11 Things I Thought I Had To Do When Living With PPD, That I Really Didn't Have To Do
I never thought that I would have the ability to birth another human being. I never thought I would be a mother. I never thought I would love waking up in the middle of the night to breastfeed a tiny little ball of soft skin and wild hair that was half me and half my partner. I also never thought that I would suffer with and through postpartum depression (PPD). Sadly, because I didn't think I would be diagnosed with PPD, I thought I had to do certain things while living with PPD. I thought I had to pretend and I thought I had to smile through the weight of some silent yet palpable pain and I thought that I had to remain completely implicit about my experience. I thought I had to act a certain way and essentially survive a certain way and, because of that preconcieved notion, my postpartum depression grew worse.
I kept my postpartum depression hidden from everyone except my partner, because I thought that was just what I had to do. I kept myself silent and I kept making dinners and I kept going to playdates and doing what I believed every happy, PPD-free mother does. I was afraid to talk about my postpartum depression or, at times, even admit that I was suffering from it, because our society has sufficiently stigmatized mental health and mental illness to the point that you're considered "broken" if you even whisper about it. Instead of creating more safe and supportive forums for open and honest dialogue, myths about postpartum depression are regurgitated and passed down and able to shape people's beliefs and opinions and, in turn, keep women from seeking the treatment they need. I was one of those women, and until I spoke about my postpartum depression and realized that I didn't have to do anything to prove I was a certain kind of mom -- that I was happy and fulfilled and "normal" -- I was drowning under a blanket of unnecessary expectations. Expectations society places on new mothers. Expectations I, in turn, placed on myself.
It took me a while, but just like I birthed a baby when I didn't think I could and became a mother when I didn't think I would and actually enjoyed getting up in the middle of the night to breastfeed, I did experience postpartum depression. I did struggle with PPD and I didn't have the postpartum experience I thought I was going to have. I also didn't have to do the following things, and neither do you.
Pretend My PPD Wasn't Real
The social stigma associated with mental health and mental illness is devastating for a number of reasons. In my experience, however, the most detrimental aspect of how we, as a society, talk about mental health, is the idea that it isn't "real." I honestly thought that if I just pulled up my figurative "big girl pants" and "sucked it up" and did one of the many things that people who don't believe in mental health or mental illnesses tell others to do, my PPD would go away. If I just convinced myself that it wasn't a real problem and if I wasn't really suffering and if I was just a little tired or overwhelmed, it would cease to exist.
Yeah, that's not how it works.
Keep It Hidden
I was so afraid of being judged or shamed or making other people uncomfortable, that I hid my postpartum depression from everyone. The only person who knew was my partner, and only because he was in the throes of new parenthood with me and was noticing how I was feeling and acting. I was so scared of people thinking that I wasn't a good mother or I was ill-equipped for the job, that I plastered on a fake smile and did my best to pretend that I wasn't struggling. It was horrible; It was exhausting; It definitely made my postpartum depression worse.
Never, Ever Talk About It
Even though an estimated 10-15% of women suffer from postpartum depression, it is rarely (if ever) talked about. Sure, most women are told to watch out for warning signs and are handed pamphlets about PPD after they have a baby, but rarely is it discussed by those who have suffered from it. I, sadly, became one of those women who only whispered about her postpartum depression. I continued to let stigma silence my struggle and my story and my voice, and that silence became deafening.
While it is impossible to know for sure, and it's just conjecture at best, I can't imagine how many women actually suffer from postpartum depression. If new mothers felt safe and supported enough to speak up about PPD and their unique experiences, I can't help but think that the number of women who suffer from postpartum depression would be higher, more accurate, and, as a result, more women would get the help they need and deserve.
Force Myself To "Be Happy"
Because I didn't feel comfortable talking about my postpartum depression, I had to "keep up appearances." I forced myself to appear happy and carefree and nothing but blissful. When friend and/or family members came over to visit the baby (and me) I laughed loudly and smiled widely and went through the motions in order to project the appearance of a happy new mom. It was exhausting.
I spent the majority of my time as a new mother, feeling incredibly guilty. I would look at pictures new mothers were posting, smiling perfectly as they held their new baby, and I would feel broken. I would read posts about how happy new mothers were, blissful and content, and I would feel ashamed. I took my postpartum depression as a sign my person, my being, myself as a human being, was "wrong" in some way. I started to think that I gave my son a bad mother by becoming one, and I was riddled with guilt.
...And Assume I Was Or Would Be A Bad Mom
Society has a very strict idea of what makes someone a "good mother," and suffering from postpartum depression is not part of it. I let some fictitious idea of motherhood get in the way of me seeking out treatment, because I was terrified that someone (even a mental health professional or a doctor or a trusted friend) would think that I was a "bad mom." Hell, I even started to think that I was a bad mother.
Care About What Other People Thought About PPD...
I would like to say that hormones and exhaustion and feeling somewhat disoriented about my new life, played into me caring about what other people think (or what I had assumed they would think) about my postpartum depression. I would be lying, though. Honestly, I do care what people think. We all do, especially when we're new mothers and we're scared and unsure and we're looking for someone (anyone) to tell us that we'll be OK and we can handle this and we're going to make terrific parents. That's why the "mommy wars" is a thing. We're all just seeking validation for our parenting choices and, sometimes, it turns into attacks and judgement.
I had people telling me that I was a good mother and that I was doing wonderfully, but those people didn't know that I had postpartum depression. I let what I had assumed someone would think about PPD, or me having PPD, keep me from speaking out. I was so afraid that they would think I was broken or a bad mom or that I was "faking it," when I shouldn't have been caring about anything other than my health and my baby and my partner.
...And Somehow Prove That It Is, In Fact, Real
Because sadly, even in 2016, people are still having to fight for their mental health to be respected and their mental illness to be considered "real," I was convinced that if I shared my diagnosis, I would spend my time trying to prove that it was, in fact, a real thing. In fact, there are even articles highlighting how you can explain your postpartum depression to people who don't think it's real; articles that I spent countless hours reading, just incase.
Make "Excuses" For Why I Had PPD
In order to combat the idea that I was a "bad mother" because I was suffering from postpartum depression, when I did finally feel comfortable enough to share my diagnosis, I made excuses as to why it did, in fact, exist. I went on and on about losing one baby when I was 19 weeks pregnant and birthing a baby that was alive and a baby that wasn't and how scared I was that, at any moment, my son was going to die, too. All of those feelings were valid, but I wasn't sharing them for their validity. No, I was sharing them to somehow try to "excuse" my postpartum depression. I was sharing them in the hopes that people wouldn't judge me. I was sharing them in order to say, "See? This isn't my fault" without realizing that it didn't matter why or how or when. Postpartum depression is never, ever, anyone's fault.
Teach People What PPD Is And Really Means
Since finding the courage to share my experience with postpartum depression, I have found myself (on far too many occasions) feeling obligated to teach people about it. I feel an overwhelming responsibility to highlight and regurgitate facts and information, as if I am some one-woman depression army that can fix outdate concepts and rid society of a devastating mental health stigma that shapes how we view, talk about and assist people with mental illnesses.
I've since realized that, honestly, it's not my job to inform people that there are more than 3 million cases of postpartum depression every year. It's not my job to tell people that more women will be diagnosed with postpartum depression than women who will be diagnosed with diabetes (800,000) or breast cancer (230,000). It's not my job to make sure people know that postpartum depression is the result of unbalanced hormones, a psychological adjustment to motherhood and relentless fatigue.
Unfortunately, knowing that teaching people isn't my job doesn't stop me from attempting to teach them anyway.
During and after my struggle with postpartum depression, I spent far too much time apologizing. I apologized to my partner for not being "upbeat" or "cheerful" or more than willing to make dinner on a consistent basis. I apologized to my oblivious baby for not being the smiling mother I kept seeing pictures of on social media. I apologized to no one, and apologized to everyone, for not upholding a certain "standard" of motherhood that I thought I had to achieve immediately and always. I couldn't stop saying sorry, either out loud or in my head.
Now, the only person I say sorry to, is myself. I am sorry that I suffered in silence, and made my postpartum depression worse because I was scared. I am sorry that I was so hard on myself, and didn't give myself the love and care and support and understanding that I deserved. I am sorry that I thought I had to do certain things when I was suffering from postpartum depression; things that made it worse; things that no one should ever, ever, have to do.