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When my son was born I disappeared. The self that I was prior to his birth vanished the moment he entered the world. It felt like a death and I spent the majority of three years reviving and transforming and becoming a mother. My closest friend will tell you that she thought I had been lost for good. We had become close during our pregnancies, but I was so weighed down with suffering in that first year postpartum that I rarely ventured out of the house. I was deeply dedicated to nap schedules and the simplicity of staying at home because I couldn’t cope with any additional uncertainty beyond the regular daily care of an infant. The thought of having to go on an outing with my baby in tow was like torture. My friend called regularly. She invited me out for swimming, for hikes, for adventures of all kinds…and mostly I said no. It would have been easy for her to take my refusal personally and write me off completely. I’m incredibly lucky that she was so persistent and that she was there waiting for me when I started to emerge from my postpartum depression. But emergence was a very slow process. I am still the sort of person who is more comfortable staying close to home. Traveling great distances with my children feels difficult and stressful. I am still a routine based mom, who feels most calm when the day unfolds quietly without too many surprises.

As British Columbia begins to re-open after our two and a half months of COVID lock-down I’m reminded of what it felt like to venture further into the world after having a baby. The fact is that there’s no right way to take those first steps and it looks different for everyone. Whether you have a new baby or not these next few weeks are going to come with challenges and a lot of difficult decisions. In our support groups we always tell new parents that they are the very best people to make decisions about the health, well-being, and safety of themselves and their children. I think the same applies to everyone right now:

You are the best person to make decisions about the health, well-being, and safety of your family as we navigate the constantly shifting requirements of the COVID-19 pandemic plan.

Some people will feel more comfortable continuing to stay close to home and keeping their circles very small. Others will need to venture further into the world to support their own need for connection and their mental health. Everyone’s situation is different. Some will have family members at high risk, others will see the need for support as outweighing any health risk from potential exposure. Some families are trying a “double bubble” while others are seeing only close family while others are attempting a variety of distanced interactions. These are all complex and personal decisions and there’s no universally right way to approach it. There’s only the right way for your own family.

Having a new baby or young children might further complicate the decisions that need to be made right now and I know that the decision making process can feel overwhelming: Who should you see? Who should you not see? If you decide to have closer contact with one set of friends will other friends be offended? How do you manage contact with older relatives? Should you send your kids back to school or daycare? What about summer camps and programs? Music lessons? Outdoor play dates? Summer vacations?

The questions can feel endless and the answers are muddy at best. It can be helpful to use the same tactics that you would use when developing a postpartum self-care plan when approaching the convoluted pandemic landscape. Try identifying the areas where you feel the greatest need for support right now and then prioritize those when making decisions about how to move forward.

For me the biggest challenges were my kids’ desperate need for play opportunities with their friends and my own desperate need for time away from my children. We opted for a double bubble scenario to meet those needs. My kids can now have normal social interactions with the kids from one other family and I get one afternoon a week off while they’re over playing at their friend’s house. We have family health concerns to consider, so keeping our circle very small for the time being makes sense for us. For others things might look very different, and that’s okay. My biggest hope is that we can all extend empathy and understanding to our friends and relatives as they are forced to make impossible decisions in the next weeks and months. On the other side of this perhaps we could all hit a giant re-set button on our relationships, knowing that we all did what was best for us, even though it was hard, and even though others chose a different path. Wishing you the strength to choose your own way forward with confidence in these unprecedented times! And we’re here if you need to chat!

Pacific Post Partum Support Society remains open during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of our staff are currently working from home but the phone and text services are still available. Please call or text 604-255-7999 between 10-3 Monday to Friday and someone will get back to you.

Celebrating in Isolation

Article by Andrea Paterson

I remember my son’s first birthday in a rather hazy way. I was not well then–overwhelmed by new motherhood and struggling to stay afloat. The idea of having to plan and throw a birthday party felt huge and exhausting, so I had a small party at home, invited only a few very close family and friends, ordered pizza, produced a cake, and called it a day. I felt guilty. I believed that I should have done something much more elaborate and I felt that I had failed my child on a day that should have been joyous and brimming with excitement. In the midst of the planning and expectations it never occurred to me that my child’s first birthday should have equally been a day spent celebrating myself. It was the first anniversary of motherhood after all, the first anniversary of giving birth to a child and picking my way painfully through that first year of nearly unbearable transformation. I threw all my energy into making a party happen for my son and had nothing left to even remotely consider what would have made the day meaningful for me.

Birthdays are complicated milestones, wrapped up as they are in all the memories and emotions that come along with raising a child. As my child grows the part of me that is Mother grows too. When he is an eight year old child I am eight years a mother. We mark this time together. For him it’s exciting to be growing older, for me the feelings are more complicated.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic we have another layer of complexity. I know there are so many parents out there trying to find a way to celebrate life’s big milestones in isolation, with first birthdays triggering a whole host of mixed feelings. I want you to know this: I see you. I see how large that first birthday milestone is for you, how it signals a certain amount of triumph. You survived the first year and you want to do something momentous to mark that survival. You want to surround yourself with the people you love and have them uphold you in that moment. You want balloons and cake and people to hand your baby over to. Or maybe you want a quiet celebration at home, or you planned to travel to visit distant family, or you meant to rent out an entire community center and fill it with other children and their families. Whatever you imagined, it probably wasn’t this: trying to celebrate an occasion so loaded with expectations and hopes during a pandemic lock-down where celebrating anything can feel impossible.

So how can we care for ourselves around celebrations that have suddenly become complex? Online solutions are becoming popular. My child has already attended three Zoom birthday parties, and while it may work for some my own child comes out of such parties feeling more depressed because he’s reminded of how much real world interaction he’s missing, and is angry about not actually getting to eat the cake or give a present or play a game. That might be the case for adults too. I think a lot of us are feeling the fatigue and malaise that comes from so many online interactions. I’ve heard from many that video conferencing is strangely exhausting. So how to manage?

I think this is an instance of going back to the very basics of self care practice. I was listening to a podcast ages ago in which a palliative doctor was talking about end of life care. The question he posed to his patients was “what makes a good day for you?” The answer informed his plan for providing his patients with quality of life in their last days. It’s a strategy that struck me as universally applicable and bizarrely simple. We don’t always have to strive to have the best day: the day that is full of wild excitement and novel experience. Most of the time it is enough to have a good day: a day that is full of the simple pleasures and moments upon which we build our lives.

When it comes to celebrations in isolation starting from the Good Day foundation might be an ideal place to start. If your child is about to have a first birthday, or if you are trying to figure out how to celebrate any major milestones or events in isolation it can help to make a list of things that make a Good Day and begin to see which aspects are accessible under our current lock-down situation. This can work for children and adults, and while it may take a bit of creativity under our current strange circumstances, it can work as a system.

Ever since listening to that podcast that included the Good Day idea I’ve thought a lot about what that means for me. I’ve thought about what the most fundamental elements of a Good Day are in my life and, really, they’re surprisingly simple: a good day means a delicious meal, an uninterrupted cup of tea, time to sit quietly and read or make art, a walk or a bike ride in nature, and connection with the people closest to me. I might also include listening to music I love and getting some time for quiet reflection like journaling or meditation.

Try making a list of things that you would include in your simplest Good Day. This isn’t a place for bucket list items that are extravagant or out of reach. Your basic Good Day likely doesn’t include sky diving, for instance. Start brainstorming as many things as you can and then when you’re looking to celebrate in isolation, pick a few things off the list and see if you can create a Good Day for yourself. Just as it’s okay to be a “good-enough” mother it’s also okay to have “good-enough” days. In our pandemic world “good-enough” is perhaps all most of us can hope for.

You can do this exercise for your older children too when working on planning celebrations with them. We would love to know what you come up with!

Your Good Day means really looking deep within yourself to gain knowledge about the things that most nourish and serve you. This will be different for everyone, but having this knowledge about yourself means that when that momentous first birthday rolls around you will have the tools and awareness to create a celebration that honours you and your child. This is how we build ritual, ceremony, and tradition. It may be that the celebration you put together now, in the midst of a global health crisis, will have echoes that move through the rest of your life. Sometimes the most powerful acts of love and ceremony are the simplest.

Wishing everyone out there a Good Day!

Encounters with Grief

Photo Credit: Andrea Paterson 2020

When I had my first baby it was a lesson in grief. What I expected was joy. That’s what I was primed to expect by the prevailing messages around the ever fulfilling and wonderful role of mother, and there were joyful moments but they were brief and fragile and sometimes slipped through my fingers. Our society is brutally silent when it comes to grief and I was not prepared for motherhood to be a crash course in letting go of my old life and my old self and actively learning to grieve the loss of those things. I find myself revisiting that time now as I am suddenly faced with another loss of self, structure, routine, and purpose. With the dawn of this global pandemic we are all struggling to find our footing again and I think that a lot of the work that has to be done is grief work. While adults try to hide their fear and grief under facades of keeping busy and taking on a million projects, children are more transparent.

My son is most certainly grieving. At eight he is old enough to understand that he has lost a good portion of his freedom but too young to understand the nuances of the world wide attempt to keep this virus from overwhelming our health care systems. What he knows is that he can’t go to the park or play with his friends or hug his grandparents. He knows that he was supposed to travel to Australia this summer and likely won’t be able to go. He knows that he’s missing out on birthday parties, hockey practice, and the comforting routine of school. He knows that his parents are anxious and that he must try to avoid other people while out for a walk. But he can’t quite grasp the “why” of it all. He doesn’t fully understand the repercussions if we pull back from social distancing too early and because of all this he is grieving the loss of the life he was accustomed to. Most days he laments that this has been the “worst day ever”, and it’s true for him. Even though we are safe at home and have what we need to get by over the next months my child has lost much of what defined his childhood and I must be there now to help him navigate that grief and loss.

The fact of the matter is that we are all grieving in some way. Some will be grieving the actual loss of loved ones to this pandemic, others will be grieving a variety of complex losses that profoundly affect our lives, relationships, jobs, sense of security, and sense of ourselves. The most fundamental thing at this point is to acknowledge that grief and give it space. It’s easy to dismiss my child’s grief as ungrateful whining (after all he’s fed and safe and still healthy and has two parents and a sister playing with him all day) but in truth he is experiencing the most severe destruction of his life that he has ever had to face. As adults it may be that we’ve experienced and moved through other major challenges and traumas in our lives, but not many alive today have experienced a pandemic and we are all tasked with moving through the ever shifting landscapes of our emotions in relation to this catastrophe.

Grief is a legitimate and productive response to this crisis. While there has been a well meaning focus in public rhetoric on gratitude and finding silver linings, know that grief has its place and its purpose. I have been finding great comfort in the writing of Ross Gay who has published a wonderful book of short essays called The Book of Delights. Gay understands that delight and joy are fundamentally connected to sorrow and the finite nature of human lives. Joy is a byproduct of the fact that everything we know will one day be gone, including ourselves. In the chapter entitled “Joy is Such a Human Madness” Gay suggests:

that the body, the life, might carry a wilderness, an unexplored territory, and that yours and mine might somewhere, somehow meet. Might, even, join.
And what if the wilderness—perhaps the densest wild in there—thickets, bogs, swamps, uncrossable ravines and rivers—is our sorrow? It astonishes me sometimes—no, often—how every person I get to know…lives with some profound personal sorrow. Is this sorrow, of which our impending being no more might be the foundation, the great wilderness?
Is sorrow the true wild?
And if it is—and we join them—your wild to mine—what’s that?
For joining, too, is a kind of annihilation.
What if we joined our sorrows, I’m saying.
I’m saying: What if that is joy?

(Book of Delights ebook page 50 of 273)

What if this is true for us today? What if the work of grief is the most important work we can be doing right now (not housework, not homeschooling, not endlessly scrolling through the news). What if our job is to do something unprecedented by joining our sorrow to the sorrows of all of human kind who are now suffering together though something nearly unimaginable. What might that look like? What unusual materials can we gather in order to build innovative bridges that connect us and our sorrows together.

I try an experiment. At night my son is lamenting the state of his life. He is angry and disappointed, sad and worried. I could tell him to focus on the good things he has but I don’t. I get under the blankets with him and say that I’m angry and disappointed too. I let my own sorrow lie beside his with a spray of glow in the dark stars hovering over us. We are cocooned together in grief and love and I think there is something like joy in that. The joy comes from the intensity of connection between myself and another human life. We are grieving, but we are not alone.

So while I find that the virus unleashed on the world has caused me to falter, this time I am not upended by motherhood. Instead motherhood becomes the place from which I can stabilize myself. I know so much already about the interplay between grief and joy. I know what it means to lose myself completely and rebuild myself from scratch. These are things I can give to my children as we navigate this crisis together. I can be midwife to their grief, and to mine, and as we let the edges of our sorrow touch we strengthen the bonds between us. This is what it means to be a family. I think that this is what I have been preparing for all along.

A Note in Uncertain Times

We are in strange times–uncharted waters.

First, I want you to know that it’s okay if you’re falling apart. Right now grief is warranted, rage is warranted, fear is warranted, and our greatest love is warranted too. Every giant, conflicted feeling has its place as we all learn to navigate a global crisis. For those who were already struggling with mental health challenges this new obstacle may feel insurmountable, or you may feel that you are strangely prepared for an external crisis having gathered so many tools to deal with an internal one. Either way we are called upon to meet the unexpected from the small, solitary spaces of our homes. Our worlds are made tiny by the virus sweeping our planet but they are also blown open as we connect with every other human being confronting the same unbelievable events.

It is hard to know what self-care looks like in the midst of a pandemic. It may be that the things you were previously doing to care for yourself are no longer available and it may be that you can’t summon up the energy to put new systems into place. It is okay to be in survival mode right now. The internet is ablaze with ideas to occupy your time: online courses! Online exercise! Online rides at amusement parks! Home school curriculum! Readings lists! It goes on and on and on. And that can feel overwhelming. Suddenly we feel as if we must be seizing the moment and DOING something to better ourselves or advance ourselves or enrich ourselves. Maybe we don’t need to be doing anything at all except tending to the things that are essential: eating, sleeping, caring for the members of our household, lowering our expectations, doing whatever we have to do to pass the time (even if that means hours on the iPad or watching TV).

Caring for yourself right now might mean becoming an anthropologist in your own life—a person who is tasked with observing the present moment and making note of it. There might be space later to make sense of it all but it doesn’t have to make sense now. I find myself experiencing a strange feeling of dissociation on my walks through the neighbourhood. Everything looks the same, the weather is glorious, the cherries are blooming…yet everything feels ominous. It’s a bizarre juxtaposition and all I can do is observe it and then go home to make macaroni for my kids in an attempt to make the day feel normal for them. I suddenly have a chance to be present with my children that I didn’t have before in our busy day to day lives. That is sometimes a gift and sometimes a burden that I’m not sure how to carry.

Self care might mean staring out the window. The birds in my backyard are going about their lives oblivious to everything happening in the human world. This is a welcome distraction. I get out my binoculars and my bird book and try to identify them. My kids and I collect materials on our walk to create a bird “hardware store” full of sticks and dried grass, moss and fluff, that the birds might carry away to build nests. I like this activity. It makes me feel that I’m contributing to the continuation of the natural world. In a time of so much uncertainty I like that birds are still building nests and my children seem to like it too.

Self care might mean crying. It’s okay to take time to grieve and cry and work through the emotions that inevitably crop up in difficult times. It’s easy to think that we should all be diving into the tasks we’ve been putting off: cleaning out closets and cupboards, organizing the family photos, reading that book you’ve had on your nightstand for a year. But it’s okay if you can’t do those things right now. It’s okay if this doesn’t feel like some cosmic vacation that has gifted you unexpected freedoms from responsibility. For many of us with children our list of responsibilities just grew immensely. Suddenly you may be caring for children at home full time while working from home as well. It may be that you had only recently achieved some balance in your life and that balance is suddenly gone. It’s okay to flounder. It may be that you will need some time just to regulate your nervous system and find your footing. I find that as time goes on the acute panic is beginning to subside and the days are taking on a new form and structure. As I adapt to a new schedule there are moments that feel completely normal, but then the reality of this pandemic breaks through and I must meet it and find ways to quell the associated anxiety. I do this by ticking through my list of gratitudes like prayer beads: I am grateful for the internet that allows me to stay connected to my friends and family, I am grateful for the good weather that allows me and my children to enjoy the outdoors, I am grateful that I bought toilet paper right before this happened in a fortunate stroke of luck…

It’s not much but it helps a little, enough at least to get on with my day and the fundamental tasks that must be completed. I guess what I’m saying that it’s okay to be doing very little. And while it’s hard to give up the prevailing message that we must all remain eternally productive no matter what is going on in the world, it’s okay to be still. I will be posting tips and resources for navigating mental health challenges over the next while, but for now I just want you to have permission to do nothing. Just being in the immensity of this moment is enough.

…………………………….

The Pacific Post Partum Support Society is still open during this time and while all our staff are currently working from home we are still here to support you. Please call in if you need support at 604-255-7999. We will check messages every half hour during our regular operating hours and someone will get back to you. If you are looking for support please call in rather than using the comment section of the blog as the comments are not frequently monitored.

What I Need: Guest Post

I didn’t need these until I had babies.

Well…that’s not exactly true.

I needed these awhile ago.

But I wasn’t willing to accept I needed them until I had babies.

You see, motherhood was the thing that pushed me over the edge.

It was also the thing that saved me.

For most of my life I’ve struggled with a little something called anxiety. I’ve also had my fair share of depressive episodes.

And you probably wouldn’t know that by looking at me.

I’m seemingly put together.

I have a dapper husband, darling children, and a fairly beautiful life.

But I’ve spent most of my life afraid, ashamed, emotionally insecure, and consumed by my thoughts.

At odds with reality, really.

Many times I have sought refuge in the back of my unlit closet.

Many times I’ve struggled to find the energy, purpose, and motivation to leave my bed.

Many times I’ve felt lost in this life as I aimlessly navigate my place.

I’ve never felt like I fit in.

I’ve never felt beautiful.

I’ve never felt smart, or talented, or worthy of friendships.

I’ve never felt like I’m living my true and best life.

When my marriage was blessed with my babies, I anticipated I’d feel my life to be officially complete.

But instead, I found more reasons to feel afraid, ashamed, emotionally insecure, and consumed with my thoughts.

It seeped through me like a poison.

And I knew in my heart something wasn’t right.

In the past, I could navigate these feelings of uneasiness. Pull myself out of a funk. Push myself through each day.

But my darling babies, at no fault of their own, they made my well dry.

And I couldn’t navigate the feelings.

I couldn’t pull myself out of the funk.

I couldn’t push myself through the day.

My husband displayed love, patience, and understanding as I drifted further away from the beautiful, happy, silly girl he wed that October day.

But eventually, and after many attempts, he encouraged me to face my demons.

I will admit, I fought back. I couldn’t accept that this illness, that my demons, that they’d eventually consume me.

But they did.

You see, motherhood did indeed push me to break.

My illness couldn’t sustain the overhaul on my mind, body, heart, and spirit.

I don’t have the tools to cope day-to-day. Especially as a mother navigating depression.

But even though post-partum depression is what broke me, it was also the thing that saved me.

Because if it wasn’t for them, I’d still be spending those hard days in the back of my closet.

I’d still be seeking refuge under my sheets.

If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have sought help and I wouldn’t have known what I’ve been doing all these years was simply trying to survive.

Today, I need these.

Back then, there were times I probably needed these too.

Do I hope that one day I can cope and thrive without this pill? When I’m ready, I’ll certainly try.

But today, I need these.

 

Article by Anneliese

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