In yesterday’s post I shared the struggles I had after my son was born, and how I came to the realization, some years later, that my symptoms and mental health state would have qualified for a diagnosis of Postpartum Depression. As I mentioned, what I took from this was a realization that it wasn’t just me; I wasn’t just strange, or different, or incompetent and, most importantly, I wasn’t alone in this. I have come to understand that lots of moms, first-time or otherwise, struggle with this. And it is a nightmare, a hard road to walk alone. However, knowing what I now know, I realize how treatable it is, and how much isolation and internal suffering I could have been spared if I had been able to ask for help. If I could go back in time I would likely choose to seek out some kind of support, probably a counsellor or some other mental health professional, to help me through it. I now understand how helpful this can be.
I managed, however, to come out on the other side, relatively unscathed. And as I have reflected on how it was that this was possible, it is these three things that come to mind. These are, in my opinion, what saved me:
1) I decided to join a “Mommy and Me” fitness class that met at the local community centre, near my home. My goal was fitness, not social interaction or to improve my mental health state, but these often come together, thankfully. My son and I could walk there, and all of the exercises were done with the baby strapped to you, or using the baby as a prop. It was fun, and helped me to get out of the house and meet other moms with young babies, but best of all, when I timidly asked some of these other moms if they wanted to go to Starbucks afterward, many of them responded with a resounding yes, and so this became a weekly ritual. We were not only able to engage in adorable exercise (our babies would laugh and squeal and make eyes at each other and us while we bounced around), but also a lovely walk, great conversation and good coffee. I don’t think any of those moms knew how much that time truly meant to me.
2) A married couple from our church had us and some other young families all over once a week, just to feed us soup and love on us and our kids. They called it “Soup Group.” It was once a week—one whole evening each week that I didn’t have to make dinner, and didn’t have to think about the horrors that awaited me at bedtime, and that I could simply be loved on. Another wonderful gift.
3) My in-laws would have us over for sleepovers at their home during this early, vulnerable time. This package deal would include that they, his loving grandparents, would put their weeks-old grandson to bed, AND get up with him in the night and bring him to me for nursing, then clean and change him before bundling him back into bed. On those nights I slept like a dream (between feedings, of course).
While not everyone has access to this type of “saving,” or is lucky enough to have people in their lives to seek them out and find them when they need to be found, my hope is that if you are there or have been there, or if you find yourself there someday soon, you will know you are not alone and that there is a lot of help out there, whatever form it takes for you. I think people are less likely to be open about the fact that they have, or had, postpartum depression, because they are so worried that no one will understand why sometimes they feel like they hate their baby, and feel like they are in a black hole, and don’t know what to do, when they “should” feel over the moon that they have a precious, new, perfect baby. The reality is this: you are not alone. Seek help; don’t be in this by yourself. Seek out someone who is trained to handle this—a mental health professional who can walk you through this dark time, and friends, family, community. Reach out and let someone grab you. Let someone make soup for you and love you. They don’t have to know the details, but they can just hold you when you are scared and feeling alone. And trust me, they really, really want to.