This year, six million women will suffer from postpartum depression. The majority of them will feel too ashamed to seek the help they deserve. It is high time we demanded a safe community for this stigmatized and often much ignored disorder.
One of the most crucial, simple, even least expensive recommendations from PPD experts is a postpartum depression support group. Yet it's impossible to find; at least it was for me.
I'm not sure I ever fully understood the concept of "alone" until I suffered from PPD. Even surrounded by friends and family, no one could reach me. They weren't able to share in my experience. I was stuck in a deep, dark pit and their presence, their voices, were simply echoes bouncing off its walls. I lived down there for an entire year. I read and reread Brooke Shields' famous tome, Down Came the Rain, as well as Anne Lamott's Operating Instructions. But it's not the same as having another mother there to talk to, ask questions, lean on; someone to say, "I've been there and it does get better" or, "I know exactly how you feel because I feel like that too; you aren't a freak/a failure/a horrible mother."
All I wanted was a community: a place where I could be with other mothers like me, a place where I could bring my child and learn how to cope with this emotional overload. In all of NYC (it's such a tiny town, you know), I was only able to find one support group but they wouldn't take me because my son was over six weeks old. Apparently, I had missed my window of opportunity. I didn't know there was an expiration date on depression?
Since I was unable to find a PPD support group, I joined a few other groups: a Mommy and Me group and a breastfeeding support group. Sadly, these did little to alleviate my desperation or loneliness. No one else seemed to be having the same problems -- or at least, they certainly weren't sharing them. And why should they? These groups weren't the type of support I needed but they were all I had. So, I would put on a brave face. But once safely home I would fall apart: lying in the dark, tears soaking my pillow, wishing I had the strength to put an end to my pain, convinced my family would be better off without me.
Thankfully, I was able to find a group of women on my own. One mother I met briefly in my mommy and me group and I could tell from her face she was having a hard time, too. Like me, she found it difficult to make new friends and deal with the overwhelming feelings of PPD. So, convinced we could be stronger together, I pursued her and we became close friends. The other mothers we gathered along the way, in music class, at the park, or from a different mommy and me group. It took awhile but it was well worth the wait. They were/are all mothers like me who found being a new mommy a rather painful experience. We were able to share our feelings in a safe place where no one could say how awful we were, how short we had fallen from being that perfect mother. Instead we found love, acceptance, and, most importantly, support. With this my depression began to retreat.
These days, I'm able to fully embrace and enjoy motherhood, to laugh and engage with my child. But I can't help feeling regret and sadness about my son's first year of life, and wonder how it might have been different. To this day I still find it difficult to fathom the paradox: PPD experts all agree that postpartum depression can strike a woman at any time within the first year of giving birth, yet all (and there are only a few of those) of the available support groups are only for women who have just given birth. This leaves an enormous amount of women without the help they really need and the support they truly deserve.
Read Part One of Tonya Vernooy's story on postpartum depression.