I remember the early days with my daughter. Meeting this amazing little human who would go on to teach me so much.
Oh right. And the sleepless nights. The nipple pain. The full body shakes. The crippling anxiety and depression.
I hate that these experiences coincided with one another. I would have given so much to have just been able to enjoy my child. To feel at ease, and comfortable, in my transition into motherhood.
But that wasn’t my experience. And I shouldn’t feel guilty that it wasn’t, not for one damn second.
Yet I do. She’ll turn 4 in March, and is without a doubt the best thing that has ever happened to me. This kid is straight up Zen, between her ability to take deep breaths, her relentless giggles, and her passion for ponies. But, I still feel so much guilt and anger that I wasn’t able to just breathe and enjoy those early days.
Meanwhile, everyone was anxious to remind me that I was missing something important—missing a very fleeting moment.
I remember the well-wishers who visited in those early days. I would hear a knock at the door. With the help of my partner, I would muster the energy to stand up, taking care not to pull a stitch, and put on a shirt. It was a shirt usually covered in breastmilk, but better than nothing, right?
They would come in, ooh and ahh over our precious bundle, and always, without fail, they would say the same thing.
“Enjoy this time now. It will pass before you know it!”
Every. Single. Time.
These words stung. I desperately wanted to “just enjoy it,” but that’s not how post-partum mood disorders work. Instead of joy, I felt anger. Then, I felt guilt for feeling angry. I felt sadness that one day I would look back on this time, disappointed in myself for not being able to overcome this experience, and missing out in the process.
But, postpartum mood disorders aren’t something we can muscle through. We need help. And those supports aren’t inherent to our culture.
Instead, we have some incredibly backward ideas about what the postpartum period looks like for moms. Approaches that are insanely unsupportive. And that’s not even scratching the surface of the issue when you consider the social determinants of health that burden minority populations.
People are all up in your business while you’re pregnant, thinking they can rub your belly and ask you prying questions about the state of your cervix, but the moment that head crowns and you’re back at home, you’re all on your own.
And to what end? To leave moms isolated and unsupported, feeling like they’re wrong for not being able to enjoy every second of it? Wrong for not dropping that baby weight by the kids 3-month birthday? Wrong for not doing adorable Pinterest projects during tummy time? Wrong for stacks of dishes?
Postpartum mood disorders are THE MOST COMMON COMPLICATION OF PREGNANCY. That applies to both birthing parents and partners. And we so don’t have a system that supports understanding and healing. What we have is a real fine way to isolate people who are already wading through the deep end.
So, if you find yourself visiting a new family in those early days, don’t tell the person who just pushed an 8-pound watermelon out of their nether-regions to just kick back “enjoy it.” Instead, try one of these out for size:
- Applaud the flexibility of said nether-regions. Then gift the birthing parents with a certificate for a 90-minute deep tissue massage.
- When you visit, do all the dishes in the house. While you’re at it, organize the Tupperware drawer by size and color. Better yet, take all said Tupperware and fill each container systematically with different varieties of chocolate cake.
- Offer a supportive shoulder to cry on. Or a receptive shoulder to spit-up on. Ladies choice.
- Leave a cool, refreshing head of cabbage at the door, with a punch card redeemable for free childcare. The new mom will know just what to do with both.
- Bring coffee. ‘Nough said.
- Instead of giving unsolicited advice for how to make the baby stop crying, try drawing associations between colicky babies and geniuses. I’m pretty sure Albert Einstein PURPLE cried with the best of them…
- Invite mom and baby out for a walk. To a pub, if necessary.
- Did I mention cake?
- Compliment the crap out of that mom-child dyad. Even if mom still looks like a swollen mess, with bright-seedy shit in her hair, and even if that baby looks like Winston Churchill. You treat them like they are made of pure, snoozeberry-flavored gold.
- When in doubt—bring the deep-tish to mom. Lots of masseuses make house calls.
You see what I did there? Never once did I say “Just enjoy it!”
Instead of continually making a list of what a new mom SHOULD be doing, how about we create a system that truly supports physical and mental healing, and gives them the resources they need to enjoy the experience in their own way. The paid family leave act recently passed in the State of Washington chips away at the issue a bit, but we still have a lot of work to do.
When it comes to postpartum mood disorders, we need more. If you find yourself struggling, know that you are so not alone, and there are people that can help.