We Are the Face of Motherhood: a Series on Postpartum Depression

I have to admit that I have been putting this off for some time.  I first heard about this endeavor in late 2016 and wanted to share and be part of this movement. But, figuring how and what to share has been difficult.

I had another post written. I detailed those first few days and weeks after the birth of my first son and explained to all you beautiful, wonderful people how much I was going through. I expressed in my best words how it felt, why it was happening, and all the things that were working against me.

And then I stopped.

If we are going to end the stigma, we must begin by ending the thought process that our feelings need to be justified or validated by others.

I stopped because I was justifying my feelings. I was trying to justify the fact that I struggled for months with undiagnosed postpartum depression. I explained everything that was going on because I didn’t want you to think I am weak.  I so want you to understand my deep struggle and the visceral heartache that still plagues me that I wrote a very meaningful piece that did nothing.  I think it would have been fine, or even good, to share all of those things for the simple fact that I know other moms feel the exact same way right now [and dare I say that moms well beyond those newborn days feel the same? Moms of toddlers, elementary school kids, preteens, teens, and beyond? Moms who have lost children, moms who never got to meet their babies, moms who adopt, moms who perhaps never got to have children at all?].  My post was true and deep and meaningful and difficult, but I do not believe it was the right post for this cause.

This cause is about ending the stigma of postpartum depression – PPD – and postpartum anxiety – PPA.  If we are going to end the stigma, we must begin by ending the thought process that our feelings need to be justified or validated by others.  It certainly feels good when we someone else understands the way we feel and why we feel it, but even if no one else ever understands the way you are feeling, you are still dealing with depression, and that’s okay.

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This is after we got to our recovery room. I had been awake for about 36 hours at this point and just had a C-section. 

I want you to know that it is okay to deal with depression even if you had a beautiful birth, just the way you wanted.  It is okay to deal with depression even if you have a beautiful baby that you cherish, love, and adore. It is okay if you have depression even though breastfeeding went well for you.  It is okay to have depression even if your baby sleeps through the night.  It is okay to deal with depression whether you prayed for your child for years or you had no idea motherhood was before you. It is okay.

Our first picture as a family of 3

There is no qualifying list, no one way depression manifests itself.  In the midst of postpartum hormones and sleep deprivation, depression can seem like it will take care of itself if you can just sleep, just relax, just get away, just have one minute to yourself.  And sometimes it does, but other times, in darker times, it sticks around.  It follows you like a lurking shadow.  No matter how bright the lights are, the shadow is still there, attached to your every move.  The shadow is not nimble, it is cumbersome, it is exhausting.  Your shadow is a physical weight that you carry on a daily basis, an emotional sink that you keep pouring into, but never fills up.  The shadow clouds your judgement, you ability to think and concentrate, your patience and ability to deal with your ever-changing emotions.

One of my favorite pictures, but one that I forced myself to take because I knew, someday, that I would want to see pictures of his little face.

There are signs of PPD/PPA, certainly, and I had many of them.  I felt disconnected and numb. I told myself I HAD to take pictures and I HAD to tell Vincent that I loved him everyday because I didn’t feel like doing either of those things. I wanted to get away from the baby, but as soon as I was away I dealt with anxiety that something terrible would happen while I was gone.  I was irritable and impatient with the baby, but as soon as I felt myself snap I would melt into a big ball of tears. But the fact of the matter is, you can hide these things if you really want to.  The shadow can continue to follow you if you let it, and many times, no one else realizes it’s there except for you.

We must act. We must speak out. We must advocate for each other. And in order for women to seek the help they need, we must end the stigma.

You can read more about my newborn experience here.  I won’t detail it in this post, but I will tell you that I was struggling and I didn’t know how to tell people I was struggling. How do you verbalize a change that happened so quickly you don’t have time to process it? It’s more than, “I’m having a hard time.” I wish I would have said something. I wish I would have had help. I wish I would have known how to do more than take the 2 minute survey at the doctor and be told my feelings were normal.  [and yes they are normal, but there was MORE going on and I wanted SOMEONE to see it and identify it FOR me, I just wasn’t able to do it myself]

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So what I want to share is this: it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to struggle. And it’s okay to ask for help, even if you don’t know what you need or what help looks like. If you start to ask for help you will find relief and reprieve, you will find healing. The road will not be easy, but it will be worth it.

I would also add that as a culture, WE MUST SLOW DOWN.  If you know a new mom, slow down enough to look her in the eye and say, “How are you doing, really?” And when she says, “Oh I’m fine, just tired,” look her in the eye again and repeat, “Really?” I fear that our culture has become so fast, so focused on posting the perfect Instagram picture, so busy, that we won’t slow down enough to see people who are hurting, struggling, and in need of a friend.  New moms especially fit into the category. Your ENTIRE world was just changed and now you have the responsibility of raising a tiny human. The pressure, the loss of independence, the sleepless nights, the physical recovery that has to happen all while caring for a newborn is more than anyone has ever dealt with before and it is okay to not be okay.

I give you permission to not be okay.

So, mama, I give you permission to struggle and need help. I want you to know that people see you and hear you.  We know the heartache and we are here for you. We want you to feel free to share what is going on so that we can better help you.  We are here, and we are here to stay.  It’s okay to not be okay.

{Think you or someone you know may be struggling with postpartum depression, anxiety, or another mental health disorder? Please contact your health provider including your OBGYN or family doctor. Need more information? Visit Postpartum Support International for great information on maternal mental health disorders and more. If you fear you or someone you love may be contemplating suicide or facing a mental health emergency, call the Suicide Prevention Hotline and get to your nearest emergency room.}

 

Eleventy-hundred Reasons I feel Mom Guilt

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Mom Guilt: That feeling you have on the regular that you could be doing more or better. The realization of responsibility and uncertainty that you are fulfilling your child’s needs. The crushing sense of uncertainty with many parenting decisions and then wanting to make a different/better decision the next time around…. The mom guilt definition could go on. Here is an EDITED list of reasons I feel mom guilt on the daily:

  • Not letting my child “settle himself” at 3am and getting up to nurse him because he will go to sleep faster
  • Letting my child cry-it-out so that he learns to settle himself
  • Nursing my baby on a schedule ( You need to feed on demand! )
  • Nursing on demand ( Your baby needs a routine! )
  • Not wanting to nurse at 11pm, 1am, 3am, and 5am ( Nurse your baby whenever he wakes, he needs comfort! )
  • Wanting to sleep (see above timeline )
  • Eating too much chocolate for the nursing baby’s tummy
  • Not getting my child up at 5am when he wakes [ You just let him lay in bed for an hour? ]
  • Not having enough structured play for my 2 yo [He is so smart, you should do more with him! ]
  • Having too much structured play/learning time for my 2yo [Kids learn best by free play!]
  • Not having “self-care” [You need to take care of yourself in order to take care of your kids]
  • Feeling selfish for taking time for “self-care” [ Bottles, pumping, toddler hanging off of you when you leave the house and crying as you go… it’s a lot of work to take time for yourself]
  • Feeding my toddler mac n’cheese for the 4th day in a row [ because, left overs ]
  • Too much fruit and not enough veggies [ but it’s all he will eat ]
  • Telling toddler they cannot have a sugary dessert [ Ice cream mommy! ]
  • Not being flexible enough to allow toddler to have said sugary dessert
  • Being “too strict” with bed time [ between 6:30 and 7 in our house ]
  • Not being strict enough with bed time [ maybe we should be in bed at 6? ]
  • Being a stickler for the 4 month old’s routine and nap schedule [ up for an hour? time to start the nap time routine! ]
  • Worrying about the 4 month old’s naps because he is only 4 months old [ You should go do things while you can! ]
  • Not sticking to the 1 hour rule for the 4 month old and then suffering the consequences [ over tired, very upset baby at nap time ]
  • Not giving the 4 month old solids [ You know you can start him on solids now, right? ]
  • Thinking about starting 4 month old on solids [ You know that he can be exclusively breast-fed until 6 months, right? ]
  • Pushing through and nursing for a full year [ You can always just give him formula and he will sleep more ]
  • Having to supplement formula [ Your body can produce enough milk for your baby! ]
  • Not getting the toddler outside daily
  • Getting toddler outside, but not putting sun screen on [ oops ]
  • The fact that baby cannot nap because toddler needs to get outside [ He does not nap in the stroller anymore – we discovered this while in the stroller ]
  • Not playing with toddler because baby needs to nurse [ Come on Mommy! ]

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  • Sitting the toddler in front of the TV so that I can put the baby down for a nap for the 4th time that day { Daniel Tiger! }
  • Letting toddler continue to watch TV after baby is in bed because I just want to sit on the couch { Annnndddd mommy closes her eyes…just for a minute…}
  • Having a completely “tech free” day, but then realizing that the toddler actually learns something from Sesame Street { 1, 2, 3, 4, 5! Mommy 5! The count, 5! }
  • Not wearing the baby enough (He won’t feel loved and attached!)
  • Baby-wearing too much [He will never be independent! He won’t be able to sleep on his own!)
  • Not using cloth diapers….then reading that cloth diapers use more water so then it’s okay….but then reading that disposable diapers take 20 years to degrade in the land fill….the cycle starts again
  • The toddler only got 9 hours of sleep last night! { shouldn’t it be 12? }
  • Worrying every day about how much sleep each child is getting { just relax! they will be fine! }
  • Not being a “fun mom” and playing games
  • Playing games and having fun when I should be holding the baby or doing laundry
  • Doing laundry and chores instead of playing games
  • Crap, forgot to change the toddler’s diaper before nap time… did I change the baby’s diaper? Wait, when did the baby eat last?…. Now feeling guilty because I can’t keep either child’s schedule straight
  • Going back to work [ I just love being home with my kids! But isn’t that a waste of your Master’s degree? ]
  • Not wanting to stay home with the kids [ Are you just dreading going back to work? Umm… only sometimes. ]
  • Taking time to work out [ I can have it all! ]
  • Not taking time to work out [ Oh M geeeee I just want a nap ]
  • Putting the kids to bed early because I JUST CAN’T anymore

Mamas – why do we put ourselves through this? We are all trying to do our best! This self talk needs to change. We are doing the best and hardest work! We need to give ourselves a break.  As moms, we have the weight of responsibility and it’s easy to let that stress take over and not enjoy the little moments of motherhood.

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I am so thankful that every day is a fresh start. If I don’t like the way something went yesterday, I can change it today. If I tried a new parenting technique and it doesn’t work for our family, I can try something different the next time around. It’s a learning process and we all have the same goals in mind: creating a healthy home environment for our families to thrive in. That looks different for different people, but I think we can all agree that we want the best for our kids. If we all have the same goal, we can focus on supporting each other and not worrying about what we are [ or aren’t ] doing.