Andrea Bates: On Your First Mother’s Day

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postpartum depression, mental health, maternal mental healthDear New Mama,

Oh! It’s your very first Mother’s Day. It’s so special. So very very special.

And beautiful, too.

All of the emotions! The joy, the excitement, the anticipation. The thoughts that run through your mind that tell you that THIS, this will be YOUR day.

Finally.

Finally, you, new mama, have a day of your own. One where you’re recognized for all the work you’ve been doing this far.

The diapers. The feedings. The laughter. The tears.

Yes. The tears.

I know, I know. Nobody talks about the tears.

I’m here to tell you, new mama, that it’s okay. You’re allowed to have tears.

You know how everyone says, “Sleep when the baby sleeps”? It’s not that far off to imagine turning that into “cry when the baby cries.” It happens. To many of us.

I know you. I have BEEN you. I’ve felt all the feelings. I’ve cried. Hard. My eyes have flooded with tears. Heart aching. Body spent with exhaustion. I know.

You look at all of those moms at the park. The supermarket. Mommy & Me classes. Tumble gym. Maybe even the OB’s office. They’re all put together. Their hair is pulled back, not a strand out of place. You? You find yourself lucky enough to have been able to wipe out the peach puree from last night.

They’ve got wipes and diapers and snacks. And you? You left the house with a diaper bag and no diapers. Oh, wait, that was me. On my very first pediatrician’s visit. Yes. I’m totally serious.

New mama, I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone. And I’m here to encourage you to talk about how you’re feeling.

You may be one of the many moms experiencing the early days of postpartum. You may be living through what is commonly referred to as the “baby blues.” And if you are, they’ll pass fairly quickly. It might take a few weeks to feel normal again. Although your normal will have changed, your mind will feel yours again. You’ll have more control of your emotions. The constant weepiness will have passed. Things won’t seem so daunting.

But you might find that you’re not among the many whose emotions return to normal after your baby is born. You may be one of the other many. The many of us who experience postpartum mood disorders. The many of us who think things like, am I crazy? What on earth is happening to me? Why do I have these racing thoughts? Why am I afraid to let my baby out of my sight? I shouldn’t be a mom. I should never have been trusted with a child. Where is the manual for this kid? WHY won’t s/he stop crying? How can anyone STAND listening to this day after day? Night after night? If I could just get ten minutes of quiet…

There are so many thoughts. I can tell you, no, I can guarantee to you that someone reading this right now has had each one of these and more. And if that’s you? If you’re one of those someones? You’re absolutely not alone.

There is help. Love. Unlimited support. There are so many support groups. In real life. Online. There are books. Doctors. Therapists. Support groups. Blogs. People just like you who have found their way to the other side. You will, too. You will find the light again. You’ll experience the joys of motherhood without being overwhelmed by all the rest.

So please, new mama. Don’t sift through this alone. Find a friend. Talk to your partner. Tell your OB or your child’s pediatrician. Find support. It’s out there for the taking. Reach out. Grab it. Remind yourself that you’re not alone. Know that you truly never, ever have to feel alone. Because you’re not. You have me. Us. Postpartum Progress. We’re here for you. We’re here to listen.

And a small note to the seasoned mamas out there like me who are reading this. If you see a new mama sitting there, frazzled, children running around the grocery store while she tries to juggle the baby, the stroller, the toddler and the bags? Hold the door for her. Help her to her car. Give her a smile. Buy her a chocolate bar. A cup of coffee. Offer her an ear. She probably needs it. Remember how much it would have meant to you? I know for sure that I do. Remind a new mama that she’s never, ever alone.

~ Andrea

Andrea is a native New Yorker who relocated to North Carolina in 2006. After working with children and families as a licensed social worker she took some time off to start her own family. A mom of one, she has recently returned to the field as an LCSW. Andrea has volunteered for a number of organizations supporting women in all stages of motherhood in both, “real life” and virtual environments. She is an avid reader and writer and can be found writing about everyday life, motherhood, mental health and more over at her blog, Good Girl Gone Redneck

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Postpartum Progress, the world’s most widely-read blog on all things related to emotional health around pregnancy & childbirth, is a service of Postpartum Progress Inc., a 501c3 nonprofit devoted to raising awareness of postpartum depression and similar illnesses. Please consider making a donation today, Mother’s Day, so we can continue and expand our work supporting maternal mental health. Thank you!

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Lighthouse

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It’s my week for content on Postpartum Progress. My week, as a member of the Warrior Mom Leadership Team, to share something about postpartum mood disorders and help you feel less alone. I’ve known this week was coming for a while, and yet on this Monday night I’m sitting here staring at a blank screen. I don’t know what to share with you because I’m hiding under my vulnerability cloak at the moment. 

I think of this cloak as being kind of like Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak, except it hides my power rather than freeing it. Instead of letting me go where I need to go, my vulnerability cloak covers me up like an invisible blanket, weighing me down while I hide underneath it.

I’m having a hard time writing lately, no matter the topic. I’ve barely written on my own blog because when I’m struggling I like to write about that, and right now I don’t feel like I can. I’m just feeling too vulnerable.

So why am I telling you that? Mostly, I think, because I need a little reminder that being vulnerable is okay. Telling you that I’m feeling vulnerable is sort of like throwing off the cloak just to see what happens. Just to see if it will be okay. 

lighthouse light

Logically, I know it will be okay. But even more importantly, I know that sharing our hard stories is worth it. I was reminded of that not too long ago when I got an email from someone who had read my story. I want to share a piece of that email here (reprinted with permission) – both for you and for myself.

I really did feel so incredibly alone, and reading your story was a bit like seeing a light from a lighthouse when you’re a lost ship in the fog, about to crash into the rocks. I was drowning. It really did save me. You sharing your experience saved me, and let me know there were others out there like me, and it was ok, I wasn’t a failure, or a horrible mother. I was suffering, and needed help. I do feel a little bit stronger as each day, week, month passes. I think, someday, I’d like to put it into words, on paper, and share what I really went through, am going through, and maybe help other women through telling my story. It’s so important to know that we’re not alone. I was so ashamed, and so afraid… I lived in absolute fear that I would be condemned as a terrible person and a horrible mother and other mothers would screech and point fingers at me as I walked by. That shame and fear were part of the reasons I didn’t reach out for help. It makes me wonder how many more women are out there silently suffering.

Anyway, thank you. Thank you for being brave and courageous enough to share your story, it couldn’t have been easy. Thank you for putting it out there and most likely saving my life.

Being vulnerable is hard. But being a light for someone floundering in the darkness? That’s worth it.

I need to remember that it’s worth it.

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Finding Art in the Dark

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“Perhaps it’s good for one to suffer. Can an artist do anything if he’s happy? Would he ever want to do anything? What is art, after all, but a protest against the horrible inclemency of life?”

~Aldous Huxley~

 

Artists are often characterized as moody, dark, misunderstood. We are a suffering sort, regardless of the form our art takes – whether it be digital, acrylic, collage, words, wood, and so on. Our ability to create something phenomenal comes from the way we view and respond to the world. Sometimes, this interpretation may even involve a tango or two (or more) with a mental health struggle. For some of us, it may involve a lifelong diagnosis.

A friend of mine posted a link recently to an article about highly sensitive people. I found myself nodding in response to most of the traits listed. It hit home. Highly sensitive people notice details in everything – noise, texture, scent, emotion, and are easily over-stimulated. This can lead to labels like “shy” or “snobby” or “anti-social”, when all we are doing is protecting our very sensitive souls.

This got me thinking about mothers and fathers who struggle with a mental health diagnosis after the birth of a new child. There is a heightened sense of awareness which comes with this experience. I know that I tried to overcompensate for the lack of emotion I felt (and failed miserably in the process). Fake it till you make it, right?

Art is the interpretation of the world around us, putting it to paper or whatever your chosen form, to present to the world for their interpretation, right?

Isn’t parenting the same thing? It’s your interpretation of the world around you, presented to a tiny human, in the hopes they will grow up and interpret the lessons (art) you’ve created for them over the years properly. Parenting is a museum bigger than the Smithsonian with an even more complicated floor plan replete with trapdoors, false walls, and trick couches ready to fling you under the bus at any moment.

It’s okay to fall through the trap door.

Original Sketch

Original Sketch

The key to finding your way out is to find the silver lining once you fall through that trap door and turn it into art, whatever that means to you. For some of us, that might mean cooking. Or it might mean knitting. Or painting. Or writing.

There’s a reason art therapy is a popular form of therapy. It’s a way to release emotion and express ourselves in a healthy way which re-frames the pain we may feel through the creation of something beautiful. I attribute my creativity to all the pain I have experienced throughout my life. Now, not all of my creations are inspired by pain -some of them are inspired by love- but they are all inspired by intense emotion.

Oddly enough, when I am in the throes of deep emotion, I find myself unable to create. It is only when I am coming out of it, much like the sunshine after a storm shining on a newly soaked field of flowers, I am able to create and it typically happens in a rush. For me, the ability to create again is a sign of wellness. My art is not a form of protest, exactly, but rather, a celebration of the richness which exists just below the surface of the world in which we live.

I remember seeing a quote once (and I am not sure where I saw it) which said that without “art” the Earth would just be “Eh”. So very true – art fuels everything around us, even down to the labels on products we buy at the store. Yes, there are other forces at work but when you peel all the other forces away, it is art. Without it, we would live in a very “eh” world.

My primary form of creating is words. I also love graphic art and find it very soothing. Painting is another form I will often use to let things go. Lately, I’ve been sketching with pencil on printer paper. Pretty darn basic but it’s been quite wonderful to watch things take shape, particularly as I challenge myself to do more and more difficult sketches.

What about you? Do you create art to process your emotions? What form does it take for you? Anything you have created that you’re particularly proud of? Share with us!

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Why New Moms Need Peer-to-Peer Support

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postpartum depression communityAt a recent mom’s night out, a friend of mine said, “nobody really tells you the truth about motherhood,” which sparked a discussion about how blindly each woman goes into life as a new mom.  Some of us said we were warned about how hard it would be, some of us were given no heads up, and we all agreed that until we had experienced it for ourselves, we weren’t certain we would have believed well-meaning friends and relatives anyway.

The truth is, that no matter how much you read about the sleep deprivation, the witching hours, and the lack of what used to be essential personal grooming (there are still days I don’t shower), it’s not really believable until you’re the one in your pajamas from the previous day, microwaving your coffee for the third time while you try to measure formula powder through barely-open eyes or attempt to unhook your nursing bra only to remember you aren’t wearing one.  We see others with their babies out at the grocery store or library and think they look great.  They probably even ate breakfast.  And we think we are the only mom who is fumbling and faking their way through a new life.

Being a mom?  Is HARD.  For many of us, the difficulty of new motherhood is compounded by a mood or anxiety disorder that leaves us raw and sensitive to each stressful situation.  By their very nature, such disorders are also isolating and carry a huge amount of shame and stigma.

So, as much as a supportive partner or spouse, food from friends and neighbors, and advice from your own parents can ease the strain, I believe all new moms need a support network of women who are experiencing the same adjustments and struggles.  Finding a small group of peers with babies the same age can significantly ease some of the emotional stress of those first few weeks and months (and years).  There is enormous value in being with a group of women who don’t necessarily have answers for your parenting questions, but instead completely relate to how exhausted and overwhelmed you feel.

There is a collective sigh of relief when, upon hearing of new trials and tribulations, a room erupts with a host of “me too,” and heads knowingly nod.  A mother can walk away knowing she is not alone.

I’ve asked some of the wise women from my own support network (local and online) to share their motherhood truths; the things they wish someone had told them in the early days and the days before parenthood.

 Everything is a phase.  Everything.  - Jess

I wish I had known how comfortable I would need to be in my own skin – trusting decisions I’m making for others.  – Megan @nerdmommathfun

I wish I had known that it’s a constant learning process. – A’Driane @addyeb

I wish I had known that your parenting choices will be determined more by your kids’ personalities than the philosophy you thought you had going into it. – Melissa

There’s no such thing as being perfect. As a mom you’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to lose your cool. Your kids aren’t always going to be happy with your decisions. And that’s ok. Before becoming a mom I wish I wasn’t so quick to judge the mom allowing her kid to throw a tantrum in the shopping cart. I get it now. – Sara

I didn’t know how much you actually sacrifice. Not eating full meals, hot showers, sleep, new clothes, even your favorite tv show. You give up so much, willingly and unwillingly. The level of respect for my own mother skyrocketed. – Shiloh

Just to go with the flow. Can’t control everything. And to put the books down. – Leelah @leerion

That even if everything isn’t perfect, love and affection and time are all your children need. Not a perfectly clean house or a perfect mom! – Annie

I had a therapist, but after being part of the mom’s group, I felt no one understood me better than other new moms. My husband, mom, my sisters, friends, acquaintances, co-workers all gave me advice (many times unsolicited). However, being able to share my day to day fears, concerns, uncertainties, feelings of inadequacy AND being able to share my positive day to day experiences, successes, and happy moments with other new moms was very empowering as it helped me witness, understand, and accept that being a new mom is wonderful and very challenging at the same time.  - Claudia

 

My own bit of wisdom?  It’s okay to ask for help.  More than okay.  It’s necessary.

If you are a new mom?  Please seek out a group near you.  Many hospitals run free groups and parenting companies like Isis Maternity offer many playgroup classes that help new parents find peers as well as professional support.  It’s not always easy to get out of the house, and perhaps seeing other people feels like the last thing you want to do, but I promise you will be glad you went.

Find a local support group near you:

MOMS Club

Meetup

National Association of Mothers’ Centers

Postpartum Support International’s Support and Resources Map

 

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