Recently a friend got upset with me about not being more available, telling me she felt that I am not the friend I used to be. To be fair, she is right, but it was still really hard to hear. I am a new mom and so much has changed for me over the past nine months since my son, Hunter, was born. My interactions with even my closest friends have changed as I navigate this new world.
Before I was a mom, I was carefree and always available for, well, everyone. I went out multiple times a week, hardly ever said “no” to an invite, was spontaneous, and always made my friends a priority. I was “Fun Lindsey.” I prided myself on the fact that I was a good friend — and my ability to balance work, my husband, and friends with ease.
Then, Hunter came, and the old Lindsey seemed to disappear. It wasn’t that I didn’t notice the change. In fact, I am acutely aware of it. There has been this mourning of my old carefree life. I grapple with the fact that my outgoing self seems to have slipped away.
You see, while having a baby does change things dramatically, I also have postpartum anxiety — adding another difficult layer to an already complicated shift. While most people have heard of postpartum depression, with approximately 15 percent of new moms diagnosed with it each year, postpartum anxiety is not as often discussed, although an estimated 10 percent of moms are diagnosed with it each year, according to the American Pregnancy Association. The most common symptoms of PPA are “persistent and excessive worries, feelings of tension, and inability to relax. Often these worries are focused on the baby, his or her health and safety,” writes the The Center for Women’s Mental Health at Massachusetts General Hospital. One of the things that triggers my anxiety is leaving Hunter to do social things that he isn’t involved in. Even a simple trip to the store or an outing to get a manicure while he’s napping can be challenging for me.
I am a full-time working mom, and only full days I get to spend with my family are weekends. I plan special time in the morning, waking up early to make sure we get quality moments. But if I don’t leave work at a certain time, I don’t see Hunter — so the idea of going out like I used to and missing that limited time with my baby is hard.
My friends understand, or are trying to, but that doesn’t make it easier. I say “no” to plans often or cancel last-minute because my anxiety builds up. I worry that if this continues, even the most understanding friends will give up on me. Rationally, I know Hunter will be OK if I take a night out once in a while — he won’t miss a beat. And I am lucky to have an amazing, supportive, and very hands-on husband. He is constantly encouraging me to go get my “me time.” So, it’s my own thoughts that are holding me back. I understand that these feelings may not be forever, but at this time, it’s a struggle to say “yes” to time for myself. However, every book and report I’ve read says the same thing — if moms don’t take care of themselves, mentally and physically, then there can be some serious health consequences.
I think I’m doing pretty good as a mom and wife, but I can be better to myself. My current mission is my relationships with friends — keeping those connections strong and learning how I can realistically plan face-to-face time. I consulted some top experts to help me on this journey of getting “Lindsey the Person” back. Julie Morgenstern, an organizing and productivity expert and bestselling author of Time to Parent: Organizing Your Life to Bring Out the Best in Your Child and You, explained that friendships and romances boost our happiness, resilience, and sense of belonging while reducing stress. “If nourished on a regular basis, you’ll even be a more engaged parent,” she says. One of the benefits she pointed out was how maintaining our social ties provides “modeling” for our kids on how to sustain and care for friendships and relationships. I want that for me, and I want that for my son.
Here are some of the Microsteps I’m working on, which can hopefully help other moms going through this as well:
I’m working on, which can hopefully help other moms going through this as well:
Connect in creative ways: While my anxiety may stop me from making frequent dinner plans, I can connect with friends in other ways. I check in via text, make phone calls, FaceTime, and even send written letters. I want my friends to know I’m still here for them and care. Even if I can’t always see them. Gail Saltz, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychiatry at the N.Y. Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine, recommends that new moms ask our friends what is going on in their lives. So often we are in our own worlds, talking about everything surrounding the baby. I need to be sure I am connecting with my friends and what’s going on with them, not just recounting more about my kid. “Be empathic toward friends who may have little interest in babies or may feel envy,” she notes. “Understanding their side helps maintain the friendship.”
Make plans in advance: It’s important to not rely on social media and technology for everything. “While social media can keep you connected to people who are geographically far away, you want to nurture friendships in real life to feel fulfilled and really get that boost to your mind and soul of being with other adults,” says Morgenstern. In order to make sure I feel confident and mentally ready for an outing, I make plans in advance. “Automate weekly get-togethers… Maybe Friday night potluck at your house, so you don’t have to find a sitter, and don’t have to do all the cooking, or a Saturday morning power walk,” Morgenstern suggests. This way it’s already on the calendar, you can look forward to it, and you aren’t stressed about the planning.
Communicate your feelings: I try to explain what is happening with me and what is holding me back when speaking with my tribe. Admitting what I am experiencing can be hard, but it’s important for your those around you to know, so they can be there for you when the anxiety pops up. I almost canceled a night out recently due to anxiety until a great friend, who knows about my PPA, gently confronted me and pushed me to go. I was so thankful for her and ended up having the best (and most needed) time out. The old me popped out again and it felt good. And it also confirmed that Hunter was fine.
Try “micro meetups”: Morgenstern recommends making just 20-minute connections. “It’s amazing how much you can accomplish in 20 minutes with another adult,” she tells Thrive. “Have breakfast, grab a coffee, go for a walk at lunchtime, meet up with another parent while you wait to pick up your kids at daycare, or chat on the phone with a friend while doing the dishes,” she suggests. This is something I am finding to be ideal for my life now. Getting a lunch or catching up on the phone on my commute home.
Stop feeling guilty: One of the biggest issues I face, one I think almost every parent can relate to, is guilt. I feel guilty for not seeing Hunter before bed, guilty for having my husband do all the work around the house if I am out. Morgenstern brings up a point I’d like to remind myself of often: “Most of all, don’t feel guilty cultivating your social life or your hobbies — the energy and sanity you gain from these activities makes you a better, more refreshed parent,” she says. “And you are role-modeling the importance of a social life and hobbies for your kids.”
So while I may not be able to change back into the person I was before having my son, I can learn to take more time for myself to be a better mom and wife — and ultimately, a happier version of myself.
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