Practice this mantra in the mirror in the morning. Tattoo it on the inside of your wrist. Commit it to memory so you will never forget: Get more help than you think you deserve.
Motherhood, in all its joy and sorrow is not meant to be done alone. They say it takes a village and sadly most of us don’t have one! So we soldier on and do the best we can … then we wonder what’s wrong with us when we are losing ourselves, our confidence, our temper and our sanity. We wonder if we’re just not made for this, if we are up to the task. We wonder why those perfect mothers out there have it all together and we don’t.
Let me start by saying that there are no perfect mothers and there is no “out there.”
All those moms on the interwebs? With their perfect homes and their perfect partners and their perfect mothering instincts? They don’t exist. That perfect mom? She is struggling, just like you. She is probably afraid and feeling isolated and needing help too. Just like you.
My motherhood journey started off with years of infertility. When I finally got pregnant I was ecstatic and deeply grateful. My pregnancy was relatively easy, enviably so, and I rationalized that I must have suffered enough. The Universe was throwing me a bone.
And then I had my beautiful son Ben.
It wasn’t at all what I thought it would be. The whisperings I heard of new parents being “blissed out” and in their little cocoon of joy was lost on me. What were they even talking about?
I was miserable and scared and so was my husband. This baby didn’t sleep and couldn’t latch to the breast. His weight dwindled with every doctor’s visit but we were afraid to give him a bottle, lest we utterly fail at the hippy Berkeley parenting we aspired to. Everyone around me seemed to be happily wearing their babies in their origami slings and breastfeeding like the madonna and child. What was wrong with me?
I pretended as best I could. Wasn’t part of being a good mom making it look easy? Why wasn’t I more grateful? How could I complain about this child I wanted so desperately?
But behind closed doors I was miserable. I cried all the time. I was afraid for night to come. I felt like I ruined my life. Ben woke up every two hours that first year, hungry and wanting to be bounced. I lost 30 pounds myself in those first few months and became crazed with lack of sleep and nourishment. All the while, I didn’t know how to ask for help. I just assumed I sucked at this parenting thing.
Once, at a mom and baby yoga class, the teacher instructed us to hold our infants in the air while we lay down on our backs. “Now give your baby kisses all over their body!” All the moms playfully kissed their precious infants’ bodies while I felt like an imposter. I had no desire to kiss this baby and numbly went through the motions, afraid I would cause alarm if the instructor noticed my hesitation.
If I could only whisper to myself at that time, I would let that precious girl know a few things:
You need more help.
You can’t do this alone.
And by the way, I think you have postpartum depression.
When I was pregnant with my second son Nico, I happened to share a car with Heather Armstrong, aka Dooce, who has written extensively on postpartum depression. “How will I know if I’m depressed?” I asked her. “If you think they’re better off without you,” she replied.
Oh shit, I thought. That’s how I felt with the first one.
Things got worse before they got better. Ben started having seizures at 12 months and they continued to get more complex as he got older. The trauma of witnessing so many seizures took its toll on my nervous system. I was in a hypervigilant state almost all the time, always waiting for that other shoe to drop. I had nightmares regularly, all that unprocessed trauma wanting to find a way out. I felt an electric current running through my body as I slept. Even the faintest sound would wake me with a surge of electricity, like a shock.
Only now, six and a half years later, can I see it.
Because I could get out of bed each morning, I didn’t realize I was depressed. I was running a business, getting food on the table and dealing with my life. I didn’t know that anxiety and depression are like two sides of the same crappy coin. I was also in denial. After so many years of infertility, I didn’t feel like I had the right to be depressed again. I had already taxed my support system for too long. I had to get my shit together and deal…
Over the last several years, as my anxiety and panic attacks reached a fever pitch, I kept wishing I knew what was normal. How do other people feel when they wake up? Does everyone yell at their kids? Does everyone feel distracted by anxiety? What is normal? It was only when my medication kicked in that I saw where I was more clearly- I needed help. I had needed help since the day Ben was born.
I wish I could say I figured it all out. I wish I could say it’s smooth sailing now, but that wouldn’t be true. What I have figured out is how to take better care of myself. I get more help than I think I deserve.
This means that I take medication now. And hallelujah has my life changed for the better! It means that I refuse to hide that fact and perpetuate the stigma of getting medical help for depression and anxiety. This means that I look for ways to nourish myself as much as possible. I go away and visit friends in faraway places by myself. I go to conferences and retreats. I host monthly Storybowl gatherings where I lead groups of women in sharing true stories from our lives. But mostly, I find the courage to be transparent. Hiding my struggles + not feeling deserving of help and support is what kept me stuck for way too many years.
The surest way to find support is to be transparent about your experience. If you are struggling, share this with your loved ones. Share it with other moms. They will understand and it will give them permission to be transparent with you. It takes courage to be vulnerable. It takes courage to ask for help. Be brave with your truth and you will be rewarded by support and connection. You will feel less alone and so will they.
My first mom’s group was a big trigger for me. They discussed co-sleeping and home births and organic mattresses while I felt like an imposter, formula-feeding my baby in the corner, afraid to reveal what a hard time I was having. When I connected with a new mom’s group, one that matched me better, it was such a relief. We cried and laughed together and normalized our struggles. These were my people! It was healing and connecting to be with other moms who didn’t have the veneer of perfection, who let their messy selves be seen.
The way to find your people is by being yourself. You don’t have to pretend. There are other moms out there who will understand.
Wishing you so much ease and joy in your journey… And when there is no ease and joy, I want you to remember you are not alone.
~ Andrea Scher
Andrea Scher is a photographer, life coach and the creator of Superhero Life. Through her award-winning blog Superhero Journal and e-courses, Mondo Beyondo and Superhero Photo, Andrea will inspire you to find your passions, dream big and say YES to the life you’ve always wanted.
* * *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!
I love what you have to say. It is so true. We do “soldier on” because many women struck by PPD and PPA have always been movers, shakers, doers and high achievers. Suddenly, we find that we need help and for some of us it is an uncomfortable place to be. But you’re right; the “perfect mothers out there” are not really there. Thanks for the letter!
Beautiful letter, Andrea. How true it is that we need to ask for more help than we think we need! When I had my first, I thought I could do it all myself, and I learned quickly that this is simply not the case and that I shouldn’t be too proud to ask for help. I also love that you talked about finding a mom’s group that accepts you for who you are. Great letter. Happy Mother’s Day!
Mom’s Groups can be either lifesavers or huge triggers. You did such an awesome thing to try again- and found a better fit. I wish more moms would first look for a PPD support group and then if they can’t find one, give a few other mom’s groups a whirl. And then? If it causes more grief, guilt, and judgment, find your own posse. There’s the #PPDChat army online if you don’t have a network of moms IRL to reach out to. You do not have to be alone. We’re all right here.
This was incredibly powerful. Thank you for your willingness to be brave and share this with other women. I have a few things I would whisper to my younger mom self, too.