Postpartum depression hit me hard the days following our homecoming. Not only was my body reeling from the sharp drop in hormone levels, but my mind was processing another loss – my child could not hear.
Such grief came in waves. I would find myself staring at Sonya as she fed. My fingers tracing her perfect silhouette. As I enjoyed a quiet moment of motherhood, I would suddenly remember that she was deaf. My mind churning with what ifs. How would she survive in New York City if she can’t hear? She could get hit by a car! Would she ever be able to get a job? How? Would she be a part of normal society? The hearing aids will look hideous and people will stare. My poor baby who is so beautiful will have ugly devices. Kids will make fun of her, and the biggest most challenging question: how do I tell people? The list ran on and on. I felt like I was drowning.
During my postpartum checkup, my OB advised me to contact the Seleni Institute – a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping women with reproductive and maternal mental health issues. I held onto the number for a number of days. But eventually I knew I could not continue to be a good mom to Sonya with everything I was feeling.
The Seleni Institute has professionals who specialize in helping parents of children with special needs. I knew I didn’t need long-term therapy, rather, a few sessions to help me through this particular rough patch. Dr. Christiane Manzella, PhD, FT is the Seleni Institute’s clinical director and has been a therapist and grief counselor in New York City for more than 20 years. In a recent article she penned for the Institute’s website, she offers a few ways to begin the healing process:
Know that your feelings, whatever they are, are normal. Parents are often relieved to know that feeling deeply disappointed, frustrated, and sad is part of the normal grieving process. It’s important to let yourself feel complex emotions as they come up.
Know that you are not alone. Connecting with other parents of children who have special needs will help you learn that you don’t have to hide your disappointment or go through challenges on your own. Hearing about others’ experiences will help lessen the stigma you may feel about your own complicated emotions.
Surround yourself with support. Keeping grief hidden can harm your overall quality of life and day-to-day coping skills. Find a safe person or place (such as a support group) to discuss your feelings openly.
Expect ups and downs. This is a process that will have many twists and turns. At times you may have a resurgence of grief, especially when other challenges arise. (For example, you may grieve when you become aware of a missed developmental milestone.) But knowing you’re not alone and understanding that your feelings of disappointment, shame, or guilt are perfectly normal can help you work through your grief and develop new coping skills that will improve your life and the life of your child.