I looked down at the sleeping baby in my arms. I couldn’t focus on her face. Tears burned my eyes and rolled down my cheeks unchecked. I remember wondering if this motherhood thing was a mistake. I brushed my hand over her soft cheek, and contemplated if she’d be better off without me.
I fought to breastfeed, and focused on succeeding at it with unwavering determination. I would not fail. I could not fail. My control over my emotions hung by this single, fragile thread.
My husband heard me crying. He wandered into our bedroom, looking helpless. He struggled with what to say. “Look… You took excellent care of yourself while you were pregnant. And you’re going to take excellent care of this little girl every day of her life. You’re a good mommy, Rachel.” He believed in me, more than I believed in myself. And while it took months before I could say that I felt normal, it was that moment when things started to turn around. My husband’s words forced the cloud over me to start to dissipate.
When I look back on it, I’m still not sure whether I had “baby blues” or the beginnings of postpartum depression. I was never diagnosed, because I never asked for outside help. I rarely talked about it. The hardest part about the whole experience was explaining it, because I had quickly learned that joy is the only acceptable emotion for new mothers to feel. Expressing anything else caused the people around me to look at me askance. So I suffered quietly, until that fateful day when my husband caught me crying.
It’s been more than six years since that morning, and I hope that other women won’t have to cry alone. But I know they’re out there. Postpartum depression knows no boundaries. Women from all ethnic, racial, socioeconomic, and religious groups are enslaved by PPD every day. With Passover behind us, I’ve thought of a few ways to “free” the women I know who are suffering.
1) Understanding. When my brother broke his collarbone, common sense told me that he needed immediate medical attention. PPD is a medical condition, too. No amount of prayer or positive thinking will fix it. Women with PPD can’t just “snap out of it.” Some need therapy; others need medication, and some need a combination.
2) Sticking around. As Jews, we’re expected to console someone when they’re grieving, give charity to the poor, and visit the sick. It’s frowned upon to abandon the neediest people in our communities and expect them to fend for themselves. New mothers that are struggling with PPD need to know they’re not alone.
3) Listening. The Mishnah tells us to “make for yourself a teacher and find yourself a friend” in times of need. New moms with PPD need their friends and their families to listen to them… without judgement, without silly anecdotal stories, and without lectures.
4) Referring. Loved ones with PPD may need to be referred to a professional. Suffering new mothers may not have the time or ability to start the process. Gathering names of local physicians, babysitting during the appointment, or accompanying the woman to her appointment are all ways to help.
5) Reassuring. Remember the opening lines of Genesis? In the beginning, there was nothing but darkness. And then He made light. Women suffering from PPD feel enveloped in darkness. They need their families and friends to remind them that someday soon, they will see light. Or think about the Haggadah: Today, they are slaves in Egypt, but someday soon, they will be free.
As this season brings renewal, let’s remind ourselves to look out for the people in our lives who may be affected by PPD.