PPPSS News & Events

Mothering the Mother

Article by Andrea Paterson

Photo Credit: www.andreapaterson.com

Mother’s day is over for another year, and it may be worth stepping back and taking some time to reflect. How did you feel on Mother’s Day? Did you have expectations that went unmet? Did you feel cared for and appreciated? Was it relaxing or stressful? Did it bring up emotions related to your birth or postpartum period? Are you thinking about how long it’s been since you first became a mother and seeing how much has changed? Mother’s Day can bring up mixed feelings, but in general it’s one day a year when mothers get some of the recognition and care that they deserve. But here’s the thing–new mothers need care every day, especially when they’re struggling with a difficult adjustment. One thing we know about treating postpartum mood disorders is that mothering the mother is a key component in getting back to wellness. New mothers are vulnerable and require support. This played out for me in completely different ways in my two postpartum experiences.

When my son was born I was living in relative isolation. I didn’t have friends nearby, my own parents are hundreds of miles away, and there was very little by way of community in my neighbourhood. I spent my days alone in my house with my first baby, struggling to cope and not even realizing that I was suffering from lack of support and simple human contact. In the early days when babies are taking multiple naps it can be difficult to schedule outings, and I rarely went anywhere except to the grocery store.

When my daughter was born four and a half years later I was living in a different neighbourhood. In my new home I’m surrounded by other parents. There is a vibrant and active community of mothers that I have had the privilege to immerse myself in. Friends dropped by in the early days with food. Being in a very walkable community made it easier for me to get out of the house and company was literally just a few feet away in our co-op park. My own parents were still far away, but they came to visit. My son goes to a wonderful preschool where I know he’s being well cared for and I consider the teachers there a part of my village. Every day I practice gratitude for my beautiful community of peers and I have been able to enjoy motherhood this time in a way that eluded me after the birth of my son.

With Mother’s Day over, don’t forget that the new moms in your life still need your care and support. One of the best things you can do for a struggling friend is provide some “mothering”. Go over and do a few chores around her house, bring food, do her grocery shopping, watch her baby so she can have a nap. These gifts will be treasured beyond any gift you could bring for the baby. The people who brought me food when I was sick with hyperemesis and again shortly after my baby was born will forever be considered heroes. I needed to be mothered, and people stepped up. Small acts of kindness made a world of difference. These days I find myself saying, “So THIS is why people enjoy motherhood!” It’s a sentiment that has taken me five years to arrive at. A new community was integral to my wellness.

Pacific Post Partum Support Society was integral as well. Counsellors at PPPSS are pros at mothering the mother, and their kind, patient concern got me through some very dark days. Not everyone has friends or family nearby. If you’re struggling and need someone to talk to PPPSS counsellors are always here to listen.


You can handle it – the gift of motherhood

Mothers are all too familiar with the presents little ones hand over for Mother’s Day, usually made at daycare or kindergarten. Painted flowerpots, home to seeds or wilted seedlings. Pinecone art. Macaroni art. Anything that sparkles glued to construction paper.

But recently, I was reminded of another gift they present to us, every day – their complete trust in our ability to take care of them.

My eldest son and I were talking about the days when I first got my driver’s licence, when I was 30 years old. He was five. It was terrifying, driving him around as a newbie. So I decided to take us on a road trip across BC, to become a better driver as quickly as possible.

I know, I know. I had no clue what I was getting into.

With some terrible advice from Google Maps and a lack of attention to my actual roadmap, I drove us down some very steep mountain passes with some very angry drivers behind me. I was taking it a bit too slow, but I couldn’t force myself to speed up.

It was completely terrifying. I was so mad at myself for taking such a challenging trip with my kid in the back seat. I shook all the way down that mountain.

But my son didn’t. And today, he remembers this wonderful trip we took together.

When I asked him why he wasn’t nervous back then, driving around with an inexperienced driver, he told me, “I knew you’d handle it, Mom. You always do.”

He has so much more faith in me than I ever have in myself. He knows I am exactly the right person to take care of him, to be there for him, to love him.

I remember having the same feeling about my mother during very difficult circumstances. We lost our farm up north, and she and my father separated. The bank accounts were empty, and it was winter in Fort St. John.

My mother was working while taking care of three kids, including my baby brother. We were barely surviving. And then they cut the power on us.

My mother has since told me how scared she was and how hopeless she felt. But we didn’t know. We just knew that she would do everything possible to make us warm and to keep us safe. And she did – though it was hard for her, she went to her sister for help and got us through the winter.

That summer she ensured we wouldn’t suffer another winter like that and moved us south to the Sunshine Coast. She packed our belongings, three kids (including a baby at the end of a bout of chicken pox) and a large, drooling Newfoundland dog into a very hot station wagon that had seen better days. She drove the entire way herself, willing the station wagon to get us to our new home.

And we trusted her to get us there.

Sometimes the belief of our children – their confidence in us – is a heavy load. They can take us for granted. They can expect too much from us. Newborns don’t question our ability to wake over and over all night to feed them. Toddlers fearlessly test boundaries, taking off on us without ever doubting we’ll quickly block them from unsafe places. Teenagers expect us to put up with their disdain and irritation and still, through it all, love them and guide them to the other side of adolescence.

And we do. We do all these difficult, near impossible things for our kids every day, sometimes all day. And then the next day, and the next year. We do it.

Mother’s Day is a perfect time to reflect on the challenge of motherhood. Because bringing babies into the world and leading them safely into adulthood is not easy. We all know this. It takes so much out of us.

But those babies, those children, they look at you and know you can do it. They believe in you.

Whether you’re honoured with a glittery flowerpot, a pile of pasta glued to a toilet roll, or just another batch of dirty diapers this Mother’s Day, know that the real gift is that another human being has complete faith in you. Take a minute to see yourself through your child’s eyes. You are strong. You are momentous. You are safety and comfort.

You can handle this.

Strangers and Maternal Mental Health

I was recently at Science World with my son and baby daughter. My son was off climbing and exploring an indoor park, I had my daughter asleep in a carrier on my chest. Another mom approached me. She had two kids, around 2 and 4, playing in a sandbox. She made some exclamations over my daughter–the normal kind about how cute she was and how tiny. Then this perfect stranger stood right next to me and asked with deep sincerity: How are you doing? She said it with knowing concern. She said it with the weight of having experienced being a mother of two herself, and having had an infant not so long ago, apparent on her face. This woman clearly knew what it was to be in the trenches of parenting, and she reached out to me as if we were old friends catching up.

I was a bit startled at first. There was an intimacy happening that I wasn’t used to encountering in the play room at Science World, but the other mother’s genuine concern could not be ignored. So I told her my story–I told her how much I had struggled after my son was born. I told her about the postpartum depression, about my crushing anxiety, and about my fear of having a second baby. Then I told her how much better the second time around has been. I told her that I have learned to experience joy in motherhood, and that I have a million ways to cope that I didn’t have the first time around. She told me her story too, pouring out struggles and triumphs. We talked for about 20 minutes, sharing things well beyond the small talk of regular interactions with strangers. Then we parted ways.

This week is Maternal Mental Health Awareness week, and I want to send my gratitude out to that stranger at Science World, who managed to make me feel less alone in my parenting journey and helped to normalize my struggles. So many women are silently suffering as new mothers. They put on a strong front and pretend that everything is fine, when really they’re crumbling under the strain of exhaustion and isolation that can come with a new baby.

Small connections can make a huge difference when it comes to maternal mental health and we can all help to forge connections that will help ease difficult transitions to motherhood. Something as simple as checking in with the mothers in your life–seeing if they’re getting their needs met, checking to see what their mental state is like–can completely turn their day around. Conversations and connections help to break down the stigma around mental health issues and work to build strong communities for mothers and their children.

Pacific Post Partum Support Society was integral to my formation of a community of mothers. The conversations I had in PPPSS support groups lead to lasting friendships and a highly developed support structure. But formal support groups aren’t the only road to connection. We can all reach out to our friends and neighbours to make the work of parenting lighter. Gathering with other mothers at the park can be a weapon against mental fatigue if everyone is willing to speak honestly about their experiences and buoy each other up.

This week, consider sharing your stories of connection. Where has a connection with another person improved your experience of mothering? Where do you find strength? Where do you struggle? Sharing our stories helps to dispel the motherhood myths that drag us down. Add your voice, and help to foster non judgemental communities in which we can all thrive as mothers.

Stepping up with Open Hearts: Thank You to Our Volunteers!

It’s Volunteer Appreciation Week,  and at Pacific Post Partum Support Society we want to  honor and acknowledge the volunteers who help to make our work possible.

PPPSS is a small organization located in Burnaby, BC that does big work throughout the Metro Vancouver area, British Columbia, and even across Canada. As a non-profit that has volunteers woven throughout the organization we are just so incredibly grateful to the open-hearted, compassionate, and dedicated people who give their time.

We are especially grateful for volunteer assistance over the past year. The loss of Florence Leung in the Fall of 2016 touched the lives of so many mothers and families. We held this mother in our hearts when she was missing, when her body was found, and again when her loving husband posted on Facebook his pledge and support for mothers who may struggle with breastfeeding and acknowledged the fact that this issue can cause much emotional turmoil and distress.

Due to the public concern and conversation around Florence Leung’s tragic death there has been a heightened awareness of the emotional and mental health issues that surface in relation pregnancy and postpartum. In 2016 we saw a 43%  increase in our support calls and the waitlists for our group support sessions grew significantly.  Our telephone support volunteers in particular stepped up and supported the moms and the staff at this crucial time with grace and dedication.  

This tribute and acknowledgement is sent out to all our volunteers– on our Volunteer Board, on the support telephone lines, on our social media platforms, in our childminding rooms, and those planning awareness and giving events . These wonderful people who give of their time with passion and love help make this world a better place – what a privilege and joy it is to have you with us.

How humbling is it to see staff and volunteers working side by side,  breaking down the stigma and social pressures that  lead to postpartum isolation and loneliness, giving parents the gift of space and time to journey through the postpartum experience, and making a difference in the lives of so many families.

Georgie Hutchinson

Volunteer Coordinator

Pacific Post Partum Support Society

Self Care and Personal Space

Image copyright www.andreapaterson.com

Did you see that viral video of the mom hiding in her pantry from her two year old quadruplets so she could eat a Twizzlers? She became an overnight sensation and even made it onto the Ellen Degeneres show because her hilarious plight resonated strongly with moms everywhere. I laughed, but I also identified with her desperation. The fact is that kids have absolutely no respect for personal space. Babies, toddlers, and even older children are ON YOU all the time. They cling, they follow you to the bathroom, they interrupt your conversations, they grab at your clothes, they fling themselves at you in anger, they need cuddles and hugs and physical reassurance, they may only sleep if they’re touching you, or only eat if they’re sitting on your lap where instead of eating their own food they steal yours. It’s endless, and exhausting. The Pantry Mom strikes a chord because she’s demonstrating the sort of desperate self care that so many of us have resorted to–when her kids became too much and she just wanted to eat that Twizzlers in peace she removed herself and gave herself a voluntary time out.

Positive Time Outs are a really simple and awesome bit of self care that even the most depleted and exhausted mom can execute. What if time outs weren’t a punishment, but a way to restore balance? What if we teach our children that everyone needs some privacy and a minute to themselves sometimes? What if we care for ourselves by creating a few moments of touch free retreat? It might not seem like much at first but it can really make a difference. What if you start by insisting that you get to pee alone. Take your phone into the bathroom, lock it, take five minutes to check your email or read a few pages of an article, wash your face, and take a few breaths. If your kids are older you can explain to them that everyone needs some privacy sometimes and you’ll be back out in a minute.

Or when you’re feeling overwhelmed with a crying infant–what if you put that baby down in a safe place, like a crib, went outside for a few minutes and closed the door? Those few minutes to breath the fresh air, feel the sun on your face, and block out the screaming, could be the difference between coping and falling apart.

What are your best tactics for getting a few minutes of space away from sticky jam hands? Tell us in the comments!