Kori Zwaagstra: Tips For New Moms

Kori Zwaagstra: Tips for New Moms | 8th Annual Mother's Day Rally for Mental Health -postpartumprogress.com

postpartum depression, mother's day rally, maternal mental healthHey there sweet momma—Happy Mother’s Day!  Since it is your FIRST mother’s day I’m sure you will be soaking up every single snuggle, smile and coo.  Relish in thoughtfully written cards, gorgeous flowers and a fancy lunch somewhere.  I’m sure you are happier than you’ve ever been, more fulfilled and floating on clouds.

What, you aren’t 100% blissful?  Perhaps tired, maybe a little cranky and deep down you may be questioning that this new reality is actually your life now.  Good news—that is totally okay!  Momming is hard and you are pretty new so I figured you might appreciate a couple tips from someone who’s been around the block.

It is awesome if you ask for help

Take it from this Type A, doesn’t need to count on anyone for anything gal, it does actually does take a village.  Allow you spouse to be your partner in all things, actually take a family member or friend up on the offer to bring a meal, fold your laundry, or sit with the baby so you can go to Target.

You can’t be everything to everyone. 

Some things will change now that you are a momma.  Priorities shift and you should begin practicing NO.  No can be your friend and save you lots of stress from doing things you didn’t really want to do or shouldn’t be doing.  No isn’t rude and doesn’t make you a bad person.  It does make you a momma who is practicing healthy boundaries and putting herself and her family first.

You will mess up

You’ve never done this before!  Thankfully your new baby has never done this whole being alive thing before either so together you will get through!  Read books, consult with your pediatrician, but know that you were entrusted with this tiny human for a very deliberate purpose. 

This will be the most amazing challenge. 

There will be days you believe with every fiber of your being you aren’t cut out for this.  There will be days when the universe aligns for the feeling of the most monumental triumph.  There will be lots of in-between days too.  No matter the day it is THE journey of a lifetime and a blessing to be called Mom.



The Annual Mother’s Day Rally for Moms’ Mental Health is presented by Postpartum Progress, a national nonprofit that raises awareness & provides peer support for women who have postpartum depression and all other mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth. To see some of the ways we provide moms support, visit http://postpartumprogress.org/community/.

Things That Don’t Matter When You Have a Newborn

It is easy in this day and age to get bogged down with what everyone else tells us we should be doing when we bring our baby home for the first time. As soon as we cross the threshold, we read and are told what should matter to us. It can be overwhelming.

Things That Don’t Matter When You Have a Newborn

Things That Don't Matter When You Have a Newborn -postpartumprogress.com

How clean your house is.

Yes, people will come by to see the baby. You will feel the need to go into full hostess mode, but resist! These people should not care about the stack of dishes in the sink, the piles of clean and dirty laundry, or the overflowing recyclable bin. Is there a clear path from your bed, to the bathroom, to the nursery? Then you’re doing just fine.

What you’re wearing.

I don’t even know Pinterest boards exist for new mommy fashion. I wore one specific pair of pajama pants for a week straight because everything else irritated my c-section incision. The only reason I changed my shirt was because I was getting spit up on. Wearing real, fashionable clothes after you have a baby will seem like a magical unicorn. Nothing is comfortable, you have no body type—unless squishy is a body type—and no one even cares. If you find yourself having to go out in public, just hold the baby in front of you. No one will notice that you’re wearing fleece pants with penguins on them and your husband’s t-shirt.

What you look like.

Your hormones go absolutely bananas after having a baby. Your skin will either look like Cindy Crawford’s or Buzz from Home Alone; there is no in between. Your hair will fall out. You will have dark circles under your eyes. My sister had a baby last week. I FaceTimed with her the other night and commented that she looked like she was absolutely glowing. “Thanks,” she said. “It’s sweat.”

What your mother or mother-in-law think you should be doing.

These women will find their way into your home. They will hover over you. They will buzz around your house. Most of the time they will be helpful, but every now and then they will tsk-tsk something you are doing. “Don’t sleep with the baby on your chest!” “Warm the bottles on the stove top!” “Sleep when the baby sleeps!” They will comment on how you dress the baby, how you dress yourself, how you are getting along with your partner. They will do your dishes but make sure you know that they are doing the dishes for you. However, they will also probably feed you, so this is all generally allowed. Just take every piece of advice with a grain of salt and remember that the last time these women had babies, it was also still acceptable to smoke while pregnant.


The absolute only thing that matters when you have a baby is that you and the baby are happy and healthy. Every morning (morning being a loose term when you have a newborn), you should wake up with one priority: To keep the both of you happy and healthy.

Eventually, you’ll fall into a routine. You’ll be able to mop the floors. Do a face mask. Get your highlights done and wear jeans.

But who cares about all that right now. You have a baby!


How Trauma Complicated My Postpartum Anxiety

How Trauma Complicated My Postpartum Anxiety -postpartumprogress.com

Anxiety left unchecked turns everything into a crisis. My postpartum anxiety mainly centered around my daughters. I was convinced that each cough, each fever, and every infection was the one that would send my daughters into the hospital.  

I constantly checked each of the girls’ foreheads. I would ask my husband daily to check to see if they felt warm. Whenever the girls would get sick, I felt so helpless and powerless.

It took lots of work to recognize that this was just fear, but old habits are hard to break. I still check both girls at night before I go to bed to make sure that they are still breathing. On the days that I leave the house before they wake up, I check in on them in the morning as well to make sure that they are still breathing.

Part of this anxiety stemmed from my own childhood.  

I lost my baby brother when I was three years old. This manifested itself in a fear that babies are very fragile. Babies don’t keep. This led to an irrational fear that my girls will die even though they are perfectly healthy.  

We had to change pediatricians after our beloved first pediatrician left medicine. When we met our new pediatrician, I let her know that I ask a lot more questions than the average mom. I told her that I struggle with anxiety and that my anxiety is heightened around my daughters’ health. For each doctor visit, I prepare a list of questions for the doctor. This helps me to focus on the questions I need to ask and to keep the anxiety at bay.

Another part of my anxiety stems from my youngest daughter’s medical condition. The day before I was to return to work from maternity leave, she was admitted into our local children’s hospital for a urinary tract infection. She has bladder reflux which makes her prone to urinary tract infections. Since she was less than three months old, our pediatrician admitted her into the hospital to be treated with IV antibiotics. Untreated urinary tract infections can lead to kidney infections which made me as a second time mama freak out. What if it developed into something worse?

Then I felt guilty. My daughter was on the wing with kids who struggle with epilepsy and other neurological disorders. So many other children were in the hospital who were seriously ill. I could eat food in my daughter’s room. I did not need to gown up prior to entering my daughter’s room. Our stay was very temporary unlike the children who had been in the hospital for months compared to our three-day stay.

It look therapy for me and lots of writing for me to find peace and catharsis from this experience. Her hospitalization traumatized me. I am so grateful that I had a pediatrician who supported our entire family during this experience of my daughter’s hospitalization and her subsequent diagnosis.  

Trauma leaves an impact on us. I had to recognize the fact that my anxiety was exacerbated by this trauma. Once I understood the root of this fear, I could manage my reactions.

Mental Illness Didn’t Crush My Dream of a Family

Mental Illness Didn't Crush My Dream of a Family -postpartumprogress.com

I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder after experiencing two manic episodes in the same month, each requiring hospitalization. At the time I was devastated and felt as though my dream of having a family had been shattered.

I knew I wanted to be a mom from a young age. I adored babysitting and loved being in charge. In my mind I’d meet the man of my dreams in college, we’d get married soon after, and when the time was right, we’d start a family.

In reality, that all did happen, with one exception.

I met the love of my life while in college. We dated for four years before he proposed. At 24, we said our vows in front of family and friends, promising to love each other in sickness and in health. Little did we know sickness wasn’t far off. We’d have just over two years of health before mental illness knocked the wind out of our nearly perfect love story.

Madness struck me before I’d even had the chance to decide that I was ready to try for a baby. My diagnosis of bipolar disorder left me wondering if I’d ever be healthy enough to be a mother. A year went by as I struggled to keep my chin above water, my depression pulling me deeper and deeper into the ocean of despair. I felt like I had nothing to live for.

My husband and parents fought hard for me. I saw countless psychiatrists, and even a noted doctor from NIMH (National Institute for Mental Health) who told me, as I sobbed in his office with my husband by my side, that I could still have children if I wanted. It was possible, he said. And staying on medication under doctor’s supervision would be a good idea.

After a year of intense suffering, I couldn’t take it any longer and finally agreed to try a medication my doctor had been recommending. It took several months for me to feel the full effects, and for my old, up-beat personality to begin to reemerge. My husband and I took things one day at a time, and when the weeks added up to a full year of stability, the year of hell began to fade into the shadows of our minds. Thoughts of pregnancy began to fill my head, and all of a sudden I was pleasantly distracted from my illness.

I’d accomplish my dream of having a family; it was so close I could taste it.

Looking back now, with two healthy kids and six years of parenting behind me, sure, I’d do things a little differently.

I was medication-free for my first pregnancy and although I did fine and had no symptoms of my bipolar disorder during the 40-weeks, the same can’t be said for the four weeks after my son was born. Postpartum psychosis ripped me from my newborn, but I was fortunate it only took a week in the psych ward to return me to my family. In hindsight, part of the problem was the pressure I put on myself to be a “perfect” mom to my new baby. Maybe if I wouldn’t have been so insistent on breastfeeding, I wouldn’t have gotten sick. Maybe if I would have let family help more with the night feedings, my mind wouldn’t have lost control of itself.

Lessons learned, I agreed to do things differently the second time around. I thought I had all the proper precautions in place. I did my research and decided that since the medication I took had the greatest risk to the fetus during the first trimester, I’d work with my doctor to taper off the med once I got a positive pregnancy test. The plan was to go back on the med in the second trimester and remain on it for the duration of the pregnancy.

Unfortunately, the exciting news of the two little pink lines sent me into a manic episode after a week-long battle with elated insomnia. I spent five days in the psych ward at five weeks pregnant battling the most severe mania I’d ever endured. The doctors brought me back from my break in reality with powerful anti-psychotic drugs and I feared I might lose my baby.

Recovery from that most recent hospitalization in April of 2010 was the most difficult. I worked closely with my doctors and my baby girl was thankfully born completely healthy. My postpartum period with her was drastically different than that of my first child, due to the plan I had put in place before she was born. We formula-fed from the start, since breastfeeding wasn’t an option anyway due to my meds. Knowing she’d be a bottle-fed baby from the moment I became pregnant made it easier to get past the sadness over not being able to breastfeed.

Since my husband and I knew that lack of sleep was my number one trigger, he did the middle-of-the-night feedings in her first few months which allowed me to get a solid chunk of quality sleep. We even had my sister-in-law stay with us for the first two weeks since she was home on a break from her job at the time, and she took the night shift. Sleep was still a challenge in those first few months, but luckily she was a great sleeper and we made it through.

One thing is certain: I didn’t let mental illness rob me of my dream of a family. My family is everything to me.

Parenting is no easy task. Throw in mental illness to manage, and it can get intense. Intense, but not impossible. There are resources out there, there is support out there. My kids are worth it all, no doubt about it. I share my story—our story, really—so that other women out there can find hope.