My husband and I have been blessed with six babies over a span of 11 years. Six pregnancies, deliveries and postpartum recoveries. It occurred to me the other day that I‘ve never experienced the postpartum depression that plagues many women. I don’t want to oversimplify this issue, because the causes for PPD may be as complex and unique as the women who experience it. But I did have something special that most women don’t, which helped immeasurably in every way: a mother who stayed with me for a month after each baby was born.
Yes—a mom who arrived a week or so before my due date and stayed for about a month afterward, for the sole purpose of helping me. My husband took a few days or a week off postpartum each time, too, but it was my mother who helped ease the transition in our family the most each time.
When I arrived home from the hospital with newborn in tow, the house was in decent shape and lunch (or dinner) was made. For the first week after each birth, I basically did nothing but rest, nurse and snuggle with my new baby. Mom took care of food preparation, helped with the other kids and with household chores. She baked cookies with our older kids and read with them. My husband, who is a good and very capable help himself, loved having my mom around – for both our sakes. We were both able to relax and enjoy the growth in our family so much more with the extra help.
Week two after birth I was up and around a little more but still took daily naps when I felt like them and sat down to a healthy home-cooked meal every night – that mom cooked and my husband and kids cleaned up after.
By the time mom left after 3-4 weeks, I had regained my strength, was comfortable with mothering my newborn, and felt ready to resume most of my pre-birth activities. My emotional tank was full, not only because I’d had the time to leisurely bond with my new baby, but also because I’d had time to reconnect with my own mother. By the time she left, my heart ached with love for my baby and with love and longing for my mother, who lives on the other side of the country and who I wouldn’t see again for months. But by then my emotional, mental and physical state was strong and I was ready to move on.
Having those first weeks to rest and recuperate from childbirth, to bond with baby, to be supported, nurtured and loved at the beginning of an important new stage of life, has made all the difference.
I’m not saying this to boast or make anyone feel bad. If anything, it’s my mother who deserves kudos. Many women don’t have mothers who are willing or able to step in like that.
But imagine if that kind of personal, intimate postpartum support were the rule instead of the exception? What if pregnancy, childbirth and children were so celebrated and valued that every mother could count on helpful, caring support during those challenging first weeks with baby, until she is ready to get back on her feet? Well, it may not eliminate PPD, but I’ll bet it would give it a good kick in the pants, especially since having a weak support system is a risk factor.
Someday in the future, I plan to be there for my daughters and grandbabies the same way my mother was there for me. But in the meantime, there are sisters, friends and neighbors who are struggling through that season of new motherhood and could use a helping hand. We are united with our fellow moms through the shared experience of childbirth and motherhood, and we need to help each other out, especially where family support is weak. Where the ‘village’ is lacking, our caring presence in the life of a new mom may be far more powerful than we ever realize.