By Dr. Stephanie Johnson, DACM, L.Ac.
I recently finished reading the book “Fair Play” by Eve Rodsky about a new approach to navigate family dynamics and rethinking how to manage household tasks. As Mother’s Day approaches, most tend to think about all the support and love they’ve received from their moms or others who serve in that role - beloved aunt, sister, friend, or cousin. The piece that is forgotten is the mental exhaustion and toll it takes to juggle home, work, friendships, babies, adult children, the endless to-do lists, and finding time for self-love care.
Recently, our patient, Mika, celebrated the arrival of her second baby. She shared during her first pregnancy, she had horrible, debilitating postpartum depression. Apparently, it runs in her family, everyone from her mom to her sisters, and aunts experience it within a week to two weeks after giving birth.
Knowing this, she prepared herself and set up systems and support networks to ensure a smooth transition. She scheduled her mom to visit for a month, began depression meds before the birth, and created a daily meal train. Mika felt the adjustment period went much better than the birth of her first baby, yet she was surprised how much harder the postpartum depression hit the second time. She had more crying episodes, felt irrational, and struggled bonding with her newborn, which created more distress.
“I thought this was going to go much easier. I’d prepared myself and knew what to expect. It’s still been rough even with all the extra support. I feel responsible to organize everything in our home. It’s overwhelming and I’m afraid it’s all going to fall apart if I can’t hold it together. The ongoing mental chatter from figuring things out, keeps my mind racing at night.” - Mika
It’s even harder because she hasn’t slept longer than three hour segments since the baby was born. No one functions well on minimal sleep, let alone days on end.
Like so many moms, she’s crashing by having too much on her plate, coupled with the postpartum depression, that makes it seem impossible to turn things around.
It’s all too familiar to most women, not only mothers. There’s a real struggle for women, especially after having children, to continue to manage every aspect of the home.
Doing it all leads to burnout that turns into resentment and anger. Psychology Today reinforces this phenomenon with studies indicating repeated long-term stress leads to exhaustion on the emotional, mental and physical level. Jumping at every peep the baby makes. Rushing to soothe and repeatedly correct a partner. The constant cuddling at every situation leaves the partner second guessing if they are capable (they are more than, if only given a chance). Eventually partners no longer have a place to participate and disengage.
All the messaging women receive reinforces this is the way it’s done…and at what cost? It takes a huge mental and emotional toll that can lead to depression.
Often women’s health complaints are ignored or they are told to take a ‘wait and see’ approach before taking action. According to the latest research, regular depression is more commonly diagnosed; and studies show that nearly 50% of mothers with postpartum depression aren’t diagnosed by a health care practitioner and go untreated.
Acupuncture can provide a much needed life line to women after giving birth, experiencing on-going depression from hormonal imbalances, and burnout. By placing small, tiny needles into specific areas of the body, it releases neurotransmitters to restore balance and promote healing, especially of one’s emotional and mental wellbeing.
“I had hoped to escape the postpartum depression curse in my family. Receiving my weekly acupuncture is what turned around my depression much faster after my second pregnancy. I’m so grateful for Dr. Stephanie’s coaching around co-partnering and treatments to reset my mind.”
One way forward is for women to change the narrative to create intentional relationships not as co-parents but as co-partners. The biggest learning is to stop doing so much, let go of control, and ask for the needed help. This doesn’t happen overnight and involves your partner stepping up, and in many cases, learning how to become an active, engaged co-partner.
Here’s what our family did to create a positive, co-partner situation that works.
Set clear boundaries and communicate needed breaks, with a specific time and date. Sometimes that break is needed with a minute notice, before someone loses it.
Plan ahead and schedule self-love times for both to have alone time and time reconnecting with friends and family.
Setup time with children without the other present to bond and develop a relationship. This enables both to establish a unique parenting style with the child. Remember, the other parent is parenting not babysitting.
Let go of the expectation that everything is done a certain way...or more likely like 75% of the way done, but it's progress. Step back and allow your partner to fumble and figure out what works for them. There are often two paths to the same solution.
Establish a regular wake-up and bedtime routine for your child. My husband is a morning person, so he gets the early morning shift. I take the bedtime, evening shift. This gives both alone time with our child. Divide and conquer tasks for the win!
Encourage each partner to do household tasks their way. It’s also good for a child to witness and understand there are multiple ways to get stuff done. Seeing both engage around the house even has our little one grab their broom and dustpan to clean up! A huge win for setting the right example for the next generation.
Who knew the single most stressful part of an adult’s day was meal planning? No one prepares you. Where’s mom’s home cooked meals?! Trust me, subscribe to a meal delivery service. Doesn’t matter which one, it just needs to fit your needs. It’s a game changer. Now thinking about meal prep during the week is as simple as my partner grabbing a bag from the fridge…poof, dinner is ready. Honestly, when you price it out, it’s often the same cost as your monthly groceries.
Divide up household chores and rotate the tasks each month. This saves my sanity and takes multiple tasks off the plate. If it’s within your budget, which can be a stretch for many, consider a regular cleaner, even monthly, to help. I’d give up my coffee addiction to have my house cleaned, seriously.
When it comes to child rearing, make sure to not respond first to every request…cough, cough…whine and cry. Consciously pause to give your partner a chance to engage. This teaches your child there is more than one go-to person to help kiss a boo-boo, velcro a shoe, or grab a snack.
Our partners will never learn or know how to help if we keep stepping up to take care of everything inside and outside the home. It’s important to remember, women literally cannot do it all. Women aren’t failures for not doing it. It’s just not humanly possible.
Give yourself a little self-love and set-up an acupuncture appointment to address your depression or postpartum depression or relieve the back ache and pain from carrying your 30-pound toddler and those multiple laundry loads.
Even when it isn’t your way, be okay with how it plays out. As Bob Marley says, “everything’s gonna be alright!”