I was so excited to meet Dee Gemme, a warrior herself and Postpartum Depression advocate here in our community. I waited in our front room, with my list of questions, anticipating her arrival. I wanted to soak up all the information I could about helping new parents in our community who experience this. I hoped that she could share the warning signs, from a first person perspective, so I had a more personal understanding of this; versus the checklists and articles that were my basis of familiarity. I had an agenda, and blanks to fill in. But what I was able to gather from this woman, this warrior, that sat in my living room with me was far more meaningful than a statistic or help tip.
Dee refused to sit on the couch, and preferred to sit on the floor playing with my 7 month babe while we spoke. She was open, and real and raw as she talked to me as if I were an old friend. There was no sugar coating, there was no sensationalizing. Dee said it how it was. We spoke of how it felt to have a baby and have the whole world around you tell you how happy you should feel. How on top of feeling the worst you have ever felt, and behaving in ways that were nowhere close to who you are, you also feel immense guilt for not feeling how everyone tells you, you should. We all celebrate babies, and having them. We coo and smile when we see them, and offer congrats to new moms. Countless times, both Dee and I had been approached by perfect strangers who wanted to make sure we remembered to value every moment. For these are the best of our lives they all say. But sometimes they are far from it. That is part of what makes people that experience this feel even more alone then they already do.
Having worked with countless moms through Mommy Connections, I have met my fair share of moms who have been open with the hard parts of having a new baby. By about class 4 or 5, the moms start to become more real, and take their game faces off. They shift from discussions about what ingredients are in their home made baby food to some of the tougher stuff. It is good, and heals the spirit, and is why I do what I do. What I wanted to know was how to differentiate the hard parts of being a new parent with something that requires more consideration and professional help the way that PPD does. I asked her how she knew, and how people she worked with knew that it was time to go get help. She told me the issue is not that people are unclear about knowing when help is needed, and that everyone who has been through it does. The issue is that parents are scared to seek help. Having PPD is scary and dark, and it is unavoidable to confront it and realize it is impacting your life. Intrusive thoughts become a regular part of the day, and with them come more shame and guilt. Dee described feeling paranoid and unsure of every part of herself and her surroundings. It is different then the terribly hard moments that come with being a new mom and giving up your freedom, independence, body and daily shower. Both are hard but having PPD feels impossible. With PPD, professional help is needed as soon as possible, and returning to your path is in reach. But first permission to go get help is needed. People have to feel safe and ready.
I wanted to know how to help bust down the stigma that causes people to feel scared to reach out. How to encourage people to go seek help when it is evident they are not coping. I realized by the end of the discussion with Dee that it was not about asking the right questions, to new parents that may be at risk or show signs of PPD. It was about listening. Creating this safe space for new parents to feel safe to share and be real could happen at a class, or a coffee shop, a playgroup or at the grocery store. It means connecting and sharing in that same way that Dee came into my home. We spoke free of judgment, full of care, and really listened to one another.
Moms often feel immense pressure to live up to an ideal and do it all, and it can somehow feel like a failure when we just can not keep it up. We all have hard times and brutal mornings and sleepless nights, but we spend so much energy putting our best foot forward. There is so much pressure to be the perfect parent, and with all the articles, books and opinions out there, there is enough information to both find a parenting method that feels right while simultaneously exploding our brains. It is not more information we need sometimes, it is a different kind of help that is needed. If we mindfully connect and form a true community, where it is really ok to ask for help, we will pull more people out of the darkness. Where we are kind to one another, and to ourselves. We can stop pretending to feel okay when we do not. Just expressing your own feelings will help others feel safe to express theirs. This is far from a game, so we should all remove our game faces and be real.
Dee reminded me that we can not do even part of what we expect from ourselves as parents until we make sure that we are okay. For some people that means running, others know they need a kid free hour when possible to just sit in silence and others find comfort in getting outdoors. Whatever you need to do, do it. When times are difficult, do it more if you can. Know that if you do have PPD, a run will likely not “solve it” and what may be helpful may be the last thing you are able or willing to do. Your regular coping mechanisms may prove ineffective. You will know when it is important to seek help. At that 6 week check at your doctor, where they ask you if you are okay, be real. Women fear consequence if they voice how they are feeling. They fear losing their children, or causing more harm then they feel they have already. They are scared to tell their doctor, their mom or their friend. It seems like one more thing to deal with on an already overflowing plate. It can be daunting, but the health of the entire family unit will shift positively once professional help is accessed. I was moved by hearing Dee speak of the reasons she was happy she had reached out for professional help on her journey.
Getting help for her PPD allowed Dee to find her normal again, to start living. She was able to reconnect with her daughter and husband, something that her illness was preventing while she experienced the most difficult portion prior to help. She spoke about feeling so proud of herself for taking the step to seek help from her doctor, and about the negative symptoms lifting within only a couple weeks. She is now responsible for hosting Climb Out Of The Darkness here in Ottawa, a huge annual walk for those who are healing or have healed from PPD. Dee told me about feeling stronger than she ever had having lived this, that she was humbled by the experience. The only sad part for her was the two years she had missed connecting and cuddling and being right there with her family instead of being consumed by it all. She was sad when she spoke of the lost time, but without saying the words, I can tell that she values every moment with her incredible daughter now. Even more than she may have had she never become a warrior.
Please contact your family doctor or seek immediate medical attention if you are ready to seek help and Climb out of the Darkness.
Please visit the link to find out more about Postpartum Progress; which is where proceeds from Climb out of the Darkness go:
Mission & Values
Interested in getting involved with peer to peer support? Please send me a message, Dee and I have some future plans to support parents in our community with PPD.
Dee and her amazing daughter, Savannah