5 things not to say to new moms

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People love to offer tidbits of wisdom when you’re a first time mom. For the most part, these folks mean well and think they’re helping. But there are a few phrases that almost never help and in fact, they can be quite harmful – especially to those of us dealing with postpartum depression. At first I was thinking of a “What Not to Say to a Mom with PPD” list, but then I realized that A) some of these sayings may cause stress and anxiety to any new mom, regardless of her mental health status, and B) you may not even know that the mom you’re speaking to has PPD in the first place since a lot of women don’t speak about it. So in conclusion, I’d say you’re safe to follow these tips with all new moms you might know. Better safe than sorry when it comes to rubbing a hormonal, sleep-deprived, overwhelmed young mother the wrong way.

And so, without further ado, here are my Five Things You Shouldn’t Say to a New Mom.

1. Enjoy every second.

A lot of people tack this sentiment onto their good wishes. “Congrats on your new addition. Enjoy every second!” Seems harmless, right? NOPE!

First off, if there’s a mom out there who enjoys every single second of being a new parent, I’d like to meet her. And then I’d like to hook her up to a lie detector and watch as the machine goes bananas, because SUCH A PERSON DOES NOT EXIST. Even if you’re having a generally swell time with your newborn, at some point, you’re not going to enjoy it. You’ll get barf in your hair and poop on your face. These things aren’t enjoyable.

For moms with postpartum depression, being told you should enjoy every second is like a knife through the heart. It hurts. You already feel miserable, and guilty that you feel so miserable. You don’t need everyone telling you you should be doing a happy dance every time your little one screams for you at 3AM. Which leads me to the next thing I often hear that gets under my skin…

2. They’re only little for so long. Enjoy the extra snuggles!

Whenever a mom cries out that she’s exhausted because her baby only wants to sleep on her and she can’t get any rest that way, well-meaning people love to jump in and tell her how precious this time is and to soak it all up because one day her kid will be an ungrateful teenager and she’ll long for those early days. GAH. Not helpful! If a mom is looking for advice on how to improve her situation, and you just tell her to enjoy it instead, you’re completely ignoring her request and plea for help. She knows that this chapter in her kid’s life won’t last forever and that baby snuggles are wonderful, in theory. But she wants some goddamn sleep.

Offer to hold her baby while she rests, or lend her your magical sleep-inducing baby swing, or say/do whatever you think will help her. But don’t make her feel like she’s a bad mom for wanting a moment here or there where she can roll onto her stomach. Or go to the bathroom. Or do absolutely anything without a human attached to her.

3. Stop worrying so much. The baby feeds off your emotions.

Telling someone with anxiety not to be anxious is of zero help. Can you tell someone with cancer not to have cancer, and then it just instantly disappears? If that were the case, my life would have been a hell of a lot easier. Postpartum depression and anxiety is a mental illness. You can’t just tell someone not to have it, or not to feel a certain way. It’s not that simple. Not only that, but telling a mom that her emotions are going to negatively affect her child is a bad idea. You mean on top of worrying about my sanity, I now have to worry about messing up my kid as well? Thanks for putting a cherry on top of my guilt-filled sundae.

4. Sleep when the baby sleeps.

If you’re a mom, you’ve definitely heard this one before. And sure, it makes sense. When your baby sleeps, you drop everything and sleep, because otherwise you’ll never sleep. Easy peasy. EXCEPT IT’S NOT. Because when your baby sleeps, there are a million trillion zillion things to do that you can’t do when you’re tending to your baby. This is often when the rest of life happens, like ordering useless shit on Amazon that you’ve decided you need, answering an email, going to the bathroom, making a sandwich, cleaning the dozens of baby bottles in your sink, and washing all the barf and poop out of the sheets. Not only that, but not everyone is able to just fall asleep at the drop of a hat, the instant the baby is asleep. I’m not. And being told I needed to sleep constantly, by everyone, only made my anxiety that much worse — which in turn, made it impossible for me to sleep. Moms know that they need to sleep at some point in order to stay alive. You don’t need to tell them this.

5. You’ll know exactly what your baby needs. You’re their mama!

New moms are often told that they’ll know what their baby wants because they have a sixth sense built in that gives them an innate understanding of their child’s needs. I remember hearing/reading things like, “Your baby might be crying because he’s hungry, or tired, or sick. You know your baby best. Trust your gut!”

So you’re telling me I’ve known this thing for 24 hours, and I’m supposed to be able to tell the difference between a “I want more milk” cry versus a “I’m sick please take me to the nearest hospital” cry? THIS MAKES NO SENSE. And assumes that a mother is instantly bonded to her baby, which puts a lot of pressure on new moms who are raging with hormones and might not be feeling all that connected just yet.

My son is 14 months old, and I still often don’t know what he wants/needs/feels. Telling a mom that her spidey sense will kick in and she’ll instantly know all the answers is a load of poo-poo (yes, I only speak in baby terms now).

And there you have it! Five things not to say to the new mothers in your life. So what should you say? Try:

Congratulations!
That’s the cutest baby I’ve ever seen! (note: it’s okay to lie for this one.)
Being a mom is hard. You’re doing a great job.
Hang in there. It gets easier.
I’m here if you want to talk.
I’d love to come for a quick visit. Let me know when you’re ready.
Can I pick up some groceries for you?
I’m happy to wash all those dishes sitting in your sink.

And if all else fails, cook her a meal, or bake her a treat, and leave it at the door because chances are she has no time to fend for herself when she’s so busy enjoying every minute and sleeping when her baby sleeps.

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A(nother) bump in the road

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Before the birth of my son, I knew that having a child would be hard. I understood that I’d have some sleepless nights and that I’d be wiping up poop and barf. I understood that my days of meeting up with friends for brunch, or going out for 9PM dinners with my husband would be over for awhile. Although I was nervous for the huge life change, none of it scared me. I’d always had a knack with babies and children and loved being around them, and nothing excited me more than having my very own. I was ready, and I felt prepared. I knew what to expect.

And then I was punched in the stomach with an awful mental illness called postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. And nothing and no one could have prepared me for that.

The research says that around 1 in 9 mothers will experience postpartum depression. But a lot of women don’t recognize it when it’s happening. Many will shrug it off as the “baby blues” a term used to describe the common emotional state most new moms find themselves in for the first several days after giving birth, due to hormonal changes and whatnot. But what happens when the baby blues don’t go away “after 10 days” like Google says it should? What happens when every day feels increasingly worse and you feel as though you are being swallowed whole by this new thing in your life called motherhood? What then?

In my case, I knew something was wrong fairly early on. I’d had anxiety all my life, but never like this. From night one in the hospital, I couldn’t sleep. And I don’t mean I was having interrupted sleep when the baby woke, or only getting a quick nap in here and there. I was not sleeping. At all. Do you know what happens when you stop sleeping completely? You lose your freakin mind. I couldn’t concentrate, my brain frantically racing every minute of every day. Is my baby warm enough? Is he too cold? Is he comfortable sleeping like that? Why isn’t he moving? Why is he moving so much? What’s that sound he’s making? Are his airways clear? How much milk should I be giving him? Is he eating enough? Pooping enough? Sleeping enough? I was overcome with panic and dread.

As the days went on, I continued to sink further into a hole of misery. I felt completely detached from my reality, unable to feel joy, unable to smile, unable to fake it. Everyone was so excited about the baby, wanting to see photos of him constantly, wanting to know what he was doing. It was such a happy time, for everyone around me. And I knew how lucky I was to have this beautiful little healthy baby. I knew that I loved him and cared about him more than anything in the world. So then why couldn’t I stop crying?

I began to feel and act like a zombie, going through the motions, doing the laundry, washing the bottles, getting the groceries, doing what I needed to survive. I was on autopilot. I stopped eating except to satisfy my basic needs for survival. “Wow, you look so great, you can’t even tell you were pregnant two weeks ago.” “Ha, yah, thanks,” I’d reply, not divulging that my secret to post-pregnancy weight loss was a combo of starvation and depression.

My baby, although cute as heck, was not an easy newborn. He fought sleep like it was the enemy, cried a ton, and would scream in pain while feeding due to reflux. I’d bounce him up and down trying to soothe him to sleep while he wailed for an hour, him sobbing, me sobbing, both of us miserable and angry at the world. We were quite the pair.

As the weeks went on, I felt incapable of taking care of my baby. I dreaded having to change his diaper. I didn’t want to take him out. I watched him like a hawk all night long, monitoring every movement and sound, my heart racing out of my chest at the slightest squirm or sigh. One night I heard my husband changing the baby’s diaper, while he screamed hysterically. I wanted to go to him and see what was wrong. I wanted to comfort him. Instead I sat on my bed in the dark, paralyzed, unable to move.

“Are you loving being a mommy?” people would ask. “Remember to enjoy every minute,” they’d say. “It goes by so fast.”

I sent an email to my doctor to tell her how I was feeling and to see if she was concerned. She was. She called me and I broke into tears, telling her how awful the past month had been. She asked me the questions that doctors ask when they screen for PPD/PPA and I passed the test with flying colours. I knew I had it, but hearing it validated by a doctor felt good. To know that this was an actual disease, I wasn’t just making it all up, and that I could get better.

She immediately referred me to see a psychiatrist in the postpartum program. She also prescribed me pills to help me sleep and told me that getting rest, even a little bit, would be critical to my recovery. My parents generously ordered a night nurse to come to our house to watch the baby at night, giving me and my husband the beautiful gift of sleep. As ordered by my doctor, I handed the nurse my baby, closed my door, put in earplugs and took a pill. I cried, feeling like a complete failure. And then, lights out. I slept.

As I began to repay my sleep debt, things slowly started getting better. But it was an uphill battle. I started seeing a psychiatrist regularly who prescribed me medication and monitored my mood. My parents came over for shifts during the day to help out so I could get a break. I began to have some good moments, and then some good days. My little guy saved his first smile for me, and it filled me with joy. Finally, I felt some happiness.

The change did not happen overnight. It was a slow process. I still had multiple meltdowns and full on panic attacks and needed to take drugs to force myself to sleep. This went on for a few months. And then things really got better. I started to feel like I was getting a grip on the motherhood thing and like I was actually really good at it. The things that used to send me into a frantic spiral no longer phased me. The tears stopped completely and I woke up happy to spend the day with my little guy. The dark cloud had been lifted and I felt like myself again. Myself, with an extra 15 pounds constantly attached to me.

Now I can say with full sincerity that I am loving being a mother. There are still hard days/nights/moments, and I imagine there always will be. But as I’ve said to my doctor, I feel like the lows I feel now are more run-of-the-mill new mom temporary struggles as opposed to crippling mental illness. It’s completely different, and now that I’ve been through it, I know they’re not the same thing.

So that’s what happened a few short months ago. In a nutshell. I once again feared for my life, but in a completely different way than I had before. It was horrible. But with amazing support, medical help, and time, I got better. If you’re reading this and are suffering from postpartum depression or anxiety, know that it can and will get better. There is hope. You’re not alone. And you’re not a bad mother.

I know it sounds so cliche, but my baby boy brings me more joy than I ever could have imagined. I stare at him in disbelief, that something so beautiful and special and amazing could have come from me. His laughter makes me forget that anything bad could ever happen in this world. I love watching him grow and change. I love seeing how he opens his mouth in awe over every tiny new thing he discovers, like a light fixture on the ceiling, or a car driving past our house. I love him in a way that I can’t put into words. He is everything. And as I sit here, covered in barf and mushed carrots, I thank my lucky stars for everything being exactly as it is. It may not be perfect. But it’s pretty darn close.