Tuesday, September 4, 2012
P.S. #7: My Mom and Me--Anonymous
My mom and I have had very different postpartum experiences. Despite my baby’s stressful diagnosis with a rare genetic condition, my post-partum months were void of the baby blues. My mom experienced differing levels of deep depression after the births of all five of her children. The worst was after the birth of my younger brother. It is a story that my sister told me, and one that I was too young to remember.
My dad was working hard and traveling internationally for long periods of time. My mom was the mother of three little girls and a brand new baby boy. Pregnancy and her body never seemed to get along well. There were several miscarriages, hormone therapy, and every successful pregnancy ended via C-section (despite all of her efforts to avoid them). The postpartum period never was smooth sailing either but this time was the worst. My sister (who was six at the time) remembers hearing mom crying at the top of the stairs. When she got there she saw mom holding a gun and rocking back and forth sobbing. My sweet sister says that she sat beside our mother and patted her back as she exclaimed through her tears “my kids deserve better.”
Eventually the gun was put away and my mom, with her small daughter’s help, came down the stairs. I don’t think my dad ever knew about the gun, but from long-distance calls home he realized things were falling apart. I will forever be grateful that he risked his job and came home.
As you can imagine the thought of post-partum depression terrified me as I approached the birth of my son. However, as the months passed by following his arrival I realized that I was escaping that particular demon. I remember literally breathing a sigh of relief. Now as we are pondering adding another little bundle to our family I find myself comparing my experience to my mother’s. Why did she get hit so hard with postpartum depression several times and I never got so much as the baby blues? Will it be different this next time around? Pondering these questions has given me some insights that I think might be useful to others as well as myself. There is no sure fire way to prevent postpartum depression, (the contributing factors are a mix of the chemical, emotional, and physical) but I do feel strongly that the expectant mother and her loved ones can do something to prevent it.
The main difference between our experiences is that my mother was alone, emotionally and physically, and I was not. I realize that a new mother can be surrounded by family and loved ones and still experience terrible depression. However, I strongly believe that the absence of a good support network makes any hard time worse. For months after our son’s birth I was blessed to have steady support from family who would, from time to time, do our laundry, invite us to dinner, or hold our baby so I could nap. They gave an abundance of emotional support with the trials of breastfeeding, and other new baby struggles. I wasn’t forgotten and they showed it. Never was a negative comment made about my ever changing body shape, or my disheveled look. There was no pressure for me to be anything but healthy and happy. My sweet husband and I became more of a team than ever before. He made it clear that this new little baby was his responsibility too, and that he didn’t expect me to do it alone, emotionally or physically. He never made me feel bad that my emotions were unpredictable. I felt the freedom to walk this new path as I felt best, with the support of others but never with their judgments. It also helped that I had an outlet in the form of an enjoyable class a few hours a week. It wasn’t anything stressful but it gave me a time to think about a subject I was deeply interested in outside of motherhood.
I admit that it seems ideal and that not every postpartum situation can be that way. My mom had had few if any mental breaks during any of her postpartum times. The stress of running a small sheep farm plagued by coyote attacks and caring for several young children weighed heavily on her. Furthermore her perfectionist nature prevented her from seeking help or allowing herself to be satisfied with less than “the best.”
My plea is that women will realize that it is good, sometimes even needed, to ask for help and let people see us in our most tired, spit-up covered, and frazzled state. And that an abundance of love and support would be offered to even the most seemingly strong and put-together of new moms. In doing so we will not only help carry a burden but we will also make room for an increase in the joy that is so unique to that time.