yourself. You can reward yourself because you’ve already realized the one thing that you set out to do today.
As my own family has grown, I’ve found that I can still be susceptible to the scary lows of depression and PPD, but by acknowledging negative voices for what they are, I’ve been able to navigate my illness instead of my illness navigating me.
The author of this post is an editorial contributor to Headspace. These are their views, experiences and results and theirs alone. This contributor was paid for their writing.
Artwork by CHLOE INSALL-JONES