A little while ago, I was reading one of my favourite blogs, MindBodyGreen, and answered an open call to tell a story about struggles having kids or in the first year. I answered, with the intention to just offer sympathy to these women who are trying and can’t have kids, but ended up telling my own story. I was honoured when they wanted to publish it.
My story was about surviving postpartum depression. I think every woman has a bit of depression after having a baby. This is bad enough itself and women don’t often offer up that they are feeling depressed, but they should! Your hormones tank and you are suffering from lack of sleep in this new job with a huge learning curve and no guide book. I have a history of severe depression so my hormones took a larger hit than some people, and I really suffered for a good year there. I constantly felt on the edge of tears, and there were a lot of ugly moments, as you can read here:
I felt vulnerable and exposed after sharing my story, having previously shared it with my husband and a couple of friends only, but I felt very strongly about telling it to help other women and lessen the stigma around admitting it.
Here is the thing I want people to take away from the article. PEOPLE WILL BE WILLING TO FAKE AN EMOTION IF THEY DON’T FEEL YOU ARE EMOTIONALLY AVAILABLE TO HELP. I instinctively knew that when people asked, “And how is mama doing?” they wanted to hear, “Oh fine, just a little tired.” ‘
I was shocked at the response. I still feel guilty about the thoughts that passed through my mind at that horrible time and kind of expected backlash. Instead, people were supportive. Some even felt guilty that they hadn’t thought to ask how I was REALLY doing so that they could have helped. This touched me to my core. Family and friends answered with such heartfelt responses that I felt the glow of their love through their emails, and I felt extremely blessed and thankful. It even opened up conversation with friends I had not heard from in a long time.
Here is the thing I want people to take away from the article. PEOPLE WILL BE WILLING TO FAKE AN EMOTION IF THEY DON’T FEEL YOU ARE EMOTIONALLY AVAILABLE TO HELP. I instinctively knew that when people asked, “And how is mama doing?” they wanted to hear, “Oh fine, just a little tired.” I knew that they were too busy in their lives and too emotionally unequipped to hear my actual emotional state or have me break down in front of them. NOBODY knew what I was really feeling because I didn’t want to share it. Who wants to admit they are a mess? I knew it would make people feel helpless and I also felt it would burden them rather than set me free.
We are taught, as a human race, to do it on our own. To “buck up” and”figure it out” and not bother others. Although we are a pack animal and forced in to group work sometimes, we are taught to deal with personal stuff on our own. “It takes a village” is a saying we bandy about but don’t really follow.
My hope is that my story will help people speak up. That you will answer to family and friends truthfully. When asked how you are why not say “I’m depressed actually, did you feel like that?” Open up a conversation. Let people babysit, clean your house, or take you to the doctor to ask about medications if need be.
For the friends and family, if you feel as if someone with a new baby may be hinting that they are going through a tough time, bring them a coffee and ask how they are doing. Then just listen with no judgement. Act as if they are the world and you have until the end of time to listen. Sometimes that is all the new parent needs (I say parent because sometimes the father can feel inadequate and depressed as well). Sometimes it is appropriate to ask what you can do and to make it known that you are willing to do anything to help. IF THE NEW PARENT IS BRAVE ENOUGH TO ASK YOU TO BABYSIT SO SHE CAN SLEEP, SET A TIME IMMEDIATELY SO THEY KNOW IT IS NOT AN EMPTY PROMISE! Do not say, “okay someday we will” because that gives the new mom no sense of relief and she will feel she can not count on you really, which will make her slide deeper in to depression.
I think with these simple acts of kindness, and with the opening up of honest communication, we can truly help each other through this.