As I walked through the door of our apartment, exhausted and sore and following my partner as he carried our newborn in ahead of me, I realized there were so many things I didn't know about the journey I had just started. I didn't know that I would be able to continue to function on little-to-no sleep, or how my definition of "function" would change. I didn't know that, even then, I was suffering from Postpartum Depression, and PPD would alter my experience as a new mother. Looking back, there are so many things I wish I knew when I was diagnosed with PPD; things that could have changed those first few weeks and months; things that, now, seem so obvious, but when I was weighed down by fatigue and stress and anxiety and the pressure of parenthood, seemed beyond my understanding and so far out of my already exhausted reach.
In fact, I have only recently started talking about my postpartum depression. To be honest, for a long time I was afraid to talk about PPD and how it affected my early months of parenting. I was afraid people would judge me and think I was or would be a horrible mother and assume I wouldn't be able to care for my son in the way he needed and deserved. I was afraid that my partner would no longer believe in my parenting abilities (not true) and my friends would think I had made a horrible mistake when I chose to become a mother (not true) and my son wouldn't love me, when he inevitably heard about his first few weeks of life and how his mother was depressed during them (I don't think that could ever happen).
Rarely is postpartum depression talked about openly and honestly and without stigma and shame, so all of my fears were able to manifest into a weighted cloud that kept me under the covers and silent and seemingly alone. Which is why, now that my son is close to turning two years old and I was able (thankfully) to get through my postpartum depression, I think it's important to revisit those weeks and months, and think about all the things I wish I had known; things that I truly believe can help women who are suffering from postpartum depression, now.
It's More Common Than I Think
When I was in the seemingly endless fog that was my postpartum depression, I thought I was the only woman in the history of motherhood to experience it. Of course, that isn't true and the rational part of my brain knew that, but it was hard for me to feel anything other than abandoned. All of my other friends were going on about how much they loved their babies and how amazing they felt and how they just loved parenthood. Meanwhile, I wanted to sleep for weeks at a time and couldn't seem to find the energy to care for anyone, including myself.
It turns out, 15% of all postpartum women suffer from postpartum depression. While the statistics have varied, this number includes women who had a pregnancy or infant loss, as women can suffer from postpartum depression regardless of the outcome of their pregnancy. As I began to talk about my postpartum depression, I was astounded to realize that so many of my friends (even the friends who seemed so happy) had suffered in silence, too. You're never, ever, alone.
I Don't Have To Go Through It Alone
I spent the majority of my time struggling with postpartum depression, alone. Sadly, I allowed the stigma our society has attached to mental health, keep me from reaching out and asking for help. I was afraid that if people knew I was suffering from postpartum depression, they would assume I didn't love my baby or I wasn't a good mother or I hated the life choice I had made, and somehow regretted my choice to have a baby. Looking back, I cringe, because I know how much easier my postpartum experience would have been if I had simply picked up the phone and called a mental health professional, or opened up to friends and family members.
So, if this is you, please know you don't have to go through PPD alone, and please consider taking the time to find someone to help you. You can text the Crisis Text Line or check out Postpartum Support International.
"Waiting For It To Pass" Doesn't Help
The whole, "grit your teeth and wait for the storm to pass" thing, doesn't work. I mean, yes, sometimes all you can do is just hold on and weather the storm, but the idea that you can somehow will yourself out of postpartum depression, is an outdated concept created by those who didn't believe mental health was as important as, well, anything else pertaining to the health of a human being. After all, you wouldn't wait for a broken hand or leg to heal itself, would you? No, that break required medical attention, and so does postpartum depression.
It's Not A Reflection Of My Love For My Kid...
I can't tell you how upset I still am at myself, for thinking that my postpartum depression was somehow a reflection of how much I loved my kid. It wasn't. It isn't. I loved my son then and I love him now and no amount of postpartum depression, or anything else, could ever or would ever change that.
...Or My Abilities As A Mother
And, of course, suffering from postpartum depression doesn't, by some weird default, make me a horrible mother, destined to fail at parenting. In fact, I would argue that my postpartum depression actually made me a better mother. It taught me that I have to take care of myself before I take care of anyone else; It taught me to be open and honest about mental health; It taught me to rely on others and, in turn, provide the best environment for my son; It taught me how to really parent as a team, and not burden myself by living up to some ridiculous, sexist standard that claims I should do the majority of the parenting.
There's Absolutely Nothing Wrong With Seeking Professional Help...
It is worth repeating a million times over: seeking help for mental health is no different than seeking help for a broken bone. We have to take care of ourselves. Every aspect of ourselves.
...Or Stopping Breastfeeding To Take Medication
I was absolutely terrified to seek help for postpartum depression, for fear it would mean the end of my breastfeeding journey. I knew that I would probably require anti-depressants or some sort of medication, most of which would make breastfeeding my son no longer safe. I was afraid that I would be judged for formula feeding; that I would be judged for putting my health over the health of my son; that I would be judged for no longer breastfeeding while other friends had gone years, with no problems.
Keeping It To Myself Only Hurts Myself
However, in the end, I realized that the only person I was really hurting by keeping my postpartum depression a secret, was myself. I was keeping myself from being truly healthy and happy; I was keeping myself from being able to really enjoy and experience my newborn and my new life as his parent; I was keeping myself from connecting to those around me, including my partner and my son. If other people were going to judge me or be upset with me or assume certain things about me, well, I should have let that been their problem, instead of allowing it to be mine.
My Baby Needs Me To Take Care Of Myself First
I cannot take care of another human being, if I don't take care of myself, first. It took me way too long to realize this, as we (as a society) have yet to shed that whole "motherhood and martyrdom go hand-in-hand" nonsense. Exhausting myself doesn't mean I'm doing a good job; it means I am failing at making sure my son's caregiver is taken care of. I need to look out for myself, first and foremost, before I look out for anyone else. My son included.
There's Nothing "Wrong" With Me
I'll say it again for the people in the back: there is nothing wrong with you. Nothing. There was nothing wrong with me when I was suffering from postpartum depression. There's nothing wrong with me now, as I continue to suffer from PTSD and anxiety. There's nothing wrong with anyone who is suffering from a mental health issue.
If there's nothing wrong with someone who suffers from cancer or a broken bone or a severe cold, there is absolutely nothing wrong with someone who suffers from postpartum depression. Nothing.