May is national Maternal Mental Health Month, and I’m excited to share a bit more about my experience as a mama — to be a support for mamas who are struggling with postpartum anxiety and depression, like I did. Thank you in advance for reading with an open mind and heart.
Life after bringing home a baby is blurry for a while. You forget what day of the week it is, your schedule is all over the place, you’re exhausted. And you expected this to happen. Everyone talks about what a whirlwind the first few weeks are. Everyone warns you about the lack of sleep and the inevitable dark circles under your eyes.
What you maybe don’t expect is the toll this round-the-clock routine and huge life change could have on you emotionally. At least, I didn’t expect it.
With baby #2 due in just over a month, I’ve been reflecting a lot on my first few weeks with Ethan. The overwhelming anxiety I felt took me by surprise. I probably could have predicted it — I function best when there’s a clear “correct” path forward. And babies don’t come with a manual. But I didn’t think about it before he was born. I thought things would just “click.”
I vividly remember having a near panic attack on multiple occasions over what he wore to bed at night. I spent more time than is rational researching how to dress infants for sleep, the TOG values of sleep sacks, what layers are needed inside his sleep sacks — and then obsessing over the temperature in our room. Is it too hot or too cold? How will I know? Why is every chart and guide I’m finding different? I broke down in tears more than once because I felt overwhelmed by responsibility and paralyzed by the fear of making a mistake. Jammies: such a small thing, that sent me spiraling.
I’m in a much better place now. I know that Ethan and I were made for each other, and that Kristian and I know him better than anyone — that we know what’s best for him. But I am a little worried that the anxiety and self-doubt might come back after having our second kiddo. When the routines that are finally working for us inevitably fall apart, I worry I’ll blame myself.
And so I’m doing everything I can now to help my future self cope in a healthy way — including making an emergency self-care kit.
What is an emergency self-care kit, anyway?
I’m not talking about a box with nail polish, a face mask and a bath bomb (though shoot, that sounds pretty great — I might need to make one of those, too).
I’m talking about a kit that will help to dig you out of your lowest feelings, your most anxious times — those times when you feel like you can’t do anything right or feel stuck.
What’s in my emergency self-care kit?
For my emergency self-care kit for baby #2, I’ve gathered just a handful of essentials and written simple instructions for myself in five key areas:
- Personal care
It’s basically a mini to-do list, with all the necessities pulled together for me already. A simple, accomplishable checklist no matter how much time or energy I have. Because while I may have these things around the house somewhere or know what I should do, when I’m not feeling like myself, it’s hard to remember and even harder to find the motivation. By gathering everything together and writing out my “action steps,” I’m taking my motivation out of the equation.
Below is what’s in my kit, along with a few suggestions of other things you could put in yours to help you feel more like yourself again.
After having a baby is one of the most important times to care for yourself as a mama. And yet, I can’t think of a time when you have less capacity to take care of your own needs.
Because I know that how clean I feel has a direct correlation with my mood, and it can be tough to get a shower in when caring for a newborn, I’m including in my kit: face wipes, yummy-smelling lotion + dry shampoo.
- Wash your face (and any other essential parts — mamas, and Peace Corps Volunteers, we’ve all done it)
- Put lotion on your hands and feet
- Spray dry shampoo into your hair and massage in
Other things you could include: deodorant, hair ties + pins, gum or mints, a mini bottle of perfume, a handful of makeup essentials.
When Ethan was first born and the meals family and friends had generously brought over ran out, we may have eaten 3-4 granola bars a day, each. Much of the time, cooking a healthy meal felt so far beyond the realm of possibility. The food pyramid for my diet during maternity leave would most definitely have featured boxes of Larabars, Cliff bars, Nature’s Valley snack cups, and Kashi bars at the base.
But because it’s really amazing how much better you can feel after eating something with vitamins and nutrition for your body, I’m including in my box: a can of Amy’s soup.
Yes, it’s still packaged and processed — but it has at least some nutritional value from veggies and other goodness, and it’s super easy to prepare for yourself, even one-handed when baby just can’t be put down. For me, anything other than a sugary granola bar or a PB&J is a win.
- Heat up the soup, pour into a mug, and eat
- Drink a large glass of water
Other things you could include: have a freezer meal or a couple smoothie prep-bags at the ready. They can’t go into your box directly, but you can include instructions for getting them out and how to make them.
When you’re feeling blue or overwhelmed or stressed, you need a little bit of comfort. You need a reminder that your comfort is important, that you deserve to take even just five minutes to yourself to unwind. For me, quick comfort is a cup of peppermint tea and a couple bites of something sweet.
- Microwave a mug of water for 90 seconds with a peppermint tea bag and sip
- Enjoy the tea with a chocolate treat. Take small bites, slow down and really taste it
Additional ideas: a candle in your favorite scent, coloring pages + pencils, a bath bomb if you can squeeze in a soak, a playlist to lift your mood + headphones (so you don’t have to go searching for them), tissues
Isn’t it funny how we talk to ourselves in such unfair, cruel ways — ways we’d never dream of talking to another person. I didn’t get to the dishes and the laundry is piling up. I’m a bad wife. I can’t breastfeed my son. I’m a bad mom. Or even more simply, I’m bad.
To help reframe the conversations I have with myself when I’m feeling overwhelmed, anxious or stressed — in that moment when I need to reach for this box to help myself cope — I’m including two things: a list of things I like about myself, including my strengths as a mama, and a self-compassion worksheet.
- Read the list of things I like about me. Then read it again. And again if needed.
- Sit down at the table or on the couch and work through the questions on the self-compassion worksheet.
Additional ideas: a mindfulness + meditation app like Calm on your phone, a book like The Kindness Method.
When we’re wrapped up in our own thoughts and beating ourselves up, it’s important to let other voices in, to listen to and really hear other perspectives. Talking honestly about how I’m feeling and looking at things from a wider perspective helped me find clarity and peace with experiences like my miscarriage (I now know it wasn’t my fault) and the fact that breastfeeding wasn’t right for Ethan and me.
That’s why it’s so important to include your support system, whatever that looks like, in your emergency self-care kit. For me, this includes the phone number of someone I can talk to openly, contact info for my counselor, and info on lactation support near me — including dates, times and locations to make it super easy to get help.
- Call your person and talk with them honestly about how you’re feeling. Listen to their perspective.
- Check your calendar — do you have an appointment with the counselor in the next couple days? If not, call and make an appointment.
- Is breastfeeding a major factor in your current anxiety? Find a lactation support group happening today or tomorrow and go.
Voila! My emergency self-care kit, ready for whenever this little man decides to make his appearance. With any luck, I won’t need to open it. But it’s here in case I do.
What would you include in your emergency self-care kit?