[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest on Postpartum Progress is Gabrielle Kaufman. Gabrielle is a dance therapist, a postpartum depression support group leader, and one of the California coordinators for Postpartum Support International. -Katherine]
Each week I have the blessing of being present while new mothers gather in solidarity over postpartum depression. They may not see it that way, but I do. Bravely, they enter a room full of strangers when they are feeling their worst and most vulnerable to bare their souls.
The courage it takes to risk so much when feeling so powerless, anxious, hopeless, and defeated touches me deeply. The mothers in the New Moms Connect group have chosen to come because they are searching for a way to feel better. Loneliness, panic, isolation, confusion and deep sadness are their companions and coming to group is a way to look for better company.
When a woman has a chance to share her story of postpartum depression, she often looks down. Her voice quiets and tears stream down her face.
“It wasn’t supposed to be this way!”
“I tried so hard to have her and now I just want to run away.”
“What if I wasn’t meant to be a mom? Maybe he’d just be better off without me.”
“I don’t love him, what’s wrong with me?”
Statements like these are not openly expressed in most civilized settings. But when a women struggling with postpartum depression feels comfortable enough to expose these feelings in a group, they often evoke a strange combination of shame and relief followed by a moment of silence. This silence is not due to shock or horror at hearing these words. On the contrary, it comes from the realization by the other women in the room that they had once felt very much the same. Remembering that dark time may be excruciating, and may also serve as a reminder of how far they have come or maybe it comes from a fear of what might have been lost had they not sought help.
Today, I was able to witness the power of community again.
Elena came to group for the first time. She could barely say her name before sobbing. “I am not sure I will make it through each day. I am so anxious and sad.”
The women in the group listened with no judgment, only compassion. As her story of postpartum depression and anxiety unfolded, her new peers offered warm support, and I witnessed some of their eyes welling up. “I felt just like you do. I sometimes hate that I needed to stop breastfeeding. I needed to take medication. But, I feel better now.” Elena looked around the room for the first time, “I have been looking for a group like this for months!”
The women offered up their struggles and coping skills. Traci showed a calendar, “I learned to write down one thing a day. When I am lonely, I look to see what I have on the calendar and it calms me.” Susan shared, “I learned the phrase “fake it ‘til you make it” and somehow, it got me through.” Amy, who is often the most composed said, “Sometimes I feel like I am taking so many medications for postpartum depression and I hate myself for it. But I am better than I was, and I want to be a better mom, so I do it.” Michelle said, “When people offer to help, take them up on it!” Rita said, “I pick up the phone to call ANYONE just to have an adult conversation.”
I heard Elena breathe for the first time. “But I have one question that no one can seem to answer for me. How do you know if you are better?”
I bit my tongue. Women always ask me this or ask how long it will take to get better. I have no crystal ball to look through and I am aware how frightening it is to feel overpowered by postpartum depression and anxiety. My only tool is my faith in the power to heal.
Fortunately, today, I didn’t need to speak.
Amy spoke up first: “It happened gradually for me. I was feeling bad one day and I realized that I had actually felt better the day before. When I was at my worst point, I was thinking of killing myself. If I had one good day, it was an improvement.”
Michelle piped in, “I finally really wanted to be with my baby. I knew I was better.”
Then, Traci said, “Burnt toast!” The group all stopped to look at her. Our curiosity piqued, she clarified, “One day, several months after my baby was born, I began to weep because I had burned toast. I told myself, ‘I can’t do anything right. I can’t even make toast right.’ But my husband came up to me and said, ‘Yes, you burned toast. But when you were really depressed, you didn’t do anything. At least today, you tried to make toast. Tomorrow you will make it without burning it.’” What impressed me most about Traci’s story was that she was able to receive the positive comments from her husband. And what I noticed in Elena’s eyes was a slight lifting.
“Elena, maybe you are better than you think.” Susan said, “You made it here today, didn’t you?” Yes, indeed, she did.
Each week, as women return to group, come for the first time, and open up, I bare witness. Postpartum depression is real, but so is the healing of compassion and community. The little things are not little things at all. Maybe we just have to stop and smell the burnt toast.
If this sounds like something you’d like to experience or would be beneficial to your healing journey, check out our handy list of postpartum depression support groups. You are not alone!