Welcoming a new baby to the family can be overwhelming especially when also managing a chronic condition. Parents must quickly learn how to juggle diaper changes, breastfeeding, and sleepless nights with remembering to take the proper medications, maintaining a healthy diet, and keeping stress levels low. That’s why we went straight to the source and asked three seasoned mothers with chronic illnesses how they made it work.
Make professional help a priority. Bethany Fields battled generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), major depressive disorder (MDD), and rheumatoid arthritis for years before becoming a parent. But when her son, Kemper, was born in 2010, she knew it was finally time to seek help. “I had a breakdown in his hospital room,” says Fields, “so the head of pediatrics referred me to a therapist.” With her therapist’s help, Fields learned how to self-soothe and keep the worst of her anxiety at bay. “I do ‘square breathing,’ which is a technique of self-calming,” she says. “And I write down what would realistically happen in a situation instead of catastrophic, crazy thinking.”
Don’t freeze out your partner. When puberty struck, Elizabeth Bruenig developed epilepsy. Although her seizures are now well controlled, sleep loss was a major seizure trigger after she gave birth to her daughter. Bruenig and her husband came up with a plan that would allow her to get as much sleep as possible while still being able to breastfeed. “We devised a system where I would pump during the day, take shifts feeding her, and nap when necessary,” she says.
See a specialist. After a rough pregnancy with constant morning sickness, followed by a life- threatening delivery, Catherine Ashley started her life as a new mom “depleted and exhausted,” she says. When she continued to struggle with severe joint pain, depression, and stomach cramps throughout the first year of her daughter’s life, Ashley made an appointment with a specialist, who diagnosed her with lupus and celiac disease. She changed her diet and adopted a new vitamin regimen and after just a few months, she felt better than she had in years. Now a mother for the second time, Ashley credits her strict health regimen with a much more positive experience of mothering her newborn twins. “If I could go back in time,” she says, “I would have made self-care a much bigger priority.”