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.
(On this topic, please come find me on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest)
*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*
29 comments on “The Power of Peer Support”
Wonderful blog post. I totally agree with you. I felt so adrift when my first arrived. Shot out of hospital after a night, expected to receive guests to coo over the baby whilst making tea and cake, even with mastitis and then ‘abandoned’ when the husband returned to work. This time round I was so very poorly after my c-section that I spent a week in hospital, Dom took an extra 1 week as holiday so I had him for three weeks, we stayed at my mums for 4 weeks in total for help and then I’ve been lucky enough for my mum to take early retirement so she is on hand to help. I also made a point that when the in laws landed on me for a week on my scary return to my own house that their job was to help, not just sit and hold the baby. I genuinely think all of these factors are the reason why I am so much ‘happier’ this time round. I am at peace with parenting. xxx
I’m pleased you have had a much better experience this time around, and a lot more support. No one can prepare for the emotions that come with first time motherhood and support from family and friends is so vital.
Thanks so much for reading and commenting x
Brilliant post. I think we could all do with a village at some point but the satnav is continually faulty in some towns. Thanks so much for linking up #MaternityMondays
Thanks so much for reading and commenting x
I’m so glad you found help quickly, both professionally and through the online community. The internet is great for bring wonderful people together no matter where they live. Thanks for linking up with #sundaystars xxx
I love the internet for it’s community. Such a gift. Thanks for reading x
I couldn’t agree anymore!!
Thanks for reading! Peer support is so vital, right? 🙂
So glad that you have found your village of support. I have no experience of PND but those early months of parenting are incredibly tough and can leave you feeling completely isolated, even if you do have amazing family around you, they can’t be there all the time. By writing this you are helping so many others 🙂 Thanks so much for linking up with #TwinklyTuesday
Thank you for reading and commenting x
There can be a lot of negativity surrounding the internet and how people on electronic devices is ruining real-life interaction and communication etc. But, actually, I think the internet is a great tool for interaction and communication and it can really help those who *don’t* have that in ‘the real world’. I have suffered from depression (both PND and regular old depression) and online communities really are invaluable. I’ve found the same having a son with ASD. I’m lucky that I have great support from my family but I don’t really have any friends locally and I’d be lost without my online friends and the knowledge and support I get from other mums with autistic children.
I couldn’t agree more. There IS a dark side to the internet of course but like anything there is always good and bad. I had no idea such an amazing mum community existed until I needed them and I’m so grateful. Thank you for reading and commenting 🙂
PND must be awful and I don’t think enough support is available for women that have it (or for their partners who have to cope with the change to family life and a partner who desperately needs help). Glad you found support in the end. I know my wife was desperate for my company when I was a working dad. Alas, I’m a SAHD these days. The early days are but a distant memory but there’s very little support for guys like me.
I can appreciate that. I often think there needs to be more support for SAHDs. There are a few dads at the toddler group I attend but I bet there are plenty more at home not feeling like they can attend something like that and be outnumbered and that’s a real shame. I hope this will change over time as more and more dads choose to be stay at home parents. Plenty of people think it’s the easy way out but I couldn’t disagree more. My two days a week at work are my break! And my hubs readily admits he would struggle at home so hats off to you and all SAHM&Ds! Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂
Such an important subject! The pressure on new mums to cope (or appear to cope) is overwhelming. I do not think that having a first baby is something that you can just take in your stride! I did not have PND but still struggled to get out of my pyjamas or clean my teeth in those early weeks and felt like such a failure for lying on the sofa cuddling a sleeping baby rather than being suited and booted and trotting off with the buggy to groups and cafes! Thanks for sharing #TwinklyTuesday
Couldn’t agree more! Thanks so much for reading and commenting x
O yeah, the entrance into motherhood is a very lonely business for so many of us. So many battles to fight all at once, and not just for you but for your little one. It took me forever to ever venture into groups, I found staying at home easier. Though looking back now, I think going out would have done me a world of good. You’re right that in so many cultures, a new mum is given a break from the usual, to focus on adjusting to all her new changes. Mums in this part of the world could definitely do with much longer time off to adjust to the demands of motherhood.
Glad you found the support you needed and thanks for sharing the twitter chat time and info. All the best with the new PND group in Essex; I’m sure many will benefit from it. Together, we can do so much more. 🙂 #TwinklyTuesday
Thanks so much for reading and commenting x
I was lucky enough to not suffer from PND and only had the very slight baby blues at week 3 – that said, I totally get what you mean about the loneliness. It is lonely. people can’t be with you 24/7. I found the first 6 weeks really hard as I had a csection and I couldn’t drive, I had to rely on people coming to see me and rely on my mum to get me out further than the shops down the road. It was really hard and that’s why if here’s a next time, I desperately want to try and avoid a section if I can! II can’t imagine all of that and PND. You talk about the network that you have found but ‘d like to highlight that by writing this blog, you are creating a network. Creating a place that is there to help other in the same situation. basically what you are doing is wonderful. Thanks so much for linking up with #TwinklyTuesday
Thanks so much for your kind words, I really like to hope that I’m helping others 🙂 I had a section too and that really doesn’t help, I especially hated the first few days when I couldn’t even get out of bed to take care of my baby. Thanks so much for commenting x
What an amazing post. I completely agree about the importance of immediate support as soon as you leave hospital. It seems so easy to slip into a routine of hiding away once the initial whirlwind of visitors has passed. When I had my first I was completely isolated, geographically, from my friends and family, made even worse by a terribly long and painful recovery period after an assisted birth and my husband going back to work after one day of leave. Thankfully we moved closer to my support network eight weeks later and I haven’t looked back since. I do, however, wonder what life would have been like if we had stayed where we were. Thank you so much for sharing such an important subject and being so honest. #TwinklyTuesday
Thanks so much for commenting 🙂 Goodness, I can’t even imagine having my hubs go back to work that soon! That must have been so rough for you. And being away from family too. Glad you got to move back home x