I’m not sure I’d be here today—or if my child and family would be healthy and happy—if I hadn’t attended a new parent support group back at my local hospital after the birth of my child. I’m 100% positive I would NOT have started my business, Oh Baby! Fitness, if I hadn’t gone to that group with my three-month old son.
I was in the depths of serious postpartum depression. I was sleep deprived. Breastfeeding was a disaster. I rarely bathed and didn’t want to leave the house. My anxiety was mounting. I really didn’t want anything to do with my child, but I was a control freak and wouldn’t let anyone else touch him either. He was colicky. Never slept for long. I felt like I was in a long nightmare. I decided motherhood was not for me.
When a neighbor visited and saw that I was in a bad place, she told me that she had attended a weekly new parent support group at our local hospital and it had been life-saving. She made many friends, and it was great having some place to be at least once a week. I could also go to a breastfeeding support group immediately after the new parents support group and get personal help from a lactation consultant to get breastfeeding on track.
I agreed to go and a couple of days later I walked into a room with 15 or so Moms and Dads and their tiny babies. The parents were seated in a circle with babies were lying on blankets in the center. Everyone welcomed the new gal to the group. They all looked pretty tired too. It was nice to see that other parents didn’t look like they had their act totally together either.
Some moms were fussing over their crying babies, holding them delicately like a carton of eggs. Others were deftly changing a diaper, unfazed by the crying. One Dad was holding his baby in a football hold and was quickly able to quiet his child. I’d never seen a baby held that way. I learned so much in the first few minutes JUST WATCHING other parents with their babies. I realized, I hadn’t seen anyone else hold, change, or feed their baby. I had just been shuttered in my house living my own solitary experience. Just showing up and being with other parents and babies had a profound effect on me.
We introduced ourselves and our babies and then there were conversations about not getting enough sleep, feeding habits, ways to soothe baby, exercise (getting outside with baby) and postpartum depression. I asked what postpartum depression felt like. What were the symptoms? Another Mom who had experienced postpartum depression answered, not being able to sleep (despite exhaustion), fatigue, bouts of crying and sadness, appetite changes, anxiety, lack of interest in life.
Every single one of those things resonated with me.
The group was led by a counselor who talked with me afterward and encouraged me to call my doctor.
At home, I called my husband and asked him if he thought I had postpartum depression. He yelled into the phone… YES!!! He told me we’d actually talked about it. (I had no memory of that. That’s how out of it I was.) He told me he had wanted me to get help, but I just seemed unreachable – a zombie – and he didn’t know what to do.
When I called my doctor, she told me that she was concerned that something might have been wrong, but I put on a good show at my six-week appointment, so she had planned to check on me again soon. After talking, she prescribed the antidepressant sertraline.
The next day, I took my baby to the pediatrician and they decided he might have a dairy, nut and soy allergy. They gave me hydrolyzed vegetable protein formula to supplement with, and it worked like a charm. My colicky baby quickly turned into angel baby and stopped writhing and crying and started to SLEEP! It was amazing. I made a step to help myself and then to help my baby, and I started to see a difference quickly.
A few days later, one of the Moms in the new parents support group called me. She told me the group met often to go for walks, and asked me to join. I didn’t really want to go, but she was insistent and, thankfully, convinced me to come. I had a great time. Those parents kept calling. Every day. We went walking often. Afterwards, we’d have coffee, lunch, go grocery-shopping in a gang (!), babysat each others kids. We became fast friends.
The camaraderie from that group was lifesaving. And life changing. Fourteen years later, I’m still friends with the moms and dads from that group. We go on vacations together. Our kids are friends. When I’m in tears and need someone to talk to, I call them.
The daily exercise was lifesaving too. There are studies that show that exercise (even just walking and pushing a stroller) can help head off postpartum depression for new Moms, and it can help ease the symptoms.
Moms need the community these support groups offer now more than ever. Social media gives us the impression that we are connected (and can be a great support when we just can’t get out of the house), but NOTHING can replace just being with other parents and babies. Watching them. Listening to them. Sharing with them. Supporting each other. Heck, having some place to BE at a specific time, and LEARNING to get you and baby out of the house is a HUGE accomplishment.
And my experience gave me the idea to start my business: Oh Baby! Fitness. We offer pregnancy and mom and baby exercise classes for new and expectant moms. Together, they combine the healing effects of community with moving your body.
I can’t overstate it. That group saved my life, gave me my career and made my family the strong and prospering unit we are today. I know it could have turned out very differently for me, my baby and my family. I applaud the hospital that had the foresight to offer a support group for moms and dads (super forward thinking at the time) and to open it up to anyone in the community. I truly believe if every hospital would make this simple commitment, the impact would be boundless. I encourage Moms to ask this of their local hospitals. I encourage hospital maternity directors to organize these weekly groups. Take this blog post with you as proof to the tremendous power of community and support. It’s a simple act that could save so many lives. I can say for sure that I’m here, healthy and happy because of my support group. It’s what every parent needs.