It was sometime between 3:00 am and 4:00 am, when we were just about four weeks into our new gig as first-time parents. Sure, I was tired then, but still mostly in awe and making it through each day relatively intact. I wasn’t sleeping much, but I was getting showers, so I called it good.
We had agreed that my husband would take this particular shift while I slept on the couch – the most comfortable spot in the house that was also furthest away from the nursery. Still, I heard my husband going through our list of tricks: cooing sweetly, checking diaper, rocking and shushing, offering bottle and so on, while our baby’s cries ratcheted up ever higher.
My eyes stayed closed, but my heart raced. First, I was angry: what is going on in there? Do I need to get up and take over? What’s he doing? Why is she still crying? And then, sadness washed over me instead as I pictured the reality of what was likely happening in that room. I imagined my poor, sweet husband, tired just like me, doing everything I would have done, all in vain for this squalling, painfully unhappy baby…while me, the overjoyed new mother, lay motionless on the couch. Something in me snapped.
I bolted upright and thought: “This is not getting better. I must be missing something. We’re doing something wrong. This is never going to end. I can’t do this anymore.” I sobbed louder and louder, no longer trying to keep it from my husband, until I was completely wailing and lost. When he at last heard me over the baby, he put her down safely and rushed out to the living room.
A few days later, with my sister-in-law and girlfriends, this became a “would you believe it?” “haha, crazy!” kind of story shared in passing. None of them were surprised by it, and I guess it just came out like a badge earned as a new mom. I logically knew from Babycenter.com that this was a totally normal postpartum thing. What did scare me right down to my messy yoga pants was this: I thought I was handling everything and then suddenly I wasn’t. I had assumed I’d see something like this coming, but I simply didn’t. The negative thoughts that had been swirling, the fears I whispered to myself, the first-time-mom expectations I clung to – they had all come home to roost, and were trying to present themselves as reality.
Raging hormonal shifts, extreme sleep deprivation, adjusting to life with a newborn…add in outside criticism (or even well-meaning comments) about everything from your baby’s size to whether you’re feeding him or her “right,” and it’s an emotional storm just waiting to happen.
Depression lies. It runs a loop of destructive thoughts and perceptions, amplifying them until they actually sound reasonable and logical: I’m not doing this right, I’m not a good mom, something is wrong with my baby and it’s my fault.
The truth? “Postpartum depression isn’t a character flaw or a weakness. Sometimes it’s simply a complication of giving birth.” (MayoClinic.com). According to a 2013 study in the Journal of American Medicine-Psychiatry, a staggering 1 in 7 of us will experience postpartum depression within the first year of motherhood – whether it’s your first baby, second child, or beyond.
Reno mom of two Pamela Zimmer is on a personal mission to help moms in our community who may be facing postpartum depression. She, too, didn’t anticipate the struggle she faced after the births of both sons. “I thought I was prepared for it; I was proactively determined not to “get it,” says Pamela. “What I didn’t realize was that postpartum depression is not anything you can predict, prevent or even really prepare for.”
From her difficult experiences, Pamela became committed to helping other moms come out on the other side of PPD. She developed “The HAPPY Mommy Method,” and it’s designed to complement other medical or holistic care moms may be receiving. This five-step mentoring program features personalized, one-on-one guidance that only another mom who’s been there can offer. Each gives moms the perspective, the personal connections and the practical means to reclaim joy and confidence in the everyday – alongside other traditional treatments or medication for depression, if desired.
“I truly feel that our generation of women in particular is under extreme amounts of pressure to be perfect, even more so when we become mothers,” says Pamela. “That pressure can literally put your life in danger when it comes to postpartum depression.”
Here, Pamela offers three things friends can do for the new moms in their lives who may be facing PPD:
Ask honest questions and listen to the answers: The biggest and most important thing friends can do to help is to remain supportive and listen without judgment. Really hear what your friend is saying to you, so that she will open up and talk about what she’s experiencing, without feeling afraid. Just knowing that she has a safe, comfortable, supportive space to share can make all the difference. When a mom feels like she has to hide or pretend everything is okay, it often makes depression worse because of the stigma associated with asking for and getting help. PPD is a medical condition, and it requires treatment, so it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Offer “active” support: For someone who suspects a friend may have PPD, but is unaware or unsure, again offering up a supportive, non-judgmental ear to listen may be just what that friend needs. Also offering up support in the way of someone to help care for the baby or other children, running an errand, cooking a meal – all things that we often associate with what mom needs right after the baby is born, but with PPD, since it generally hits later on throughout that first year, giving that same kind of support and time can be a big help.
Help her acknowledge her condition: Lastly, if you know your friend is suffering from PPD and is open about it, providing her with resources to show her she’s not alone can be helpful. There are online resources as well as books and brochures. Keep reminding her that she’s not a bad mother, it’s not her fault, and it will get better. Be there for her the way you would want someone to be there for you.