I was watching the evening news with my extended family one evening when a horrible story came across the screen. A mother had thrown a newborn baby into a snowbank and left it there. Thankfully, a passerby had seen what happened and took the baby to the ER. My family members started saying the typical things people say when we hear stories of child abuse or neglect.
“Who would do such a thing?”
“You’d have to be insane to do something so horrible.”
“I don’t care how bad life gets, you take care of your child first!”
I kept quiet because I was thinking something very different. “I totally get it.”
A few months earlier I’d had my first baby. Despite all of the books and blogs I had read, I was totally unprepared for the fatigue and upheaval having a newborn would bring to my life. After a month or so it became clear there was more going on with me than just adjusting to motherhood. I would be sitting in my rocking chair crying when my husband left for work in the morning. He would come home nine hours later and find me sitting in the same spot, still crying. I had postpartum depression.
As soon as the diagnosis was made, a team of support swooped into action around me.
My mom, sister and a friend from church took turns staying with me during the day while my husband was at work.
I drove to a support group for moms with PPD once a week.
My husband started bottle feeding our son on the weekends so I could get a few full nights of sleep.
People from my church brought us meals several times a week.
Dozens of people were praying for me.
It took a team of doctors, family members and friends to get me and my baby safely through that period. Even with all of that support, there were still days I felt like I was barely keeping my head above water. So when I heard that story of a mom leaving her baby in the snow . . . I got it.
What if I had no team?
What if there had been no family or friends to sit with me and I was left alone for hours on end with a crying baby?
What if I had no car? Would I have had the strength to bundle up a newborn and ride the bus downtown every week to get to that support group?
What if I had no husband? No one to give me a break?
What if there was no church to bring me meals?
What if no one was praying for me?
I never got to the point where I hurt my baby, but I can easily see how it happens. Thinking back on the experience, I understand why social isolation is such a big risk factor in child abuse and neglect*. The biggest difference between me and that mom on the news is I have a team of support, she probably didn’t.
The first few months of motherhood were one of the darkest periods of my life. It was also the time when the church shined the brightest around me. It left me deeply aware that any support we provide when people are in crisis, especially families in crisis, has a multiplied impact. Meals that people provided during that time didn’t just feed us, they encouraged us. Time with supportive people didn’t just cheer me up, it kept me going. Now when I bring a meal to a new mom or watch her kids for a day, I know I’m not just “giving her a break”, I’m giving her strength. I’m giving her encouragement. I’m giving her hope.
(* The Center for Disease Control and Prevention sites social isolation as one of the top risk factors in child abuse and neglect.)