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.}

 

Relocation Realities

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As you may have seen across my social media accounts, we are on the move again! We get to move back to Ohio, which I am pretty stoked about…and simultaneously lamenting leaving our lives in MN.
We have moved 3 times for my job, this move was at our request so it’s a little different but a move and transition none the less. If you have ever relocated before, you know what this means. It means uprooting your entire life and having to break ground in a new place, often where you know very few people.
Relocating is hard. Not only are you getting used to a new city – which includes everything from navigating highways to the name of the local grocery chain- but you often are without community and support.  I think the hardest part of being mobile in your job is that you are never certain how deep you can set your roots. You try to make friends and get involved, but what if they move you in a year? It’s not as appealing to dive deep into a community, church, or friendship if you don’t know how long you will be around. This works in reverse as well. When you are the transplant other people don’t know what to make of you and probably don’t think about inviting you in because they realize you will move on at some point in time.
This phenomenon can lead to a lonely existence. It’s easy to stay home, not get involved, binge watch Netflix on the weekend and just wait until the phone rings for the next relocation. But this is no way to live. And it’s not what God intended for us, “I came that they may have life, and have it to the full” John 10:10.  But this begs the question – what should you do? Here are three things that we attempted [with varying degrees of success] to get connected along the way.
1. Volunteer
I think this is the best way to meet people. If you volunteer with an organization you are passionate about, you will meet other people that are also passionate about that thing. Instant friends! It also gives a sense of purpose outside of the 8 to 5 grind, this is essential for me to feel like I exist for more than just clicking and typing all day long.
2. Force people to hang out with you
Okay, that sounds aggressive but you kind of have to be when you are making new friends. Often, we would say “oh we should get together” or “yeah let’s do that sometime.” And then nothing would happen. I have observed that when you are the newcomer, other people don’t realize you don’t have anything better to do with your time than hang out with them. They already have their lives in place, they have friends, family, commitments and don’t realize that you literally are available every evening of every week, oh and every weekend too. So instead I suggest pulling out your phone and saying “what days work for you next week?” Then actually put it on the calendar. This was you are both forced to at least acknowledge you have plans and reach out to the other person if for some reason you have to cancel.  Don’t sweat it if people seem uncomfortable with this approach. I have found that majority of people really appreciate that you are genuinely trying to make plans happen, so go for it!
3. Explore on your own

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Us with my grandparents, we went to check out a Greek festival!

I have always been surprised about what I have discovered by just walking around. I always ask people in my office what I should go do, but often I enjoy researching and trying things out on my own. (Sometimes Bryan likes coming with me, other times he is okay just not). We love trying new restaurants and that is a great way to explore the city! I found some of my favorite spots in Minneapolis because I just happened across them. We also found that making a list of things and places we wanted to go helped us actually get there. It’s very easy to just lounge around for most of Saturday and then never do anything because you got sacked into a TV marathon.
So, those are my tips if you are moving to a new place. If you have moved before, what worked for you to get plugged in?
One other point, if you are the person who already lives in said location and you know of someone new in town, do them a favor and invite them to go do something! Sure, it might be awkward at first, but it’s so awesome to have ANYONE invite you into their lives when you are new in town. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, just invite them to do something you already do – go to a farmers market or go for a bike ride, hit up a happy hour or take them to your favorite coffee house. Seriously anything you do, even if it’s just an offer, makes others feel so welcomed and invited.