Book Review: The Postnatal Depletion Cure

After I had my second baby, I entered into a different, and I want to say darker phase of life than I had ever experienced. I wouldn’t say I was depressed, yet I distinctly remember, when my baby was around a year old, my older daughter looking up at me and saying out of the blue, “Mommy, you haven’t cried in a while!”

Baby #2 was constantly fussy, so I was caring for two needy little ones on very little sleep. I was experiencing constant back pain, making daily tasks and childcare painful. I didn’t have the level of practical support from extended family that I needed. And though I had an amazing 2-hour labor and delivery at home, I just wasn’t bouncing back from pregnancy and birth like I did the first go-round.

That little baby is now 6 years old (!), and I feel like I’m just now coming out of the fog, getting back to my old self. Talking with friends about those first couple of years in particular, I would say, “I feel like maybe I had postpartum depression??” Because I knew I wasn’t well. I wasn’t feeling normal, or healthy. But at the same time, the word depression didn’t seem to fit. Though not quite right, it was the only word I could come up with to describe my experience.

Until recently, when I received a copy of International Doula (a publication put out by my certifying organization, DONA). On the cover, I read the words “postnatal depletion,” and I was intrigued. Immediately I flipped to the article, reading an interview with Dr. Oscar Serrallach, about this new term and finally identifying with a set of symptoms that made up the syndrome that I’m sure I had. Wanting to know more, I checked out his book, The Postnatal Depletion Cure, from the library.

Before even starting chapter one, I was floored by Dr. Serrallach’s compassion and understanding of what mothers in modern cultures are experiencing. He says:

This book is dedicated to all mothers who have suffered and struggled in their selfless roles as caregivers, often without the unconditional support and wisdom from their culture, societies, and families that should have been their birthright. It is your strength that has inspired and guided me in writing this book. The well-being of mothers is the fabric from which the cloth of the future of our society is made.

Those words made me want to cry. And hug him.

The book begins by defining postnatal depletion, and differentiating between depletion and depression. In the DONA article, the phrase that stood out to me referring to a depleted mom was that she feels “tired and wired.” This was exactly my experience - I was utterly exhausted, yet robbed of sleep. I would wake up on high alert to any little sounds, whether it be the baby or my husband shifting in bed next to me, and be unable to fall back to sleep easily. I was hormonal and emotional, and yet I never experienced hopelessness or lack of joy and happiness around things that have always made me happy. I was in love with my baby and so happy to have him in our family, I was just having trouble coping with life.

Dr Serrallach then goes on to describe how different cultures around the world care for their newly postpartum mothers. I have heard bits and pieces of these customs, but seeing them all in one place, and contrasting them with how we treat new moms in America was truly eye-opening. I thought, no wonder so many new moms are struggling.

The rest of the book is filled with incredibly helpful information for mothers struggling with this condition. I absolutely love how Dr. Serrallach speaks to women with deep compassion and understanding, validates our struggles, and views us as whole people - not isolating different symptoms, but really understanding and conveying that postnatal depletion is a result of many different factors. Throughout the book, he thoroughly covers important information on nutrition, hormones, sleep, exercise, and emotional well-being.

If you are interested in learning more about postnatal depletion, this article is a great place to start. And of course, pick up a copy of his book. If you feel like you have postnatal depletion and are looking for more resources or local practitioners to walk through the journey to healing with you, please be in touch with me! I would love to hear your story and help get you pointed in the right direction.

Blessings, hope, and healing, my friends!

7 Ways Living with Less Can Help You to Have a Better Postpartum

If you’ve read any of my previous blog posts on the postpartum period, you’ll know that it’s not my favorite. I’ve said that I’ll go through labor and delivery ten times before I’ll go through the first month of postpartum once. And after having a particularly rough time after my second was born, I’ve incorporated more advice and support for this particular period in my prenatal meetings, helping my clients to come up with a detailed plan for getting through those first critical days and weeks.

Separately, in my own personal life, I’ve been exploring and growing into the concept of living with less over the past two years. It started when I stumbled upon the idea of a capsule wardrobe on Pinterest, and continued as I radically reduced the number of things in our home following the plan inThe Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I have grown to love living simply, and as I continue to pursue a more stripped-down approach to life with kids, I can’t help but wish that I would have known about and embraced this lifestyle before having babies!

With what I’ve grown to know and love about living minimally, here are 7 reasons I believe embracing this type of lifestyle will help you to have a better postpartum:

1.       You won’t lose things. If you reduce the number of things in your home, thereby reducing clutter, you will literally know where everything is. When I was going through my home in The Great Purge of 2017, there were so many things I didn’t even realize that we had, and even if I did I wouldn’t have known where they were. Minimizing gave us the space and freedom to value our things so stuff didn’t get lost in the jumble. The moments I lose something are now few and far between! And when a new baby is crying in the car seat as you rush to get out the door, the last thing you need is a lost set of keys or other essential item!

2.      Reduce decision fatigue. This is especially relevant in the clothes department. Most of us have piles and heaps of clothes that never get worn, yet we keep it in our closets. So every morning when we get dressed, we sift through the many things we don’t love to find just the perfect thing, starting our day with much more mental energy spent than needed. I realize that this is tricky since our bodies are ever changing as we grow and care for our babies, but honestly we really don’t need as many clothes as we are led to believe we do! My suggestion is to have only a handful of your favorite tops and bottoms that fit you well in this season – with the rest kept in bins – to reduce chaos and clutter in your morning routine. Look into creating a capsule wardrobe and/or adopting a seasonal uniform. Less mental energy spent on what you wear equals more energy and brain space for things that really matter, like self and baby care. 

3.      Lower your odds for postpartum depression. There is a direct correlation between the amount of items in a home and the amount of clutter that accumulates. We all have different levels of tolerance for clutter, yet researchers at UCLA’s Center for Everyday Lives and Families discovered a direct link between high stress hormone levels in women and a high density of household objects (from Life at Home in the 21st Century). To my knowledge, there are no studies on clutter and postpartum depression, but I truly believe that if you decrease the number of items you own, you will lower your likelihood of developing this condition.

When my second born was a baby and crying inconsolably, I remember pacing back and forth with him wailing in my arms through the rooms of our house. With each pass seeing the piles of clutter, I could feel my stress levels rising knowing that tidying wasn’t an option with a very needy infant needing my constant attention. Dear soon-to-be mother, for your own mental health, please consider purging your home before your baby arrives!

Me and Mr. High Maintenance. I'm smiling because he's not crying!

Me and Mr. High Maintenance. I'm smiling because he's not crying!

4.      Experience peace and contentment. As you go through the process of getting rid of the excess in your life, you will begin to realize that you don’t really need as much as you had previously believed. Your urge to run to Target for a quick fix of “retail therapy” or a shopping for a new baby gadget on Amazon will quietly subside, and you’ll start to experience contentment and fulfillment in the things that really matter.

5.      Enjoy more down time. This is kind of crazy, and I wouldn’t really have believed it before I began minimizing, but living with less literally opens up so much more time in your day. If you think about it, every item we own requires some maintenance, however small. But lots of small things requiring only a little attention quickly adds up and we don’t even realize it. For me, with a new baby, I never felt that I could afford the luxury of taking time for rest or self-care. There was always work to be done, people to take care of, things to clean. I can only imagine how much more restful my postpartum periods would have been if I had embraced simplicity sooner.

6.      Enjoy an easy-to clean house. If you have toddlers or older kids as well as a newborn, your house can become a jumbled mess in the time it takes to brush your teeth. With kids dumping out bins of toys or puzzles, it can seem impossible to stay on top of keeping things picked up. In his book Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne does an excellent job of explaining how fewer toys can deeply benefit your kids. And practically speaking, the fewer toys they have, the less overwhelming you will feel when it is time to clean up. Just a few weeks ago, my five-year-old son and I went through his car bin, and he easily picked out all the cars that are no longer his favorites. Now, when it’s time to clean up cars, it takes half the time it used to.

7.      Be ever ready for drop-by guests. I think we’ve had more visitors after the births of our babies than at any other time in the history of our marriage. Granted, most people are more than gracious visitors, knowing that having just had a baby upkeep of your home is low on your list of priorities. But I’ve found that with less stuff, my home is literally almost always ready for unexpected visitors. There always are a few things out here and there, but never to the extent that I am embarrassed or feel the need to apologize to my guests.

These are just a few of the ways I believe living with less will dramatically increase your quality of living after having a baby, and I so wish I would have known about this type of intentional lifestyle sooner. But I am truly loving it now, and my kids are still young enough where I believe they are reaping rewards that will last them a lifetime. They are learning at a young age that stuff does not equal happiness, as our culture would entice them to believe. They happily spend hours in imaginative play, because they aren’t distracted by too many toys. And they are growing generous hearts, holding their things with open hands, and gladly giving toys a new home when they are outgrown.

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So, for the sake of your mental health and happiness, and for the well-being of your family, I encourage you to do some digging and discover how living more simply can truly benefit you and your family. If you have questions on where to start, or just want to chat, please be in touch! I'd love to get to know where you're at and talk more about this lifestyle with you!

Blessings, friend!

The best [postpartum] advice I've ever received.

"Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt."  -John Muir

When you are pregnant, especially for the first time, it seems you are a growing, moving target for unsolicited advice.  How to eat, how to sleep, what doctor to choose, what kind of birth to have, and the list goes on.  People also like to give out free postpartum advice, like "sleep when the baby sleeps," or "the disposable mesh undies will be a lifesaver," or "put some cabbage on those overly zealous milk machines."  This advice is all really good, practical stuff, and it is so, so important to have a sisterhood of women surrounding you with love and encouragement throughout all the tender moments of childbearing!

But today I'm just going to share one little tidbit of advice, given to me by a dear friend and neighbor, when I was in the throes of postpartum hell after baby number two.

GET OUTSIDE.

She came over to drop off some goodies, and being a mom to two little guys herself, her advice held some weight.

"Just ten minutes a day!" she said.  "If it's cold, bundle up. The fresh air will do you good."

My second-born was high-maintenance, to say the least. I recall pacing with him (crying) in my arms from the dining room, through the kitchen, to the living room, and back again, unable to look away from the piles of mess and dishes and clutter in each room I walked through. I was exhausted, in pain, and a hormonal wreck, and my messy house was just about to push me over the edge.

So I took her advice to heart, and despite the plummeting temperatures, I got outside. Not every day (though that was my goal), and she was right!!  It did me so much good.  Through the rhythmic moving of my feet and the in-and-out breathing of fresh air, my soul was reset. I was able to think and to pray and to just be. And though the house I walked back into was not the place of peace and cleanliness I felt that I needed it to be, it was okay. I was okay.

And now, four years later, as my kiddos are getting older and the temperatures are once again starting to drop, I remember that advice - just as good today as it was then. When life indoors is making monsters of my kids and me, we put on our coats and we go out. We walk, ride bikes, we climb and run and hike. Thanks to my good neighbor, Lori, I've learned that we are all happier creatures when we've been outside.