For me, becoming a mother came as a shock.
At the end of 2019, everything looked like 2020 was going to be my year. I had worked so hard and was about to be promoted to Head of, was continuously building my professional network and everything was going great in my personal life.
My husband had just quit his job to start all over again in his mid-30s and take up full-time bachelor studies. I was the main breadwinner and really wanted to go full speed in terms of my career. But shortly after Christmas, my health rapidly deteriorated and in January 2020 we received the shock news: I'm pregnant with twins. Immediately followed by the next shock: a global pandemic paralyzed our entire social life. Oh dear...
Disclaimer: I live in Germany, so my experience is centered around our culture and laws. This might look different for you. As a caregiver you might only relate to some of the following points.
Becoming a mother is one of the most beautiful and transformative experiences a woman can have. It is a time filled with love, joy, and hope as we welcome a new life into the world. But for many women, this time can also be filled with darkness and despair as they struggle with postpartum depression. This invisible illness is often shrouded in silence and shame, leaving new mothers feeling isolated and alone.
If you are suffering from postpartum depression, please know that you are not alone. You are not weak. You are not a bad mother. You are simply experiencing a real and valid illness that needs to be addressed. You are strong and courageous for facing this challenge head-on! You are a warrior for fighting through the darkness and for seeking help. You are a beacon of hope for other mothers who may be going through the same thing. You are not alone. You are loved. You are valued. And you will come out of your matrescence stronger and more beautiful than ever before.
Research shows that postpartum depression is a common condition among new mothers. According to the American Psychological Association, an estimated 10-15% of women experience postpartum depression after giving birth.
The World Health Organization (WHO) states that this number may be even higher, with up to 20% of women experiencing postpartum depression globally. A study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that postpartum depression affects one in seven women in the United States.
It's important to note that postpartum depression can also affect fathers, partners and other family members who are involved in the care of the newborn.
Your Village is Your Superpower
Parenthood can be a challenging and rewarding experience, but it can also be isolating and overwhelming. Building a support system, or a "village," helps parents navigate the ups and downs of parenthood and thrive as individuals. Having a network of truly supportive friends, family members, and professionals is crucial to get access to emotional, practical, and educational support when you need it. The village is about making your mental and physical health, your overall well-being, and your family a priority.
Make a list of family members and friends who can help with babysitting on a regular basis (e.g. every Wednesday afternoon so you can go to Yoga.)
Talk to other parents you trust (from Kita, school, play group) about rotating babysitting ("One afternoon us, one afternoon you")
Research local daycare options and make a list of those that meet your needs and budget as early as possible. Consider preparing a pitch presenation for your family to stand out from other applicants.
Consider hiring a nanny, aupair or babysitter if other childcare or daycare options are not sufficient for you. Invest this money, if you can. It is for a limited period and totally worth it - even though it hurts. Believe me, I know.
Talk to your employer about hybrid and flexible work options as well as family benefits (e.g. paid childcare, parent-child-office).
If your employer is not supportive, consider changing your job. I am very serious! Just because we are financially dependent on a job does not mean that we have to sacrifice our souls and families.
Some countries subsidize the employer's contribution to childcare. For instance in Germany, this is known as the Kita or daycare allowance, which is governed by § 3 No. 33 of the German Income Tax Act (EStG).
HOME & OFFICE DUTIES
Use a smart calendar app that helps all adults involved schedule and keep track of important dates, appointments, family activities, and household tasks (e.g. Famanice (GER) or FamilyWall (EN)
Use a smart app where all family members can add, prioritize and manage ongoing household tasks and meal plans including your weekly shopping list (e.g. Famanice, FamilyWall)
Consider hiring a cleaner or housekeeper to help with heavy or time-consuming cleaning tasks. Again: Invest this money, if you can. Don't be afraid to ask other family members or friends to help .
Look into meal delivery services or meal prep services to make mealtime easier (We used HelloFresh for a couple of months and are often using the pickup service in the local supermarket around the corner)
Create a budget and set financial goals to help manage expenses. Some family apps offer premium plans including budget tracker and more.
Make a list of important phone numbers and contact information for family members, doctors, close friends and other important people.
Use your outlook/calendar at work to openly communicate your (un)availabilities well ahead of time. Don't explain yourself.
At work, I have fixed deep work blockers. I try to avoid meeting marathons if possible and in my power. On top of that, I am very disciplined in keeping meeting notes so everyone (me included) knows what to do. Highly recommended: BBC article about worklife "Why you should manage your energy, not your time"
SELF-CARE & HEALTH
Vitamins, vitamins, vitamins... it may sound trivial, but a serious lack of vitamin D and other important elements favored my depression. A conversation with my doctor and regular checks ensure that I no longer lack anything.
Find a support group for parents or join an online community to connect with other parents. Only connect with people or groups you don't feel bad about! We all know these mom circles that put more pressure on us...
Prioritize sleep (as much as you can), exercise and healthy eating. Again: It may sound trivial, but a 15-minute run during your lunch break or after the kids are in bed can be life-changing. And food: Everything you put in your mouth should fuel you and not tire you out.
Make a list of self-care activities and activities that bring you joy. Make time for them! I shared the list with family and friends. The result: people actively approached me saying "Shall I take the kids for an hour so you can take a bath and relax?" Sure!
Make a list of healthcare providers and schedule regular check-ups and screenings for the rest of the year. I plan them long ahead and block my calendar accordingly.
In some countries, health insurance companies offer an annual prevention budget that can be used for a variety of health courses, as well as health-related apps, such as guided meditation. Talk to your health insurance company to learn more.
It's important to keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to organizing help, and what works for one individual may not work for another. It's important to be honest with yourself about what you need and what you can handle. The most important step is to accept that you need a support system and actively build it. Don't wait for someone to come and safe you. YOU are that person!
"So I have stopped asking people for directions to places they’ve never been. There is no map. We are all pioneers."
Glennon Doyle I from "Untamed"
Here are some TEDtalks I found valuable. Maybe they will help you to take a second look at your own story:
Never, ever give up I Diana Nyad
The pain of hiding your true self | Ruth Clare
A new way to think about the transition to motherhood | Alexandra Sacks
What every new parent should know: Diana Eidelman
After baby, don’t bounce back. Bounce forward! | Tiffiny Hall
How to Become an Ally
Yay, your are interested in becoming an ally! Thank you! You have no idea how important this step is for caregivers and parents to have people around them who understand, see and consciously support them. There are many great articles about what you can do to support, like "Three Ways Employers Can Best Support Caregivers Returning To Work" or "How To Support Women In The Workplace And Be An Ally". Here are my thoughts on what steps to consider:
EDUCATE YOURSELF! Try to put yourself in her/his shoes. Reflect on all areas of life.
REFLECT ON YOURSELF. Which thought patterns or biases prevent you from being able to support the person in the best possible way?
ACTIVELY ASK. Before you start running and worry, it's better to ask what can specifically help the person now.
ACCEPT YOUR OWN LIMITS AND NEEDS. Nothing is worse than empty promises that you can't keep because you're at your limit. Do your own homework first.
RESEARCH AND USE EXISTING OPPORTUNITIES. We are stronger together. This applies to practically every situation in life. In different countries, there are various offers from organisations, companies and regional activist groups, but also legal regulations that can provide additional support. Sometimes parents themselves lack the strength and time to research and check these offers.