Well I’ve been gone from here for almost two years. I thought I’d be gone six months tops. But nothing prepares you for child #2. Oh sure, I’ve met those people who say that going from 1 to 2 was a breeze, and the real struggle was going from 0 to 1. I don’t know if those people are high on sleep deprivation or something else, but I don’t really believe they believe that. But I digress. My second is now 19 months, and I am *almost* sleeping through the night. I no longer feel, look, and act like a zombie. I have some level of coherence and brain power. I am ready to write again.
The past 19 months have been fun, scary, tumultuous, and even a little boring at times; I’ve seen the rawest form of myself, my family, and even some of my colleagues. It’s been intense, to understate it drastically. So having been through that wringer, I think I’ll share my experience, in the hope of helping others get through theirs. Maybe, if I share some lessons learned, they will speak to someone who needs to hear them.
Fortunately, Hollywood stars are talking about Post Partum Depression (PPD), so more of us know about it, and the stigma is decreasing.
I already knew about PPD from my studies, and I knew that it was more common than realized and often goes unrecognized. So I recognized fairly early on that I might have it. If I didn’t have it, I had such severe sleep deprivation that I acted and felt like someone would with PPD. Does it matter if you're suffering because you're beyond exhausted, or because your hormones are out of whack? Does it matter if you officially have PPD or if you're "just" so tired and so moody? Regardless of the label, here’s the take home message:
MOMS NEED MORE SUPPORT!
There’s no prize at the end for going it alone, for making this look easier than it is, for always having your hair brushed and a smile on your face. Yet most of us act like there is. Like we literally will be handed a golden ticket if we can cross some imaginary finish line with our make up on and unwrinkled clothes. And the culture in this country perpetuates this feeling. Sure, you can have some friends bring you some meals, and you can have your partner home with you (likely unpaid) for a few days, maybe even a few weeks, and you yourself get to take 6 weeks off from “work”! But then, buck up mama; you’re on your own. Figure it out. Sink or swim.
With all this guilt that I carry around, and all this relief that I’m on the other side, and able to write about it, I consider myself lucky. I had PPD and I survived. I always met my kids’ physical needs, and I kind of met my own. There are no lasting dire consequences. Others are not so lucky. The problem of mothers with PPD (and post partum psychosis) hurting themselves or their children is real. So how are we going to address this problem? When are we going to stop sweeping it under the rug?
In my experience, I reached out. I reached out to professionals, and did not get the help I needed. I spoke with one of my doctors who either didn’t believe me, or didn’t know what to do with me. I spoke to counselors who specialize in PPD, but I didn’t make an appointment because they didn’t take my insurance.
When you have a wee one, even if you don’t have PPD, picking up the phone is a big deal. Picking up the phone to do something for yourself, an even bigger deal. Picking up the phone to do something for yourself when you have PPD, HUGE.
Maybe one of the counselors could have stopped me and said “get in here, and we’ll worry about payment later.” Maybe the counselors can’t afford to offer that. Maybe they don’t realize they need to. Maybe I seemed so together that they and my doctor didn’t realize I needed help. That’s the point though! Moms (almost) always seem put together. Like it or not, that’s what’s expected (sometimes demanded) of us – keep the kids healthy and safe and make it look easy.
Societal pressure. Under-educated doctors. Financial constraints. Stigma. There are many layers to this problem. Often the moms that need the most help don’t reach out, to anyone, and therefore can never be helped.
How do we reach the ones that aren’t reaching out? How do we help the ones who are? How do we recognize when someone needs help, if all of us moms are putting on a show? We have a mountain of a problem in front of us. I think it will take all of us doing small things to slowly improve the situation.
Here’s how I think we can help:
· If you are pregnant:
o Read about post partum depression and post partum psychosis
o Talk to your doctor about PPD and PPP
§ Ask questions
§ Make a plan just in case you develop symptoms
o Be aware that depression during pregnancy is also common
· If you just had a baby
o Ask for help!
§ Let them help you out at the grocery store
§ Let your friends cook you meals
§ Call your friends and family and tell them what you need (if you don’t know what you need, ask them to come over and be with you – being alone is the last thing you need!)
§ Join a moms group
· You’d be amazed how good it can feel to find out you are not the only one experiencing any given thing
· You’d be amazed how far a little company will go
o If you have a friend or relative who have recently had a baby:
§ Go to her house
· Bring a meal with you
· Offer to hold baby while mom eats
· Ask mom what she needs, and don’t allow her to say “nothing, I’m fine”
· If she won’t tell you what she needs, either do what your gut tells you to do, or throw some laundry in the washer, see if the sheets need to be washed (how much baby puke/pee/poop is on them?), and clean the kitchen
· Keep in touch! Don’t let a week go by without reaching out.
· Let her move at her speed. Don’t force her out of the house; she may not be ready, and that’s not necessarily a sign of depression. Meet her where she is emotionally and physically.
o If you have no contact with babies but want to help:
§ In Seattle, support PEPS or start something like it where you are (I have no financial interest in PEPS, though I am a volunteer speaker for them)
§ Support organizations who support moms
§ Don’t judge moms you see out and about – either for how they are parenting or how they look
§ Open doors for moms, and offer to help however you can – you’d be surprised how far a small offer of kindness can go
General Educational Resources:
Post Partum Depression explained "in plain mama English"
Post Partum Depression explained by the Mayo Clinic
Fascinating article about mom shaming
Post Partum Support International
Help Finding Help:
National Crisis Line - 1(800)273–TALK(8255)
National Crisis TEXT Line – Text “GO” to 741741
Post Partum Progress - (a slightly confusing website with a lot of great information and resources; click on the links under the FIND HELP tab)
Weekly Chat With an Expert
General resources for getting non-emergency help - click on “Get Help”
Program for Early Parent Support (PEPS, Seattle only)