Catherine Connors: A Letter to New Moms

Give peas a chance.

If you're anything like me, you have trouble asking for help. I have a lot of trouble asking for help. And accepting help. Pretty much anything to do with being helped, I cringe away from. So I basically never ask for help, ever. Especially when the darkness hits. Especially when the darkness hits. Which is why, despite a history of depression — and a long and difficult struggle with depression after the births of both my children — I avoided psychiatrists and therapists. I would go — my doctor insisted — sit through a session without saying much, and then I would leave and toss the prescriptions and never go back.

Until Svetlana. Svetlana changed everything.

Her name really was Svetlana. She spoke with a thick Slavic accent and wore a pantsuit, which for some reason made me think that she looked like a banker. A Russian banker. Which didn't predispose me to telling her my secrets, but still: I had hit a breaking point. I had had what my doctor kindly and misleadingly called "intrusive thoughts" and I had terrified myself and I had promised myself that I would do this, that I would seek help, and this place, this tidy office with a worn leatherette sofa and wilting fern and shelves upon shelves of books on psychiatry and therapy and parenting, was where I had arrived. This woman, the occupant of this office, would help me, and I would accept her help. Well, I would at least try.

"Um … no … that's not …"

She frowned. "Say here, you vant harm your child … you have violent thoughts …"

"No, no, that's not exactly right … I just …"

"Is chicken scratch. I cannot read. You look, tell me vat it say." She handed me the file with my psychiatric referral.

"Um …" I squinted at the inky scrawl, "'… reports intrusive thoughts of harming baby … reports wanting to drop baby on bed, escape home, reports experiencing feelings as violent, aggressive … denies intent to harm … denies intent to harm self … denies suicidal ideation … reports being afraid of intrusive thoughts.'" I cringed. I'd rather not be reading this. "Sleep deprivation. Previous treatment for anxiety. Supportive husband." I hand the file back to her. "I didn't say that I felt violent, " I say. "I said that the feeling itself was violent. Like a shock. It frightened me."

"Is frightening, yes, these thoughts." She looked me in the eye. "I know you do not vant harm baby."

And I thought, well, that's as good a basis for a therapeutic relationship as any, I suppose. I could, I decided in that instant, overlook the pantsuit. I could work with this woman.

And so we spoke at length, Svetlana and I. Or rather, she spoke, and asked the occasional question, which suited me. I hate psychiatric therapy. I hate feeling that I'm being analyzed. I hate listening to the sound of my own voice droning on and on about can't sleep motherhood hard feel anxious yes family history of depression no not suicidal just TIRED TIRED OH SO TIRED. I just want a solution. I just wanted her to give me a solution.

Svetlana, as it happened, was all about the solutions. "First, we get you to sleep, no? I give you Ativan; you sleep when baby sleep. Zen, we test blood: thyroid, B12, glucose … your body, I zink, it is PFFT! … zen we meet again; we talk … is good to talk … zen maybe, maybe I give you somezing for depression. Not now. Now, you are tired. You are post-traumatic stress. You need sleep and peas." She leaned forward and grabbed my hand. "Sleep and peas."

I had to think about that for a second.

"Yes," I said finally. "Peace would be nice."

"Peas is nice," she said. "I help you to get peas." She dropped her voice to a whisper. "I tell you somezing. Your are not a bad mother. You are a good mother." She patted my hand. "Not to forget."

"No," I said. "Not to forget. Thank you

Peas is good. I left Svetlana that day and immediately filled the prescription for Ativan. Then I went to bed early with that little bottle of peas while the husband took the baby and left me in the sweet, sweet quiet dark. With my peas. With my peace. So that I could rest, so that the morrow would dawn brighter, so that I could — so that I would — move a step or two closer to feeling like the good mother that I know I am.

Whatever it takes for you to bring yourself closer to feeling like the good mother that you are, do it. Do it now.

I wish you peas.

Catherine Connors is the author of the popular parenting blog Her Bad Mother, and recently expanded her storytelling domain with the launch of Their Bad Mother at Beliefnet.com. She has to remind herself every day that she is, in fact, a good mother.

About Katherine Stone

is the creator of this blog, and the founder and executive director of Postpartum Progress. She has been named a WebMD Health Hero, one of the fiercest women in America by More magazine, and one of the 15 most influential patient advocates to follow. She is a survivor of postpartum OCD.

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Comments

  1. Lauren Hale says:

    Catherine – thanks for sharing this.
    I am glad you found your peas. May you never again lose them.
    Warmest,
    Lauren

  2. Katherine Stone/Post says:

    What's great about this post — among many, many things — is the concept that not every healthcare provider will be the one we connect with. The one we are able to really HEAR and work with and feel safe with. I'm so glad you found Svetlana, Catherine. And I pray every mom who is suffering finds her own Svetlana.

  3. Oh God. I'm four years in and I STILL don't know how to ask for help. Thanks for this!

  4. Catherine, I am so glad you found Svetlana. It does take time to find the right therapist with whom to make the exact connection we need to find peas. I went through 5 or 6 before I found Dr. Mean Old Lady and she set me straight and we rolled up our sleeves and worked for peas and self-soothing.
    I'd like to add that one doesn't need to worry about "hurting" a therapist's feelings by discontinuing a relationship with him/her to mosey on and find a better fit. If your therapist is so high-maintenance as to need hand-holding through YOUR journey to a better tomorrow, then you really shouldn't be with them at all. Yikes. How codependent would that be! (;

  5. I apologize if this sounds crass, but this made me laugh a little. What a wonderful moment, this unexpected lifeline at the very minute you needed her. I'm honestly impressed with your recollection and translation of her accent and diction. I can really hear her saying those things to you in my ind. So real and soothing. And she was so good to you. Oh, what I would have given for some peas earlier than I got it. Thank you so much for this great letter.

  6. Loved this! Thank you!