Motherhood. It’s said to be the most magical experience in a woman’s life – the moment she holds her newborn baby, the bond she feels, the tears of joy as she promises to care for this tiny infant for as long as she lives. So what happens when those tears of joy don’t come? Or worse, when they become tears of sadness? Or when they won’t stop coming?
Post-partum depression – a shameful secret
For nearly 10% of women in Canada, the dream of new motherhood becomes a nightmare of post-partum depression. They may find themselves sobbing uncontrollably, unable to eat, and withdrawing from family and friends. Often these women keep their condition concealed, because they fear that revealing their unhappiness would be viewed as a failure by others. Compounded by feelings of shame for not having adapted flawlessly into the “natural” role of motherhood, women with post-partum depression may be driven deeper into the spiral of their condition. In extreme cases, this can even result in harm to themselves or their babies.
So how can the community of a new family get involved to help?
Monica, the mother who never stops mothering
Monica was extremely excited to be a grandmother. “I mean, I didn’t want to admit that I was old enough to be a Nona,” she jokes, “but watching my daughter go through her pregnancy was such a joy. And the baby was perfect.”
Watching her daughter adjust to her new role as a mom brought a flood of memories of Monica’s own experience so many years ago. “I kept saying to her – Isn’t it just amazing? Doesn’t it feel magical? – I thought I was supporting.”
A few weeks after her grandson was born, Monica began to notice a change in her daughter’s behaviour. “She didn’t seem to want to leave the house, and her mood swings were sudden and vitriolic,” she said. “I’d never seen anything like it before.”
Soon, her daughter’s condition was also having an effect on Monica’s life. Monica was taking days off work to care for her grandson, and readjusting her schedule at a moment’s notice to come to the aid of her daughter. “I thought I’d left the day-to-day mothering behind,” she says. “I was ready to be the grandmother – where my only responsibility would be to spoil my grandson rotten!”
Reaching out for help
Monica was beginning to suspect that her daughter was suffering from post-partum depression, but she didn’t know quite how to broach it. She didn’t want to stop the hands-on support she was giving – she just wanted a bit of support on her own. “I just needed a bit of strength,” she says. So she got in touch with the health information service included in her work’s benefits program, and was connected with a Health Information Specialist.
“She was so compassionate,” says Monica. “She listened to me carefully, and seemed to understand my situation. She mentioned that she was a mother herself, and empathized with my feelings of helplessness.” Within days, Monica received a detailed information package, including advice, techniques and resources to help friends and family members provide support for sufferers of post-partum mental health issues.
The friend of my friend is my friend
What surprised Monica the most, though, was the second information packet that she received.
The service had sent a second information packet especially directed at Monica’s daughter. It included community resources for new moms, postpartum support groups, breastfeeding support and local resources, and a list of mental health professionals who specialize in maternal and postpartum health. “I couldn’t believe it when I saw my daughter’s name,” said Monica. “It was touching that they had reached out directly to her as well – it felt like they cared.”
Monica used the information in her pack, as well as the included health coaching service, to help her become a better support for her daughter, and the second package helped her daughter take some independent control of her condition.
Today they are both doing better, and Monica has been able to return to her normal life and her role as the doting grandmother.
“Even after this may years, motherhood continues to be a magical experience,” says Monica. Then she adds quietly, “it’s just that sometimes moms need a bit of mothering themselves.’
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