PPPSS News & Events

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.

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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

Find her on Facebook

We’re In This Together: Camille, Kelley, and Sarah

Such an important issue. I’m a support counellor/faciliator at the Pacific Post Partum Support Society and am passionate about the work I do, it is part of my life and not just my “job”. I have 3 grown children. Pregnancy and postpartum is the most vulnerable time for a Mom to experience emotional and mental health concerns. For many of us there is the tendency present already and being pregnant, adopting, giving birth can be the trigger.

Dads too. I saw this in my husband, he had a difficult adjustment and worried about me. When I began to get better, he experienced his own reaction, his well being had been compromised. I experienced debilitating anxiety, I became very ill. I became focused on traumatic experiences I’d had as a child, I didn’t want to focus on them but they were just there, in my dreams, in my present life, these came up because they needed attention, support and a path to healing. I had terrible intrusive thoughts, I felt I was losing my mind and because this is many years ago now, there was not as much known about ITs and perinatal depression/anxiety/adjustment generally, thankfully there is much more known and there are names and research that help us understand better.

I suffered a great deal and it greatly interrupted my life, compromised my family health and my personal health. I considered suicide. I thought my child/children was better off without me. My thinking was distorted, of course my child would not be better off without me. I was in a constant state of fear and  overwhelm. I couldn’t sleep or eat, I lost so much weight. I didn’t know myself very well at that point in my life and so I did all the wrong things in progressing to wellness. This changed…and….I can also say that this experience enriched my life!! Yes enriched my life….Sounds strange I’m sure to anyone reading this. Not at the time, but as I regained my health and got to know myself better it opened up a much richer life for me and for my family. Fortunately I was able to reach out eventually, and when something I tried didn’t work out or was minimally helpful, I’d look for another way. I was tenacious. Without this I don’t think I’d have had any hope, hope was so tenuous as it was.

Little by little things improved. A wonderful counsellor, a great therapist, the group at the Pacific Post Partum Support Society, friends that encouraged me, family that started to help more. Learning about self-care, giving myself permission to reach out, to ask for help, to hire help even though it was hard to afford. I took medication a times, I saw a naturopath and many other things because it was a process and having had ppd/a twice out of the 3 times I had a child I had to work at it little by little. There were a number of layers. Talking to the counsellor on the phone at PPPSS was the greatest avenue I had to the hope that grew and as I entered into a Moms group at PPPSS and sat with other women including the facilitator , she’d been there and got better! That was so encouraging to know she had been there and was now experiencing her life in a happy way, and dealing with the things that came up! The other women in the group truly had understanding of what was happening, we Moms were all on a journey and we had one another to do this with. It wasn’t easy but it was so wonderful to have other caring people in a circle. We were able to validate and underscore what we saw in one another as the good qualities each had. The group became a life line for me. We were able to support one another to be “good enough” Moms, perfection does not exist.

My therapist Sandra Knight taught me this concept to be a “good enough” Mom, to have a “good enough” time, being “good enough” was okay. I still use this concept and also pass it along to others, to Moms especially. Society holds Moms to an unrealistic standard. it’s no surprise that Moms are hard on themselves, they’ve been taught and supported to do so. We may have seen our own Moms and other women in our families and communities doing the same. When we talk about these issues we break down these myths and pave the way to a happier life as Moms… as people. I stayed involved with PPPSS because I was so impressed by this little organization that did such huge work, I wanted to be part of it. Have met so many amazing women and men. I’m eternally grateful

Camille

 

I experienced postpartum depression and anxiety after weaning my first daughter. I was 9 months postpartum when it hit.

I didn’t recognize myself – I felt fragile, vulnerable, unable to cope, and overwhelmed. One of my biggest worries was that this was my new normal, the new me. This terrified me.

With a lot of support and time I did get better, and although I still struggle with both depression/anxiety, I am better equipped to handle it when it descends.

Everyone told me that I would get better but I truly didn’t believe it. To any new mother that is struggling with the adjustment to motherhood, do not let your postpartum journey define you.

This is not the new you. You WILL get better, it just takes time. You are a great mom.

 

Kelley Allen

 

Sarah

 

We’re In This Together is a photography series, coordinated in partnership with the Pacific Post Partum Support Society and the Good Mother Project, that offers messages of encouragement, hope, support and love to new parents.
For more information on how you can share your message, please visit: http://goodmotherproject.com/were-in-this-together

A Newborn Stranger: Caroline’s Story

Caroline shares her story of learning to build a relationship with her infant son. Not every mom experiences a rush of love and connection at the moment of birth. Caroline illustrates beautifully that sometimes it takes time to build a relationship, and that is completely okay!

When I was pregnant, all I wanted was to see his face. If I could just see his face then I knew he would feel real to me, and I was desperate for that. Somehow my drive to look at that little face held more weight for me than everything else I assumed a mother wants from her baby. I thought about it more than holding him, feeding him, kissing and hugging him—all those behaviours you imagine mothers craving to do while carrying their baby for nine months. I think it was my subconscious dying to learn his identity, and I craved for our souls to meet and for the deep connection that I knew would define our relationship. If I could just see his face, my anxiety would dissolve and everything would be all right.

Instead, when I gave birth, it was to a little stranger whose face I didn’t recognize.

In the seconds, hours, and days after my son’s birth, I was shaken and worried when my feelings for him felt purely instinctual. He was my son, but only in a biological sense. I knew absolutely nothing about this gorgeous little creature that somehow belonged to me. I felt crippling shame that I couldn’t truthfully say, even though I desperately loved him, that  I liked him. I didn’t know him, how could I know if I liked him! And what kind of mother doesn’t like her new baby. I felt certain of the answer: a terrible mother.

The shape of my pre-existing anxiety disorder had changed dramatically and was now monstrous and unfamiliar to me. I was running on little else besides panic and instinct. Every day, my mind was filled with horrifying intrusive thoughts that appeared unexpectedly and drowned me in panic. I was absolutely tormented inside my own mind. It was sickening to feel detached from my newborn son and also utterly compelled to protect him from the harm that I was certain was coming for him. These conflicting feelings were tearing me apart, and the anxiety I felt was overwhelming.

When I came out of the darkness and  was able to enjoy my life and my son, I realized something so incredibly obvious. At what other time in your life are you expected to love someone you’ve never met the instant that you meet them—and if you don’t, you are wide open to public ridicule? The answer: never. This is never expected for anyone except for new mothers, most often imposed by mothers themselves. I’ve learned to honour the difficulty of the newborn stage, to feel safe when I say it definitely wasn’t my favourite phase. But my son, despite this understanding, he has always been my favourite. I learned to make that distinction between loving him and not loving the job, which is something I heard at one of my support group meetings and something I’ll never forget. My love for him was never in question.

He isn’t a stranger anymore. He grew into his personality and we connected on a deeply intimate level. He is dexterous and curious, determined and affectionate. He wants me to hold his hand as he eats dinner, if he thinks I’m sad. He plays with his long eyelashes as he’s falling asleep, and his eyes glitter just as he’s about to do something he shouldn’t.

And I don’t just love him like crazy; I now know that there is no one I will like more in my whole life.