When my son was a brand new baby, I was reasonably lucky. I had a support network at home, so I was able to do what every new mother is biologically supposed to do: spend all my time with my new baby. I didn’t have dishes, I didn’t have laundry (except cloth diapers), I didn’t have to cook.
Bliss right? Wrong. The days were NOT easy. Bad advice at the hospital led to uncertainty and lack of confidence. I struggled and cried. People around me said things like, “if it’s so hard, why don’t you just stop breastfeeding?”. Which was NOT helpful in the least. I wanted and NEEDED praise and support. I wanted to hear, “you can do this”, “what can *I* do to help?” and “let me change his diaper/nappy, you stay in bed.” And then I went to a mother’s group and started feeling supported and BOOM my baby was 6 weeks old and everything had figured itself out. The bad advice didn’t matter anymore, I could “DO THIS”. I had “gotten over” (to use this phrase I really dislike) the “baby blues”.
Ugh, “baby blues”. I really dislike the terminology “baby blues”. Those first six to eight weeks, the Asian “lying in” period, it’s a breastfeeding & mothering learning curve. We don’t see parenting every day anymore, we don’t see breastfeeding everyday either, so just like anything BRAND new, whether riding a bike or studying something academic, the first days and weeks can be ROUGH, tiring, emotional. For most things we learn, something “clicks” and we no longer fall off our bikes, the lines on the page start to make sense, and consequently not only are we less tired, but also we have a sense of achievement (we are empowered). But for some things we try to learn, things don’t “click”. We just don’t have enough base knowledge and we drop out of these classes at school, we rebel against the teacher or friends, we get mad at the bicycle.
So where am I going with this… parenting, mothering, breastfeeding, are things you have to learn. For some mothers, something “clicks” and everything gets easier. Of course these mothers are still exhausted (and even more so during developmental spurts when babies wake even more frequently – on that note, waking 2-3 times a night until babies are about two is when they AREN’T having a spurt and is *normal*!). For other mothers, something “clicks” but then other stressors interfere. For even other mothers, nothing EVER seems to “click”.
These latter two groups of mothers feel exhausted, tired, weepy, A LOT. They resent their babies. They feel like everyone around them is a super-mother and they are barely treading water. They feel and think things like “I should be happy, I have this great baby” or “it’s not depression, I’m just tired.” They start believing these feelings and thoughts as they hear things like “it’s normal”, “it’ll all get better”, or “what’s important is that you have a healthy baby”. Often their partner and family (if they are around) and friends are the ones they hear these phrases from (the “script” of what we’re “supposed to say to new mothers”) and when the mothers really try to communicate their feelings, those around them just “don’t get it” (and repeat the “it’s normal” script).
It’s normal. It’s normal. It’s normal. Exhaustion, weepy-ness, resentfulness, is often said to be “normal”. We hear this SO OFTEN. Well, it’s become “normal” not because it’s biologically expected, but because, as more and more mothers are parenting alone (partner works long hours, small and geographically distant family, etc., etc., etc.), more and more mothers are not getting the support they need to recover from pregnancy and birth and learn how to parent. These mothers who do not feel supported or who feel isolated are exhausted, they are weepy, they are resentful, they don’t enjoy their babies, they feel like failures. They are not happy. And what does NOT HAPPY mean? It means a depression. Yep, there’s that big bad word DEPRESSION. I’ll say it again DEPRESSION. Depressed.
There’s a huge stigma attached to this word and putting the word “postnatal” in front of it doesn’t remove that stigma. But though all these negative adjectives are the “new normal” for oh so many mothers, “it’s not supposed to be that way”. Really. It isn’t. It’s NOT NORMAL. The occasional day of exhaustion. Yes. The occasional day where you are unsure of this whole parenting thing, that’s ok. But constantly feeling like parenting is a battle? Resenting your baby? Your spouse/partner? No. But because society thinks it’s “normal” many mothers go undiagnosed and are depressed well into their children’s toddler years (and unfortunately, though things “clicked” for me at 6-8 weeks post childbirth, I then moved countries, was isolated, and then suffered for 2+ years).
Whoop, there’s another scary word “diagnosis”. Ugh. If you receive a diagnosis you have an illness, a sickness, a disease. But postnatal depression isn’t necessarily a disease. Sometimes, all a new mother needs is a bit of support. Things like an understanding partner, a cleaner to take care of the house, a few meals made by friends, regular exercise, a virtual and real-life network of other mothers to chat with (as women process things by “talking things out”) . Other times these small things aren’t enough (or the mother needs to do ALL of them) and an outside person is brought in (whether holistic, traditional, or conventional). Other times the depression has taken a deep hold and more rigorous methods are needed to bring the mother back to being “herself” (or “the old her”).
Postnatal depression or depression in the new or seasoned mother is COMMON. It’s VERY prevalent in isolated communities — such as EXPATRIATE communities, i.e. this blog’s readership. But it’s NOT normal.
Did you suffer from depression post childbirth or during another point in your child’s life? What helped you? What resources did you find in Switzerland? Leave a comment below — those short lines might just help another mother and family.