Swaddled in a pastel blanket, there she is on the balcony of my apartment, three stories up from the parking lot. The railing is there but she is so small that she rolls and slips right under the base, falling quick towards the pavement below.
A year before this I had longed to be a mother. I was recently married and filled with excitement at the idea of starting a family. So why was this happening to me now that the moment had arrived? Why was I seeing horrible visions of my sweet baby? Why was I so sad all the time? Why did I panic anytime I needed to go anywhere or make a decision? This was supposed to be a happy wonderful time and I was a complete wreck.
I didn't dare tell anyone, actually writing that first paragraph was extremely hard. I haven't even told my husband about that horrible vision. I feared they might think I was a terrible mother, or take my daughter away from me. I loved her, woke at all hours of the night to nurse her, sang songs to her, and would do anything for her. I thought that maybe it was just exhaustion and if I could catch up on my sleep it would go away, then one day I went to buy some chicken. I went to the drive-thru of a fried chicken place and when my turn came to order I panicked. I was buying dinner for myself and my husband, I had decided that this would be easier than cooking a meal with a newborn, it wasn't. I could not make a decision on how many pieces of chicken I needed. My heart began racing, my chest got tight, I felt dizzy and like I couldn't breath as all the options of combo meals ran through my mind. I sat parked in front of the speaker frozen and feeling like I was about to die. This, was my wake-up call that I was not doing OK and this certainly couldn't be normal. I was suffering from a case of postpartum depression and I needed help.
Prior to having my daughter my husband and I had a group of friends to go out with, outdoor parties by the pool and music in downtown Austin. After she was born our friends stopped calling because they assumed we would be too tired or busy to go out. When I was pregnant there was rarely alone time. Strangers at the grocery store wanted to talk to me about my growing belly. Did I know if it was a girl or boy? What name had we picked? How was I feeling, and could they get me anything? Pregnancy can be a pretty self indulgent time. The world takes notice and stops to pamper you. Then, you have the baby, everyone rushes in, makes a big fuss and then in about two weeks they all vanish. Paternity leave, if there was any, ends all too quickly. Helpful grandmothers go back home. There you sit in a rocking chair, sleep deprived, baby spit up on your shirt, a pile of dishes and laundry, and an adorable baby. Messy, Beautiful.
Now I know that there are support groups like Postpartum Support International so that no new mother has to feel alone. For myself, I spoke to my Dr, read an encouraging "new mom" books, took some zoloft, prayed, joined some online social chat rooms, and made myself get out of the house. I wish I would have known there were local support groups and so many women that had been through it before and that is why I'm telling you my story.
How about as a community we decide that we don't just go away after the first two weeks of our friend having a baby. Let's keep gushing over her, go clean her house, or ask her if she wants to go out dancing. She might say no, but being invited feels so good! It lifts you up out of the foggy valley of parenting to see that the world didn't just forget about you. It is helpful to know that you are more than a milk machine and diaper changer, you are the cool friend that your girlfriends want to hang out with. I have a theory that small villages do not experience the levels of postpartum depression that Americans do. Actually 1 in 10 Americans report depression according to the CDC. That is ridiculously high but I totally believe it. We are all on our phones, updating our status to say how awesome our life is, and the real community, the hugs from a friend, the sound of their voice in a conversation, the things that stimulate our souls.... are lacking.
I wish I could tell you that I don't feel alone anymore, but the truth is that I do. Often. My guess is that you do too. I'm not depressed, I find joy in my family and my garden and crafting. This busy America is set up for folks to feel lonely despite all of that. I have thought it the past that it was because I am the mother of a child on the autism spectrum, or because my son has SPD and all that meant I had to say "no" to doing some fun things for the balance of my family. I am sure that is part of it but it's bigger than that. 1 out of 10 Americans, it's so much bigger than my situation. I think it's because things are too rushed to connect. We drive around, drop kids off places, check our email while walking, and forget to look up and communicate with the people around us. Also we are daily seeing stories and pictures of moments that we were never a part of. I look at everyone's facebook updates and feel like I am missing those moments. The family that is far away having a birthday party, the friends I haven't seen in 10 years because of all the miles between us. Part of seeing that is a gift because we do get to stay updated on family and dear friends, but since when does looking at an old photo album make anyone feel less lonely.
I got off track from the postpartum depression, but my point is that the loneliness and depression can happen regardless of life stage. I think society expects it less from the new mother because "she should be happy with her new baby." The new mother needs special care, but really we all do.
This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!