Baby, It's Cold Outside
As we proceed through January, trudging through New Year's resolutions and fresh downpours of snow, I'm sure many feel as I do: worn out and exhausted already. Typically a new year means a new beginning, but for me, it hasn't. The holidays were a blur for many reasons, but as always the obvious: presents, family dinners/visits, church functions, etc. Now as I sit, recovering from basically six weeks of cheer, mirth, and excitement, I can feel the winter blues slipping in.
Last weekend Frederick County received over six inches in snow. It's been fun, but isolating at times. As a mother of little ones, I am limited to warmer temperatures with little wind and whether I brave the roads in fear of ice. Don't misunderstand me, I love the snow – it's beautiful, but insulating. I feel like I need to hibernate with my two cubs and stay inside until spring comes. Obviously this isn't realistic, but if I'm feeling this as a mother of two under five, can you imagine what a mother of a newborn must feel?
Granted the cold temps and icy roads may award her some much needed privacy after spending time with extended family through the holidays, the letdown (pun intended for you nursing mamas) after the hustle and attention of the season can send a new mother into a downward spiral towards depression and/or anxiety.
The first few weeks of life with a newborn are shocking as experienced mothers know. The transition can be jolting, stressful, and purely exhausting no matter what time of year. For mothers of newborns in winter, isolation can come down harder than any time of the year. The excuse to stay inside, to protect the baby, and to stay warm are all valid, but too easily they become a shield against socializing. Winter becomes our cocoons and the world outside too harsh and cold to bear.
I understand this. I've been there. My son was born in early November 2016, so I spent his first three months mainly inside. Thanks to my daughter though, I wasn't allowed to remain inside (or very still) until spring as I had hoped.
For a first-time mother there may not be much of a need to leave the home other than routine doctor appointments and groceries. If she has a partner who can do the primary errands, then she may not need to leave much at all. Though this is ideal for keeping her newborn away from germs, it can be harmful to the mother's mental health. She may feel as if she is a burden to those around her, especially since she knows the new year brings stress for everyone and inclement weather keeps everyone at home. She may crave outside interaction, but become highly anxious at the thought of packing up baby and facing looks from strangers should her baby wail, be too hot, too cold, hungry (but her breast is buried under layers of clothes) etc. Not to mention the mountain of essentials she must gather only to change baby two or three times before even getting out the door due to newborn bowl movements and their impeccable timing.
Again, I've been there. Many of us have. Some of these worries may seem irrational to those who were blessed not to experience them or did so long ago they seem like nothing, but to a mother on the brink of a postnatal mood disorder, they can be devastating.
So how can we help these new mamas in the midst of winter?
Rather than pick up the phone and call or text a new mom, visit her. Brush off her apologies gently as she fusses over the “messy house” or her lack of hygiene. Offer to make her a snack, or better yet bring something with you. Whether she eats it now or later is of no matter. She'll eat it. Offer to pick up a bit or start a load of laundry while she showers or naps. Compliment her as a mother and woman, not just the baby, and allow her to talk if she wants. If she's quiet, it's okay too. Ask to hold the baby so she can simply sit as an individual human being. And most importantly, if she wants to simply snuggle that baby while you two talk, be okay with that. This time is extremely precious as far as bonding, and she may love holding baby, but still want to just talk to someone who can respond articulately.
While many mothers have these visits frequently from their mothers, mother-in-laws, other family, friends, etc., even more mothers don't. When this happens and a mother's support system is either tied up elsewhere, unavailable, falls apart, or is simply separated by distance, a postpartum doula can be a life changer.
As a postpartum doula, a mother, and a postpartum depression survivor, I can help a mother ease into the world again after giving birth and the holidays. If you or someone you know could benefit from my services, please don't hesitate to contact me. Winter can stink for anyone, but it's even worse when you feel alone.