How Learning a Language Helped Me Overcome Postpartum Depression
People told me how to prepare for pregnancy and childbirth—what supplements to take, what foods to avoid, what exercises to do, how to breathe during delivery, and so forth. But nobody talked to me about what can come after having a baby: postpartum depression.
Now, I am no expert in postpartum depression, and I encourage anyone who is experiencing such symptoms to talk to a trusted licensed medical professional. For me, the postpartum period was marked by sadness, irritability, and loneliness. Naturally, I felt guilty for feeling so down during a time in my life in which I was supposed to be happy.
Hormonal changes were partly responsible for these feelings, I’m sure. I was also depressed, I knew, because my life had changed so drastically in such a short period of time, and I didn’t have the right coping mechanisms or strategies in place to deal with the transition to my new role as a mother. I hadn’t planned for this stage of motherhood.
My whole life, my identify had been tied to achievement. I was a Type-A, straight-A student who had excelled in school and, later, in my job as I climbed the marketing career ladder. I was used to solving complex problems, being creative, analyzing loads of data, and making critical decisions. As a new mom who had decided to temporarily leave the workforce, I wasn’t exposed to the daily brain stimulation that I desperately needed to stay healthy and happy. On top of that, I felt like I had lost all my freedom and independence.
Don’t get me wrong—I was grateful for and in love with my new baby, and I wholly respected the position of motherhood. But honestly, the first year after having my child was pretty dark.
Then I Discovered “Fluent in 3 Months”… and I was Instantly Fascinated
One day as I was nursing my baby and mindlessly surfing the internet, I came across Benny Lewis’ Fluent in 3 Months blog. I was instantly fascinated by the concept of learning a second language, and learning it quickly. The real-life success stories and testimonials captivated me the most.
My previous experience with languages had not been the greatest. My required high school and college foreign language classes were just that: requirements. And they’d left me with feelings of anxiety toward learning a language (speaking, mostly) in a classroom setting.
Benny’s approach seemed different. He, too, had suffered through unpleasant language classroom experiences. Today, he’s fluent in several languages and has helped countless other language learning hopefuls become fluent in their target languages.
I read through as many blog posts as I could on Fluent in 3 Months before downloading the Duolingo app and diving into learning German, the language of my ancestry. I chose Duolingo as a first resource because it was free, user friendly, and structured. The gamification aspect of the app pushed me to progress steadily through the lessons, absorbing all the new vocabulary and grammar that I could retain each day. Before long, I was dreaming in German, not in dialogues, of course, but in individual words and phrases.
Deep into it now, I realized that this whole language learning thing embodied what had been missing from my life since having a baby. Now I had a goal (fluency in a second language) and, through all the resources available online, a way to actually achieve it. Learning German provided the mental exercise that my brain had been craving.
Soon, Duolingo gave way to books, YouTube videos, and podcasts. The more time I spent with languages, the less depressed I felt. The best part of all was that language learning didn’t reduce the amount of time
I spent with my baby. Instead, it enhanced our time together. Everything I was doing to learn German I could do with my child. I read German children’s books aloud to him. I sang to him German kids’ songs I had learned from YouTube. I counted in German to him. I decided that we would become fluent in German together because it would benefit us both! As a monolingual, establishing a bilingual home for my child gave me new purpose, boosting my spirits drastically.
But then duty beckoned, and I had to return to work…
German Preschool to the Rescue!
I eventually went back to my corporate job and needed to find childcare for my then-18-month-old. As fate would have it, there was one opening in our local German immersion preschool, and I jumped at the opportunity to enroll my toddler in the program. As much as I had tried to give my child a bilingual immersion experience at home, I wasn’t at a level in my German to do it as effectively as I wanted.
My son is now in his second year in the total immersion program, and at only three years old, I’m certain he’s more fluent than I am at age 31. I have regular conferences with his teachers, so that’s how I know he’s progressing in his acquisition of the language. Despite my best attempts to keep the German going at home, he speaks mostly English with my husband and me.
I couldn’t be more thankful for my child’s language immersion preschool, and I encourage all parents of young children to search for immersion schools in their area because I highly doubt that, with my busy schedule, I alone could have given my son the gift of a bilingual education.
So, I Started Doing Yoga in German
I think there’s something to be said about my actively learning German on my own but in front of my child as much as possible. Language learning and yoga are my two favorite hobbies, and I combine them whenever I can. Currently, I’m doing a “30 Days of Yoga Videos in German” personal challenge in which I work out to German yoga videos on YouTube each day for a month. My three-year-old isn’t doing yoga with me, but even when he’s doing his own thing in the same room, he’s gaining exposure to native content just as if he was a preschooler living in a German-speaking country. Moreover, he’s seeing how we prioritize language learning in our home in a fun, positive way.
Together, my son and I go to German events in our community, and we are always up for some delicious German food. His school, too, has regular cultural celebrations, so in addition to learning the language, we gain a broader perspective of the world outside the United States. His knowing two languages allows us to share dialogue about other languages too. For example, if we encounter Spanish at the grocery story, we briefly discuss that language, and we count to 10 together in it.
Confession: I’m Not the Ideal Language Student
I’ll be honest: I’m not the ideal language student. I get sidetracked on side projects. This year, for instance, I decided to write and publish my first-ever ebook—about language immersion schools. Also, far too often I fall into the trap of language porn, as Benny has written about. What can I say? The Fluent in 3 Months blog is too enticing!
With 2018 around the corner, though, I’m setting some measurable goals for the year and pushing past my fear of speaking by taking lessons through italki (by the way, italki gift cards are the best gift for your favorite language learner). I decided the other day that 2019 will be the year I visit a German-speaking country, so I have until then to both get fluent and save money for the trip.
A couple of years ago, I gave up Facebook so I could have more time for language learning. In its place, I started using my personal Instagram account to document my journey to learn German. Through Instagram, I have found a welcoming, and supportive language learning community and have connected there with many incredible polyglots, language learners and small businesses in the space. These people keep me inspired, hold me accountable, and challenge me to be creative. Since then, I’ve started a new Facebook account that’s very similar to my Instagram account in that I selectively follow accounts and join groups that keep me on track toward my goal of fluency.
How Am I Doing Now?
I’m pleased to report that today I’m a much happier, healthier wife, mother, and overall person than I was in the weeks and months after having my baby. I absolutely love being the mom of an ornery, goofy, and smart little human, and I’m beyond glad to have found a hobby that we can both pursue for life, an almost “secret language” the two of us can share forever.
A special thank you to Benny Lewis and his team, along with all the other creators of language learning resources available, often for free and with just a click of a button. I encourage everyone to support these entrepreneurs because a lot of work goes into planning, developing, and promoting the content that we’re consuming in our quest to learn another language.
With that, auf Wiedersehen!