How I’m Coping With Postpartum Depression During the Coronavirus Pandemic
I am in recovery from postpartum depression. I also experienced antenatal depression during the third trimester of my pregnancy. It has been a long and difficult road, but I am coming out the other side.
But now, life has thrown a huge curveball. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has brought back all of the fears I had that were deemed irrational. The main one being that my daughter is going to die. During my third trimester, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. This negatively impacted my already fragile mental health. My birth was categorized as high risk. Although uncommon, babies of mothers with gestational diabetes and face complications during labor. The one that frightened me most was shoulder dystocia. Gestational diabetes often means the baby is larger than average. This raises the risk of their shoulders getting stuck in the birth canal during delivery.
I was convinced my baby was going to die during labor. I kept these feelings to myself as I felt a pressure to pretend to be happy. I was having a baby. I was lucky. I needed to be more grateful. But my baby didn’t die. I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl and there were no complications during delivery. We were kept in the hospital a little longer so we could both be monitored due to diabetes and being on antidepressants.
The ward was noisy at night so even if I wanted to sleep, it wouldn’t have happened. But what kept me awake was wondering when my luck would run out. I didn’t feel relieved that she was alive. I felt like there was something new to worry about. I was scared she would die in her sleep. The root of my fears is that I have experienced a lot of loss in my life. So, I was afraid I would lose the best thing that had ever happened to me too. With therapy and increases in my medication, I was able to challenge these thoughts. Soon, I was finding enjoyment in motherhood.
But now the thought challenging techniques aren’t working. Whereas my previous worries about her dying had no evidence, these worries do. People are dying from COVID-19. Although children generally have a milder form of the virus, there has been a death recently. It has been reported that a child under 18 has died from the virus in Los Angeles. The rational part of my mind knows my daughter catching the virus is unlikely. I am isolating her and doing the hygiene practices. She is not immunocompromised. The evidence suggests she will be fine.
But I have anxiety, and my anxiety only needs a tiny shred of evidence to feed it. There’s a small possibility she could die. It’s small, but it’s there. And that’s what’s so hard to shake off.
The goal of getting rid of these thoughts is unrealistic. They will always be there. And in a lot of ways, they are understandable. Mothers worry about their children all the time. And I bet I’m not the only mother with these anxieties.
Although my previous strategies no longer work, there are things I am doing that are proving helpful.
1. Sharing how I feel.
The biggest mistake I made when I had antenatal and postpartum depression was trying to hide it. This exacerbated my symptoms and left me feeling lost and alone.
Sharing my worries helps to normalize these feelings. It’s all too easy to medicalize every feeling I have as depression or anxiety. But I have found that other parents, some without mental illness, are equally as anxious as I am.
2. Being kind to my negative thoughts.
This sounds bizarre, but it is effective. Trying to push away these thoughts does no good. They get louder and louder until I feel overpowered.
Acknowledging these thoughts and empathizing with them feels weird. I don’t like these thoughts. I don’t want to listen to them. But what happens when we don’t listen to people who are desperate to tell us something? They get frustrated. They make a fuss. And my negative thoughts do just that.
My thoughts are trying to protect me. By acknowledging them with, “Thank you. I know you’re trying to help, but I don’t need to worry about that so much. My daughter is OK. I’m doing everything right,” they become more manageable.
This is in no way a cure. I still have these thoughts, but by not pushing them away, I can turn the volume down in my mind so more rational thoughts can be heard.
3. Engaging in hobbies.
It’s all-too-easy to lose myself in a crisis. In order to get through this, I need to maintain a sense of identity. As a mother, it can be difficult to find time for myself. But I am at home all of the time with my family. This means my husband can share the childcare so I get time to listen to an audiobook, write, watch a video on YouTube or just relax.
4. Reminding myself I am not alone.
A lot of people are struggling with their mental health right now. The fear of catching the virus, having to social distance and self-isolate will be exacerbating people’s symptoms.
By coming together and sharing experiences, we remind each other we are not alone. I have found it especially helpful to speak to other parents with mental health problems. Watching how they are getting through this difficult time inspires me.
After giving birth to my daughter I felt incredibly lonely, but my choices made me lonely. I am choosing to stay connected with others. I am choosing to support and be supported. I am choosing hope.
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A version of this article was previously published on Medium.
Photo by Jenna Norman on Unsplash