Human beings may not run in packs like wolves, but like the wilder cousin of (wo)man’s best friend, we’re social animals. That is often especially true than when we’re having a hard time.
Pregnancy can be a great time to reach out to members of your community – people who you may want to have by your side during this next phase of your life, and to solidify bonds with the people who are already part of your support system.
Social support is an important component of strong mental health, and having a strong support system in place can be a great way to make sure you have the support you need and deserve during the inevitable ups and downs of pregnancy and parenting.
It doesn’t have to look like what you expect
There are a lot of expectations surrounding who makes up your support system, both for mental health and parenthood. Your support system should include the people you want to have supporting you, not the people that others might expect.
Maybe it’s the fact that the person who usually falls into the best friend category for you is a little high-strung and is too anxious to be calming for you at this time. Maybe your mother-in-law is going to be a great grandmother, but you haven’t quite gotten past the point of “just friendly” with her so you’re not super comfortable reaching out to her during down or uncertain times. Seeking mental health support can be challenging enough, so ask people you trust and are comfortable with, even if they’re not the conventional choice.
Not asking someone for support doesn’t mean that that person isn’t important to you. Life is full of unique situations, and you’re just working out the right solution for you when it comes to this one in particular.
Asking for help is hard, and trying to articulate what kind of help you need can feel even harder. Even the people in your life who know you best can’t read your mind, so some cues from you on how to help can make everyone’s job easier. If you’re having a hard time, and think that reaching out to a close supporter might help you feel better, sitting down to make a short list of exactly what might help can give the people around you direction in terms of how best to support you.
Anything from a more general “please don’t ask me about” a certain subject because “I’ll tell you when I’m ready,” to the more specific, “I need to take a break from cooking at night until things quiet down at work” is on the table. If you don’t know what you need, even saying that and acknowledging that you are struggling can open lines of communication and support.
Give a little to get a little
The strongest support system is one that’s mutually supportive. This can be tricky in moments when you’re the person who needs help, but it’s important to remember that by being vulnerable, you are offering friends, family, and others the chance to feel more open sharing their own vulnerabilities or insecurities with you.
Everyone needs support to at some point. It can be hard to open up to a friend who seems to be on top of everything even when their life is full of challenges and changes. There’s a good chance they are struggling as well and just don’t show it. If you share some of your troubles with them, they may open up about their own struggles. Actively listening to what’s going on in the lives of the people in your support network, and doing your best to offer the kind of support they need, helps you take an active part in maintaining and developing that relationship.
Think outside the box
Your support system can include people outside of your current circles. For one thing, depending on why or how you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, talking to a therapist or trying out a support group can be really helpful. Organized groups can be a great way to get started, especially if you’re not sure how to bring up the subject with the people in your life already. Consider other groups too like childbirth, breastfeeding, or parenting classes. Seeking professional help or assistance from peers can make whatever you’re coping with feel more real – and sometimes that’s exactly what you need.
You don’t have to talk to everyone in your life about everything that’s going on with you. Maybe you identify a casual friend who can help you the most right now. Opening up might help you turn that casual friendship into a more serious one. If you’re feeling a little more cautious, you can ask that casual friend if they’re up for carpooling to get your toddler to dance class, or you can ask your sister if she wouldn’t mind taking the reins on planning the next family event. You don’t need to explain everything that’s going on with you. Instead, you can just try asking for help where you need it or where it would be most helpful to you at this time, and see what happens.
- “For friends and family members.” MentalHealth.gov. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, September 26 2017. Retrieved June 18 2018. https://www.mentalhealth.gov/talk/friends-family-members.
- “What is postpartum depression?” American Psychiatric Association. American Psychiatric Association, March 2017. Retrieved June 18 2018. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/postpartum-depression/what-is-postpartum-depression.