Article by Andrea Paterson
Spring in Vancouver has been early and intense this year. It’s hard to believe that the cherry blossoms and magnolias are already at their end and trees are in bud. Spring has always been a time to celebrate new life and resurrection after the death and dormancy of winter. Today Christians will celebrate the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday, but Easter is only one of many spring festivals that have been observed throughout history. For those suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety or emerging from a period of distress spring can be a good time to reflect on the tiny shoots of green that may be emerging after a very dark night.
PPD/A is a long process for many. I can recall my first group session with Pacific Post Partum Support Society vividly. I sat nervously in my chair feeling hopeless. I wasn’t convinced that group support would help me through the darkest days of my life. I felt completely dead inside. The woman I once was had vanished. All that was left was a new mother rubbed raw by the experience of parenthood. I had no dreams for my future, no confidence, no joy and I saw only pain and exhaustion in my endless days of mothering.
It’s common for women experiencing PPD/A to describe their transition to motherhood as a death. When our babies are born it can require a painful sacrifice—our sense of self can be lost and we forget what it is to live fully with vibrancy and passion. We feel numb, dissociated, or lost. In PPPSS group sessions facilitators are confident that with time, a good support team, and patient practice of self-care, new mothers will slowly begin to feel alive again. In my group we were asked to look for small changes—do you catch yourself smiling more? Do you feel slightly more rested? Did you manage to do even one small thing for yourself today? Moving through PPD/A is a process of miniscule changes, tiny buds emerging on the bare branches of our winter ravaged souls that accrue and accrue until one day we find ourselves alive and vibrant again. But the changes can be so small as to seem insignificant. The work of regeneration happens slowly and a deep persistent patience is required.
In my own process I have a tendency to turn to poetry and literature as a support structure. Spring imagery is rich in the poetry of Mary Oliver who writes the following lines:
Listen, everyone has a chance.
Is it spring, is it morning?
Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then––open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away.
Motherhood can be so very heavy and you may feel like deadweight, dragged down to the earth by the unrelenting nature of mothering. But sometimes small things can get you through and remind you that you’re alive. When your soul needs comforting maybe the cherry blossoms snowing down in pink drifts or the scent of plum trees can be enough to remind you of your own vitality. I can promise that you will begin to notice sparks of life in yourself as your journey progresses. Some days will still feel heavy, but some days you will fly. With spring in full tilt there are abundant reminders of what it means to unfurl tender petals and unfold wet wings. New life and new growth is always vulnerable. Be gentle with yourself.
If you are in the midst of PPD/A let me suggest a small spring ritual today: gather a flower or two and put them in a dish of water. Let them remind you of the quiet insistence of new life. Now think back over the past week and see if you can pinpoint one moment of change or a single bud glowing in the darkness of your experience. Can you think of one moment that was joyful, one moment that was better than the moments that came before? Can you see even the tiniest shift in the tone of your days? Hold this one tiny thing and know that it’s a promise of more growth to come. One day you will see yourself anew and realize that you are having more good days than bad and it will be as if spring has suddenly come to your spirit. While there will always be painful experiences and rough days you will know that the winter has passed and there will be hope. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that PPD/A will end, but like all seasons it can not last forever. It will yield. I promise you, it will yield.
While spring can be a hopeful time and may help to boost mood after a dark rainy (or snowy!) winter, sometimes people suffering from mental illness, including PPD/A, can find the spring especially difficult and triggering. The contrast between your dark mood and the sudden emergence cheery blossoms outside can be painful. If you’re finding aspects of PPD/A resurfacing or intensifying know that this is normal and don’t be afraid to reach out for help. PPPSS support lines are open Monday to Friday. In the Lower Mainland please call 604.255.7999, or toll-free 855.255.7999.
PPPSS is now offering a new Text Messaging Support service in addition to our telephone support. If you require support you can send a text to 604.256.8088 on Wednesdays and Fridays from 10-3. The PPPSS hopes that by providing more methods of contact the organization will be able to reach and help more people.