Meet Peggy Chen
A licensed clinical social worker in a health tech company and a first time mom with a handsome 12 months baby boy, residing in the East Bay of San Francisco Bay Area. In our Meet The Mamas Series, Peggy shares her transformative journey into motherhood, her precious bond with her son, her experience with postpartum anxiety and how she overcame them.
How long was your recovery after giving birth? Did you run into any challenges? What helped your recovery the most?
I'm not really sure how one would measure "recovery" because I think physically I recovered pretty quickly but mentally I was in a whole other head space for a while. I delivered vaginally without an epidural so most of the recovery was just good ol' witch hazel sprays to the tender areas and those nice cool pads the hospital gave me. Honestly, trying not to do too much helped me the most. I noticed my bleeding was heavier if I was moving around too much (I'm used to skipping steps up the stairs and forgot I really shouldn't be doing that).
Mental recovery was about 6 months -- I think prior to my baby being half a year old, our minds were just melded together. I didn't start to feel a semblance of my old self until he was 6 months old, where I could be separate from him, staring at myself in the bathroom mirror and say "oh hey I know that girl." Interesting fact is that my therapist told me around 6 months is when our babies start to really understand that they are separate from us.
How symbolic that the moment our babies realize we are separate that we begin to feel it too.
What are some products or support you wish you had when you got home that first week after giving birth? What was really helpful in making your life easier as a new mom?
Looking back, I wish I had better nursing tops and ditched nursing bras entirely. My little guy nursed so frequently and all I had were a few nursing tank tops and a ton of hand-me-down nursing bras from my sister. But since it was the middle of November, it was getting cold and I would have to layer over the tank tops but struggle to try to get my boobs ready and available for my crying hungry baby.
What was super helpful was that my parents ordered a traditional 40 day Chinese postpartum meal delivery service for me so it was just a matter of popping the food in the microwave and heating it up for all 3 meals of the day. I didn't have to worry about what to eat.
What are some of your favorite self care rituals to do postpartum?
I think once my OB cleared me, I took a nice hot bath. I hadn't taken a lot of baths during pregnancy because I was so paranoid of the water being too hot and not safe so I really looked forward to taking baths postpartum. The other huge one was finding a really good therapist.
I would love to hear your thoughts/experiences with getting help from family or friends. Did you have help, and what was it like? What would you have done differently in terms of getting help from family or friends?
My mom came to stay with us for a month a little after I gave birth. It was helpful but I also realized later on that I honestly didn't need that much help in the very beginning. Our baby didn't have many needs other than nursing, sleeping, diaper changes.
My mom kept trying to hold the baby for me so I could "do other things" and I would have this strong maternal instinct to not want to let him go. I wanted to hold him all the time and I understood my mom thought I needed a break, but I ended up having a hard conversation with my mom about what help looked like. I told her I really needed her to do other things like empty the dishwasher or laundry and let me continue to hold and nurse my baby.
I think if I could've done it differently, I would've set those expectations early. There's a reason why there's this instinctual urge to be by your baby 24/7 in the beginning: it's natural and normal and you BOTH need that closeness.
Did you experience any baby blues or postpartum anxiety or depression? Do you have any advice for new mothers struggling with postpartum anxiety or depression?
I had a TON of postpartum anxiety. The funny thing is, as a licensed clinical social worker, I was prepared to make my maternal mental health my top priority. Close friends and family members had suffered from postpartum depression and I was scared I would too. Little did I know, the other side of that coin is postpartum anxiety. I second guessed every single decision I made, Googled the same questions over and over again. Why was it that this thing that was supposed to come naturally to me felt like it wasn't? My therapist challenged me to not Google ANYTHING for an entire week and it was surprisingly hard. She also suggested just finding one source of truth and she recommended Kellymom.com which was the only thing I scoured when I was on my Google fast.
For new moms, definitely find a therapist ASAP. I actually did some research while I was pregnant and was planning to get connected to the therapist before giving birth so that I could have that support immediately. It's really hard to find a therapist when you're in the thick of postpartum depression or anxiety, so if you're pregnant now, do the research while you still can, get connected to one before giving birth.
What's the worst advice you've gotten for postpartum & early motherhood?
I still look back on this piece of advice and I rue the day I was given it: don't let them fall asleep in your arms. This was in response to me texting someone "why won't he sleep in his bassinet? He won't let me put him down!" and their advice was that they were really mindful to never let their baby fall asleep in someone's arms so that they would get used to falling asleep independently in a bassinet. Imagine me constantly trying to sneak my few-week-old newborn into a Dock-a-Tot after he happily fell asleep in the safety of his mother's arms -- he would wake immediately and cry and I felt like a failure. I honestly hold so much guilt and anger still about how much time I tried to transfer my sleeping newborn into another place and wish I had held him more while he slept. Luckily, there were days where I said, "screw this" and contact napped for all his naps. Sometimes, I'll go back and look at pictures from his newborn days and feel relieved that I actually probably held him for more naps than I can remember. You can never hold your baby too much.
What's the best advice you've gotten for postpartum & early motherhood?
The first one is to just trust your instinct, trust your gut, forget what other advice people give you. I remember joining a ton of Facebook mom groups and whenever I'd ask a question, the plethora of differing advice was overwhelming. Sleep train, don't sleep train. Burp after feed, don't burp after feed. Swaddle, don't swaddle. Pacifier, no pacifier. How could there be so much contradictory advice out there? Probably because babies are human beings and not robots and there is no one-size-fits-all advice. You are the best mom for your baby and you know what's best. It's wired into our DNA to respond to them how we know and feel is best. If it doesn't feel right to you, you don't have to do it. If it feels natural and gives you peace, do it. The baby product industry is designed to make you feel inadequate as a mother so you'll constantly second guess yourself. There are no true experts. People have been raising babies for millenia and across a multitude of cultures.
The second best advice is to use your Live Photos feature if you have an iPhone! Mostly because after a while they start moving so much you can't get a good photo but also you get a tiny video of a snapshot of their life. It's wonderful.
Any closing advice for someone who's just about to be a new mom?
I'm closing my eyes and imagining what I wish I could've told myself when I was a new mom and it's this: you are going to be an amazing mom even if you don't feel like it. Everything you are worrying about will feel like a distant memory soon. Please, for the love of all things good, be present. Breathe in that smell of your baby's head, tell yourself to really try to memorize that feeling of their tiny hands wrapped around your finger for the first time. You'll miss all those moments as they get older, even some of the hard ones. Put down your cell phone, try to take a mental snapshot of these moments. They really go by so fast.
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