Meghan Markle recently opened up about the stress and loneliness of being a new mom. Turns out that nobody—not even the royals—are immune from that particular struggle. Leaky boobs, a massacred vagina or a painful c-section scar, zero sleep and hormones up the wazoo—it’s no wonder so many new moms feel depressed and overwhelmed.
Clinical psychologist Bethany Cook dealt with baby blues after the birth of each of her two children. These feelings of darkness inspired her to write her new real-talk parenting book For What It’s Worth: A Perspective on How to Thrive and Survive Parenting Ages 0-2. We spoke with Cook about her experience–and what she’s learned from it.
SDTC: What exactly happened after you gave birth to your children?
BC: My children were born 19 months apart and I didn’t realize the amount of stress and strain my body would go through during that time. Over the course of both pregnancies I gained 100+ lbs and honestly felt like a bloated beached whale right after giving birth. I didn’t want to look at my body in the mirror and I was reminded daily about the weight gain when none of my clothes fit.
The hormone changes, weight gain, lack of sleep and finding my footing in my new role as full-time-stay-at-home-parent were several factors which contributed to my baby blues. While I did experience the baby blues I never stayed in a deep state of depression for long periods of time. I don’t know anyone who easily transitioned to parenthood without experiencing some sort of emotional loss/feelings of sadness.
Why do you think PPD and PPA is so common nowadays?
13% of women experience Postpartum Depression (PPD) and 9% of women experience Postpartum Anxiety (PPA) within a week to a month after giving birth. I believe these numbers are low estimates because I know many women who never reported their symptoms to a doctor for fear of their child being taken away if they were found mentally unfit.
How does the system fail to support new moms?
Our current system of government (in the US) does not support new mothers the way it should. We only need to look at the fact that women in this country are going back to work 10 days to 2 weeks after giving birth. The reasons vary slightly but much of it boils down to finances. Many families today can’t afford to live on one person’s salary. Other countries pay parents to stay home with their newborns for up to a year because they recognize the overall benefits to parents/children and society as a whole. Only recently have some companies in this country begun offering on-site day care which is a step in the right direction, just not big enough. Aside from the lack of support from government/business new mothers don’t have enough access to proper postpartum healthcare both for body and mind.
What are 4 practical tips to cope with everything that can come with new motherhood?
1. Talk about it – to friends, family, or a licensed mental health professional
2. Find a real-world or online support group of other moms. They know what you’re going through. They will help you realize you’re not alone, no matter how lonely you may feel.
3. Accept help when offered, hire a babysitter if possible (even just one hour a week). Having a little bit of time to yourself is truly invaluable.
4. Cut yourself some slack. You will not be able to do everything you did before baby arrived. You just won’t. If the house needs to be cleaned, let it go. If you have to order pizza for the 10th night in a row, freaking DO IT. Maybe get a side salad for nutrition purposes 🙂 Life is different now, embrace your new normal and CUT YOURSELF SOME SLACK!
What helped you personally when you were going through it?
When I reflect on what helped me the most when my children were babies was shifting my mindset about time. During those long nights when I was at the end of my rope and wits end, I would calculate how many days old my child was vs how many days old I was. Not only did the actual calculation process ground me mentally it also gave me a much needed perspective which in turn offered me some mental peace. When you are struggling with your baby do the math and remind yourself this won’t be forever. I was 13,1400 days old when my 77 day old baby taught me this lesson.
Another thing that helped me cope was getting a babysitter to come twice a week for 2 hours. When my partner first floated the idea of me getting 4 hours to myself a week I literally laughed because I didn’t think it would ease my burden. I stopped laughing when I realized just how liberating and therapeutic those 4 hours were. Even a 20 minute break for a new mother is invaluable.
Talking about how stressful being a new parent is will also help. Find a friend or social network where you feel support. I host a parenting group on FB which has a diverse following from physicians to grandparents to people without children. Online mommy groups can offer validation for shared frustrations and experiences. That being said, they can also cause anxiety because not everyone on social media is kind and supportive. What I did not find helpful was talking to people who have never experienced being the primary parent of a baby/small child for an extended period of time. I’m sorry, unless you’ve lived it you will never be able to know the mental and emotional stress and anguish that comes with caring for a baby 24/7.
What do you hope readers take away from your book?
It is my hope that after reading my book parents feel validated, heard and empowered to continue working hard to help their child develop into their best selves. I share a lot of personal information about my experiences and mental struggles after my children were born in an effort to take away the stigma that a woman should “naturally” find motherhood easy. There is nothing easy about parenthood. That being said, there is nothing in this world that brings greater joy or love than when your child looks at you and smiles or reaches for your loving touch.