When I received the confirmation that my patients on the psychiatric unit would not be returning due to the COVID-19 virus, the prospect of my working from home became a reality. I had been preparing for this, and I began to set in motion all the pieces necessary in order to do therapy from home and homeschool our children.
Although I was as anxious as anyone about the virus, I felt a strange familiarity setting in. This wouldn’t be the first time that my work and home life boundaries blurred. Nor was this the first time I would be staying at home for days on end with minimal contact with others, or worrying about catching something that could harm loved ones. I realized I was strangely prepared, thanks to an experience that most would not associate with a deadly virus outbreak: the experience of childbirth.
It almost feels like a betrayal to talk negatively about pregnancy and child birth, however I can’t imagine I am alone in feeling that those experiences left battle scars that trigger déjà vu as we struggle during this outbreak. During most women’s pregnancies, her physical well-being becomes a consuming central focus, leading her to look for threats in once innocuous sources such as make-up and sunlight. Today, everyone is grappling with the need to avoid things we took for granted, like restaurant take-out bags and Ubers. Similarly, the recent abrupt change in lifestyle due to the virus, though jarring, is nothing new for most parents. The absolute freedom to go where you want, when you want, without much thought is a luxury you don’t get back for a really, really, I mean REALLY long time. Sound familiar? As we’re all living that restriction now I can’t help but wonder whether others are also reminded of that familiar bind of sacrificing and adapting for the ones you love.
Today, as I feel my limits being pushed and my emotional stretch marks growing, I run through the list of skills that I picked up during the process of becoming a parent to remind myself of each ingredient that now constitute my personal recipe of resilience. As a typical mom and a psychologist, I wish to share those ingredients with you with the hope that, like a time-honored family recipe, you enjoy the outcome and modify them to your own taste and liking.
Presenting my five ingredients of resilience, borne from childbirth, and rendered during the time of COVID-19 (aka, Crowning to Corona Soup):
1 cup of Basic Values, finely diced:
With the birth of our twins, as my husband and I struggled to make sense of our delirious, sleep-deprived lives, every day we toasted to a basic indication of success: our daughters’ survival. That was it. Not that they were given the best organic foods or being taught with sensory flash cards, but that, at the end of the day, we managed to keep them alive. Five years later, as we attempt to homeschool two kindergartners, never has the basic focus on survival ever been more pertinent. Focusing on one or two important things gives direction amidst the chaos.
1lb of Flexibility, shredded:
If you ever want to see God laugh, make a birth plan. With my second pregnancy, I didn’t even know I had a birth plan until it became apparent that I was not going to get an epidural in time. Though it took some time (ok, a lot of time) to get over the bitterness of having to practice some of the greatest acceptance of my life, I eventually came to appreciate the need to adapt to the unexpected. Never is it more important to practice flexibility in our expectations than today. Ever thought you would need to come up with creative alternatives to toilet paper? Yeah, me neither.
6 Tbsp of Organic Forgiveness:
Oh, the mommy guilt. CONSTANT. Couldn’t pump enough milk. Didn’t read to them enough. Left them in the diaper too long. What isn’t there to feel bad about? The thing is: guilt can actually be a helpful emotion, encouraging you to be the best you can be. However, like an office holiday party, it must be handled responsibly and with appropriate expectations. Didn’t get through all your kids’ assignments? It happens. Showed up in pajamas during your Zoom meeting? At least you showed up. Accepting that you will make mistakes is one of the most important and kindest things you could do for yourself during this time.
1 Tsp of Sweet and Sour Purpose:
Is it too much to ask to be able to sneeze without crossing your legs? Apparently, after having three kids, it sure is. As happens for most mothers, my body changed after giving birth and, while I expected wider hips and stretch marks, I didn’t expect to have to push in a hernia every time I cough. I don’t like these changes, but each little kiss and cuddle helps me accept these realities. Today, we have to make big sacrifices, like not celebrating birthdays or grieving at funerals together, or compromising our personal safety in order to do our job or support others. Connecting with a purpose can help mitigate the resentment that may come along with our current reality.
A pinch of Routine:
When my husband and I first had our daughters, we kept a log of each feeding and diaper change for the first month. Pages and pages of information: milk ounces, feeding times, even the side on which they were fed, one set for each daughter. I happened to find these logs the other day and couldn’t help but chuckle. Were these logs at all necessary? Absolutely not. But were they helpful in creating some semblance of routine and control over the chaos? Yes, yes they were. We are living in uncertain times and creating a schedule can help us feel like we are controlling what little we can.
My hope in making this comparison between having a child and surviving COVID-19 is not to scare off those contemplating having kids (although, given this comparison, some might want to give pause). Rather, I hope that it will serve as a reminder that the most challenging years of your life, including but not at all limited to childbirth, have given you skills and experience to draw from to help you not only survive this uncertain time, but thrive. Parents, and anyone else who has experienced similar challenges, are more prepared for this change than they may realize. I hope you take time to identify the ingredients of your recipe for resilience and make a nice batch today.
Lukin Center Psychotherapy Offers Tele-Therapy
To help support our community, we are offering a 15% discount for new patients that are interested in getting started with tele-health to help manage feelings of anxiety and isolation during this time.
Dr. Paula Yanes-Lukin, Ph.D., is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist at Lukin Center for Psychotherapy, and her research and treatment focus on mood and anxiety related disorders. Dr. Paula Yanes-Lukin, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychology in the division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center/New York State Psychiatric Institute. She is the Director of Psychology at the Youth Treatment and Evaluation of Anxiety and Mood (Y-TEAM) Program/Children’s Day Unit (CDU), a day treatment and research program that offers evidence-based assessments and treatments for children and adolescent who are struggling due to difficulties with mood and anxiety. She has received several awards, including the Mark Diamond Research Grant (two time recipient), and the Arthur A. Schomberg Fellowship. Dr. Yanes-Lukin’s clinical experience includes individual, group, and family therapy with adult and adolescent populations, in both inpatient and outpatient settings. She specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and behavioral activation for depression, as well as CBT for anxiety disorders in adolescents and adults. She uses evidence-based techniques in a warm and accepting atmosphere to elicit the best outcomes for her patients.