Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month — Packing Your Emotional Diaper Bag
By Kathryn D. Gardner, MA, LCPC
Every time I leave the house my mind starts racing as to what I need to pack in my son’s diaper bag. Extra outfit- check. Extra spit up towels – check. Diapers – check. Snacks – check. Extra blanket – check. I try to think of every scenario we may encounter and bring the entire house with us.
I want to meet my son’s needs and be prepared for anything the day may bring. But do I do the same thing for myself?
What would I pack in my own diaper bag – an emotional diaper bag? I would need a good pair of gym shoes, for when I am on the go yet want to be comfortable. Snacks for the extra boost when I am dragging. But what about coping with all of this, the roller-coaster of emotions? A journal would help to vent and sort out when I am thinking or worrying about. Heck, I would even pack up my best friend – she gives me validation of how tough it is when I do not feel like I know what I am doing. A list of resources, who would I call in certain situations, including the pediatrician for advice (instead of using Dr. Google at 2am); remembering that I am not alone. Kleenex, because it is okay to cry and let it out. A place to store my super-mom cape, because I do not need it, it is okay to not be perfect. Music to soothe my nerves. A comfy pillow to take a much needed nap. A calendar to organize my time, say “no” to all the extras and find time for my spouse. Lastly, a nice, warm bubble bath, to give me time for myself and let all of my muscles relax.
If I do not take care of my emotional health, my whole family is impacted. May is Perinatal Mood Awareness month in Illinois and various other states. Perinatal refers to the period of pregnancy until the baby’s first birthday, an important time to monitor your own emotional wellbeing. Approximately 15% (Marcus, 2009) of women will experience major or minor depression following childbirth. Gaining awareness of the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety are the first steps to taking care of yourself. Are you feeling overwhelmed, have racing thoughts, feel hopeless and negative most of the time, fatigued, crying, irritable, worrying most of the time, tense, unable to sleep when you try to sleep, have a change in appetite, isolated from others, have unwanted thoughts or images, thoughts of harm to yourself or your baby? If you do recognize signs contact your obstetrician or primary care doctor for an assessment of your well-being postpartum. They may recommend treatment, such as medication, individual or couples therapy or to join a support group. Individual or couples counseling can assist you to learn about your symptoms, understand your thoughts and feelings, ways to manage stress, communicate your needs, learn new coping tools and feel hope again. Support groups are helpful to reach out to others and learn new tools from your peers. So have your bag packed and ready to go for the unexpected and don’t forget to pack the pacifier!
For more information, please visit Postpartum Support International at www.postpartum.net or Postpartum Depression Alliance of Illinois www.ppdil.org for local resources. Postpartum Support International Warmline 800-944-4PPD(4773).
Kathryn Gardner is a mom and Clinical Therapist at Hope Enrichment Center in Palos Heights, IL. She specializes in working with women before, during and after pregnancy.
National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)