They say it takes a village to raise a child but, in 2015, where the hell is our village? Many cultures around the world celebrate the birth of a new member of their community by surrounding the new mother with love and practical support, often spiritually honouring the incredible physical and emotional journey she has just been on. Mothers are allowed to spend days, or even weeks, doing nothing but spending time in bed with their child; resting, recuperating and working on that vital bond between mum and baby.
In the Western world new mums are more likely up, dressed and making endless cups of tea for their queues of guests. In some nations (I believe the US is the worst for this) they are even expected back to work within three months! I know all cultures are different and those differences should be celebrated (I myself was taking Little Caterpillar on the bus and out to Baby Massage class within a few weeks of his birth, and that was actually a good thing for me as my anxiety made it difficult for me to stay in the house alone). But I suppose my point is the lack of support for new mums. A lot of women live away from their immediate families nowadays and if they don’t have good friends (who either have children themselves or at least an empathic grasp of how hard early parenting is) who can offer support this can quickly lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation.
I’m one of the lucky ones as I have an amazing, supportive family who live very close-by and were (and still are!) an absolute gift to me. But in spite of this, the loneliness of being a new mum still caught me completely off guard. I thought me and the baby would be enough for each other, that taking care of him would keep me so busy I wouldn’t have time to be lonely. But the truth is many women find the newborn stage not only exhausting but quite, dare I say it, boring too. I longed for adult interaction. I had no idea how big an impact not going to work every day in a busy city could have on my state of mind.
I attempted to counteract this loneliness by attending lots of baby groups and courses run by my local children centre which helped hugely. However, I’m very aware that lots of women aren’t as confident in a group, and that shyness can make them too nervous to attend something like this.
Early parenting can be a lonely business, but early parenting with PND is a whole new level of alone. Our culture and the expectations that are put on us, and that we put on ourselves, lead us to expect certain automatic feelings and levels of function that PND can rob from us. This then leads to the inevitable thought: why am I the only one? Why am I the only one not coping with the sleeplessness? Why am I the only one checking my baby’s breathing several times an hour? Why am I the only one feeling sad/angry/frightened/lonely (hell, pick any adjective!) Why am I the only one wondering if this was a huge mistake? Why am I the only one who doesn’t love their baby enough? Attending groups or spending time with other new mums can be a double-edged sword in these cases because, although it might help you feel less lonely, you could feel worse if you see other mums appearing so happy and content. These feelings of being alone in your thoughts are so, so dangerous and only exasperate the symptoms of PND.
Truth is, you’re not the only one. But people just aren’t speaking up, for the same reasons you’re not. Fear and shame. It’s that fear and shame that myself, and others speaking out about PND and other perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, are attempting to dissipate, or at least dilute.
The first moment I considered the idea that I might have PND was when I broke down at the end of a DELTA group at the Children’s Centre. I was still labouring under the illusion that there was another explanation for the insomnia until that point. The minute the employees helping me there subtly suggested PND my heart turned to ice, but when one of those women; a bubbly, cheerful, mother of two preschoolers told me it had happened to her too that ice began to thaw a little.
We all know PND exists. We all read the obligatory leaflets. But it isn’t until you speak to a real person, who experienced similar thoughts to you, that you can begin to get comfort from that knowledge. Comfort and hope that there is a way out and a happy ending.
After that, I desperately tried to find a local PND support group. And although, professionally, I was very well supported and I’m so thankful for that, there really isn’t much in terms of peer support.
So I took to the online community. I met several wonderful women through Netmums. And later, through Postpartum Progress I found a Facebook group called PPD Chat Support where I realised I could be completely honest about my thoughts and feelings and find other women going through the same experiences as me. The simple power of this was definitely a contributing factor in my recovery. Taking that first step on a forum or social media group and saying “I feel this way, how about you?” is so scary, especially when you’ve been faced with misunderstanding in ‘real life,’ but the relief you can get from truly realising you aren’t alone is completely worth it.
Since I’ve begun this blogging journey I’ve realised how much online peer support is out there (fabulous initiatives such as PND&Me’s #pndhour) and I only hope this grows and grows. I also fervently hope more local peer support groups are set up too. In the meantime, online support has been vital to me.
You are my village.
*Edited 6th Sept 2015 to give you information about a fabulous new PND support group being set up in Essex by Lotus Petal PND. For more info click here*