The #1 Thing That Helped Me Feel Sane Postpartum
Towards the end of my pregnancy, I dutifully prepared for the postpartum period by doing all the things the experts recommend: Plan to have help at home! Stock up on cabbage leaves and the most absorbent maxi pads you can find! Make and freeze 30 trays of lasagna because you’ll never have time to cook again! But the most important thing of all—and the one that ultimately got me through those emotionally turbulent first months without totally losing my mind—was nowhere to be found on my collection of trusty postpartum checklists. Turns out, what I needed the most was a group of fellow brand-new moms.
When I was pregnant, I wasn’t really interested in seeking out “mommy friends.” The idea of getting together with other women just because we all happened to have babies around the same age seemed kind of lame. After all, I already had friends. And I certainly wasn’t going to spend hours talking about boring stuff like the best diapers or the most soothing infant massage routine. Yet within a week of my son Eli being born, I found myself frantically Googling mom groups in my area. I needed a reason for us to get out of the house so I didn’t go stir-crazy. And more importantly, I needed people to talk to so I didn’t go for-real crazy.
There was a group that met on Wednesday mornings at a baby gear store about a 15-minute walk from my house. So as soon as I felt physically up to the task (about a month postpartum), Eli and I headed over. It was a major feat for the two of us just to get out the door, and I was nervous that his crying or fussing might bother everyone. But as soon as I walked in, I knew I’d come to the right place: There were a dozen other moms just like me, with babies just like mine. Many of the women were struggling to figure out how to breastfeed, or how to manage their newborn’s two-hour nightly crying jags, or looking for a way to just feel human again, if only for a little while. And most of the babies cried and fussed (and ate, and slept for five minutes at a stretch and had explosive diaper blowouts).
Our time consisted of simply sitting in a big circle, and one by one sharing whatever was on our minds. After weeks of thinking that Eli was the only newborn on Earth who didn’t take long, luxurious naps every day, I tearfully told everyone that it seemed like he only ever slept for a few minutes and only if I was wearing him, and how I was worried that I might never be able to get anything done again. I’ll never forget the moment everyone else started nodding their heads because they were dealing with the exact same thing, and our group leader (who was a mom and a midwife) said to me, “Yeah, it’s so hard. But they’re all pretty much like that when they’re this little. It’ll change.” It didn’t solve our sleep problems, but that little bit of acknowledgement and reassurance made me feel so much better. For the first time since Eli was born, I finally felt like I was talking to people who understood me, and who cared about how I was doing instead of just cooing over my baby.
It went both ways. As Eli got a little older, I was able to start sharing the wisdom and advice I’d racked up with moms of even younger babies, which was equally as gratifying. I was able to tell a tearful woman with a 3-week old who screams if he isn’t being bounced on a yoga ball for four hours straight that it really does get better, and it made me realize how far Eli and I had come—even if he still wakes up three times a night to nurse.
Eli and I kept going to group every week until he was 3 and a half months old. At that point I needed to get back to work; plus, he was finally starting to take a regular morning nap (hallelujah!) that I didn’t want to mess with. But by then I’d gotten plugged in to an entire network of local moms with babies and toddlers. We’re in near-constant communication on WhatsApp about everything. I can’t tell you how many times a fellow mom has tipped me off to something great, like a yummy finger food recipe or the best blackout shades to keep Eli’s room super dark so he doesn’t wake up at 5 a.m. But even more valuable is having a community who totally gets the emotional highs and lows of motherhood (that no one tells you about before you have a baby). Like how days with a little one can sometimes feel like they go on forever, and yet, you still find yourself looking at pictures of your sweet baby after you finally get him to sleep.
Anytime I meet a pregnant woman or a brand-new mom, I ask her how she’s feeling. And no matter what the answer might be, I always tell her about the group and how helpful it is to connect with people who are going through the same thing as you—and who can reassure you that you’re doing an amazing job. Your partner, family members or friends can all be incredible sources of support, but unless they just brought a brand new human into the world, they can’t fully relate to what you might be going through. Finding people who can makes a big difference.
So if you just had a baby or have one on the way, start looking around. Ask moms with older babies, your OB-GYN or midwife or your baby’s pediatrician if they know of a nearby support group. Or do what I did and go the Google route during a 3 a.m. feeding. Chances are, it’ll turn out to be the one thing you didn’t know you needed.
Marygrace Taylor is a health and parenting writer, former KIWI magazine editor and mom to Eli. Visit her at marygracetaylor.com.
Published August 2019