During my first pregnancy, I took all my prenatal vitamins, I avoided caffeine and sushi like the plague and I never missed a doctor's appointment. I followed all of the rules and thought I was going to be the perfect mother, but then my daughter was born. It didn't take long for me to realize that I had no idea what I was doing, and I came home from the hospital in disbelief that someone actually trusted me to care for a newborn. There I sat, holding the most beautiful baby in the world, but I didn't feel happy. My pregnancy and delivery had gone smoothly, my daughter was healthy and my husband loved me, but something didn't feel right. How vividly I remember rocking my baby, surrounded by adorable pink onesies and pastel baby blankets, and wishing that I could feel happy. Disappointed in myself, I longed to snap out of whatever was filling me with this deep sense of helplessness. Instead, I buried my face into my daughter's milky smelling neck and cried.
Any woman who has ever suffered from postpartum depression can tell you that it is no joke. Without the aid of anti-anxiety medication (which I naively wouldn't take because I thought it made me seem weak), it took me a solid year after the birth of my daughter to feel like myself again. I can't pinpoint what changed in my life, but one day, after what felt like a lifetime of being suspended under water, I finally broke through the surface and came up for a breath of life-giving air.
When I got pregnant with my second child, I was terrified. The fear of falling into another state of postpartum depression loomed over me like a dark cloud, but this time instead of letting it cast its evil shadow over me, I fought back. The first thing I did was talk to my doctor about my history of postpartum depression, and he agreed to start me on antidepressants as soon as my baby was born. Secondly, I confided in one of my closest friends, who was studying to be a postpartum doula, about my concerns. Through daily phone calls, she assured me that she would do everything in her power to help me avoid having the same postpartum experience that I had with my first pregnancy. Her wisdom and insight about the fourth trimester, the often- overlooked three-month period following pregnancy in which the mother's hormone levels are balancing out and her body is healing, was like a lifeboat for me.
When my second daughter was born, I immediately started taking antidepressants, but what I truly believed saved me from falling back into postpartum depression was the loving care I received from so many of my female friends. Together, they swooped into my house like a gang of beautiful fairy godmothers and took care of me. For three months, long after I needed their assistance, they were there helping me and my family get back on our feet. Through their kindness, they taught me that no woman is an island, and while I still had days when I felt a little down, I never felt completely overwhelmed.
During this time of social distancing, I've been thinking a lot about new mothers and how terrified and isolated they might feel. While perhaps some of them have seamlessly transitioned into their new role, I'm sure others are struggling and we need them to know that we see them, even if it is through glass window panes. Bring them dinner, leave sanitized baby gifts on their porch and call them. Let's work together to remind new mothers that even though they might feel like they are living on an island, the village is just right across the bay.
Lana Shovlin is a Springfield communications professional, writer and mom of three.