Tuesday, December 08, 2015

We Can Save Each Others Lives

This month is "mental health" month on Buzzfeed, or something like that.

Which means I get to see a lot of articles on FB about postpartum depression. Like these:
An Honest Conversation with Women of Color About Postpartum Mood Disorders
Is Postpartum Depression Really Postpartum Neglect?

Which means I get to reminisce about those crazy early months of motherhood and relive the horror and exhaustion in my mind.

When my first baby was born he was extremely colicky, sensitive and had horrible reflux. He would NEVER nap unless he was strapped to my body and I was IN MOTION the entire time. He would throw up rivers of breast milk all throughout the day to the point where, after changing my shirt 4 times in an hour, I just gave up and wore spit-up clothes the rest of the day. Hey, it's the "tie-dye" look!

But the worst thing about his reflux was how he would arch his back and wail in pain while he was frantically trying to nurse - crazed with hunger, but burning with acid when he swallowed. The entire nursing experience was a Catch-22 nightmare.

Often in his distress, he would scratch and pull behind his ears until it was a bloody mess.

To say I was stressed is an absurd understatement. I frankly marvel that I didn't develop some kind of horrific autoimmune disease from all the prolonged stress.

Looking back, it is obvious I had PPD or something like it. What kind of mental health toll does it take on a person when he/she has no idea how to take care of or comfort his/her baby who needs 24-7 care (waking up 3-5 times every night and constant holding during the day)?

It doesn't really matter if there's a label/diagnosis slapped on it or not. If you are getting less than 4 hours of quality sleep per day for months on end and you have about 25 minutes of self-care time per day (in which you triage showering, eating, napping, and socializing), your mental health is going to be pretty much shot to hell - diagnosis or not.

But what makes it even worse? The feeling that no one else is failing and flailing quite like you. Far from it. Why are all the other moms looking and sounding so normal?

I remember visiting a "new moms" support group when Judah was 10 weeks old thinking - all these women look so NORMAL. WHY AM I SUCH A FREAK?!

And then a few months later I looked at photos of myself during that period and realized, oh, I looked normal too. Even cheerful. Ha! What a load of crock.

Me during one of the lowest and darkest moments of my life, seriously.

But truly, there are undoubtedly new moms who take it all in stride.

Maybe they have a really good friend/family support structure.

Maybe they're just really good at asking for help when they need it.

Maybe they have the means to hire excellent child care.

Maybe they have one of those legendary "angel" babies who nap without assistance for 18 hours a day like all the books say they're supposed to.

Maybe they are just temperamentally comfortable with chaos and lack of structure/routine.

Maybe they are perennial optimists with strong can-do attitudes (I've actually met a new mom like that and I've never been more envious in my life).

All this to say, my number one advice to new moms is always this - if/when you're feeling "blue", seek help. If you're not ready or comfortable getting medical help, at least join a new mom support group in which women truly open up and share. (These are everywhere - in almost every hospital and even an online community is better than nothing.) You will feel less like a freak and a failure.

You will realize the struggles are real. And common.

You will get lots of sympathetic "hmms" and "ahhhs" when you share about clueless partners and callous in-laws.

You will feel informed and validated no matter if you choose to breast-feed or bottle-feed, baby-wear or not, sleep-train or co-sleep, stay-at-home or work full-time, etc.

It's jarring to realize that we are not self-sufficient (especially in our highly individualistic culture). Indeed, even the prototypical "mom and dad" are usually not enough. Now I realize why those with means always had extensive, full-time childcare employees - nannies, governesses, etc.

But there you have it.

Parents are the opposite of self-sufficient.

Especially new moms.

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