So I’ve been writing this research paper about postpartum adjustment and I have to say, it’s revealing some pretty interesting conceptions that we seem have about the postpartum period. There is lots of information about postpartum depression (PPD) and postpartum anxiety (PPA), but interestingly, almost everything written on the topic focuses on identifying PPD/PPA risk factors.
Turns out, there are many. So far I am up to 27. They range from previous depression to having perfectionist tendencies to extreme PMS. Seeing it laid out in a row, it’s a wonder any of us survive postpartum without some kind of diagnosis.
Full disclosure, I have lived through PPD/PPA twice myself. Let’s just say I didn’t have a joyful adjustment to parenthood. It was difficult, exhausting, and at times sucked so hard I have memory gaps – moments I have no doubt chosen to forget.
I always assumed “this is just how it is” until I started noticing that some of my doula clients seemed to ease into parenthood in a way that I didn’t. Despite the chaos, exhaustion, and overwhelm they just seemed to handle it better. At first I was totally jealous. What did they have that I didn’t have? Were they just better parents? Better people? What’s wrong with me?
But time passes, and I’ve gained a little perspective. Of late, I’ve been able to reframe these questions from the POV of a researcher rather than a depressed mother. Same question but different intent:
What coping strategies do they use to help develop postpartum resiliency?
I keep wondering if by identifying them, there might be ways for parents to incorporate them into postpartum planning or treatment. And if we could do that, maybe it would serve to reduce depression and anxiety symptoms in new parents. Maybe…just maybe.
Before I go any further I need to make one thing crystal clear. I am in no way implying that parents can prevent or are to blame for postpartum mood disorders. PPD/PPA is influenced by a series of complex bio/psycho/social factors. Hear me when I say this: PPD/PPA is NOT your fault. You are not alone. You are a fantastic parent. And please, please reach out for support because there is so much that can be done to work through it.
What I am suggesting is that we might look at the topic from a place of possibility and hope. Yes, there are a lot of risk factors but maybe there are also protective factors that we’ve been ignoring. This is not a completely new idea. A 2009 study identified several protective factors that support postpartum adjustment. Here are the big six:
- Adequate self-care: Parents who have an easier with postpartum adjustment not only build in time for self-care, but also recognize it as important part of parenting and feel entitled to it.
- Having enough help: This includes both physical help with the day to day of caring for the baby (they are SO MUCH work, amiright?) as well as emotional help on tough days. And just like self-care, parents with a smoother postpartum experience don’t feel guilty about asking for help. They see it as a healthy part of parenting.
- Feeling understood: Having a community of people who validate the ups and down of parenting can make us feel normal. This can help us break through feelings of loneliness and isolation that come with being a new parent.
- Having a manageable level of stress: While we definitely can’t always control external sources of stress in our lives, having a support team is huge. We need a big toolbox of coping skills that allow us to feel as though we can handle the competing demands and responsibilities of parenthood. This can make our stress levels feel manageable.
- Feeling ready for the baby: Getting enough rest in pregnancy and feeling as though you have enough information to feel confident in caring for your baby can make those first few weeks/months feel okay. Often we spend our prenatal time preparing to birth and forget to focus on preparing to parent an infant.
- Having realistic expectations: Every new parent experiences a discrepancy between what they think life with a newborn will be like versus the reality. The smaller the gap, the easier the transition to the new reality. Challenging parenting myths, such as to-be-a-good-parent-you-need-to-sacrifice-everything-for-your-child supports parents adapting to all the intense parts of postpartum life.
Number 6 right? We need to close that gap! They are just so many “shoulds”. The bottom line is I think there might be tangible ways for us to foster postpartum resiliency. I am in the process of exploring practical, affordable, and concrete solutions but to achieve this but I need your help.
If you are pregnant or a new parent having a tough time adjusting to life with a baby, and curious about what you can do to ease the transition into parenthood, I want to chat.
I’m creating a comprehensive guide designed to help you build a personalized postpartum plan that leaves you feeling safe, supported, and cared for in the first year of parenting. And I’m looking for 10 families interested in testing it out.
If this sounds like you, sign up here for a free, sneak-peak at my postpartum planning guide, Now What? Safeguarding Your Mood After A Baby (to be released later this summer) and let’s experiment together.
Olivia Scobie, M.A., ACC, CPCC, MSP