Monday, June 13, 2011

Taking Care of Mama

The class I’d like to see childbirth educators add to their list.

When I was pregnant with my first child, I took every class the hospital offered, from Breastfeeding to Taking Care of Baby. But what really would have helped me is a class that doesn’t exist. A class I’d like to call “Taking Care of Mama.” You know the old saying, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

About a week after I got home from the hospital with my perfect little baby, nobody in my house was happy because I was miserable. I remember standing at the window in the early morning darkness of a cold rainy Monday watching my husband’s car leave our driveway his first day back to work. All I could think was “The world is going on without me.” I’d given up my career to stay at home with my baby, but suddenly found myself wondering what the hell I was thinking. My days now consisted of changing diapers, trying to (unsuccessfully) breastfeed a fussy baby every 15 minutes, washing endless loads of laundry and watching way too much mindless daytime television. I signed up for this?

Two weeks later I was consumed with dark feelings. When I had to force myself to eat, I knew this was a problem bigger than the “baby blues.” I knew this was postpartum depression, even though I couldn’t make my mouth form the words.

You have to understand, I was the woman who couldn’t wait to be a stay-at-home mom. So when the dark feelings came out of nowhere, I was completely unprepared. I went to all those classes to learn how to diaper and swaddle a baby. I knew how to give the baby a bath and I was even prepared for that ugly umbilical cord stump thing, but I wasn’t prepared for this.

At least one out of every ten women who give birth experience some form of postpartum depression. It’s all over the news. You’d think someone might have at least mentioned it in one of those classes. Nope. Did anyone ever say, “For the next six weeks your hormones will be on a roller coaster ride that will make you feel, at the very least, not yourself. Your body will be recovering from the trauma of birth, while at the same time being more deprived of sleep than a Marine at boot camp. Oh, and you are also now responsible for the health and well being of another human. Life as you knew it is over. Therefore, do not be surprised if you experience an adjustment period.” C’mon. Would a little warning have been so hard?

Yet, alas, none of those healthcare professionals ever seem to mention taking care of yourself as a new mama except for instructing you to wait six weeks before having sex (as if anyone who’s just passed a seven-pound baby through her nether regions needed to be told that). No, all the classes are about the baby. Taking care of the baby, feeding the baby, massaging the baby, diapering the baby and (God-forbid) administering CPR to the baby. The mother is completely left out of the equation. What about the major emotional, financial and psychological turn your life has just taken? Sorry. You’re on your own there sister.

After a few weeks of feeling awful, I went to see my doctor. He knew exactly what I was going through. He told me if I hated breastfeeding, I should stop trying (and not to feel guilty about it), to get out of the house every day and to exercise. Then he gave me a prescription for an antidepressant. I left his office feeling like I might actually survive. And that was a feeling I hadn’t had in what seemed like a really long time.

I had no idea so many other women had gone through the same thing. It sure would have helped to know I wasn’t alone and to hear stories of success from other new moms who suffered from postpartum depression. To be reassured that I wasn’t destined to be a horrible mother and feel like crap the rest of my life. But sadly, few mothers admit publicly or even to their close friends what they are going through.

So here’s what I would tell moms-to-be in my “Taking Care of Mama” class: First, you have to make time for yourself. Get out with your friends, your husband. Get a babysitter. Not only is it okay to take time for yourself, but you’ll be a better mother if you take some time to recharge. Second, everything is a stage. As new moms we have a tendency to think of now as being forever. But the baby will eventually sleep through
the night and smile back at you and laugh and life will get better. And if you are feeling depressed, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Go talk to your doctor. He or she can help. Be empowered to do what works for you. Just because something worked for someone else doesn’t mean it’s right for you.

I’m glad I learned all those lessons. It just would have been nice if someone had given me the Cliff-Notes version ahead of time.

(Post originally submitted to CharlotteMommies)

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