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When my daughter was born, I had no friends. That sounds super dramatic, but it’s true. I’d been working from home for a couple of years by then and hadn’t stayed in touch with coworkers from any of my previous jobs in the way I would have liked. I was home alone all the time and didn’t have a way to make friends; we hung out socially with my husband’s friends, who were mostly single guys. (Still true.)
I didn’t realize until I was a mom, at home with a preemie, pretty much not leaving the house for the first seven months of her life because it was flu/RSV season, how much I needed friends. I wished I had people to come visit, even as I was paranoid about germs. I wish I’d known other moms I could vent to, so I wouldn’t end up bursting into tears when I tried to return one of the three Bumbos we received to Target without a receipt (thanks random mom who hugged me at the return counter that day).
I didn’t have postpartum depression, but early motherhood was hard. And I felt alone. (Not that I was alone, husband and grandparents were around and really were a big help, but as I would learn, there’s no substitute for other moms.)
Once we emerged from hiding in the spring, I met a ton of wonderful moms through a local playgroup and suddenly realized how vital those relationships were and how much harder it is to mother without them.
Maternal mental health is a tricky problem because it can go hidden easily. This set of pictures from Postpartum Progress is a powerful reminder that you can’t tell if a woman is suffering, and you can’t ask how she’s doing and expect to get an honest answer.
A study found that about 10 percent of all moms in the United States with children of any age have major depression in any give year; another study found significantly higher prevalence of depression in postpartum women than in nonpregnant women but put the number at about 9 percent of moms. There’s no doubt these numbers are low because so many women suffer in silence.
How to Help New Moms
I think it’s equally awkward to ask for help and to ask if help is needed. As women, as moms, we want to be able to do it all on our own, which is part of what makes assessing maternal mental health so tricky. I don’t know what I would have said if someone had offered to bring a meal or do the grocery shopping (I like to think I would have said yes, but who knows?).
But I think it’s important to try to reach out, even if it’s just a random “thinking of you can I bring you coffee?” text message (that I definitely would have said yes to!) or dropping a gift card for a meal at the door.
Offering a listening ear and sharing your own stories about how hard parenting a new human can be can also be helpful. Let her share her stories about losing it with a colicky baby; I’ll share mine about literally crying over spilled (breast) milk. Just knowing someone else has been there can be really helpful.
I don’t know if I would have accepted help with things like dishes and the laundry, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Or if you come over for a chat, offer to help fold or do some light housework while the baby is getting fed.
I love the idea of dropping off healthy snacks if you’re not a big meal preparer, because moms (and any other people in the house) need to eat between meals, too. That post, from the Happiest Home, has a few other simple ideas, too.
This list from Mother is great, too. For moms who do leave the house with their babies, I like the idea of someone else planning a little adventure, or coming over for a walk around the neighborhood.
I want to hear what was helpful for you — or what you wish you would have had — when your littles were babies. (My mom friends always said we needed a night nanny and a soundproof nursery, but that’s not very practical!)
A Note to Moms
And if you’re a new mom reading this, go find other new moms, stat. Search online for mom groups, go to the library’s story time as soon as you are able, and make the effort to get out and hang out with other moms with kids your age. It really does wonders for your perspective.
Locally, if you are a new mom (or not a new mom) who feels out of control, if you’re anxious, depressed or thinking about hurting yourself or the baby, there are resources available. Contact Ozark Guidance, check out the resources at Postpartum Progress or talk to your doctor. Local hospitals also have social workers who can help. You don’t have to do it alone.
NWArkCares is an effort by Northwest Arkansas Bloggers to use our collective voices to shine a light on important issues.