As a mom-to-be, you’re constantly fed this line: “there is no greater joy than being a mother.” You’ve grown this tiny life inside your body up to nine-months. The nursery is done. All the bottles are cleaned. You’ve even read through a bunch of those “must have” baby books (or at least dog-earred a few pages). You have battled through labor and delivery (whatever that may have look like for you). Now, you’re home going though the postpartum phase. It’s been a few days since baby arrived and you’re remembering all this joy you were told about. But where is it?
[Remember 1 in 7]
Postpartum depression hit me like a ton of bricks. Quite literally, I felt blindsided. In now way was it part of my plan. It wasn’t highlighted in my “What to Expect…” This was the last thing in the world I could have imagined happening during this time. Yet, it hit me. And it hit me hard.
It had been a few days since we returned home from having our little boy. The new mom glow was fading. Being awake 24-hours a day was starting to take it’s toll. The new mom high was definitely tapering off (aka you stay awake 24/7 watching your baby breath, sleep, and poop).
All things considered, we were blessed with a pretty easy baby. He was pretty mellow minus the “witching hour” (which wasn’t really just an hour in the evenings…). He took to nursing from the start but I hated nursing. I found myself questioning what the hell I had just gotten myself into. I found myself breaking down in tears for no reason at all and constantly panicked. I’d hide in the shower. I hid in the dark nursing and rocking my son. I hid under the blankets. I’d stand there bawling my eyes out in the shower, then feel incredible guilt that I wasn’t out there tending to my son.
When someone else would hold him, I wanted to scream. I would sit there staring to make sure he was still breathing when he slept. When I’d put him down, I would lay there trying to hear him breath and checking his chest every 10-minutes. I’d nurse him for what seemed like forever, cringing in pain. When it was time to feed him, I’d start breaking down even before putting him to the breast. My mind wrestled between feeling like the worst mother in the world to having an intense fear that I was going to lose my son. Worried he wasn’t getting enough. That there was something seriously wrong with him, I just couldn’t see it.
Generally I’m an emotionally private person. I don’t care to share my inner-most feelings with others, and when I do it’s a huge deal. I loved my husband and my family, but I couldn’t share this dark part of my life with them. There was this intense fear that my son would be taken away from me if I talked, and I believed I wouldn’t survive if that happened.
All I was good for was a milk-cow (and I felt like I looked like a cow too…). I was still experiencing the trauma I’d experienced after my delivery over and over. Having lost out on experiencing that special “golden hour” together they talked about (he had minor issues after birth and had to be taken to the NICU to be evaluated). I was so afraid that had sealed our fate. I would never find that peaceful connection with my son.
[Remember 1 in 7]
I knew this was not normal. Prior to having my son I considered myself a successful-functioning depressive with manageable social anxiety. A lot of this was brought on by a traumatic series of events in my teen years. I had a social tic that I openly made fun of and laughed with others about not having the “right kind of turrets” to take away the negative attention. Despite knowing all the symptoms and knowing I was struggling, I couldn’t ask for help. There was this fear of looking like a failure. Most of all I feared that someone would take my son. I felt like I couldn’t function like a mother should.
“If it’s hidden, it isn’t real”
I had become pretty clever at hiding my struggle to the outside world, given my history. Postpartum Depression was a different beast. It was hard to hide and convince myself things were ok. I found myself making excuses for my sadness to friends and family. Frequently I gave them reasons they wanted to hear: sleep deprivation, fussy baby, still adjusting, etc. I stopped calling or texting friends, or following through with commitments. What I really wanted was for someone to figure it out and rescue me. I was letting myself drown and didn’t know how to save myself.
Several times I went in to my doctor’s office in the first few weeks and would try to explain that I was having a difficult time. Each time I was told that it was just the “baby-blues” and it would pass soon. As long as I wasn’t planning to kill my baby or myself, it was all good. There were times I would try to tell my friends that I was having a hard time. The “seasoned” moms would remind me that “it’s just the baby-blues, everyone gets them.” Try telling that to a depressive person. It sucks to hear and a huge blow-off. By minimizing the condition, it made me just want to crawl back to my isolated state. There were other friends who it hurt my heart to want to talk to. How do you tell a friend who desperately wants kids you are miserable in motherhood?
I couldn’t decide if I was angry that no one was understanding me, or if I was a complete lunatic and making up this twisted reality to make myself suffer.
[Remember 1 in 7]
Ready to fight
A small part of me wasn’t ready to quit though. I still had some fight left in me so I tried support groups. One I attended, I still attend twice-a-month to this day (the silver lining!). One group left much to be desired. I should have known it would be bad when I was the only one who showed up (that includes the group therapist).
There was hope
I promised a silver lining though. I found an amazing group. It was a different group from that living nightmare I had attended days before. It was the first moment in weeks that I didn’t feel so alone. There were other mothers who were having just as hard of a time as I was. It gave me the confidence to go into my appointment later that day, fill out the PPD test (again), and allow myself to completely break-down in front of my doctor. We discussed options. She made her case for trying medication. At the time I was very apprehensive about it, having dealt with depression and anxiety before then. I had bad experiences with medication making me feel worse. After promising me that she wouldn’t let me fall through the cracks and spiral further down, I agreed to trying medication and accepting a referral to “mental health.”
[Remember 1 in 7]
Treatment: the highs and lows
Starting a medication can be scary. It was for me. I had seen the dark side of what these medications can do. It can also heavily play on your already amped up anxiety. I really looked forward to going to bed. My brain could shut off for a few hours.
There were decent days. Days where I forgot about how weighed down I felt, and the anxiety was manageable.
There were also bad days where I felt I was hanging on by a thread.
Then there were REALLY bad days. One of my lower points happened to be on Christmas (Merry-freaking-Christmas to me…), I had to run an errand, leaving my son behind. Very seriously I considered driving my car off the road into a canal. I didn’t want to die, but I so badly wanted a physical reason to explain why I was hurting inside so bad. I’m very thankful I didn’t. I thought about cutting myself. Just enough to need to go to the hospital. I didn’t do that either. Nor the many other times after that when I had those dark thoughts cloud my mind. Part of me wanted someone to see how bad I hurt. How painful each and every day was. I wanted someone to make me feel better.
[Remember 1 in 7]
Now I wasn’t completely devoid of wanting to try and help myself. Flashing forward about a month when I finally saw the “expert” who I expected to have all the answers. My experience going that avenue was not what I had hoped. I felt I still had more questions then answers. This is why it is so important to seek out a professional who has experience with Postpartum Depression and Anxiety.
Postpartum is a journey
The entire journey is tough. I found myself having more good days than bad. I loved my son more than words could ever describe, yet I felt completely inadequate, unprepared, and utterly alone (despite having an amazing husband by my side).
Today is still a work in progress. We are 11-months along in this journey. My son is my rock. It is true that when you have a baby, you finally realize what love is. Sure, you love your partner, you love your family, but none of that can measure up to the love you have for your baby. Finding that love is not always sudden, nor does it mean that love doesn’t come without struggle for some. I write this not to discourage anyone, but to show another story.
Postpartum Depression (Anxiety) can feel extremely isolating. There are intrusive thoughts and being on constant alert. Grappling with depression and anxiety fighting one another. Many of us fear talking about it. It’s time to stop feeling afraid and to tell the world our story.
The time is now that we ask for change in how we handle these conditions. Time for ALL providers to educate mothers and their support team before they have their babies so they know what to look for. It’s time for hospitals across the board to check in with you before you leave. For providers to check in with families in their first few weeks home (whether it’s a call from your OB or midwife, or the pediatrician at those first few appointments). Time to stop watering this down to the baby blues. It’s time as a support system we stop relying on apologizing to moms for their suffering, to make ourselves feel better. It is time to act. We as a society need to accept it’s time to talk about it. Let’s save more mothers. According to the American Psychological Association, 1 in 7 mothers will experience it.
PPD can affect any woman—women with easy pregnancies or problem pregnancies, first-time mothers and mothers with one or more children, women who are married and women who are not, and regardless of income, age, race or ethnicity, culture or education. (American Psychological Association)
Depression can take hold of anyone
Depression doesn’t care how old you are. How much money you have or how prepared you are. It doesn’t care if you have a good or bad support system. Depression doesn’t care if you’ve had it before or not.
Despite many days being a struggle, I know I will get through. Each day watching my son grow reminds me why I’m here. Each day I feel the love of my husband, or hear I’m doing a good job, it contains the depression and anxiety beasts for a little while. I don’t know what the future holds. It’s hard to imagine what “complete recovery” looks like. I do know that I have to learn to be my own advocate. I know these conditions are real. We are real. We deserve to be heard and recognized.
As I now feel I am starting to come out of my postpartum fog, I am trying to let go of the anger I’ve been harboring. I feel cheated out of my dream start at motherhood. Not being prepared for this. I knew nothing of Postpartum Depression before experiencing it, and I hate that. I’m angry that I felt the care I received for my postpartum issues wasn’t what I would expect.
Perhaps that is what angers me most. Many question the quality of care for mothers in the United States. This is especially true when it comes to pregnancy, birth, and postpartum care. If you haven’t felt that birth is just a business, then consider yourself lucky.
Suffering in silence
The reality is many of us suffer silently. So I say this to the other mothers reading this who may be struggling:
I try to remind myself of these every day, even on the dark days.
We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.
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