How to Make the Best of Having a Baby in a Less-Than-Ideal Situation

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There are any number of non-ideal situations that you could welcome a baby into: a global pandemic, natural disaster, recent death in the family, recent job loss, financial difficulties—the list could go on and on. Many of these tough things are completely outside of your control and have the power to make your pregnancy and postpartum period truly challenging; however, there are some things you can do to make the best of a less-than-ideal situation as you welcome your baby. In this post, we’ll discuss all the things you can try that may make things feel not quite as hard.

Don’t minimize your feelings

What you are feeling is real and valid. Hard things are hard, even if people other than you are having hard or harder times. Don’t try to let it all go unless you really feel ready and that works for you. Instead, feel your feelings and accept them. Acknowledge to yourself that being pregnant or having a new baby in tough times is extra hard and it’s okay to feel sad, mad, frustrated, jealous, and like screaming your head off. Sometimes it can feel good to get in a warm shower or bath and just cry. You’re allowed to feel whatever you want and not beating yourself up about it is also known as practicing self-compassion, which is a gift that you can give to yourself in challenging times.

Get support

Getting help may look like a variety of things. Is it emotional support that you need the most? If so, seek out the people with whom you can safely discuss everything you’re going through. Maybe those people are trusted friends or family members, or perhaps you need professional support in the form of a counselor or therapist. If help at home is what you need most, consider a housekeeper or postpartum doula. Or, if hiring someone is financially out of reach for your family, consider doing a childcare, house cleaning, or meal prep swap with a friend, where you each cooperate on taking care of each other’s children, cleaning side-by-side at each other’s houses, or setting aside a day to batch cook a bunch of freezer meals together. If financial support is your greatest need, look into nonprofit and government programs that help pregnant and postpartum people.

If your mental health has deteriorated, speak with your doctor or midwife about it too. They will be able to talk to you about therapeutic options—both medication and otherwise—that are safe for pregnancy.

Practice gratitude

Writing down things or people you are grateful for can improve your mental health, according to a study led by Indiana University’s Y. Joel Wong, which was published in the journal Psychotherapy Research in 2018. In this randomized controlled trial, a group of adults received psychotherapy. One third of participants were also instructed to write regularly about their feelings and another third was instructed to write letters of gratitude to others. The group that did the gratitude writing had overall improvements in their mental health beyond those experienced by the expressive writing group and the group who didn’t do an intervention beyond psychotherapy. This research shows that expressing gratitude in writing can make a difference, regardless of what you’re going through. If gratitude toward others feels inaccessible, start small: with gratitude for your body for breathing and the earth for having air for you to breath.

Take it one moment at a time

Being pregnant or having a newborn in the midst of, or after, having experienced something awful is so difficult that all you can do is your best in the moment. In the Frozen 2—a movie you’re probably intimately familiar with if you have an older child—the character Anna sings a song called “The Next Right Thing.” I like to think about this song when I’m having a hard time with something because it reminds me that the only thing that it’s possible to do sometimes is the next right thing. So if you’re struggling to get through the day, week, or month, just find the next right thing and do that. You don’t have to think beyond that step, and once you’ve done one thing, the next right thing might come a little bit easier.

Abby Olena
Dr. Abby Olena has a PhD in Biological Sciences from Vanderbilt University. She lives with her husband and children in North Carolina, where she writes about science and parenting, produces a conversational podcast, and teaches prenatal yoga.

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