"It takes a village, a city and a tribe to raise a mother"
Four years ago I moved from New York City to Toronto with my Canadian husband. We had met at a bar on the Upper East Side; we fell quickly in love and wanted to spend our lives together. We were both nearing thirty, wanted a family, and knew that having one in New York City would prove a challenge. We decided to move to Toronto and bought a house in the Danforth area, close to where his grandparents first lived when they moved here from Greece. In Manhattan, I had a wonderful job teaching at a small private school and thought that getting a teaching job in Toronto would be feasible. I ended up unable to work in part because of the teacher surplus, and in part because I couldn’t get a work visa. Not exactly the career I had hoped for when I moved to Toronto.
We got pregnant sooner than we planned, but we were thrilled none the less. However, I didn’t have OHIP at the time and quickly learned the high out of pocket cost to have a baby in Ontario. Thankfully, about halfway through my pregnancy our local MP’s office recommended us to Sunnybrook Hospital and they took us under their wing. I received amazing prenatal care at South Riverdale Clinic on Queen Street, even if it meant occasionally entering a building with junkies. When I did give birth, I was fortunate to have a quick recovery and a beautiful baby girl. However, she was born with a dislocated hip which had to be dealt with immediately. We were sent to Sick Kids Hospital where at one month she was put in a harness for twelve weeks, wearing it 24 hours a day. We had to relearn how to feed her, change her, clean her and adjust to questions and stares from strangers. At four months she got her harness off and it was clear she couldn’t wait to move. On her first harness-free night she rolled over in her crib and began scooting around the house soon after.
While my daughter couldn’t wait for the day to begin, I began to dread the dawn. I had heard of the Baby Blues or Post-Partum Depression, but like many new moms I assumed that it wouldn’t happen to me. I did everything I could to fight it it; I did every baby and mom class the city offered to keep busy, I visited family and friends both locally and in the US in an attempt to feel like my social self. I forced myself to get out of bed and tried to find meaning in my daughter’s smiles. Some days it was a struggle just to function, let alone care for a child. I had a lot of sadness and rage. Many nights I would wake up at 2 am and would cry uncontrollably. Often my husband would come home from work and I would scream at him the second he walked in the door. I felt like I was in a deep, dark fog.
Until I had a child, I never realized how much I would want my parents nearby. I had always been very independent, living all over the world. I was also ashamed to feel depressed. I had a beautiful baby, a loving husband and a nice home, what right did I have to be sad? My shame led me to covering up my symptoms from close friends and family for months. I was afraid they would worry about me or see me as weak. At my six month checkup, my wonderful family doctor asked me how I was feeling. Through my sobs, she listened to my symptoms without judgment, and referred me to the postnatal counseling clinic at Mt. Sinai. It was my first time in therapy.
After one of the first counseling sessions I went out to my book group. I had been meeting with this group of six amazing women for only a few months but I had known most of them well before the formation of our book group so we were all friendly, some of us were closer than others. We all sat in a circle, curled up on couches eating Indian food. Right before we were to start discussing the book someone casually asked how I was doing. I broke down in tears. I told them of my sadness, my loneliness, and of my anger. They looked at me stunned. No one had suspected a thing. They listened to me and let me cry. Even though my ‘secret’ was out, I felt better. I no longer needed to project the image of ‘perfectly adjusted new mom’. In the weeks following that book club, each one of those women continued to making my life a little easier. One made me dinner, another looked after my daughter so my husband and I could go out, one sent a package to my house filled with things just for me to enjoy, like books and cookies! And they all sent encouraging letters, emails and texts on a daily basis. It had felt like a coming out of sorts, and when I finally revealed my secret the world continued to spin and my friends still loved me.
The post-partum fog has lifted with the help of medication, therapy, meditation and support from my friends and family. I look back on those days and I am fortunate for many things; for the good city resources, for my patient husband and my happy child, and for having a book group that is so much more than just an evening of literary chatter. Our group has become a safety net for all of us, as a place to share the ups and downs of life without judgment or recourse (except for unconditional love and support).
My life has not turned out like I planned it when I moved to Toronto. However, today I have a wonderful teaching job, an active toddler and a beautiful baby boy. I look forward to the future with hope and a renewed sense of living, and greater sympathy and awareness for others. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but I say it takes a village, a city and a tribe to raise a mother.