In The Eden Center’s course for mikveh attendant we teach about postpartum depression. Dr. Efrat Orlion, a clincal social worker with a specialty in postpartum depression, came to teach in the program, and shared this story — which she had heard from one of her patients:
When I decided to come to you for treatment, I suddenly realized that my biggest fear was that you would ask me “What brings you to me?” “What’s the problem?” … I suddenly realized I had nothing to say. What could I say??
I’d say “I gave birth to a sweet, calm baby. Everything went well. I wanted this pregnancy, I have a wonderful husband, I’m a healthy mother, with a healthy baby, I’ve got “all God’s blessings”.
What would I tell you??
That my parents hosted us for a whole month [after the birth] and did everything for me, laundry, cooking, everything I needed and more. And … and …
That despite all that, I feel like the sky has fallen.
I knew when I was growing up that I would be a wonderful mother. I always loved kids and they loved me. How I anticipated this baby! I was looking forward to taking walks in the park with the new stroller, to having a fun maternity leave in which I would finally get around to making photo albums, go shopping, learn Torah, have coffee with friends …
And that this cute baby has ruined everything.
There was no day and no night. I was told to sleep when the baby was asleep, but it felt like a long and exhausting bout of “Jet lag” … I lost my appetite, lost all my desire and joy. My relationship with my husband became distant and unhappy. I knew I was a total failure, a failed mother, despondent, irritable and exhausted.
I had no desire to be with my baby, no desire for my husband, and was completely apathetic to doing anything for myself.
I felt awful. So ungrateful! You have everything and nothing is good for you! And the baby … the poor baby.
I felt suffocated. Sinking into a deep black hole. Alone. Totally alone. Like the soil that swallowed Korah, but, unfortunately, it didn’t swallow me. The ground shook beneath me while I continued to feel suffocated, exposed and terribly ashamed.
I struggled to function and appear “normal”. I pretended to smile, I pretended to love, I pretended I was living.
It was a golden prison. Everything was “fine” yet nothing was “okay”. Nothing!
So you ask me how did I get to you despite all this? How did I have the strength to gather myself from within the exhaustion and turn for help despite my shameful state?
It was her. The mikveh attendant.
Six weeks after giving birth, I had to go to mikveh. I had never gone [to the mikveh] that way; so miserable and hopeless. I arrived late and prayed it would be closed, but it was open and she sat there as if just waiting for me. When she saw me she asked how I was, and in the pat way I had gotten used to, I replied that everything was “fine”. Baruch Hashem (thank God). And I went in.
But when I was in the water, I remembered the compassionate womb of the mikveh, and completely broke down. There was no way to “pretend”, nothing to hide behind, and I burst into uncontrollable tears.
She waited. She sat silently and waited. Sort of present but not-present. She just let me cry and the tears came gushing out.
How long was I there? I don’t know. Maybe ten minutes, maybe an hour …
When I left, she didn’t say anything. But her caring eyes calmed my inner fears. She doesn’t think I’m crazy. She wasn’t alarmed. No. Maybe … maybe I’m not crazy after all?…
I got dressed and came out.
In the meantime, she had made coffee. “Want to sit with me for a moment?,” she asked. And as I drank the hot, sweet coffee, she quietly said “this time is so difficult and complex…” Almost as if talking to herself she continued, musing aloud, “People think it’s great, “Oh, congratulations!”, “How wonderful!” They don’t understand that for any normal woman it’s hard. Sometimes it’s very difficult … But, you know, if it’s very difficult, if one feels sad all the time, that requires real help. A good mother can be depressed, but a good mother must take care of herself – for her and for her baby … “
She gave me your phone number. And a few days later she called just to ask if I was okay.
Thanks to her, I’m here [in therapy] now.
I know that even when everything is “fine”, everything can be wrong. And I’ve come to tell you that right now I’m not “fine”. I know it. Please help me. I know I had joy and love and faith – I lost them during the birth… like I lost lot of blood and strength, I lost them.
Do you think it’s possible to get them back…??