Between facing mental health battles as a teenager to facing similar struggles during pregnancy, one thing is for sure – life doesn’t hand you what you can’t handle. Clichés are often overused, but some do hold a lot of truth. I’ve conquered quite a few demons in my lifetime: cancer, self-harm, suicide attempts, depression, anxiety. I’ve managed to make it through those difficult times and learn from them – something some people, unfortunately, do not. The dark hole of mental illness is a dark hole, but there truly is light at the other end.
Another cliché people take for granted.
Pushing through pregnancy into postpartum while facing mental health struggles is not easy. You want to cherish and enjoy everything about the experience and often feel guilty when you physically, mentally, and emotionally are unable to. During those times when you feel as though those struggles will win, there are ways to make sure they won’t. Of course, it’s easier said than done, but the best thing you can do is try. Three tools that provided some mental guidance during my pregnancy and into my current postpartum state were the following: Self-talk, keeping a “constant,” and seeking support.
Ever since graduating college and moving out on my own, I’ve found self-talk to be incredibly helpful. I’ve always been one to have a mental or physical “To-Do List” going at all times, but speaking it out loud makes the list more real. It also gives me time to think through each item on the list so I can fully prepare.
Other than speaking out list items, self-talk has shown to be helpful during moments of major anxiety. Being able to vocalize my stressors and talk myself down from them has proven to be useful during all those big changes and discomforts that happened during pregnancy into postpartum. After the initial week of nonstop visitors and support, I was on my own with twin newborns while their dad worked. I used self-talk constantly throughout the day to regulate my mind and calm myself down.
Verbalizing your thoughts out loud strengthens the message behind those words. When you actually hear yourself say certain things, you may have a greater pull to work towards those goals than if you simply saw words on paper or in your thoughts.
Keeping a “Constant”
It’s incredibly hard to keep everything from your pre-pregnancy lifestyle going during your pregnancy and after. This was hard for me to face when I was told I was expecting twins. I had to immediately stop taking aerial arts classes due to my being “high risk” and that mentally crushed me. Then being put on disability, having to move out of my apartment, move in with my mom, and then move out to a brand new city all during my second trimester – talk about anxiety.
Despite the anxiety I felt during my pregnancy, I was able to keep some “constants” going in my life. I found more time for personal writing and was able to read a few books. Shifting into my current postpartum state, I’ve had a little less time for personal writing or reading, but I’ve been able to get back into practicing aerial arts. Having that constant, familiar activity back in my life has been something that continues to ground me. It is something connecting me to my “old self.” Not that this “new self,” or lifestyle, isn’t terrific – I truly love my girls more than anything – but it brings me back to a place I am comfortable with because I know it well.
Having something that is yours, away from motherhood, is important. It reminds you of who you are behind the “Mom” title.
I was incredibly stubborn right from the start after the delivery of my twins. By the morning after my c-section, I had asked they remove the catheter and IV so I could shower, walk around, and tend to the girls without feeling held back. I hated having nurses continuously change me and make me feel helpless, so I took it upon myself to be as useful as I could right from the start.
Looking back, I should have asked for more help. Asking for help is not easy to do, but during those first few weeks home – it’s necessary. If someone is available to help, take it. Your baby, or babies, will understand if you cannot get up and personally change their diaper every single time or be there for every feeding. If someone offers to help, especially when you are healing and in extreme pain, you need to appreciate it and let that support happen. Having that help will help you both mentally and physically in the long run.
Part 1 of 3: Motherhood and Mental Illness: Mom Bloggers Speak Out here.
Part 2 of 3: Motherhood and Mental Illness: A Personal Story here.
Jennifer Aline is a coffee addict, new mom of twins, and a passionate freelance writer and author. She writes for Moms.com on a regular basis and has had articles in publications such as the NY Daily News, NY Post, Rochester Magazine, and In Good Health Newspaper. Aline received her Bachelor’s Degree in Child and Family Studies from Keuka College and worked in the Human Services field before her two little girls entered her life. Aline now focuses primarily on writing, teaching aerial arts classes in the evenings, and caring for her twin daughters – all while continuously chugging coffee, of course.