Where did my Village go?

I had the privilege of attending a training course as part of my steps to become a volunteer to help women struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety. As we learned all about how we can better serve women who are struggling, we exchanged a lot of stories, some of which were deeply personal.As I sat, listening to these women talk, I began to wonder about the statistics that we hear quoted for postpartum depression.

I’ve heard anywhere from 7% to 10% of women suffer some form of postpartum depression. Obviously my experiences are going to cause me to interact with more women who have experienced postpartum depression, but good lord that statistic still feels low. When you factor in the number of women that I’ve heard say, “Oh yeah, I think I had that”, you’re left with this feeling of how have women done this for thousands of years?

In fact, whenever you talk about the high number of women experiencing a perinatal mood disorder, a lot of times people are confused. It seems like all of a sudden, everyone is getting postpartum depression. One reaction to the openness that we are now starting to see with postpartum depression is that it’s not real. If all these women are ‘suddenly’ getting postpartum depression when women have been giving birth for a millennia then maybe these women are exaggerating it. Or maybe we’re over-diagnosing it. Or something that we’re eating or drinking is causing an increase in frequency.

But maybe the reality is none of those things.

In October, my husband, son and I moved in with my in-laws for four weeks. I wasn’t sure how it was going to go – my son is kind of a tiny hurricane, who bounces around, leaving nothing but destruction and debris in his path. He can be a bit much at times. But collectively we ended up having a blast.

People went to their own corners in the evenings, but in the mornings and before my son went to bed, instead of there being two sets of hands to help, there were four. We cooked together, hung out, spent some time apart but overall enjoyed every minute of it. My son got to spend a ton of quality time with my in-laws. The anxiety that I sometimes still feel about getting him to bed in the evening was gone, as I had plenty of helpers.

I felt cared for and comfortable. I didn’t feel bad if my son’s care fell on my husband, because there were two other people to help out. I wasn’t exhausted by Friday – because I had my village.

Parenting a baby can be so overwhelming. In today’s isolated culture, we as parents feel that we have to take on everything and do all. But it wasn’t so long ago that families all lived close together and all pitched in (in fact, I’ve been fortunate enough to have two sets of grandparents that are close and incredibly helpful!). It wasn’t a failure of the mom or dad’s part, it was simply pragmatism. Moreover, it really gave children a chance to develop deep bonds to their extended family members which is such a wonderful thing.

Often I hear or read these stories of these women who feel tremendous pressure to do it all: to clean their houses, bake for their children, raise their children and cart them all around. When they have to reach out for help (sometimes asking for help involves asking their partner!) they feel a tremendous sense of failure. That, or they feel guilty or as if they can’t do the bare minimum.

On top of all that, we have a false sense of community from the online culture as well. I’d first like to clarify that there are a great amount of good things that our online culture provides, especially to mothers who are struggling with perinatal mood disorders. Online cultures help people feel normal when they reach out with their concerns and struggles. Often we think that we are the only ones going through this. But these online families don’t pick the kids up when we’re sick. They don’t watch the baby when we desperately need a night out. Online communities provide a sense of family and friendship, without the physical support needed to help a struggling parent out. Cleaving to the online community can potentially lull a parent into a false sense of community and then subsequently be left in the cold reality, when it really counts – when the parent really needs their village.

With extra burdens like these in our fast-paced culture, is it any wonder why the postpartum depression numbers are potentially growing?

Postpartum World_ICON_4C_Green Rattle

 

Understanding your Partner’s Perinatal Depression

One of the things that breaks my heart the most is when I see or hear feedback from moms with spouses or partners who don’t support them.

I’ll mention first that living with someone who has depression, anxiety, perinatal mood disorder is incredibly challenging. It’s very hard to know what to do or even recognize it as an illness at times. My own husband, who has always been an advocate of mental health struggled at times while I was going through perinatal depression.

However, I feel that one of the main reasons that I got through what I did was due in part to his unwavering support. I’ve written before about his kindness, understanding and generosity. He felt powerless and didn’t understand how I could say some of the lies that depression was feeding me. He didn’t blanch when I wanted to leave him and run to Europe. He knew that the depression was twisting my mind in ways that I was helpless to suppress.

So let’s talk about how to survive when your partner is going through postpartum depression.

  • This isn’t the time to question your relationship

Remember: this isn’t about you, partner. It’s hard not to take this personally, but you’ve got to keep in mind that this isn’t a statement on your relationship, this doesn’t define who your partner is as a mother, wife, girlfriend, etc. She is going through an illness that is warping her brain. She can’t help the things that she’s thinking. But they’re not really her thoughts. Her anger, her sadness, her disconnection is not really hers. So listen and validate…but don’t take it personally. You may have issues in your relationship that need addressing, but you might not. You should not make any major life decisions while your partner is going through a major depressive episode. You’re not dealing with the real her. This is the time for unconditional grace. You can deal with any relationship issues later, when she’s healthy.

  • Get smart on postpartum depression

Read books like The Postpartum Husband. Look at the articles online about postpartum depression and anxiety. Remind yourself that this is a disease. Your wife or partner’s hormones are not handling things very well and it’s creating a toxic chemical cocktail. She isn’t just sad. Her mind is literally filling her thoughts with lies. She isn’t weak and she can’t just snap out of it, she needs support and good treatment.

  • Fill in the gaps

She’s afraid to be alone with the baby. She doesn’t have the energy to care for the baby. She doesn’t have the energy to do her share of the household chores. She’s not lazy; the depression just saps her energy to literally get out of bed, some days. If it seems like a lot, just remember she carried your baby for 10 months and birthed your beautiful child. Step in and fill in the gaps. I know you’re tired from working full time. But this IS temporary. When she’s better, she’ll help out too. You’re just carrying the team for now.

  • Advocate getting help and be her assistant

If she needs it, call the doctor for her. Stepping into the dizzy and complex mental health world is tiring and overwhelming. Do research on a therapist and a psychiatrist. Go with her to the doctor and help her express her symptoms. Look up to see if there are any postpartum support meetings in the area. Tell her you’ll watch the baby while she goes to meet with other women who are suffering. Tell her she’s a good, strong mom for seeking out help. 

  • Validate her and cheer her on.

Tell her she’s going to get through this, every day. Tell her postpartum depression is very treatable. Tell her that she’s not a monster and she’s not a freak. She’s just sick and she’ll get well and when she does get well, she’ll have a beautiful baby and loving partner waiting for her. Tell her that she’s not alone. Tell her that there’s anywhere from 10 – 20% of women out there who are going through exactly the same thing.

  • Take time for yourself

Caring for a partner (and a new baby!) with depression is a huge, overwhelming job. Call in reinforcements. Take an evening off when your partner is having a good day. If she can’t handle it, see if the grandparents can come in and help out with chores around the house and the baby. It’s painful watching a loved one go through postpartum depression. So take time to grieve and care for yourself as best as you can, when your partner can handle it. Keep reminding yourself that this is temporary and you will get through it.

Postpartum World_ICON_4C_Yellow Rattle

Cherish Every Moment…or Don’t

After going through the stage of having a newborn, I’m very careful about how I act when my friends have another kid, or have their first. I’m in the time of my life where pretty much everyone’s having one, two or more kids right now.

So here’s a refresher on some systems to put into place when bringing a baby home.

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Boomers – Get it Together

Disclaimer: This post is not for the Baby Boomers who are mental health advocates and believe that sometimes talk therapy, medication, psychiatry, etc. is needed. This post is for those Boomers who seem to dismiss depression, anxiety and other mental health illnesses as just something that people need to ‘power through’. 

I’ve spoken with a couple of my friends and one topic seems to be coming up, fairly often. Being early to mid-thirty somethings, we all have one thing in common.

We are the children of the Baby Boomers.

Baby Boomers are the children of those that returned from war and had a LOT of sex. Baby Boomers are controversial. There’s been a lot of criticism by the Boomers toward us Millennials. We’re called lazy, entitled, and so forth. The Boomers don’t understand why our lives are challenging even though we’ve had to deal with crippling student loan debt, increased cost of living, a huge recession, a substantial deficit, two wars purchased on credit…the list goes on and on.

But that’s fine. I get it. Every generation is like, “The damn kids, these days. No respect. No hard work. In my day, we had to do blah blah blah without blah blah blah…and I survived!” Sometimes it’s hard to see younger folks handed the things that you clawed your way through to get to. Younger folks don’t (and can’t sometimes) appreciate the fires you walked through to get where you are.

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Total Family Care

 

Postpartum depression (and prenatal depression) doesn’t just affect a mother, it affects the entire family. When I was in the deepest, darkest throws of depression, my husband stepped up to the plate and exclusively handled all night feedings, among a litany of other things. He picked up and dropped off Little Buddy at day care. He got Little Buddy ready in the mornings and was on standby if Little Buddy got sick. He cleaned the house, cooked dinner and basically held us together. I’ve written about this before in my post “Carrying the Team“.

But it’s important to understand that while you have to take care of the mother, you have to ensure that the baby is well taken care of and that the partner is mentally and emotionally cared for as well.

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But What if he Reads it?

I think one of the reasons that we don’t see a lot of candor out there about postpartum depression struggles, is a fear that our children will see these things that they don’t understand and can’t process. These adult themes will traumatize our children, because they can’t understand them.

Several people have asked me about what I would do if my little guy were to read some of the more cringe-worthy feelings and experiences that I had.

It’s a fair point. As some of you have noted, I’m not exactly pulling any punches.

Writing was a necessity for me to process what had happened. But as some of you are aware, originally I was writing anonymously. I also could have written in a journal. I’ve been getting active in postpartum support groups, which is another quasi-anonymous environment; you share your story and confidentiality is expected and required. There certainly were outlets for me.

But what I just couldn’t wrap my head around was that horrible feeling in my stomach. A feeling like I was alone. I was the only one who felt that way. I wasn’t meant to be a mother. And then – when I realized those feelings were postpartum depression, I thought maybe other women had treatable postpartum depression, but I didn’t.

Continue reading “But What if he Reads it?”

It’s Finally Happening for Me

I arrive home from work, plop the little guy on his play mat and arrange the toys around him so he’s got a selection to choose from; some toys further away so that he has to work for them (come hell or high water, we’re going to learn how to crawl or scoot). I walk into the kitchen to get dinner started. As I’m washing the produce, I hear the little guy testing the range of his vocal cords…much to the dismay of the cats. The shrieks and guttural noises make me smile as I start chopping carrots.

Continue reading “It’s Finally Happening for Me”