I think a lack of social connection and physical help can be a devastating change and shock for any mom. Especially, immigrants because they may have seen or heard of better care back home. In Pakistan, usually, the mother spends the first month with her own mom and has an extended family for support. A woman in the neighborhood offers prenatal and postnatal massage, which is so needed for that aching and exhausted body. In the west, the community for sure expects women to just deal with it and be stronger and may even keep the women in denial because they are usually told: “you aren't the first ones to give birth”.
Women I have seen and from personal experience do not validate the exhaustion, fatigue of the body after going through the most difficult (for some traumatic) experience. Labour and delivery is a very hard process for the body and it's taken too lightly. Women are expected to move around and forget that their bodies tore open to bring the baby into the world. Every single muscle and bone in the body feels its effect. Whether C-section or vaginal, whether they opt for an epidural or not (it just numbs the pain which doesn't mean your body isn't going through it). It is difficult.
I think women are pushing too hard to live up to the “superwoman” status that other women create. They don't want to be looked at as weak. If I could tell someone “I feel horrible” every day for at least the first month, I would. However, we suppress our emotions because they are not welcomed. I'm lucky to have a strong supportive group of friends who happened to give birth around the same time so we could feel each other’s pain, but not everyone has that. Sometimes just being able to talk about your emotions on a regular basis can save your brain from getting overstressed where it goes into auto-drive and remains in constantly stressed mode.
The first year of the baby teaches parents a lot since they are settling into this new identity as a mother and father. Connecting with other positive/understanding adults can be the biggest support. Information wise, there is plenty, which sometimes even adds more stress to a point where you forget to have fun with your baby. You are being told in so many ways to do it “right” (social media, doctor check-ups, community, etc). There is less encouragement. I remember the first week after birth, I told my husband we have to be each other’s biggest support. Other people will just tell us to do it this way or another, but only we can appreciate each other by saying we are doing an amazing job.
The stress of a changing relationship with one's partner could also contribute to post-partum distress. So couples need to be prepared for how to be emotionally there for one another. Babies grow up. They don't need our care to be perfect. They just need it to be there. All these added expectations and trends can make couples feel apart which is not helpful. There should be some sort of affordable personal support provided for post-partum women. It costs so much to hire a doula and the massage places are not affordable for everyone. Each session is over $100 and having to go to a place is just not motivating.
We should all learn what happens to the brain and why our parasympathetic and sympathetic system becomes unbalanced. In my case, while I experienced anxiety, I thought too much about it, which just escalates it. The stress caused severe digestive issues (serotonin hormone is produced in the stomach), loss of appetite, mood swings, and low energy. I started following the holistic psychologist who explains brain changes that helped me realize it's not me, it's my body. For me as a Muslim, taking more time to connect spiritually and making dua helped to stay positive. However, after a year of running around taking care of Zee,
I started feeling like there was so much electricity always running up and down my body and energy that needed release. There was so much zip zap in my head. Alhamdulilah, there was my mom that I could speak to who had also gone through anxiety due to some difficulties in life. Eventually, all these feelings and symptoms helped me to think deeply and to get ready to embrace a better version of myself.
Slowly, I am learning to celebrate even the smallest of achievements and becoming less self- critical. It's a cycle that needs to be broken because stress and lack of sleep day after day can make the body and brain too weak to function.
Finally, I had to reshape my own mindset and lifestyle. I realized it will take some time, but like all hardships, this too will pass. I had to get over the "why?" that bothered me for the longest time and accept that it is okay. Our bodies are not robots, it is okay for them to feel down. After working so hard to care for the baby for a whole year, running on low sleep (which is the biggest fuel for us humans), it is bound to feel some effects. Also, I learned that when women stop nursing, it can also bring on hormonal changes (that are not much talked about at this moment). * I told myself that it is all temporary and it is!
* Continue to make dua even when Shaitan keeps whispering that your duas are not getting accepted or it is taking too long.
* I learned to take small steps towards healing.
* I was able to speak to a naturopath and my doctor to get help. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT! It takes courage, but we can do it.
* I would speak to my family and friends who were willing to understand.
*Difficult times are a part of our development. I would think back to how Allah (SWT) helped me out of hardships and guided me.
* Knowledge is power. Allah (Swt) guided me to useful resources that empowered me to continue to strive.
* I began writing in my journal that cleared up my thoughts. I would small things for myself and write them down as achievements such as showing up for a Zumba class, yoga, drinking more water, taking my vitamins, etc. I would write affirmations for myself such as "I am strong and I am capable."
* I started listening to calming music and my favorite songs. I would put on the radio while driving so I would not be distracted by my thoughts.
* I would do deep belly breathing from time to time.
* Cold showers became my favorite!
* Running started keeping me up.
* Started doing even the smallest of things more mindfully such as brushing my teeth, eating, and walking to learn to be present in the moment and not lost in my head.
* Once we learn to push past the mind, it becomes easier seeing how capable we are.
* I learned to love and be compassionate towards myself.
* I learned that becoming a mother does not mean we stop having meaningful conversations and connecting with others. Though is it challenging to find the time, it is such a crucial part that contributes to our overall health.
* I had to keep repeating to myself "take it easy, take it easy, take it easy."
ALHAMDULILLAH- Allah (SWT) does not let any of your prayers go unanswered! Always pray for yourself to be stronger than you were yesterday!