Finding herself feeling alone and suffering from post-partum anxiety and depression, this mom started a program to help combat the isolation that new moms feel. Here’s how doing so expanded her definition of family.
I am one of six children and I come from a big, joyful, somewhat dysfunctional, but always supportive family. The little rural town in Jamaica that I was raised in had less than 5000 people and I was related to at least a quarter of them. From first to 10th cousins, hundreds of aunts, and uncles, from as far back as I can remember, I was always surrounded by family. Because we lived in such a close-knit community, even the people who were not related by blood felt and acted like family.
A show of respect was to call the elder community members by aunt, uncle, mother, or father before their name. I was 10 when I realized some of my “aunts” weren’t really my aunts at all, but by that time it didn’t really matter. The entire community looked out for and cared for each other.
My great great aunt lived until 106, and I was 7 years old when she passed away. I still have wonderful, fond memories of her. My great grandmother passed away when she was 96; I was 27 at the time. Whereas I spent time with up to six generations of my family at a time, my kids do not have this because we all live so far away from each other.
Fast forward to 2007 when I started a family of my own. It was a stark contrast to memories of family life from my own childhood. My parents are 400 km away, my close friends and siblings are in another city. It was just me, my husband, and our new baby at first. Then it was just me, and the baby, and it was very isolating.
That sense of isolation and loneliness was something I never imagined or expected. Coupled with the stress of a traumatic birth, I developed severe postpartum anxiety, followed by depression. Not understanding exactly what was going on with me, I suffered in silence for a long time. While I was feeling this way I retreated even further into myself. I accepted help only from my best friends who knew how I was feeling. I didn’t allow anyone else—family or friends—to know that I was feeling like a failure because I couldn’t do it all on my own. It was only after I started the Life With A Baby program that I realized how many other moms felt the same way, and that the idea we should do it alone is absurd.
But in a society where we hardly talk to our neighbours—and where neighbourhood kids no longer play together—I was feeling alone. After recreating the village that I needed through Life With A Baby, I was able to feel more comfortable asking for and accepting help from those around me. My parents were far away, but my husband’s parents were close by and they wanted desperately to be a support system for us. Once I was more confident in my parenting and realized that I was not a failure because I had a difficult transition to motherhood, I was able to accept their help. Now they are a very big part of all our lives. My children are surrounded by family, and by a large group of friends. One time my daughter wanted to know how Aunty Pam is her aunt if Pam is not my sister. And at that moment, her question felt so, so good.
This is #1000families post number 134. Do you have a family story of your own to contribute to the 1,000 Families Project? Or do you know a family that might want to do so? Learn more about how the series got started and how to get involved here. You can find all of the #1000families posts here.