Hanny Ghazi, LLLF Spanish-speaking moms, France
LLL believes that mother and baby need to be together early and often to establish a satisfying relationship and an adequate milk supply. And a baby has an intense need to be with his mother which is as basic as his need for food. For women with postpartum depression, these simple aspects of relating to one’s child can be difficult. I would like to share a little of my own story of dealing with postpartum depression and how I have been able to use what I learned to help other mothers.
Although I believed in the concept about mother-baby togetherness, and I would have given a million dollars to have followed it through, I found it very difficult to put into practice initially despite breastfeeding continually through the first year.
Other people had changed, bathed, rocked, and played with my baby pretty much all the time until he was about nine months old. I did breastfeed him, yes, but I unconsciously avoided spending unlimited time with him because I was suffering from postpartum depression (PPD).
My guilt for not being the mother I had planned to be was eased to a certain degree by the fact that I had succeeded in breastfeeding him exclusively, despite a lot of trouble latching and misunderstanding the process at the beginning. However I didn’t engage with my child as much as I wished and I only did the minimum of what the outside world expected me to do.
Even when spending time with just the two of us, I would be looking at my phone and checking my social networks, ironically for websites related to mothering and how to bond with one’s baby. I was desperate to make it happen but was completely lost at the same time!
When my little boy was around nine months old, I realized that I had to make drastic changes in order to get empowered and bond with my child. I decided to follow my instinct of protecting my child and I became the only person taking care of him. The expected miracle happened: I fell completely in love with him.
Today, I am (almost) the mother I dreamt I would be (because we all find mistakes in our daily mothering work, don’t we?). I have completed my application to be an LLL Leader and have started supporting mothers on the phone, by email, and during monthly meetings.
I think that my experience has made me sensitive to the signs of PPD in other mothers. This can be an advantage if I am supporting a breastfeeding mother struggling with bonding. I will always be grateful for the miracle that saved my relationship with my son: the beautiful breastfeeding hormones and the help from La Leche League.
Helping mothers with PPD
The first mother I helped with PPD came via a phone call: a mother in severe distress after a traumatic delivery. She had not bonded with her baby; she didn’t even mention the fact that she had given birth to a baby boy. The mother only discussed the pain and the injustice she had experienced at the hospital. She had all the elements for PPD (traumatic delivery, lack of support, breastfeeding not starting properly due to subsequent interventions after the delivery that required general anesthesia). That first phone call lasted an hour in which she didn’t stop talking and I didn’t even have a chance to write notes in my Leader’s Log. I just listened and felt her pain.
For several weeks we talked on the phone regularly. I listened patiently as she told me over and over again things that I knew already. I knew from my own experience that she needed to tell them many times in order to lessen their weight in her mind and heal.
I helped with ideas without mentioning the fact that I had experienced something similar myself. My most used phrase was “Some mothers find (insert suggestion)… useful.” I talked about eating well (because malnourishment contributes to PPD and it impedes recovery), trying to sleep as much as possible (sleep deprivation is another major element to PPD), and finding support around her. In this mother’s case there wasn’t a father in the picture and her family lived abroad so I suggested she reach out for friends on Facebook and support groups so she could have her daily share of cheering up. I supported her when she told me that she would like to write a letter of complaint to the hospital. We discussed how important it was to do that to help her heal from the memories of what happened and to try to prevent it happening to other mothers in the future. I emphasized the importance of breastfeeding, over and over again, as a way to heal and bond with her little boy.
A month later I called her and she sounded completely different. Her voice was different: she sounded calmer and happier. Previously, her baby would start screaming and she would start crying (and not reaching out to him). This time the baby started crying and she talked to him using sweet words (“Why are you crying now my son?”). She explained to me that he had just nursed so she didn’t understand why he was crying, I casually suggested that maybe he had missed his dessert and she put him back to the breast. I was extremely excited to hear how her voice changed even more as she was breastfeeding him. The amazing oxytocin was doing its work!
Listening and talking
Leaders can help mothers experiencing PPD by listening to them as much as they can and encouraging them to talk. Leaders should also encourage mothers with PPD to look for professional help when things do not seem to be getting better. There are organizations and help groups for mothers experiencing PPD. If possible try to find out if they support breastfeeding before making the recommendation because it is not always the case.
In my healing journey after PPD I found two books I would definitely recommend:
- Thomas, Kim. Birth Trauma. A Guide for You, Your Friends and Family to Coping with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Following Birth. Nell James Publishers, 2013. – A mother experiencing PPD needs help and support, and so does her partner, her family, and close friends. The book explains ways to cope with the situation and to avoid making it worse. A book of empowerment for a mother’s circle of support.
- Kendall-Tackett, Kathleen A. Depression in New Mothers: Causes, Consequences, and Treatment Alternatives. Routledge, 2009. – Kathleen Kendall-Tackett presents the outcomes of different studies that explain the causes of PPD, what can happen to the mother and the baby if not treated, and alternatives to help the mother recover.
Hanny Ghazi originally came from Colombia, and now lives in France with her French husband and their son, Emilio, who is almost three years old. She has been a Leader since December 2014. Hanny created an LLL support Group for Spanish speaking mothers in the Paris area in May 2015. Hanny blogs about mothering through breastfeeding (in Spanish) at www.cafelaleche.fr and the full story of her postpartum depression can be found in Breastfeeding Today, August 2014