by Ingrid Clark
As I write this, we are in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. We’re adhering to the Government’s plea to stay at home and adjusting to the "new normal" as we try to curb the spread of the virus. As a result, I have my 3 children doing their schooling from home. They’re all in high school now, not babies anymore, and they’re able to somewhat satisfy their needs for social contact via technology. It’s a bit different, however, for all the parents with babies and toddlers.
For Jen & I, the current situation has meant a complete re-think on how we can still nurture our clients, whilst maintaining a safe 1.5 metre distance. In order to be safe and compliant, we actually can’t run our classes ‘live’ at the moment, and that is tough because we just love offering practical, hands-on support.
But, we are all in the same boat, so we just have to start doing the best we can under the circumstances.
Like many businesses (and schools), we are now using the Zoom platform to run ‘virtual’ groups. Granted, it’s nowhere near what we normally offer, but it’s a point of contact and a sense of community, and that is vital. The other benefit is that we get to see each other, and the beautiful babies that we’d normally be cuddling.
We could have just taken a hiatus and decided to only offer one-on-one phone consults, rather than the full range of services we provide. But we know all too well how new mothers can feel isolated even when there isn’t a pandemic, and we simply cannot abide the thought of new mums sitting at home with their babies and toddlers, feeling like they’re all alone.
Sometimes we just have to try and change our mindset in order to make the best of a situation. To illustrate, rather than thinking “Oh my gosh, I’m STUCK at home with only my baby for company! I’m gonna go crazy for SURE!!”; you could use different language to try and change the way you feel and go about life: “Oh wow, my usual activities aren’t on at the moment. That means slower mornings (I can stay in my PJ’s longer!) and less pressure. Plus, I know my baby is protected from the virus if we’re just hanging out at home.”
I know I’ve oversimplified what is a very complex situation, but the point I’m trying to make is that if we start using different language, we can see things as opportunities rather than limitations.
Toddlers & Preschoolers
“The baby is easy … it’s the toddler I’m struggling with.” Yep, I get it. You may well be having to keep your toddler or preschooler home every day too. It can make the days seem very long. It’s exhausting. But again, how can you change it so that this enforced time together is quality time together? Rather than lamenting the loss of your toddler-free time, ask yourself how you can make this time special and memorable. For example: “Wow - I don’t have to rush out the door to daycare or mothers’ group or playgroup. That will actually eliminate a lot of stress! Maybe I’ll feel inspired to do some great activities with my child that I normally feel too rushed to bother with.”
I’m not saying it’s easy; it’s not. But it might just be enjoyable. I’ve been thinking a lot about the sorts of things that might help parents get through the days, and I’ve put together a bit of a list. Here are 10 ideas of how to make the most of social distancing with kids (in no particular order):
1) Go for a walk. Exercise and fresh air are so important! Schedule this into your daily routine. It will do wonders for your mental wellbeing and stimulate your child’s senses.
2) Be inventive. Maybe you can try a new type of exercise or a new way for your child to burn off excess energy! Toddlers seem to love doing yoga, so take advantage of spending all day in your active wear knowing that nobody will ring your doorbell! Or build an obstacle course, either inside or outside. My kids loved these when they were little. A dance party is also a popular one, and when you’re socially isolating you don’t need to worry about how silly you look! Go nuts and pull out all your moves; the kids will think it’s HILARIOUS.
3) Imaginative play. This is super important, both emotionally and intellectually. It’s how kids learn. BUT, let’s be honest, it's usually a bit of a drag to get down on your child’s level and actually play! I would usually find that I felt stressed. My mind was going through all the ‘jobs’ I had to get done. But guess what? Your activities are cancelled, no one is watching, and your child will think you are THE BEST! So let loose, dredge up your best acting skills and enjoy watching the expression on your little one’s face as you really engage in their imaginative games.
4) Make a phone call. It’s the next best thing to meeting for coffee. Speaking to someone at the same life-stage as you can be very comforting. A word of warning though: being real and honest is super important, but try not to get caught in the trap of ‘one-upping’ your friends in the “poor me” stakes. Instead, be real about the struggles, but try and encourage each other with strategies and ideas to get through this.
5) FaceTime. Ok, hear me out. For those who’ve done our Baby Care Classes, you’ll remember that Jen & I don’t normally recommend screen-time for young children. But, have you heard the saying “desperate times call for desperate measures”? Yep. If your little one is missing their family and friends too, a quick FaceTime session might just be the ticket.
6) TV. Don’t freak out ... I haven’t forgotten that TV isn’t recommended for babies under 2 years old. But for toddlers & preschoolers it can be enjoyable and helpful to have a scheduled time in the day for watching a show or two. I recommend saving this for late afternoon. It’s a little sanity-saver you can look forward to! Usually it gives you a chance to get dinner on the table and perhaps fold the washing and do some other chores. Or it may be that you’re able to feed a younger baby and settle them in bed, knowing that your older child is safe and relaxed.
7) Cooking. I know it can be messy and time-consuming, but I’m yet to meet a child who doesn’t want to help with cooking. It’s surprising how much a young child can actually do. Perhaps the best thing though is that they’ll often try new foods if they’ve played a part in preparing it.
8) Do something creative. It’s scientifically proven that doing something creative can enhance our mood, so give yourself and your children a serotonin boost and get crafty. Sure, toilet rolls might be in short supply, but there are other options out there! Empty cereal boxes, yoghurt containers, egg cartons … use your imagination to turn these into some marvelous creations. A bit of masking tape and paint can provide plenty of stimulation and entertainment. Think outside the square, too. A painting session might produce many ‘masterpieces’; why not turn them into greeting cards for family or friends? It might even result in a lovely walk down to the post box, and you’ll be sure to brighten someone’s day when they receive the mail!
9) Extra story time. Often we only have time to snuggle up for stories at the end of our busy days. But when you’re at home, don’t be afraid to have more than a few story sessions in a day. Why not have a ‘book picnic’ or build a ‘story cubby’? These can be huge hits with toddlers and preschoolers and it’s a lovely way to pass the time.
10) Nature time. It doesn’t matter if you’re living on an acreage, a suburban block or an apartment ... engaging with nature on any level is good for you. It could mean going on a nature walk and collecting things along the way, or it could be bird watching from your window or balcony. One of my favourite activities is to plant something and watch it grow. Little ones love getting involved … and getting dirty! Embrace the time you have, and enjoy the benefits of growing something. It’s a beautiful distraction from all the doom and gloom and somehow restores a sense of balance: life goes on, and this too shall pass.
We would love to hear other people’s ideas on how to cope during this time. Share this with a friend who might benefit, and share your thoughts and ideas with us in the comments section, or on Facebook or Instagram.
Hopefully we’ll be back running groups and feeding you cake again really soon. Take care!
by Jen Milligan
“Have you considered that it might be postnatal depression?”
That’s what my GP said to me when I went to her when my third baby was 10 weeks old. I went so that she could “fix my crying baby”, not me. My precious little girl had been trying to tell me for about 6 weeks that I didn’t have enough milk to feed her. She had been ever so polite at first, just letting me know after the feed that she was not quite satisfied. With a little protest and the need for 2 hourly feeds 24/7, she'd tried to send a hint. After being very patient with me for several weeks, my little treasure said “seriously mum, I’m getting nothing. From here on in, I refuse to feed from your warm and nurturing, yet very empty breast, and I will no longer even settle in your arms. I would rather settle in your best friend Kate’s arms, because at least she doesn’t smell like milk”. Despite being a midwife, I was too tired, too emotionally invested and too overwhelmed to comprehend that the 2-litre bleed I had experienced at birth had affected my body more than I had realised. I went to my work colleges and said “fix my baby!” The beautiful midwives said “Jen, she’s hungry”. Oh.
There is a history of depression in my family. I had very difficult pregnancies and I had a traumatic postpartum period for my third delivery. I had all the red flags for needing a bit of extra care in my postpartum period, but “midwives should know what to do”, “I help others with postnatal depression”, “I’m organised”, “I’m in control”, “it won’t happen to me”. Turns out it did.
When that GP asked me if I had considered that it might be postnatal depression (PND), it hit me like a tonne of bricks. I had all the symptoms - constant crying, wanting to just curl up in a ball and not do life, sweeping the floor constantly (that was my way of having some control in my life ... at least the floor was clean!). However, the guilt was my biggest battle. Guilt that I wasn’t being a good mum to my other children. Guilt that I wasn’t a good wife. Guilt that my house wasn’t perfect. Guilt that my newborn would be a runt of a child as we hadn’t bonded through breastfeeding. Guilt that she would be perpetually sick as I had “failed” and had to bottle-feed her. Guilt that a midwife had dared to bottle-feed.
Everyone with PND has differing symptoms. Some cry a lot, some feel nothing - neither happy nor sad, some are very protective of their precious baby and others don’t want to see their baby and may even want to harm their baby. Some mums may want to harm themselves. It is often those around you that see or recognise your emotions before you do. The official diagnosis describes PND as feelings of sadness for most of the time, for 3 or more weeks. In reality, it is often far more than 3 weeks before we end up chatting to someone about how we are truly feeling.
Why why why?PND is sometimes triggered by difficulty conceiving your baby, a stressful pregnancy or a traumatic delivery, but it may just come your way out of the blue. For me, there was a family history of depression playing a role too.
What do I do now?It was a big step heading to the GP, but I had the blessing of a GP who was compassionate and understood the truth and reality of PND. It wasn’t just in my mind. There was something going on that was outside my control. She told me about the Mental Health Plan offered here in Australia, where I could visit a psychologist for next to no cost, to talk through my feelings.
I ended up needing more than weekly sessions and had to explore the idea of medication. This was a huge step for me. I was so worried that medication would change my personality and that I would be under the control of drugs!
What that medication actually did (after holding it in my hand for about 2 hours before I actually swallowed it) was 'bring Jen back'. After a few weeks of managing the side-effects that often happen with new medication, the enormous cloud of guilt started to lift and the old Jen was back. I could think rationally about how much I loved my baby, how she was thriving on a bottle and how we had developed a beautiful bond. She would pull off from the bottle teat, give me an enormous grin and then start sucking again. “You did it Mum! You worked out that I was starving! I’m so proud of you. Love you, Mum”. I smiled again, laughed again and was able to start to manage my PND.
Is medication a life sentence?So many mums have a period of time on medication and happily come off the medication after a few months or years. Some mums just need counselling and never require medication. Some mums have a need for medication long term. This is me. I would LOVE to be off my medication, and I have tried several times. I work very hard on having good gut health as the link between good gut health and good mental health is becoming clearer by the day. I eat very well, I exercise and I pray. But for now, I am still at my best when I'm on my medication.
A note on exercise: I hate exercise! I know how incredibly important it is for good mental health, so I had to find a form of exercise that I enjoyed. That was a challenge. I finally committed to a gym and I go to classes with other mums. Camaraderie, great music and an encouraging instructor have been the key for me.
A note for dads: Postnatal depression can hit dads too. Don’t underestimate the feelings you are going through. A great GP is a fantastic asset when navigating life as a dad.
There is hope.There is definitely hope. When I felt so low that I wanted to self-harm and had no confidence at all that I would ever feel better, I did not believe there was hope. But there is. With the right professional care, friendships and support, you can come out the other side flourishing as a mum, partner and individual.
Don’t lose hope.
Love Jen xo
Beyond Blue: www.healthyfamilies.beyondblue.org.au
By Ingrid Clark
“Birth is natural...”
“Thousands of women have done it before you…”
“That happened to me, and I got over it...”
“Everyone’s got a story...”
Perhaps it’s that last comment, meant in a throwaway “your story is nothing special” kind of way that really makes me feel sad. Yes, everyone does have a story. And every story is important.
Unfortunately, whether your birth experience was good, bad or downright harrowing, sometimes you’re made to feel like you should just ‘move on’; as if the only outcomes that matter are that mum and baby are alive. Let me tell you, as a postpartum doula, I’ve heard many a birth story from a mother who is ‘alive’ in the sense that she’s breathing, but her heart and soul have been crushed by an experience she never could have imagined.
Sometimes it’s the result of a genuine and rare medical situation and it’s only by the grace of God and modern medicine that she’s alive to tell that story. Other times, tragically, it’s the result of a jaded midwife or overworked obstetrician who’s said or done something, no doubt inadvertently, but it’s scarred mum in a way that can’t be seen but is immeasurably felt.
Sometimes, it’s been a situation where mum was left feeling like she had no voice, therefore no choice. Things may not have been explained clearly enough for her to interpret between contractions. It’s not always possible to make informed decisions in a state of utter exhaustion. Sometimes I feel that the ‘everyday-ness’ of the job for the medical professionals means that the miracle unfolding before them gets forgotten. It might be the fourth baby they’ve seen into the world that shift ... but it’s the first for the couple in the birthing suite. That is a sacred time that should not be rushed, interrupted or taken for granted.
Then there’s the other side…
If you had a wonderful birth experience, I am genuinely excited and thrilled for you. And you definitely have the right to share that positive experience (quite frankly, not enough positive birth stories get told). BUT (there’s always a 'but'), be mindful of how you share it. If you have a friend who had a tough, or even traumatic birth experience, there’s no reason why you can’t refer to your own positive experience so long as you listen to her first, then empathise with her ... and finally, with kindness and compassion, ask if there’s anything you can do to help her change that next time around. Can you recommend a particular mode of pregnancy care? A wonderful practitioner? A beautiful doula? A talented birth photographer? A great hospital or birthing centre? An experienced chiropractor, massage therapist or acupuncturist?
Either way, whether your experience was really positive or quite the opposite, if you don’t debrief about it at some point, it will resurface and need to be worked through (often more so if it was a negative birth experience). Many mums find that they can stuff those feelings away and just ‘get on’ with the full-time role of being mother to a newborn … until they fall pregnant again. Suddenly, the thought of giving birth again can paralyse them. With the right help, this can actually be a catalyst for making different decisions and setting up a great support network for birth preparation, the birth itself and the postpartum period.
Some mums find that their birth experience was so traumatic that they actually can’t be the mum they wanted to be. They can’t bond with their newborn, often experience feeding problems and sometimes, are in such anguish mentally and emotionally that they actually can’t look after themselves, let alone their baby. So whilst it’s often enough to just debrief with a friend, there are definitely situations where professional help is needed.
Here at The Nurtury, we offer birth debriefs as part of our Baby Care classes as well as in a more intimate home-visit setting. Sometimes, gaining insight from a midwife or doula (people who know birth), can help explain why things happened the way they did. This can offer some closure for mums who perhaps feel disappointed that their birth didn’t go according to plan. Sometimes they’ve come to terms with how things went, but would like some tools to empower them for next time.
We see the benefits of a good and safe debrief so often. We have quite a number of mums who say “I wasn’t going to come today; I haven’t been able to talk about my birth because I cry every time I think about it”. And yet, it’s these mums who, after talking, walk away from that session visibly lighter. It’s truly amazing. But what makes me sad is thinking about all the mums who don’t get to safely debrief about their birth. Who don’t get to have their questions answered. Who think they just need to move on … until they find themselves faced with birth again and they realise they haven’t. Or who spiral into postnatal depression, because the pressure just builds and builds.
Processing your birth is the first step towards loving and nurturing yourself, so that you can nurture and love your family. Although we all know that having a healthy baby is the desired result, how that comes about does matter.
Please, don’t underestimate how important it is to talk through your birth experience; or indeed, to listen to that of another woman. And if you or someone you know needs a little help from a professional, don’t hesitate to call us here at The Nurtury. We can arrange a birth debrief with you, or put you in touch with a counsellor with experience in working through trauma.
Jen is a midwife with almost 20 years experience in a Sydney birthing unit. She now lives & works on the Central Coast, supporting new mothers as they transition into motherhood.
Ingrid is a birth & postpartum doula, living and working on the beautiful NSW Central Coast.