It is always my goal to use a lectionary text to inspire my blog posts. But today, I’m going to stray from that. My “excuse” or reasoning is that my brain is consumed these days, and my exhaustion is real as well. My second daughter, Ruth, was born 9 weeks ago, and is a delightful addition to our family. She’s also the reason that my brain is consumed and distracted and exhausted. So I want to highlight ways in which religious community is of special importance to my family right now.
I want to start with the things that I hope and assume are obvious to you. My spouse and I are members at two different churches, and we’re not attending either in person right now. In fact, we became members during the pandemic. But still, our church communities joined our wider communities in providing us with meals, gift cards for dining out, and kind encouraging words through cards and emails. One piece that has been especially appreciated is notes and sometimes even small gifts for our three year old, Leona, who is a proud big sister but also understandably dealing with some jealousy. We’ve been included in prayer requests and have received special emails and even some financial support from our congregations (for the sake of families everywhere, advocate for universal paid family leave!).
The things above have certainly all be helpful for my mental health— Craig and I have both been left a little extra space to take care of ourselves when we don’t have to cook a meal. Being reminded that we are part of a larger community that cares about us is a gift in the hard moments, too.
Some other things have been crucial to me, too, and I hope you’ll find ways to adapt them for your own relationships, whether they are families with new babies, parents in general, or others.
Any time anyone invites me to share Ruth’s birth story, and makes it clear that they really have time to listen, I’ve been so grateful. Her birth went nothing as we hoped for (different hospital, different OB, induction) and parts of the experience dealing with the medical system were awful. It has been so helpful to me to repeat the story, and to have someone be empathic in response. It has also been best when people haven’t responded with “well, at least you and Ruth are healthy!” Because yes, I’m grateful every day that we’re both healthy. But I also don’t want anyone to negate how challenging her birth was, because that’s important to me, too.
I’ve deeply appreciated whenever anyone reaches out just to acknowledge and affirm how hard it is to be a parent right now, in so many ways. We’ve dealt with many of them- cancelling enrollment at our only real daycare option because they’re not taking COVID precautions, stressors around extended family meeting Ruth due to their lack of vaccination, concerns about sending Leona to school when she could bring COVID home to her baby sister, etc. Having others say, essentially, “I know you’re dealing with a lot right now” has been such a lift to my spirit.
Finally, I want to remind us all of the value of self-disclosure. I’ve had friends and clergy reach out and say “I just want you to know that I’ve dealt with postpartum depression after the birth of both of my children, and it sucks, and so if that becomes part of your story too I want you to know that I’m here.” Anxiety and depression are both things that I carry with me daily, and so while they haven’t been particular to my postpartum experience, I’m so grateful for the people in my life who have let me know that they’ve had these diagnoses if I ever want to talk.
I am so hopeful that, through faith communities or otherwise, we can all strive to support new parents in faithful ways, and perhaps those would include some that I’ve expanded on above. I hope for a world in which one day, all parents feel surrounded by love and support. May it be so.
Hannah Campbell Gustafson
Hannah Campbell Gustafson and her family recently made a leap of faith and moved to Minneapolis, MN from rural Wisconsin. She is the outreach coordinator at Plymouth Congregational Church. Hannah is treasurer for the Mental Health Network, is trained as a social worker, has an MDiv, and is a Member in Discernment with the Southwest Association of the Wisconsin Conference of the UCC. She and her partner (an ELCA Lutheran pastor) share their lives with their young child Leona and their standard poodle puppy Óscar.