Being a First-Time Mom During the Pandemic Wasn’t Great for My Mental Wellness—Here’s the Virtual Service I Wish I Knew About Sooner

Technically speaking, I didn't have a "pandemic baby"—my first child was born in December 2019. As any new parent can tell you, though, the first few months with a newborn are like being in a figurative lockdown as you navigate everything from your own sleep-deprived nest. And just when those tender, hazy months were up and I felt ready to emerge back into the world, we were in a literal one.

For me, the timing of this was... not great. And I was certainly not alone as a mother feeling overwhelmed. "Moms, in particular, have experienced increased stress and anxiety since the start of the pandemic, as they are often juggling work and child-care responsibilities, including helping their children with e-learning," says says Desreen N. Dudley, PsyD, clinical psychologist at Teladoc, a major virtual provider that offers a variety of clinical services including teletherapy.

While I may not have been attempting to tackle remote schooling while WFH, I was dealing with my own stressors. My entrance to motherhood had been a rocky one, starting with a long, induced labor that culminated in a C-section and ending with a diagnosis of postpartum preeclampsia, a pregnancy-related illness that causes high blood pressure and can be life-threatening if un-checked. This required a very much not-fun, days-long treatment (and separation from my brand-new baby)—and then, once I was home, came the anxiety.

I've always tended toward anxious thoughts, but before, I had been able to distract and refocus myself. After my birth experience, though, I had to closely monitor my blood pressure for six weeks and watch for signs of a blood clot, which put my mind into a hyper-vigilant state that caused me to have near-nightly panic attacks. I white-knuckled it through these six weeks, and slowly felt my anxiety start to lift. But when the pandemic hit, I started waking up gasping for air again. I returned to work and felt fine during the day, but those anxious feelings could rear their head unexpectedly at night, leaving my heart racing. And that's when I wish I had known that teletherapy could be an option for me.

"Therapy is a way for moms to set aside time for themselves to learn coping strategies to reduce anxiety as well as learn how to reset their expectations for themselves and restructure their daily routine," says Dr. Dudley. "Telehealth is a great benefit for moms wanting to take care of their mental health. It is a form of self care."

And in this case, we're not talking bubble baths. Once this free-floating anxiety started to hit me, I suspected that my symptoms were tied to the broader lack of control I felt over my own life (working from my bed, turning off my Zoom screen to breastfeed, and having little to no separation from "work day" to "mom mode" might have had something to do with it). Here's what I wish I knew then—and why self care is crucial for mothers, now and always.

Keep reading for three ways moms can support their mental wellness, from teletherapy and beyond.

teladoc teletherapy
Photo: Teladoc

1. Prioritize your mental health

As Dr. Dudley puts it, "Mothers are often the chief worry officer of the family, and take on the brunt of household and child-care responsibilities. The pandemic has increased these responsibilities significantly, and, as expected, mothers are the ones who are feeling the weight of it."

Laura Westrope, a mom of four and a Teladoc teletherapy patient, can attest. "It has been difficult to manage all of our ongoing responsibilities [and] deal with uncertainties and challenging life events, especially in the midst of a pandemic," she says. "Teladoc has allowed me to keep myself accountable not only during times of heightened stress but also provides me with the stability I need to schedule and maintain regular appointments."

Teladoc has a network of board-certified psychiatrists who can prescribe medications as well as psychologists and licensed therapists available for talk therapy in all 50 states.  All you need to do is select a mental-health provider in your state, schedule an appointment, and begin the journey. And since you can do it virtually from your own couch, it makes squeezing in a teletherapy appointment that much more doable—whether you're juggling a baby (like me) or four busy kids (like Westrope).

2. Be flexible and stick to routine

This might sound like an oxymoron, but here's the logic: Children thrive with routine, and sticking to a regular early bedtime can give moms a much-needed break. On the flip side, you need to embrace flexibility for yourself in order to give yourself the space you need to cope.

"When mothers ignore their own health needs, they may fall victim to more severe illnesses," Dr. Dudley says, listing increased blood pressure, stress, anxiety, and depression among the risks. That's why, Dr. Dudley says, it's imperative to shift your expectations and embrace flexibility. You might not tackle everything on your to-do list, and that's okay—just focus on one thing you want to get done and make that your win.

3. Make time for yourself

No but actually. For some that might look like getting in some movement each day (endorphins are powerful), taking a beat to focus on your thoughts and feelings (*deep breath*), or, yes, prioritizing your mental wellness with teletherapy.

These days, for me, it looks like a long, hot bath (okay fine, I guess bubble baths are still on the table). I've always been a bath lover, long before I was a mom, a boss, or a wife. It's a moment solely and purely for myself, and the only time I get to be alone while working from home or otherwise raising a small human in my New York City apartment. My feelings of acute anxiety are behind me for now, but I know now what to do if they return—draw a bath, and schedule a teletherapy appointment, stat.

Top photo: Stocksy/Addictive Creatives

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