Parenting isn’t easy. And parenting during a pandemic is not for the faint of heart. Here are a few reminders and affirmations for all of the parents out there as you navigate each day with your little ones:
I am doing my best and that is enough for now.
I have value as a person (and as a parent).
I can give myself grace and kindness.
It’s okay to struggle right now. I can give myself patience and understanding.
I can do difficult things. I HAVE done difficult things.
I take care of my feelings by noticing them.
I don’t need to be perfect to be worthy of love.
Parenting is a learning process.
Today cannot last forever. I can get through this day.
I am not the only one feeling this way. I am not alone.
I will focus on the things that I can control.
I am brave just by facing the day. I am exactly the parent my baby needs.
I will let go of how I think today should go. I will face whatever comes my way.
My needs are important. By caring for myself I am caring for my family.
I am enough.
These affirmations can be incredibly helpful, but there are difficult days that can surpass even the most powerful of reminders. You are not alone in this! The journey of pregnancy and parenthood is overwhelming. At times it can be isolating, and even more so right now with the pandemic. But we repeat: you are not alone.
One of our very own doulas, Lisa Anderson (who also happens to be a perinatal therapist), helps run the Ann Arbor-located parenting support group MomShare. Currently, meetings are being held virtually and provide an inclusive space to share resources, emotions, experiences, concerns, joys, and difficulties of parenting. The group name does have “Mom” in it and the website refers to “moms and infants”, but the group welcomes parents of all genders as they navigate their journeys through pregnancy, postpartum, and parenting.
For those of us in Michigan, the next few weeks will be filled with anniversaries. The first wave of the pandemic in Michigan started this time last year and ushered in a whole new slew of emotions, stressors and fears. I’ve seen a lot of people already posting on social media about their last normal day at work, or the last day their kiddos had in-person classes. On the flip side, many folks would rather ignore this one year mark. All of this is perfectly okay. Some folks are having very real trauma responses to these one-year anniversaries. Some aren’t. This is also okay. However you are feeling is okay. There is no playbook for a pandemic. And especially not a pandemic anniversary.
When it comes to our mental health, physical health, and socioeconomic circumstances, we’ve all felt the impact of the pandemic differently. A lot of this depends on the social identities we hold, the region we live in, and/or how close the COVID-19 infections have come to us and our loved ones. This pandemic has thoroughly rocked the foundation of our communities. All on top of the political turmoil, collective loss, infrastructure failure, and white supremacist systemic violence that this past year has brought to many aspects of our society. A word you may hear to refer to the one-year mark of these intertwined traumas, is “traumaversary.”
What is a traumaversary?
The term “traumaversary” was coined in the mental health community by folks experiencing PTSD and trauma. It is a term used to describe the one-year mark of a negative life-altering event, and the wide range of emotions that comes with these anniversaries. Sometimes it’s used to refer to a specific day, but they can also be entire seasons/weeks/months/spans of time where something life-altering occurred. After surviving a traumatic event, it’s common to experience any range of emotions from joy/relief that we survived, to depression/grief. Even all of this at the same time.
It’s important to know that anyone can have a traumaversary, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be the result of something “big.” We all experience stressful events differently, so what may be considered traumatic for one person, may not be for someone else. This term is becoming much more widespread now with the array of anxiety/depression that the pandemic has dragged out for a lot of people. Whether you choose to use the word “traumaversary” is up to you. Some might use it as a way to validate the tumultuousness of the COVID-19 pandemic. Others might not. But regardless, it can be helpful to learn why our brains react certain ways to traumatic stress, even if you don’t see the pandemic as a concrete “trauma.”
A crash-course in post-traumatic stress/brains that have experienced trauma:
The human brain is incredibly clever. When our minds and bodies experience something traumatic, our bodies immediately prioritize surviving in the now, while the heavy-duty processing is saved for later. In order to do that, our bodies enact the fight/flight/freeze/fawn response. This is fueled by adrenaline. Once our adrenaline has carried us to safety and has time to wind down, we begin processing the event that just occurred. It is normal to experience post traumatic stress symptoms for the immediate weeks after a traumatic occurrence/prolonged series of events. Including but not limited to:
– temporary depression
– feelings of grief
– night terrors/ sleep disturbances
– appetite changes
These mechanisms are our mind’s way of protecting us from harm while integrating the event into how we experience the world. These symptoms are also the brain’s way of making sure that we don’t endanger ourselves again. Many of these symptoms (such as decreased appetite, hypervigilance, panic, insomnia, and night terrors) are also a result of the increase in adrenaline/stress hormones that are required to maintain this survival mode. These symptoms are normal for a period of time, but if they last for longer than 6 months that’s when it starts veering into more chronic PTSD territory.
This is where the COVID-19 pandemic anniversary can come in.
We’ve all been in lockdown for over a year now, living in a world where we have to think 15 steps ahead just to survive going to the grocery store. And when it comes to bringing new life into the world, parenting during a pandemic is not for the faint of heart. While the COVID-19 virus is still a threat to our health and safety, we are in a much different situation than we were last year. We know more about the virus, testing is available to the public, we have enough PPE for the most part, and many members of our community are being vaccinated daily. But that still doesn’t negate the initial shock of the first wave of the pandemic. Of course, the situation is still dire, but we’ve had a year to adjust, process the uncertainty, and visualize our futures. For this reason, especially with the arrival of spring weather, many people have experienced post traumatic stress symptoms as their brains are thrown back into that first month of the pandemic. This can be even more so if you have a history of trauma. There is nothing wrong with you, it’s just your brain trying to make sure you survive.
After traumatic events our brains automatically store cues from these experiences in our memories for later. That way, if we encounter them again in the future, we will be prepared to enact the fight/flight/freeze/fawn response to propel ourselves out of danger. These cues (or triggers, to use their proper term) can include more obvious triggers such as:
– Objects – Events in academic calendars
– Sounds/ loud noises – Articles of clothing
– Smells – Specific dates
– Flavors – Physical touch
– Holidays – Songs that were popular/ playing at the time
But they can also include more subtle triggers, such as:
– The amount of daylight – Not feeling emotionally safe
– Seasons of the year – Feelings of uncertainty
– Weather – Situations that mirror the past trauma
– Foods that were in season – Emotions that were felt at the time
– Not feeling physically safe – Bright/ dim lighting
Triggers are one of many mechanisms our brain uses to keep us safe.
And they often aren’t something we do consciously. For some of us, when we encounter these triggers, our brain automatically switches into survival mode (e.g. panic attacks to give us energy to fight/flee, flashbacks to warn us, etc..). But sometimes this can happen even if we’re not necessarily in danger. Our brain’s sole purpose is to keep us alive, so it operates by the “better to be safe than sorry” method. It would rather react in a big way to a cue/trigger like the weather changing, than under-react to a potentially dangerous situation and put you in harm’s way. It’s a clever mechanism, but sometimes it’s just a little misplaced. A big portion of recovering from trauma is not only regaining our sense of emotional and physical safety, but also rewiring our brains to not automatically sound the alarm when we encounter triggers that don’t necessarily indicate danger. Especially when they result in full-blown PTSD, or inhibit our ability to form relationships/ function in daily life. If you experienced any post-traumatic stress symptoms early in the pandemic, it’s possible they could come back as we pass our one-year mark.
Since anniversaries of traumatic incidents are never easy, and everyone will experience this month differently, I have made a list of practical tips from personal experience that can help along the way.
Practical tips for making traumaversaries a little easier:
1. It’s okay to feel.This is your reminder to let yourself feel over these next few weeks, even if you don’t think your emotions and reactions “make sense” (which they do). This pandemic has dragged out virtually every emotion in the human experienceand pushed it to its limits. To name a few:
– Anger – Hope
– Fear – Disgust
– Sadness – Uncertainty
– Depression – Exhaustion
– Anxiety – Tenderness
– Joy – Love
This last year has been traumatic for many. For others it hasn’t. A lot of this will depend on your personal threshold and past experiences. Give yourself the grace to feel whatever is true for you. Ignoring these emotions will just ensure that they pop up somewhere else down the line.
2. Make sure your basic needs are being met.Taking care of your mind and body’s most basic needs is crucial on any day of the year, but even more so on big anniversaries like this. Simple tasks like showering, eating, or brushing your teeth can feel like massive chores to a melancholy mind. But these small elements of routine can help with establishing normalcy and moving the body out of survival mode.
3. Plan, or don’t!If there’s a particular anniversary day coming up for you, sometimes planning out the day can help. It’s common for decision-making and clear thinking to become difficult, so planning your day will put more tasks on autopilot so that you don’t have to stress as much. A lot of people do the opposite by ignoring anniversary days altogether. This can be a good strategy, but exercise caution with this one. Check in with yourself to see what you really need. Sometimes ignoring big landmarks like this can just prolong the healing process by blocking things out. But in some instances, it can be a very important step in healing by de-escalating the importance of that day. Do it if it works for you, but practice self-honesty.
4. Take extra care of yourself. Self care looks pretty on instagram, but in reality it looks different for everyone. For some folks it involves a relaxing bath decorated with flower petals, and for others it looks like letting yourself sleep without an alarm or crying in your car after a rough day. However you take care of yourself, just remember that you have come so far in the last year.You have been surviving a pandemic. Let it out when you need to, but don’t forget to give yourself overwhelming amounts of credit.
5. Reach out to your support system.Isolation also increases PTS symptoms. Even more so when it’s accompanied by shame or “should” statements saying that you “should be over this by now” or you “should have done more today.” Healing is difficult as it is, so why make it more difficult? Text someone you trust, get some snuggles in with a fur-baby, go for a walk with your favorite family member, or ask your partner for some extra TLC. Do something to connect with someone that makes you feel safe before the day is up, even if it’s small. It won’t be a magic fix, but shame and isolation cannot survive in the face of love and understanding.
6. Create closure if you need it. Notice what emotions come up for you in the coming weeks. How do you feel? Do those emotions need to be released, or just given space to exist? Catharsis doesn’t need to be big, and it definitely doesn’t need to be pretty. Something as small as lighting a candle, listening to a calm playlist before bed, or burying a stone to represent your grief can give you the time/space to process. Acknowledging the hurt does not mean you have stopped healing. In fact, it is a vital part of healing.
7. Hibernation mode. There’s nothing wrong with just hunkering down and waiting for the storm to pass. If sleeping or retreating to your cave is how you get through to the other side, then absolutely do it. Some people may want to do this but may not have the option because of work, family, or other obligations. If this sounds like you, make sure to carve time out in your day to burrow in your safe place.
8.Mark the passage of time.Traumaversaries are often much more intense than other days of the year. The part of the brain that reacts to trauma is not the best at telling time. So for people who experience triggers and flashbacks, our brains tend to freeze us in the time/place of the traumatic event. Just remember that this too shall pass. At some point these feelings, this day, week, month, or year will be over and you will be able to rest.
9. Grounding techniques. Your mental-health toolkit will be very helpful during this time. Your “toolkit” is any healthy grounding/self-care/coping mechanisms that you lean on when times get tough. Whether you’re just feeling a little off, or completely struggling to stay centered in the present. It’s okay if you need to take care of yourself more than usual right now.
10. Be kind to yourself. If you’re feeling low, don’t be so hard on yourself. Remind yourself that it’s okay to feel unpleasant emotions, and it’s okay to miss a beat (or many). You’re a human who has been through a lot this year. Anniversaries of traumatic incidents are a lot to begin with, on top of the continuing pandemic. You’re allowed to not be okay. The dishes and monitoring of your little one’s screen time might need to be put on the back burner. Your well-being is worth it, and you deserve to process what this one-year mark means for you.
11. Ask for help if you need it. This one can be a doozy because it does require a certain amount of vulnerability. But it is vital. If you are struggling, please ask for help. Or even just reach out to someone enough that they can support you in seeking help. Create an emergency plan with your loved ones so that they know exactly how to support you when you’re in crisis. Do not hesitate to reach out to us for referrals to mental health professionals if you need to. And if you are currently in crisis, please call the crisis hotline at 800-273-8255.
Sometimes even when we try all of these tips it still doesn’t quite take the edge off of the traumaversary sting. If this seems to be the case for you, please remember that you are doing your best and that is more than enough for right now.You are getting through it. You are surviving a pandemic. That in itself is a monumental feat.
This article was written for us by a guest blogger, Emily Graham, from Mighty Moms. To learn more about Emily, check out her website.
The journey to parenthood can be paved with both excitement and apprehension. Especially when parents are navigating this transition in the middle of an already stressful pandemic.
If you have friends or family members who are in the middle of such an experience, you can provide the support and compassion they need to stay afloat. You may just need a little more information to do so safely, and these resources from Tree Town Doulas can guide you.
Remind Them That They’re Not Alone
The pandemic and all of the social fallout: we’re all experiencing this trauma collectively. Even if we’re dealing with our own set of struggles, including pregnancy. Your loved one may need a little extra love and support right now, so consider sending gifts or even words of compassion.
Your friend may appreciate a gift of comfort, like soft undies for home or the hospital.
Or perhaps a thoughtful gift of cozy loungewear from a gender-neutral company.
You could also offer to set up regular virtual dates to provide more social connection.
Understand Challenges of Pregnancy
While gifts and social connections are helpful, being able to understand and empathize with what your friend is going through can be even more powerful. If you’re not sure what sort of stressors they may be facing, you can do some research to find out.
Depression can be very common both during and after pregnancy for various reasons.
Expectant parents may also be more vulnerable to anxiety but self-care can help.
The risks for COVID complications are also higher, which can cause even more stress.
Black parents are at an even greater risk for complications and even mortality.
Keep Parents, Newborns and Yourself Safe
It’s normal to want to be there for your loved one when they are pregnant during such uncertain times. But it’s important to remember that we’re still very much in the middle of this pandemic. Which means you all need to take the proper precautions to keep your interactions safe.
A gift of non-toxic hand sanitizer from afar can help new parents and babies stay safe.
You can also provide loved ones with online resources from sites like Tree Town Doulas.
While we’re all sailing through this pandemic ocean together, try to remember that we’re all in different boats and on different waves. Your loved ones’ experiences and worries may be quite different from your own. Particularly if they are preparing for parenthood amidst all of the chaos and uncertainty. This is why compassion and understanding are so important, and why you need to lead with these sentiments when offering your support.
Tree Town Doulas can help new parents build confidence, and provide the tools and resources both new and expectant parents need to ensure more positive experiences.
We may be nearing the end of Black History Month, but the influence of Black folks in birth work and every other aspect of society continues 365 days a year. Black History Month is a time to recognize the pivotal role that Black folks have played all throughout history, and celebrate the richness they have cultivated, despite society’s continuous efforts to hide their accomplishments. However, it’s not enough to stop at just Black History Month. We need to continue celebrating Black folks in the past and present as well as making sure that our doula practices are accessible to Black parents. For us, creating equity is a continuous and intentional act of centering the voices and needs of marginalized communities in our doula work.
When it comes to our particular field of work as doulas, if you haven’t seen the statistics that have been zooming across news outlets and social media: Black parents are dying at 3-4 times the rate of white parents, and Black babies are twice as likely to die during childbirth as white babies.Furthermore:
“Education and income offer little protection. In fact, a black woman with an advanced degree is more likely to lose her baby than a white woman with less than an eighth-grade education.”
-Linda Villarosa, New York Times
It’s not okay. And it’s horrifying. There’s no explanation/reason that could ever make this statistic okay or any less devastating. Black parents deserve better.
(To learn more about HOW this happens, be sure to read this article from Lamaze International. They do a great job of breaking down the statistics, the vibrant history of Black Midwives in the US, and their importance in modern America.)
That being said, it’s not enough to simply state that we’re allies of Black parents. “Ally” isn’t just a label that we can pin to our chests and call it a day. It’s a constant commitment to equity, growth, and advocacy. And beyond that, a promise to uplift justice, action, healing, and mindfulness. A simple label won’t absolve our communities of the weight of the maternal mortality crisis, or the racism that still exists in every aspect of our society. That weight is inter-generational, centuries in the making, and has existed since Africans were first brought across the sea against their will as part of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
Here at Tree Town Doulas we want to say thank you to all the Black birth workers that have paved the way, from Margaret Charles Smith to Racha Tahani Lawler. If you’re a Black birth worker and would like to connect to gain experience, exchange resources/networks, or more please don’t hesitate to reach out!
If you’re a non-Black birth worker committed to change but don’t know where to start: Check out this article that amplifies the words of DONA’s Black doulas themselves. This article might be a few years old, but it’s still applicable. An oldie but goodie.
To Black people who are looking to be parents and are looking for a doula for their birthing process, we will actively work to hear you and center your needs. We understand that we’re not a fully Black staff, so if you’re in southeast Michigan, below is a list of Black birth workers and parenting groups in the area.
Black Birthworkers and Parenting Groups in Southeast Michigan
Our Village: African American Expectant and New Mom Group
There’s nothing quite so powerful as a story. In particular, our own personal stories. The vulnerability we create by sharing and owning our stories (when we feel safe and comfortable enough to do so) holds so much power. That vulnerability opens up opportunities to learn alongside each other, but also to open minds, change opinions, and empower others. It gives us permission to feel, to dig into the deepest depths of ourselves, to question, grieve, play, laugh, empathize, and to explore. And in many cases, reveals to us the true beauty and complexity of what is within our reach in in every day life. With a single collection of words, our stories (and we ourselves) have the ability to fulfill one of our most basic human needs: the need to feel like we belong, and to know that we are not alone.
So here is your friendly reminder: You are not alone.
Regardless of where you are in your parenting/life journey, you are not alone. We’re in your corner. There comes a point in every journey where we need to lean on the wisdom of others, and if you’re there right now (and also if you’re not!), that’s totally okay. As doulas, we have our own stories, but we have also witnessed the many successes and struggles of other families too. And if there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that parenting can be hard, and sometimes we all need a little extra TLC. That’s where we come in. Of course we love getting to meet your beautiful baby, but we’re also here to check on YOU. To help you get your needs met while you look after your little one. We know that if parents are nurtured and cared for, their babies will be too. We are professionally trained to support parents without judgement and in ways that make sense for their unique relationships with their babies. We don’t have an agenda for how we think you “should” parent because we know that parenting is already hard enough. We don’t expect you to be perfect or to know everything. We don’t judge, and we know that sometimes you’ll want to think of something other than parenting. Above all else, we embrace and honor whatever decisions you have made for you and your family. Instead of giving you directions, we walk with you. We’re just here to listen and to help.