PPPSS News & Events

Postpartum Evolution

Image by Stefano Valtorta. Unsplash.

My oldest child just turned 10. This is hard to believe, because his babyhood and toddler years still feel so close. They were years that broke me in unexpected ways–forcing me to confront the dark corners of postpartum depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. The people closest to me say that I was not myself in those first few years following the birth of my child. I say that the seeds of my truest self were planted then. And just as a seed looks nothing like the flower it will become, I was, for a time, unrecognizeable. But I was not entirely lost. I think this is where hope lies.

If I have learned anything in a decade of parenting, it’s this: Parenting is hard, but it shouldn’t feel impossible. Karen Kleiman says something to this effect in one of her books on perinatal mental health, and it is such a profound truth. For two years after my son was born, parenting felt impossible. I chalked this up to being a bad mom. I believed that I wasn’t cut out for the job. I believed I was failing and simply needed to force myself to be more present, dedicated, knowledgeable, patient, kind. I denied my own needs in order to do more for my son, and sabotaged my own health in the process. Ironically, it was only when I learned to care for myself that parenting ceased to be impossible.

Caring for myself looked like accessing peer support with Pacific Post Partum Support Society. It looked like private counseling, a parenting support group, and a re-engagement with hobbies and activities that provided a necessary respite from the role of Mother. It looked like recognizing that there are many parts of parenting that I don’t enjoy, and that’s okay. It meant rebuilding my relationship with my partner, redefining my goals and aspirations, and surrounding myself with a supportive community.

The ongoing work of being a mother includes constantly renegotiating how to care for myself effectively. As my children grow, stay up later, have more activities to get to, and more complex inner lives, I am always needing to figure out where I can carve out time for myself and make space for healing solitude.

Those tender seeds of my own identity that were planted when I became a mother took years of nurturing to develop into a robust and healthy plant. There were some tough realizations to confront, not the least of which being that motherhood did not bring the overwhelming sense of fulfillment that I was lead to expect it would. There is joy to be certain, and a love that is almost consuming, but those things are not enough, in and of themselves, to make me feel whole. I have come to make peace with this reality–leaning into the truth that I must nurture the other aspects of myself in order to be the best mother for my children that I can manage. I am their mother, but I can not be only that.

Ten years into my parenting journey things are often still hard. But they are not impossible. I have built the foundation of self-care and community-care that makes the hard days possible. If you are at the beginning of your own journey know that you will get here too. Every person’s road is different, every person’s foundation has a different shape and structure. But with time and care and compassion the impossible days become fewer.

 

If things feel impossible right now Pacific Post Partum Support Society is here to help. 

Call us at 604-255-7999 in the Lower Mainland or toll free 855-255-7999

We offer telephone support, group support, workshops, and webinars for anyone who is pregnant or has welcomed a new baby into their lives. 

Postpartum Support for 2SLGBTQIA+ Families

No matter how your baby comes to you, if you are 2SLGBTQIA+ and are experiencing mental health challenges during your pregnancy, postpartum, or during your adoption or surrogacy journey, support is available to you and your family. 

Telephone or Text Support: Weekdays from 10am-3pm

Weekly Two Spirit, Queer, & Trans Postpartum Support Group:
Tuesdays 10:30-Noon

Lower Mainland 604-255-7999   Toll-Free 1-855-255-7999

Texting Support 604-255-7999

Our blog post today is by Emily Garner

I’m a support worker at Pacific Post Partum Support Society, but I’m also a queer mom who struggled during my postpartum period. For much of my postpartum experience I struggled quietly and in secret. I was so lonely. I’m sharing a bit of my story with you in case you need to hear that you are not alone, in case you need to hear that it’s okay to be a 2SLGBTQIA+ parent who struggles with the transition to parenthood.

I knew having babies would change me. I expected sleeplessness and cold cups of tea left untouched, but what I didn’t expect was how motherhood would shift my experience of being Queer.

When I finally got pregnant, I found myself immersed in an unfamiliar and heteronormative world of ultrasound appointments and glucose testing where technicians would ask after my husband and wonder aloud if I was having boys or girls or one of each. In those moments I’d consider telling them that, gender doesn’t always work that way, that my babies’ other parent is a non-binary spermless wonder with kind eyes and fierce sense of justice, but I never did. It was too much work to explain, too much exposure for a fifteen-minute interaction with a stranger.

While strangers erased my queer visibility, my relatives brought it to the dinner table. “Who’s the father?” They would ask. “Which one of you will be the mom?” “What about a male role-model?”

I thought I was prepared for the challenge of creating a family that did not fit social expectations, but I was wrong. I was not as immune to the pain of discrimination as I thought.

When my babies were born, I did everything I could to prove to the world that I was a good mother: I made kale chips and quinoa, I made muffins with the eggs of my backyard chickens, I wore one baby on the front and one on the back so they could develop a strong sense of attachment – I needed people to know that being queer didn’t exclude me from being a good mother, so when my mental health became unstable, when anxiety took hold and anger ripped through me – I hid it.

I was scared to ask for help, scared that I would confirm the homophobic notion that queer folks shouldn’t parent, scared that even if I did reach out, the people on the other end wouldn’t understand my family. Eventually things got so bad I couldn’t hide it anymore. I ended up on a therapist’s couch saying things aloud that I had never said to anyone else. It was there that I finally allowed myself to be an imperfect mother. It was there that I learned how to heal. I needed support to get better.

Support is so important for new parents. Now that I work at Pacific Post Partum, I am lucky to be able to hear your stories. Together we share the good, the bad, and the ugly parts of parenting. If you or someone you love could benefit from a conversation or group support, please reach out.

Support information

 

Investigating Your Self Care Practice

Our blog post today is by Celina Vergel de Dios

Celina has a Master’s degree in Human Learning, Development, and Instruction from the University of British Columbia where she specialized in the design, implementation, and evaluation of social-emotional learning programs (e.g., mindfulness, empathy, resilience, prosociality), and additionally completed facilitator training in nidra meditation from Semperviva and Karma studios in Vancouver, B.C. Celina is a meditation instructor and in-training for designation as a registered clinical counsellor. Above all, Celina is mom to an energetic, exuberant 3-year old daughter!

 

An important step in self-care is asking ourselves how our stress tends to present itself, and in particular, how do each of our bodies react when faced with stressors. Like many of us here, my specific issues present as anxiety. However, the focus should not just be about developing a self-care plan to engage in stress reduction, but also implementing personally gratifying activities. In this post, I review my current self-care practices in the areas of body, mind, relationships, and environment, with an eye towards where improvements can be made – I invite you to examine your own self-care plans along with me!

My current self-care strategies seem to be on the right track for the body/physical components. I have nutrition plans and workout regimens that I follow daily. I am a healthy eater and exercise or do something active nearly everyday. Of personal relevance for me is that it is well-accepted that exercise can reduce anxiety (Rebar et al., 2015). An interesting finding by Sawhney, Jennings, Britt, and Sliter (2018) when studying self-care for work recovery among firefighters is that exercise was considered to be an activity that required both physical and cognitive exertion efforts that could be taxing instead of rejuvenating. As such, I should pay attention to make sure that my workouts are recharging rather than depleting my energy.

The importance of having a balanced and multifaceted self-care routine is key. For instance, relaxation, such as engaging in quiet undisturbed time alone, was another strategy that the firefighters reported as a means to recover from work stress. Relaxation, which can be less physically and cognitively tolling than other activities, was related to better mental health symptoms (Sawhney et al., 2018). My own self-care routine includes relaxation approaches to focus on mind and mental wellbeing, with my main activity in that domain being meditation. Feel free to check out my meditation session on our podcast: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/beyond-postpartum/e/74934496 | http://postpartum.org/podcast/

In terms of relationships and relational self-care, I make sure to connect with friends at least once a week. I additionally set aside a portion of each day after work for quality time with my husband and daughter. We are reminded, particularly in today’s present climate, of the important role that social support plays in our wellbeing. PeConga and her colleagues (2020) suggest that “actively cultivating social support” (p. S47) can act as a resilience-promotion tool during our current COVID-19 pandemic. This may mean the need to get creative to remain connected. For me, recent social interactions have included FaceTime, Zoom group chats, social distanced walks, and outdoor get togethers.

Of all the areas of self-care, my environment is the element that could use the most improvement. Since I work from home, I lack that sense of separation between professional, family/relationship, and personal space. Shirley (2011) provides some practical suggestions for fostering self-care within one’s spatial environment. Specifically, he suggests creating quadrants in separate areas or rooms, if possible, in our homes for focusing on four aspects of our health: physical (e.g., gym), mental (e.g, office), emotional (e.g., living room), and spiritual (e.g., electronics-free bedroom). The challenge with having all my worlds under one roof is that boundaries tend to get blurred. For example, because my office desk is in my bedroom, I end up checking emails at all hours of the day and night. Also, because my gym is in my house, anyone in my family can walk in to interrupt my personal time to workout. Therefore, I will additionally allot schedules for time spent in each of the quadrants. Menschner and Maul (2016) mention the importance of maintaining a consistent schedule in creating an environment that eases stress as much as possible.

I will need to implement better boundaries in my relationships and relational self-care as well. At home, I will need to communicate my quadrant schedule times with my family so that they are aware of when I am unavailable due to other commitments. In turn, I will honour my family time by not engaging in work or other distractions when we are together. As for social activities, I need to make sure to stay within my optimal level of 1-2 commitments a week. Declining invitations when needed and not overcommitting myself will be critical. On the other hand, I should actively reach out to request when I want to spend time with friends and family. As Shang’s group (2020) found, the interaction between the quality and quantity of social support, rather than merely the amount, is what influences positive growth in challenging situations.

Another change that I want to work on for my self-care plan is to have graduated levels of activity options. For body and physical care, for instance, my ideal regimen consists of 1-hour workouts. Unfortunately, that time commitment is not always possible. Therefore, rather than taking an all-or-nothing approach, I would like to implement shorter options when needed (e.g., 40- and 20-minute exercises).

A similar approach could be applied for mind and mental self-care. It may not always be feasible to listen to a guided meditation lying down for a period of time, so some alternative options could be a few minutes of breathwork while in a seated position to take a break from work, or a walking meditation if I am out somewhere. For example, a 15-minute walk in the park or relaxation activity (e.g., progressive muscle relaxation or deep breathing) during lunch-break has been shown to improve afternoon concentration and fatigue among participants in cognitively and emotionally demanding occupations (Sianoja, Syrek, de Bloom, Korpela, & Kinnunen, 2018).

Lastly, I need to ask myself: How will I gauge my upkeep across the various areas of self-care? To keep myself on track I decided to evaluate my self-care plan on a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis by completing the Institute for Functional Medicine Self-Care Questionnaire (2016) which contains items in the following domains: (a) physical; (b) mental, emotional, spiritual; (c) professional, work, career; and (d) social, family, relationships. Items with self-ratings indicating that I never, rarely, or only sometimes engage in can point to specific behaviours that can be modified to ensure that I am maintaining regular, ongoing self-care practices.

I hope you found some of this information helpful in honing your own self-care plans!

Institute for Functional Medicine. (2016). Self-care questionnaire. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2RIAJz3

Menschner, C. & Maul, A. (2016). Key ingredients for successful trauma-informed care implementation. Hamilton, NJ: Center for Health Care Strategies.

PeConga, E.K., Gauthier, G.M., Holloway, A., Walker, R.S.W., Rosencrans, P.L., Zoellner, L.A., & Bedard-Gilligan, M. (2020). Resilience is spreading: Mental health within the COVID-19 pandemic. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 12(S1), S47-S48.

Rebar, A., Stanton, R., Geard, D., Short, C., Duncan, M., & Vandelanotte, C. (2015). A meta-analysis of the effect of physical activity on depression and anxiety in non-clinical adult populations. Health Psychology Review, 9(3), 366-378.

Sawhney, G., Jennings, K.S., Britt, T.W., & Sliter, M.T. (2018). Occupational stress and mental health symptoms: Examining the moderating effect of work recovery strategies in firefighters. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 23(3), 443-456.

Shang, F., Kaniasty, K., Cowlishaw, S., Wade, D., Ma, H., & Forbes, D. (2020). The impact of received social support on posttraumatic growth after disaster: The importance of both support quantity and quality. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 1-8.

Shirley, D. (2011). Practically yours: Self-care tips for counsellors – Environmental health. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. Retrieve from https://www.ccpa-accp.ca/practically-yours-self-care-tips-for-counsellors-environmental-health/

Sianoja, M., Syrek, C.J., de Bloom, J., Korpela, K., & Kinnunen, U. (2018). Enhancing daily well-being at work through lunchtime park walks and relaxation exercises: Recovery experiences as mediators.Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 23(3), 428-442.

Opening

copyright www.andreapaterson.com

When my son was born I disappeared. The self that I was prior to his birth vanished the moment he entered the world. It felt like a death and I spent the majority of three years reviving and transforming and becoming a mother. My closest friend will tell you that she thought I had been lost for good. We had become close during our pregnancies, but I was so weighed down with suffering in that first year postpartum that I rarely ventured out of the house. I was deeply dedicated to nap schedules and the simplicity of staying at home because I couldn’t cope with any additional uncertainty beyond the regular daily care of an infant. The thought of having to go on an outing with my baby in tow was like torture. My friend called regularly. She invited me out for swimming, for hikes, for adventures of all kinds…and mostly I said no. It would have been easy for her to take my refusal personally and write me off completely. I’m incredibly lucky that she was so persistent and that she was there waiting for me when I started to emerge from my postpartum depression. But emergence was a very slow process. I am still the sort of person who is more comfortable staying close to home. Traveling great distances with my children feels difficult and stressful. I am still a routine based mom, who feels most calm when the day unfolds quietly without too many surprises.

As British Columbia begins to re-open after our two and a half months of COVID lock-down I’m reminded of what it felt like to venture further into the world after having a baby. The fact is that there’s no right way to take those first steps and it looks different for everyone. Whether you have a new baby or not these next few weeks are going to come with challenges and a lot of difficult decisions. In our support groups we always tell new parents that they are the very best people to make decisions about the health, well-being, and safety of themselves and their children. I think the same applies to everyone right now:

You are the best person to make decisions about the health, well-being, and safety of your family as we navigate the constantly shifting requirements of the COVID-19 pandemic plan.

Some people will feel more comfortable continuing to stay close to home and keeping their circles very small. Others will need to venture further into the world to support their own need for connection and their mental health. Everyone’s situation is different. Some will have family members at high risk, others will see the need for support as outweighing any health risk from potential exposure. Some families are trying a “double bubble” while others are seeing only close family while others are attempting a variety of distanced interactions. These are all complex and personal decisions and there’s no universally right way to approach it. There’s only the right way for your own family.

Having a new baby or young children might further complicate the decisions that need to be made right now and I know that the decision making process can feel overwhelming: Who should you see? Who should you not see? If you decide to have closer contact with one set of friends will other friends be offended? How do you manage contact with older relatives? Should you send your kids back to school or daycare? What about summer camps and programs? Music lessons? Outdoor play dates? Summer vacations?

The questions can feel endless and the answers are muddy at best. It can be helpful to use the same tactics that you would use when developing a postpartum self-care plan when approaching the convoluted pandemic landscape. Try identifying the areas where you feel the greatest need for support right now and then prioritize those when making decisions about how to move forward.

For me the biggest challenges were my kids’ desperate need for play opportunities with their friends and my own desperate need for time away from my children. We opted for a double bubble scenario to meet those needs. My kids can now have normal social interactions with the kids from one other family and I get one afternoon a week off while they’re over playing at their friend’s house. We have family health concerns to consider, so keeping our circle very small for the time being makes sense for us. For others things might look very different, and that’s okay. My biggest hope is that we can all extend empathy and understanding to our friends and relatives as they are forced to make impossible decisions in the next weeks and months. On the other side of this perhaps we could all hit a giant re-set button on our relationships, knowing that we all did what was best for us, even though it was hard, and even though others chose a different path. Wishing you the strength to choose your own way forward with confidence in these unprecedented times! And we’re here if you need to chat!

Pacific Post Partum Support Society remains open during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of our staff are currently working from home but the phone and text services are still available. Please call or text 604-255-7999 between 10-3 Monday to Friday and someone will get back to you.

Celebrating in Isolation

Article by Andrea Paterson

I remember my son’s first birthday in a rather hazy way. I was not well then–overwhelmed by new motherhood and struggling to stay afloat. The idea of having to plan and throw a birthday party felt huge and exhausting, so I had a small party at home, invited only a few very close family and friends, ordered pizza, produced a cake, and called it a day. I felt guilty. I believed that I should have done something much more elaborate and I felt that I had failed my child on a day that should have been joyous and brimming with excitement. In the midst of the planning and expectations it never occurred to me that my child’s first birthday should have equally been a day spent celebrating myself. It was the first anniversary of motherhood after all, the first anniversary of giving birth to a child and picking my way painfully through that first year of nearly unbearable transformation. I threw all my energy into making a party happen for my son and had nothing left to even remotely consider what would have made the day meaningful for me.

Birthdays are complicated milestones, wrapped up as they are in all the memories and emotions that come along with raising a child. As my child grows the part of me that is Mother grows too. When he is an eight year old child I am eight years a mother. We mark this time together. For him it’s exciting to be growing older, for me the feelings are more complicated.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic we have another layer of complexity. I know there are so many parents out there trying to find a way to celebrate life’s big milestones in isolation, with first birthdays triggering a whole host of mixed feelings. I want you to know this: I see you. I see how large that first birthday milestone is for you, how it signals a certain amount of triumph. You survived the first year and you want to do something momentous to mark that survival. You want to surround yourself with the people you love and have them uphold you in that moment. You want balloons and cake and people to hand your baby over to. Or maybe you want a quiet celebration at home, or you planned to travel to visit distant family, or you meant to rent out an entire community center and fill it with other children and their families. Whatever you imagined, it probably wasn’t this: trying to celebrate an occasion so loaded with expectations and hopes during a pandemic lock-down where celebrating anything can feel impossible.

So how can we care for ourselves around celebrations that have suddenly become complex? Online solutions are becoming popular. My child has already attended three Zoom birthday parties, and while it may work for some my own child comes out of such parties feeling more depressed because he’s reminded of how much real world interaction he’s missing, and is angry about not actually getting to eat the cake or give a present or play a game. That might be the case for adults too. I think a lot of us are feeling the fatigue and malaise that comes from so many online interactions. I’ve heard from many that video conferencing is strangely exhausting. So how to manage?

I think this is an instance of going back to the very basics of self care practice. I was listening to a podcast ages ago in which a palliative doctor was talking about end of life care. The question he posed to his patients was “what makes a good day for you?” The answer informed his plan for providing his patients with quality of life in their last days. It’s a strategy that struck me as universally applicable and bizarrely simple. We don’t always have to strive to have the best day: the day that is full of wild excitement and novel experience. Most of the time it is enough to have a good day: a day that is full of the simple pleasures and moments upon which we build our lives.

When it comes to celebrations in isolation starting from the Good Day foundation might be an ideal place to start. If your child is about to have a first birthday, or if you are trying to figure out how to celebrate any major milestones or events in isolation it can help to make a list of things that make a Good Day and begin to see which aspects are accessible under our current lock-down situation. This can work for children and adults, and while it may take a bit of creativity under our current strange circumstances, it can work as a system.

Ever since listening to that podcast that included the Good Day idea I’ve thought a lot about what that means for me. I’ve thought about what the most fundamental elements of a Good Day are in my life and, really, they’re surprisingly simple: a good day means a delicious meal, an uninterrupted cup of tea, time to sit quietly and read or make art, a walk or a bike ride in nature, and connection with the people closest to me. I might also include listening to music I love and getting some time for quiet reflection like journaling or meditation.

Try making a list of things that you would include in your simplest Good Day. This isn’t a place for bucket list items that are extravagant or out of reach. Your basic Good Day likely doesn’t include sky diving, for instance. Start brainstorming as many things as you can and then when you’re looking to celebrate in isolation, pick a few things off the list and see if you can create a Good Day for yourself. Just as it’s okay to be a “good-enough” mother it’s also okay to have “good-enough” days. In our pandemic world “good-enough” is perhaps all most of us can hope for.

You can do this exercise for your older children too when working on planning celebrations with them. We would love to know what you come up with!

Your Good Day means really looking deep within yourself to gain knowledge about the things that most nourish and serve you. This will be different for everyone, but having this knowledge about yourself means that when that momentous first birthday rolls around you will have the tools and awareness to create a celebration that honours you and your child. This is how we build ritual, ceremony, and tradition. It may be that the celebration you put together now, in the midst of a global health crisis, will have echoes that move through the rest of your life. Sometimes the most powerful acts of love and ceremony are the simplest.

Wishing everyone out there a Good Day!