When I found out I was pregnant and decided I wanted to be a mother, I quickly attempted to figure out what "type" of mom I would be. Would I breastfeed or bottle feed? Co-sleep or try to sleep train? Would I be laid-back or uptight? I had an idea of what kind of mother I would be, but I never thought I would be a mother who suffered with postpartum depression (PPD).No one does. Now that PPD is part of my motherhood experience, I can safely say that there are things a mom with PPD would love to never hear again. Like, ever.
There are so many things about postpartum depression that are difficult but, for me, the judgement and shame and stigma and misinformation were by far the worst part. I ket my PPD hidden until I was no longer suffering from it, because I knew I wouldn't be able to handle even one ill-informed human being telling me I was just "sad" or that I needed to just "get over it" or any other horrific combination of ignorance and indifference. I was having a hard enough time completing daily tasks, coming to terms with my postpartum body, recovering from a traumatic labor and delivery when I had to birth a baby that was alive and a baby that was dead, and trying to live with the debilitating fear that, one night, my son would just inexplicably die. Listening to someone tell me none of it was real would have been the straw that broke my already aching back, so I decided to keep my postpartum hidden (only my partner knew) and seek help silently.
I've spent plenty of time wondering what it would have been like if postpartum depression didn't have a stigma attached to it, and women like myself felt safe speaking about their postpartum lives. I wonder if I would have spent less time feeling alone and broken, and more time feeling connected to the many women who experience PPD, too. Mostly, I can only convince myself that if more people knew about postpartum depression, they wouldn't tell the women suffering from it the following things. Things that no woman with PPD ever, ever wants to hear.
"You're Just Sad"
There is a big difference between being sad and being depressed. I get "sad" after my favorite football team blows a last minute play in the Super Bowl because they'd rather pass the ball than run it. When I was suffering from postpartum depression, I was in a fog of self-doubt, self-hatred, exhaustion and fear. The weight of simple, daily tasks seemed so severe I couldn't get out of bed.
There is a big, big difference, so telling a woman with PPD that she's just "sad" is like looking at someone with a broken bone and telling them, " but that's just a scratch."
"You Just Had A Baby, What Do You Have To Be Sad About?"
First, talk about a covert guilt trip like nothing I've ever seen. This sentiment was said in my direction on more than one occasion, and made me feel so incredibly guilty for experiencing something that was completely beyond my control.
Second, having a baby isn't the end-all-be-all of female existence. Having a baby definitely doesn't "fix" anything that may or may not be going on in your life prior to procreation, and it can actually provide a slew of reasons why someone would feel anything but happy (hello hormones).
I know that the media is constantly painting these pristine and perfect pictures of motherhood, but not every mother feels instantly connected to her child, and not every mother is beaming for the rest of her days because she brought another human being into the world.
"Can't You Just, Like, Get Over It?"
I really, really wish it would have been that easy for me. In fact, I tried. I would sit on the edge of my bed and sob and wish with all my might that my PPD would simply disappear. I tried to will it to leave, but that's not how postpartum depression (or any other mental ailment) works. If it did, no one would suffer from mental illness, because it's not like this is fun, people.
"Postpartum Depression Isn't Real"
This one. Oh, this one is my favorite. And, of course, by "favorite" I mean "the absolute worst that usually leaves me either in complete disbelief of biting the inside of my lip for fear I will go off on some rage-induced rant."
I am not daft to the stigma our culture has attached to mental illnesses of any kind. I vividly remember the feud between Tom Cruise and Brook Shields, in which Cruise criticized Shields for taking anti-depressants for her postpartum depression and denied the fact that PPD exists. You guys, that was in 2005, so it's not like this was all that long ago. Still, science has proven that postpartum depression is, in fact, very real, and affects 10-15% of women. It would be awesome if women could get the help they need (and deserve) without having to spend time legitimizing something that science has already proven to be an actual thing.
"I Was Sad, Once, But I Just Chose To Be Happy"
Um, good for you? I mean, I'm all for stories with happy endings (I still have to turn of Moulin Rouge! before it actually ends), but what someone else has experienced has absolutely nothing to do with me and my experience.
Plus, being sad and suffering from postpartum depression are, once again, not the same. I have willed myself to be happy (which really wasn't me being happy, so much as me "faking it until I made it") after a break up or a friendship ending, but I couldn't will myself out of my postpartum depression. That took help from a professional, medication, and time.
"Snap Out Of It"
Damn. If only I could snap my fingers, right?
Again, the idea that someone is "choosing" to suffer from postpartum depression is nothing more than the mental health stigma hard at work. People don't choose to suffer from mental illnesses. There isn't a person in the world who simply says, "Hey, I think I'll be super depressed today. That sounds like a great way to pass the time."
"Think Of Your Baby..."
I do. I did. So many women do. In fact, that is why women need to speak out about postpartum depression (if they feel comfortable and safe and want to), seek out help and do whatever they need to do to take care of themselves, first and foremost.
Plus, telling a woman to "think of her baby" may only make her postpartum depression worse. For example, my baby was the reason I was depressed. Of course, that's not to say it was my newborn's fault. Obviously, he did nothing wrong. However, after losing a twin at 19 weeks, having to birth a baby that was a live and a baby that was dead, constantly thinking about my baby and whether or not he was going to die in the middle of the night or in my arms or because I was somehow incapable of being even a decent mother, made my postpartum depression more severe.
"...You're Being Selfish"
This is arguably one of the most misguided and hurtful things someone could tell a woman suffering from postpartum depression. Taking care of yourself and your mental health isn't selfish. In fact, it's the bare minimum someone should do for themselves.
"You're Just Doing This For Attention"
This sentiment is usually uttered by someone who doesn't know what it's like to experience postpartum depression and, therefore, has no idea what it's like to be judged or shamed or it. Make no mistake, judgement and shame is exactly the kind of "attention" most women get when they say they're suffering from postpartum depression.
I kept my PPD hidden for far too long, because I was afraid of the "attention" I would get. So many women stay silent, because the stigma surrounding any type of mental illness is so demoralizing.
"You Don't Need Medication"
Unless you're someone's doctor (with years of schooling and training underneath your belt), you just don't get to make this call. Like, at all.
"I Don't Believe You"
This is unbelievably hurtful, and something I was so afraid of hearing whenever I opened up and told someone about my postpartum depression. Thankfully, of the few people who actually knew what I was experiencing when I was experiencing it, I received nothing but love and support.
However, now that I no longer have PPD and have decided to be more vocal about my struggle, I've had so many people tell me that they just don't believe it was something I even went through. They literally don't think PPD is real, and think the women who speak out about their suffering and their postpartum depression story are "liars." I just, like, can't.