This is the sixth in a series of stories about how you can use the myStrength wellness portal and app to enhance your emotional well-being. In this installment, Jeremy Hornberger, family programs specialist in the Johns Hopkins Office of Benefits & Worklife, addresses pregnancy and early parenting.
Pregnancy, child birth, and early parenting are roller coaster journeys in regular circumstances. The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the highs and lows along each. Everyone is adjusting, re-adjusting, and transitioning as we do our best to navigate these turbulent times. Expecting and new parents are experiencing a level of stress that no one could have prepared them for.
When you are anticipating welcoming a new member into your family, the framework for how the time "should" look may no longer seem attainable. The "it takes a village" motto is uttered in every new parenting circle. Now, parents, families, friends, and communities are doing their best to creatively show support—with virtual baby showers, family Zoom calls, and drive-by hellos and congratulations, etc.
For some, parenthood is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, full of preconceived expectations. Pandemic or not, cherish this time, find the sparkles of joy throughout the tiny moments, and hold onto them because they are what matter. (But also, you are going to have one heck of a story to tell your children some day!)
Mental health issues and challenges are on the rise, which is why it is so important to name the emotions you feel, identify their triggers, and reach out for help when those emotions become too much. The silver lining during this pandemic is that more resources have become available, mental health is being talked about on a public stage, and parents are feeling more empowered to seek help.
While there is no checklist or guide for navigating this challenging time, there is some commonality in experiences and resources that can help you through. Find what works for you and your family. Your best is enough.
1. Prepare. Focus on what can be controlled in this moment and planned at this time.
- Talk to your supervisor about leave, your return from leave, and the expectations for remote work, if applicable.
- Contact your benefits service center if you have questions about your health insurance plans or how to add a dependent to your coverage.
- Research and choose a pediatrician who will help you understand guidelines for office visits as well as telehealth possibilities.
- If you're planning to chest/breastfeed, explore personal pump options. Register for the Lactation Support Program if you will need access to lactation rooms on campus. +Visit the websites of your insurance company and Johns Hopkins HR for additional information and resources.
Who in your immediate "COVID-19 bubble" can offer assistance? When people ask how they can help or what you may need, be honest. Ask for meal deliveries (not all at once), grocery delivery, pet care, lawn care, or even have a neighbor/friend do a socially distanced pickup of laundry to be returned the next day washed and folded. Gift certificates for food delivery or cleaning services may be more valuable to you than another cute outfit, so add them to your baby registry. People want to help because it makes them feel involved; this is the time to think ahead about what would help you the most.
2. Feel. Along with experiencing the excitement and joy of welcoming a new member into your family, it is normal to feel stressed and overwhelmed at a time of uncertainty. You may grieve for missed celebrations or what you envisioned this journey would have been. You may worry about how the birth experience will go, or what the first weeks at home will be like. As these emotions unfold, try not to rush through them; give yourself time to process. Welcome all the emotions you experience. Allow space for them, acknowledge them, pay attention to triggers, and use the resources in your tool box to cope with them. This will feel different for everyone, so remember to be kind to yourself.
3. Support. It is normal to feel overwhelmed or anxious during pregnancy, childbirth, and the parenting years, and during this time of COVID-19, these feelings may be heightened. If anxiety, worry, sadness, hopelessness, loneliness, or even rage become too much, seek help. The Johns Hopkins employee assistance program, mySupport, is available to you and your family members. Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders can affect any new parent or partner; Postpartum Support International can be a great resource. Other support groups offer everything from hot and warm lines to teletherapy and telehealth appointments.
4. Connect. Set up your social support network now. Family and friends may not be able to visit in person, but they can help in other ways. Virtual baby showers and other online social gatherings can be just as important as other types of mental health support. Identify those in your circle who you can trust to laugh with, and to share your feelings and experiences with, on both the good and bad days. Try a few online support groups to see which may be the best fit for you.
5. Celebrate. There are some moments that even a global pandemic cannot take away. Treasure the joy this time can bring. Change the narrative; perhaps the world's slowing down is a plus, allowing you to focus on you and your family. Take pictures. Consider journaling (or use your photos as your journal). Be kind to yourself. Acknowledge how much you have accomplished. Hold on to your happiness, your gratitude, and your resilience.
Among the resources available to support you and your family's emotional health during this time is a free app called myStrength, which can be downloaded from the Apple App Store or Google Play. To create an account, use your Johns Hopkins email address and the access code JHU or JHHS, depending on your affiliation.
The myStrength app offers you the ability to do regular emotional health "check-ins" to track your well-being. This feature can be especially useful now, as you face this challenging time.
It also provides a number of focus areas such as Pregnancy & Early Parenting, which covers the changes parenthood brings, mindfulness and relaxation for parents, managing mood, unexpected challenges, stories of hope, and more. Each topic is broken down into self-paced modules that can be done whenever you choose. A module dedicated to COVID-19, which can be found under Life Topics, focuses on strategies, tips, and information on coping with and processing common feelings and experiences during this time.
Now, more than ever, self-care and focusing on what you can control are crucial.
For more support, remember that the Johns Hopkins employee assistance program, mySupport, is available at 443-997-7000 to assist employees and their family members. In addition, Family Support Services offers employees a variety of resources and information on such topics as benefits, availability and affordability of child care, backup care, adoption assistance, lactation support, and more. Contact the team at firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-516-2000.