For new moms, sharing a meal and talking about the struggles of parenthood with other mothers can be a vital lifeline, especially if those moms have all coped with postpartum depression.
That is why a pair of Squamish moms who both endured their own bouts with the mental illness, started The Mothering Table earlier this year, in order to have a peer-support network for women in the Sea to Sky Corridor who are in recovery from postpartum depression and/or anxiety.
Postpartum depression can begin during pregnancy or at any time up to a year after the birth of a child.
It is a mental illness that, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, impacts "the way a person feels. Mood impacts the way people think about themselves, relate to others, and interact with the world around them. This is more than a ‘bad day’ or ‘feeling blue.’ Without supports and treatment, depression can last for a long time."
Almost one-quarter (23%) of mothers who recently gave birth reported feelings consistent with either postpartum depression or an anxiety disorder, according to 2018 Stats Can data.
"We came together on this because we realized it was a gap following the excellent group that is run through Vancouver Coastal Health," said Amelia Birch, co-founder of The Mothering Table.
The Mothering Table is for women who have attended the VCH group already and/or who are in recovery from postpartum.
It is not appropriate for women in the depth of the depression, because that requires trained medical support not available at the gatherings.
The model is a monthly dinner, hosted by older mothers, for women of the younger generation.
COVID-19 precautions are in place.
The group is entirely volunteer-run with a nominal fee charged to cover the cost of the dinner.
"It is a confidential place," Birch said, adding there aren't expectations or judgments about how people are parenting.
For Birch, postpartum depression manifested itself as a racing brain and anxiety just after her now toddler was born.
"I would just have unreasonable thoughts. Thinking that I was never going to have my career again... there were tons of thoughts that came in the night," she recalled, adding she also experienced her first panic attack in the middle of the night.
She experienced intrusive thoughts, too, of terrible things that could happen to her daughter. If she was hiking with her, for example, she would envision the tot falling in a nearby river and being swept away.
While some people told her this was all part of being a new parent, Birch realized something was wrong.
"It was my husband who initially said, 'I think there is a name for this.'"
While postpartum depression is relatively common, it is not "normal," Birch said.
She sought medical help and was a bit surprised to be diagnosed with postpartum depression because she had never had mental health concerns before.
The Vancouver Coastal Health group was a huge help to her, but there wasn't something after it that moms could graduate to in the Sea to Sky, she said.
"I still need a space to connect with people, to chat about this stuff, and to hear about people's experiences and to not just be left out there."
For The Mothering Table co-founder Mandy Zugloff, things went from great to bad pretty quickly after the birth of her now two-year-old.
"We had a great pregnancy, no complications and then we had our daughter, and things kind of went sideways," Zugloff recalled.
Usually an upbeat and bubbly person who enjoys a good laugh, Zugloff found herself unable to find humour in anything.
"All I did was cry," she recalled. "Things just started spiraling out of control."
Her partner, too, recognized that something was wrong and they sought medical help.
Zugloff soon found support from professionals in Squamish.
"I had a team of unbelievable people. I had a therapist. I had a psychiatrist, I had my general practitioner. I had my partner — all hands on deck."
Still, her illness got to the point she ended up in The HOpe Centre at Lions Gate Hospital for treatment.
"Which I am not embarrassed about because it is part of my journey," she said.
With treatment and the right meds in place, she started attending the VCH medically-supported postpartum support group in Squamish and that is when things started to turn around.
"I was laughing. I could relate to other moms. Things that I was thinking didn't seem so scary because other people thought them. They were judging themselves as harshly as I was judging myself. This group really was pivotal for me," she said.
These days, she feels back to her old self and is enjoying her daughter.
The Mothering Table is a way to give back to other women who may have also struggled, she said, by sharing honestly her journey.
To find out more about the group or to volunteer to host a dinner, go to www.themotheringtable.ca.