I think it was about 1996 when I was at a wellness conference and offered a workshop on using meditation, breathing and yoga to help women deal with stress and worry. From there I began to lead monthly women’s retreats since many of the attendees said more than anything they just needed to feel the support of other women.
At that wellness conference the keynote was about postpartum depression and after the talk, women were invited to fill out a survey. One of my co-workers was with me since we had a booth set up to promote our holistic health center, but after she filled out the survey something was wrong.
She looked equally horrified and relieved. The tally of her score on the screening survey showed that she should seek immediate assistance for postpartum depression, and luckily right there at the wellness conference were community supports. The rest of that story is her’s to tell, but I remember thinking that if “Superwoman Vic” can get the baby blues nearly anyone could.
Fast forward a decade and I finally was ready to have a child of my own. By that time I had earned a couple of degrees, had attended the birth of ten babies, and had supported quite number of friends through new mommy-hood. As an elementary school teacher, I also understood how a mother’s postpartum depression could affect the older children. I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on the topic, but felt like I knew enough to avoid it or at least thought I knew enough to be able to recognize it in myself.
My son was born in 2005 and I had a great support system with my family and co-workers. Since we had planned ahead I was able to switch to part-time work, and my mom watched our son that first year. Other moms gave us a crib, baby gear, and clothes and offered lots of gentle advice and kindness. The sense of community and connection was go great to have, and it made that first year of mommyhood-hood great.
Then my husband and I decided to move 800 miles away to Northern Vermont. To say that it was a shock to the system would be an understatement. We had arrived in August but by November I knew I needed to make an appointment to meet my new primary care provider. Before my appointment I made a long list of my symptoms: migraines, exhaustion, overwhelm, restless sleep and a nagging feeling that I should be feeling grateful that I get to be a stay at home mom because few others can do what I am doing.
At that first appointment my nurse practitioner told me something shocking. Essentially she said she doubted that I would thrive here, yes, maybe I could survive but likely not more than three years. She talked to me about Postpartum depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and social isolation. I was unnerved and eager to prove that woman wrong. I even reached out “Superwoman Vic” on Facebook and asked for a bit of advice.
From my research I determined that step one was to meet real life friends who had similar aged children for at least once a week meet ups. So I figured out where all the playgroups in my area were happening and I showed up determined to make friends. Starting with playgroups was an easy choice because it was free, close to home, and I was sure that all the other parents were experiencing similar things as I was. Playgroups really were my first life-line to avoiding social isolation. Read more about playgroups here.
My second step was to realized that I needed to prioritize my own physical health. I knew that working out at home to a recorded program or running solo on treadmill would never push me like another women saying, “You got this. Come on.”
It took me the courage to sign up because I feared that all the women would be perfectly fit and look like this stock photo! I had to get over that fear and when I did enroll I found women of all shapes, sizes, ages, and most also thinking that they might not fit in.
I tried out a few different classes but found “Ben’s Bootcamp”. Part of me knew that even though my budget didn’t really allow for personal training, I needed the structure of personal training but with a group of other women so I could develop deeper friendships. The monthly fee that I paid felt like the best investment that I ever made. Joining bootcamp and learning about metabolic weight training helped me find that sense of control and was the boost to get me back to myself. I confided in my trainer Ben that I was being swallowed up by ‘baby blues’ (that’s a less scary code word for Postpartum Depression). I knew that coming to workout for me was less about losing inches and more about gaining confidence. Ben introduced me to the term ‘fortitude’ ~ strength of mind to help a person through adversity with courage.
Motherhood takes courage, and parenting, though filled with so many wonderful moments, makes you dig deep to be your best self.
Through those years at bootcamp, with a hiatus for baby number two, I found a peer network that had been missing. Even though those ladies were not necessarily women who were experiencing the same thing as me, working out together boosted my self confidence and self worth. My trainer Ben also gave weekly pep talks on setting goals (fitness and life) was just what I needed in order to move forward. For me, group fitness was a second life-line in figuring out how to navigate being a new mom.
I believe that we each find our own way in our parenting experience, but I encourage all new moms (and dads too) to reach out. For eons humans lived in more communal and supportive tribes. There is no reason to try to brave this parenting thing alone.
For me, finding social supports was through playgroups and group fitness. For you it might be something very different, but be sure you reach out. Don’t let fear of not fitting in keep you home…be courageous to go outside of your comfort zone.
Just know, that there is no shame in sharing our struggles, and though our lives might seem amazing from the outside looking in, only YOU know how it’s feeling on the inside. If on the inside it’s not feeling very good…reach out and tell someone. In my experience when I have shared this story with other new moms, virtually all of them start the head nod in agreement.
We are in this together. Now set a goal, and get after it!