Friday, March 25, 2011

The Shame and Humiliation

Last week, after increasingly improving more and more every day, I had a bad day. A really bad day. Luke and I had a fight before he left for work, and we were both too immature to just resolve it before he left. Then Judah decided it was a good day for his 6-month growth spurt, but of course it took a long morning of much screaming on his part before I figured that out. On the heals of such recent improvement, that bad day felt like an even deeper failure. 

By midmorning, I found myself looking for ways to get rid of my children. Not just for the day, but for someone else to raise them. I was convinced that I was never going to get better and therefore I was a terrible mother and the best thing I could do for my boys was to just give them to someone else to adopt and take in as their own.* 

I desperately needed help that day. I didn't ask for it. I was ashamed. At such an intensely weak point, I was too proud to tell the people around me that I needed some support. I wanted to keep up appearances that things were fine. I'm strong and capable. I don't need help. 

In the midst of it, I fessed up to an anonymous online community of moms--there's no shame if it is anonymous. The response was immediate. Countless women offered to come over and help if I lived near them. Complete strangers from all over the country were offering help, some even offering to drive up to 2-3 hours! Many others told stories of their own (past) despair, and how much they regretted that they didn't seek out help sooner. 

Then an email I received a few weeks ago from a college friend came back to me:

I just wanted to remind you of the ways that you let people come into your life and help you when you were in college.  I remember coming to get you at your apartment . . . The point is, please let people do that again for you.  Whatever that looks like now, whoever that is in your life now.  I love you, but I know there are a lot of other people who love you too.
By the end of the day it was clear: I needed to ask for help.**

So I did. Yep, I fessed up to my inability to manage even the littlest tasks and I asked for help. It feels so wrong to ask someone if they might be willing to come and clean your bathroom for you. It feels even worse to watch them do it. To stand there and know that you are physically capable of doing that task, you even have the time to do it, but the mental exercises necessary to accomplish it are outside your reach. 

Last night Luke needed to study late into the night so I had a friend come over to help with the boys. By the time she got here, I was completely stressed from the afternoon, and more than ready to have help. She spent the next few hours feeding and bathing my kids, while I helplessly stood nearby answering her questions about what they needed. 

After the boys were in bed, I flopped onto the couch, exhausted from the efforts of the day. She proceeded to pick up toys, put away clutter, and clean up the kitchen. I again found myself immobile while someone else did my job. 

It's humiliating to repeatedly reach the end of your patience for your children. It's humbling to allow someone to take them aside and play with them for awhile so you can have a break. It's humiliating to have a babysitter in your house when it is trashed from a week's worth of living but no cleaning. It's humbling to come home and find that everything has been cleaned for you. It's humiliating to show your weaknesses. It's humbling to allow others to lovingly help you when you need it. Humiliation is an acceptance of the shame that comes with people having a lower opinion of you because of your imperfections. Humility is an acceptance of the love of others as they reach out to help you. 

Last week, I felt ashamed and humiliated at the thought of allowing the people that I know to see me so weak and incapable. But when people respond with love and support, it isn't humiliating or shameful. It's actually quite beautiful and amazing. 

*Thankfully, I had a counselling appointment scheduled for the next day, and was able to work through the of the effects of that day and get on the right track again. I have no intention of giving up my kids. :~D 
**This post is NOT a plea for help. If it was, that would be passive and manipulative. I've asked people who are nearby and have the time and resources and who I have a secure enough relationship with that I'm not worried about them hating me forever judging me. It's one thing to tell everyone you know that your house is a mess, it's a completely different thing to ask someone to try to scrub that mess away. 


  1. I have thought a lot about our culture's lack of support systems since I've had children. We move away from our families, servants are antiquated, and who can afford nannies? In this post feminism era we really are expected to do it all ourselves. And we are American so we feel that we are expected to be able to handle everything with efficiency and excellence. I think this sense of isolation & perfection compound and make PPD so much worse.

  2. Jen, you are so right!

    When talking with a friend a few days ago, she questioned what people in Rwanda (and other 3rd world countries) do when they have PPD. Although I am sure it exists there too, I imagine that it is far less common than here.

    One of the biggest things that keeps bringing me down is the isolation. Why do we insist on being so independent? Why do we expect ourselves to be so perfect? Sure we all say we have messy houses, but we never (or rarely) let others in unless it is clean. If we won't let each other see our struggles and messes, then in reality, no matter how much someone says they have weaknesses, you still kinda don't believe them. And then you still feel like you are the only imperfect Mama out there.

    All that this pride is doing is hurting ourselves and each other.

  3. If you or Luke need my help in some way, just let me know. I'm right downstairs!