“Be kind to another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven us. (Ephesians 4:32)
Earlier this week, I was woke up by a phone call from a new mom in tears. She had reached the end of her rope and didn’t know what to do. So, she called me. We had only spoken a handful of times through social media in the past few years, having met through work before she took a position in another province. Recently, I had congratulated her on her new baby and we exchanged a few messages. I gave her my number in case she ever needed to chat.
Indeed, it was only a moment into the conversation that I realized that my friend’s frantic call was going to require more than I could provide from several provinces away. I placed a call to my mom to briefly explain that I had a friend who needed help and in minutes she was out the door to make the two-hour trek into the city.
I continued to talk to the new mom and told her that help was on the way. We talked about her struggles in learning how to balance motherhood and being a wife while her career was on hold. Knowing it would be awhile before my mom would arrive, we continued to talk about her friends, family and hobbies. It didn’t take long to realize that she was feeling extremely secluded in her new role and she didn’t have the support she needed. We talked until she became too tired and I let her go so she could rest. I continued to pray for her and her baby.
As a peer, I have always considered her to be a successful, driven, career oriented, strong, empowered woman. Yet, here she was calling me for help. Having four children of my own, I could relate to her feelings — as I am certain many new mothers can. Her words stating, “I can’t do this. Nobody told me it would be this hard.” spoke so much truth because rarely are we told that yes, it can be this hard.
My mom arrived to help this mom, giving her the much-needed support she required at that moment. She offered to help in any way she could and told her she could come back again if it was necessary. Since then I have had countless conversations with this new mom. And yes, I will continue to support her in whatever way I can, praying for her situation.
I would like to suggest that everything will work out perfectly for this family but the rest is unknown. I do know she loves her baby and that with the right support system in place, they will be fine. They will adapt as issues emerge, and the relationships as a young family will grow.
But between all those conversations I sit and I wonder — How did someone, who had the potential to be a CFO of a major corporation one day, suddenly be struggling so much? And before you jump to any conclusions, this has nothing to do with her parenting. She is a good mom. But how many other mothers are feeling this way? Are there others who are regretting their choice to become parents? We hear about the severe cases on the news but what challenges are/were these parents facing before their family become news?
In Canada, the percentage of women in the general population who will develop postpartum depression is 15 – 20%. There are 4.1 million moms in Canada, which means that between 600,000 – 800,000 moms will experience post partum depression. That number is astounding, and honestly, can only be determined by the reported cases. Research shows that post partum is caused by many different factors but emotional and hormonal changes are at the top of the list.
The hormonal changes are something that can’t really be helped. A decrease in estragon and other hormones makes it difficult for your body to jump right back into being whole again. Let’s be honest here. Having a baby may be considered natural, but as a woman goes through the birthing process, there is nothing natural about the way it feels!
However, I want to write specifically about the emotional changes. The emotional insecurities that we feel, as we now hold this beautiful bundle of joy in our arms. Most would agree — nothing could be more perfect, particularly with nurses and family around to help us those first few hours or days, depending on where one lives. It was only 12 hours after giving birth that I remember packing my little one into the car. And then you are sent home to be on our own. To make sure that we keep this little bundle of joy safe and happy as we raise them up to be the next leader of the free world.
The first couple of weeks are filled with loved ones and friends. Everyone wants to come meet the newest addition. There are countless offers to help with laundry, cooking, and letting mom squeeze in a nap. But eventually dad goes back to work, the offers of help fade away and suddenly you are alone to do the hardest job you will ever be told to do. That is, to raise your child.
The crying (screaming really) rarely stops, your body hurts, you haven’t slept in days (months…. because that last trimester was no walk in the park!) and nothing seems to make the situation any better. All you want is a few minutes of peace and quiet, a warm bed to lay in and somebody to make you feel better. Instead, as a new mom, you have cracked nipples from the constant feeding, (even if the babe isn’t hungry because it means a moment of silence), you haven’t showered in what feels like a month, and the house that used to stay clean all day long is now covered in diapers, spit up cloths and onesies.
As a new mother, none of the chaos makes sense. They said a child would be wonderful. They told you the pain would stop once your baby got the hang of the schedule. They said you could sleep when the baby sleeps and not to worry about the house because you needed to enjoy your baby. What they did not tell you is that there may be moments when you are not enjoying your baby because he won’t stop crying. Sleep, eat, poop is the assumed schedule. Nowhere does it say: cry, sleep five minutes, cry, eat, cry, eat, cry, poop, cry, eat, cry….
So, in the midst, you as a new mother realize that you need help. You might turn to the internet where you find a blogger who is well put together with her three little darlings sitting beside her on a picnic blanket while the littlest one breastfeeds with a smile on his face. Note: Your baby doesn’t smile like that … which only makes you wonder when you last smiled like that.
Moreover, when that mom blogger’s advice doesn’t make the crying stop, you call your doctor. You have a list of questions written in your notebook — of the things you want to ask, But you are quickly ushered into the room, baby is weighed and briefly checked over. He/she asks how things are going but before you can truly answer the question the doctor tells you the baby looks great and that things will get easier. Just give it some time.
So home you go, where the door bell rings. There is a public health nurse checking in to see how everything is going. Finally, you think, here is an opportunity to get some answers. You present your list to the nurse. But instead of getting a warm cup of tea and a hug, you get a text book answer from the latest research study that tells you what you feared the most. Yes, you are doing this baby thing all wrong!
And, in an instant, it is confirmed that everything you have been thinking and feeling is true. You don’t know what you are doing because you were trying to feed them every two hours but the latest studies show that you should be feeding on demand, your baby shouldn’t be crying for more than five minutes (even if he screamed for three hours this morning), you should tuck them safely in their bassinet without any stuffies, pillows or loose blankets. Even when you as a mother know that the only way you can get an hour of rest is when your husband plunks the baby in the car seat and takes him for a drive. Instead, all you hear is “It’s all wrong and/or you are failing your baby!”
Well guess what, just because the studies might have some merit doesn’t mean you are wrong.
Thus, this message is not for just the Mom who called me. This message is for all moms who right now are sitting reading this, wondering what am I doing wrong? NOTHING! Plain and simple, you are doing what you think is right! So, in this situation, and many others similar to this one, the problem isn’t you. It’s everyone else. It’s the people who say ‘I don’t know what your problem is, my baby just sleeps’; it’s the doctors and nurses who we think have our best interests at heart when they say ‘oh don’t do that, studies show that impedes development’; it’s the blogs we read online that only tell how “perfect” parenting is; it’s the books we read up to this point that have only told us the ideal parts of parenting, leaving out the emotional roller coasters that are normal. So here is my lesson for this day – if you love your child, and are doing your best, you are doing nothing wrong!
Babies are hard. Plain and simple. They went from being warm and swimming around with a constant food source to being squeezed out through a little hole into a cold world. They are trying to figure this baby thing out just as much as you are. Crying is their only way of getting stronger. It is their only way of saying ‘hey I’m still here’. You and you alone will know your baby. You will know when he needs you and you will know when he is just crying to make some noise. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do this. Instead, listen to the people who tell you that you can!
And if I have learned anything this week, my advice to the healthcare industry is to stop spouting off ridiculous facts to new moms. Take a moment to recognize who they are and what their needs are. A bunch of pamphlets with a long list of this and that isn’t going to turn us into the best mothers we can be. Because mothers need a real human being to talk to. They need someone who will listen to the problems they are experiencing and offer a multitude of solutions that they can try to figure out what works best for this baby.
And my advice to fellow moms and dads? Recognize when your friends and family need help. If a new mom doesn’t have a melt down at least once a week, dig deeper! I don’t know any mom in my life that hasn’t said ‘this is hard’ at least once. If your friend is covering up their emotional mess, (just to make things look good all the time), you need to be more honest with them. Tell them that parenting isn’t easy and let them know of a time you struggled. Be real with them. Help them to figure out what could work for them instead of trying to get them to follow what worked for you. And if nothing else works, offer to take the baby for a walk, and give new mom an hour to herself. Let her relax and get her bearings back in a straight line. And remember most of all – NO JUDGEMENT! Everyone gets through the tough times differently. Be supportive! Be understanding. Be compassionate. And yes, even be available.
What has happened in our modern-day society is that we have set the bar so high that parents are struggling, and social media has just added to that chaos. In the mix, we have forgotten to be real with people. To express when we are hurting, or at a loss for answers. In my opinion, this is one of the reasons why new moms are afraid to ask for help when they are struggling with post partum depression. But what a difference it would make if we offered them a shoulder to cry on, or a kind person to say ‘lets take this one day at a time together’. Be there for each other, yes, but also be honest. Life is not perfect, and we have to stop pretending that it is!
Moreover, every baby is different and unique for that is how God made them. And therefore, every baby does require different parenting techniques. As such, we as a collective need to stop trying to make our babies fit into the latest statistic, or perfectly match the most recent research. Why? Because babies – as small as they may be are real people. Thankfully, so are their moms!
Jesus summarizes all of the commandments into two: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is One Lord. And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength; this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. there is none other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31; Deuteronomy 6:4)