Ain’t it Good to Know You’ve Got a Friend?: Why Perinatal Social Support is Essential to Maternal-Infant Health

Today our Perinatal Mental Health “MisConquestion” (that’s a misconception question) is about the effects of isolation on a new mother’s emotional and mental wellbeing, and how Postpartum Florida volunteers can help ease the pain and emptiness of New Mother Loneliness…

Q: Why would a new mom need a social support group just ’cause she had a baby? Doesn’t she already have friends? I mean, how could it hep to talk to a bunch of strangers?

A: This is such a great question! Even as we all can agree on the necessity of friends, it can be difficult to understand the draining isolation and loneliness a new mother feels when she is separated from her support network – whether by miles or by different life stages. Social Support is such a powerful tool for Maternal-Infant Health and Wellness.. simply put, it is no less than essential that new mothers spend time with other new mothers in order to give and receive support, assimilate and process the flood of information they are absorbing as new parents, and have the opportunity to “Normalize their New Normal.” Studies have shown the SOCIAL SUPPORT in the perinatal period CAN REDUCE incidences of DEPRESSION in new mothers BY 50%.* These are startling, and promising statistics. Social Support can fill so many gaps professional services simply can’t address. Take our the story of our sweet Morgan and her cutie baby Gwen…

Morgan had always been a strong, confident woman who didn’t let anything stand in her way. Successful, bright, beautiful… whatever she set her sights on, she accomplished and accomplished with distinction. In fact, Morgan and her husband Brian moved cross-country only three weeks before her Due Date and her friends and family were in awesome of Morgan’s calm, yet unstoppable energy as they packed and drove 2,000 miles to their new home on the Suncoast. Her pregnancy and birth of her lovely little Gwen was no different – a home birth without no intervention, she delivered Gwen like she was Mother Earth incarnate.

Then, everyone went home. And there was Morgan… and there was Gwen… and she had no idea what to do.

The minutes dragged by, lonely, exhausted day after lonely, exhausted day, with only Facebook and texting to keep her connected to the friends and family she’d left behind in Arizona. Gwen slept and ate well, waking only a couple times a night, and only to feed. Her growth was on schedule… in every way she was the “perfect baby,” “Then why,” Morgan agonized, as she rocked and stared from her window to the silent neighborhood streets, “do I feel like I’m disappearing inside? Why am I so lost?”

By the time Gwen was three months old Morgan was attending a Mom and Baby Group at a local hospital. She enjoyed the chance to see other mothers and chit chat, but most of the women in the Group had friends or family in town… a few had friends and family in the Group! Though she exchanged pleasant words and “friended” some of the Group moms on Facebook, she didn’t feel any closer to connecting with anyone. Every day she ached to go “back home” to those who loved her in Arizona. She broached the subject with her husband who instantly dismissed the notion of leaving his new job as “out of the question.” And reminded her, “I’m doing this for you and for Gwen. This is about her future, not just our convenience, you know.” Only deepening her guilt at being unhappy when she had “everything” in the eyes of others.

Now having concluded that she could not trust her husband with her true feelings, Morgan began obsessing about running away with Gwen back to Arizona. She searched properties on realty websites, looked for potential jobs, and even let herself cross paths with an old boyfriend, imagining that “maybe he would understand.”

Finally, one day when she was visiting the Mom and Baby Group, the icebreaker question was “What will your baby’s first trip be?” Suddenly, when the question came to Morgan all the fantasies, schemes, and desperate escape plans overwhelmed her and she broke down into heaving sobs, leading to a panic attack. Too embarrassed to share the details of her state, she simply told the nurse in charge that she was “having a hard time being a mom.” Immediately the nurse suggested that Morgan get in touch with the volunteers at Postpartum Florida, and see how we might be able to help.

Morgan emailed for the details of the Postpartum Mamas Support Group, and attended the next session. When it came to be her turn to share, all she could say was “I guess I just want to go home,” before she released her deep sadness, grieving, loneliness, and emotion through painful, honest tears. One Group member quietly got up from her seat and brought Morgan a box of tissues. Another Group member reached across the couch back and gently place her hand on Morgan’s shoulder. Everyone else simply sat silently, feeding, holding, comforting, bouncing, walking, and rocking their babies, giving Morgan her space to share her story and her feelings in her time. No rushing, no apologies… nothing but love and respect for each mother, and each mother’s powerful strengths, and painful struggles.

After 10 minutes or so, Morgan’s tears turned to laughter as she realized she’d run out of tissues and another mother offered her the corner of her nursing cover. “It’s clean!” she assured her. “Really – I just found it this morning wrapped in a pillowcase in the laundry heap!” Then the commonality of all the strain and the stress, the joy of a precious new life, and the loss of one’s old freedom, fun, and independence, became so shared, so universal, Morgan’s somber expression broke into a small, but genuine, smile… the first smile she’d worn in weeks. She was not so alone as she believed. There were many, many other mothers facing similar isolation and disconnectedness, and doing their best to take steps and cope.

Morgan and Gwen attended the Postpartum Mamas Support Group every week without fail for the remainder of Gwen’s Postpartum year, and was a truly exceptional nonjudgmental listener and advocate for the women of the Group.

“Simply knowing you’re not alone, especially when you so deeply, deeply fear that you are, is such a source of encouragement. To see there are others who have struggled, but are making it through, helps me believe that if they can make it, then so can I.
 
“It’s really important to have trained doctors and everything, but I had that, and no one, no one, really saw me or how deeply I was struggling, because they didn’t have or didn’t take the time to listen to me. These ladies listened, and weren’t afraid to hear what I had to say. Knowing there’s a place where people accept you for who you are… a place where you, as a new mother, can be heard is truly priceless. New moms be able to share honestly like that. That’s the power of peer support, I guess. I don’t know where I’d be today without the support I got at the Postpartum Support Group. I owe these ladies everything.”

Postpartum Florida volunteers services helped Morgan, Jackson, and Gwen, and helped them grow closer and stronger as a family.  Now Morgan is paying it forward, helping support other new families as they adjust to parenthood. She knows the complexity because she’s been there, and she knows peer support is an indispensible piece of Perinatal Wellness because “the ladies [of PPMamas Support] brought me back, just by being there they brought me back, and I want to do do the same for another mom. It’s so important to the future of society… Maternal Mental Health, I mean… how can you not support helping moms? They’re the key to everything.”

*PPD and Social Support Study: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releas…/2009/…/090115190451.htm