When I look back at the first few months of motherhood, I can't help but notice a few regrets. Of course, there's a learning curve to this whole mom thing, so I'm pretty kind to myself and understanding about the few (read: many) new mom mistakes I've made. However, I wish I would've ignored a few key pieces of advice (like sleeping when the baby sleeps) and I wish I was more transparent about my experience with postpartum depression (PPD). Sadly, I let the reasons why I was afraid to talk about my PPD cloud my judgment and keep me silent and, in the end, prolong a suffering I didn't have to endure.
The social stigma surrounding mental illness is no secret but I didn't realize just how powerful it was until I experience postpartum depression and felt the weight of certain expectations on my already-exhausted shoulders. Suddenly I was a mom with responsibilities and obligations and a standard to uphold and it all just seemed so overwhelming. I didn't feel how so many people told me I would feel once I became a mother, and the difference between what was marketed to me vs. what I was experiencing became obvious and, as a result, scary. I wanted help and I wanted to be honest about my feelings and what I was experiencing, but I didn't want to "fail" at being the mother I felt everyone expected me to be. So, I shut my mouth and buried my head and I did what is arguably the worst thing a woman with postpartum depression can do. I didn't say anything at all.
Thankfully, I had a very supportive partner and a concerned mother in my corner, who noticed the signs of postpartum depression and encouraged me to talk to someone and ask for help and seek treatment. However, it's painful to look back at those first few months of motherhood, remember the suffering I endured and realize that it wasn't, at all, necessary. So, if you're suffering from postpartum depression, please learn form my mistake. Don't let the following reasons keep you silent. Speak out. Get the help you need and deserve. You're not alone.
I Was Afraid Of Being Judged
It's not difficult to find yourself being judged when you're a parent (and especially if you're a mother). Hell, even when you're pregnant you'll find that there's no end to the ways people can criticize you.
People who I considered (at one point) to be good friends, judged and shamed me for how I planned on giving birth, so I knew that if I mentioned postpartum depression there was high chance people were going to look down on me and my experience.
I Was Afraid People Would Think I Was A Bad Mom
Unfortunately, I spent a good majority of my time worrying whether or not I was a "good mom." Granted, I had no idea what "good mom" really meant, as it sure as hell can mean different things to different people, but I was determined to earn that title anyway that I could. Sadly, that meant that I held myself to some ridiculous, unrealistic expectations that put my health (including my mental health) at risk.
So, when I realized I had postpartum depression, I kept it a secret because "suffering from PPD" isn't necessarily on the "good mom" checklist of attributes I was attempting to adhere to. I was terrified that people would learn about my diagnoses and write me off as a horrible mother who couldn't provide for her son or be grateful for all that she had.
I Was Afraid People Would Think I Was Weak
Sadly, our entire culture has a backwards way of thinking about mental health and mental illness. If you break a leg and go to a doctor for care, you're not weak. You're just, you know, a smart person with a broken leg. If you suffer from depression or anxiety or any number of mental health issues, and you seek treatment, you're a "weak person" with a "problem."
While I knew, deep down, that I wasn't a weak person (I mean, I just gave birth to a human being), I knew other people would think that I was. I didn't want to appear weak or "in need" or anything other than a new mom. So, I buried my feelings and suffered in silence and, in the end, hurt myself when I really needed to take care of and be kind to myself.
I Was Afraid Talking About It Would Make It Real
It seem so ridiculous, I know, but I was so afraid that even speaking the words "postpartum depression" would make my diagnoses real. Obviously, it was real whether I talked about it or not, but facing that depression was difficult. I wanted to pretend it wasn't my situation — that it was someone else's problem instead — and just focus on surviving in the haze that was the exhaustion of parenthood.
Of course, pretending my diagnoses wasn't real and avoiding the reality of my postpartum situation did nothing but make my postpartum depression worse. Sometimes, the best thing to do is face something head on (and with help, of course).
I Was Afraid People Would Think I Made A Mistake When I Chose To Be A Mom
Make no mistake, being a mother was a choice I made, and with much consideration and thought. While my pregnancy was in no-way planned, I knew that I had options and didn't have to continue a pregnancy if I didn't think I wanted and/or could be the mother a future child deserved. However, I knew I could and I wanted to be a mom so, well, I became one.
So to experience postpartum depression was to doubt the decision I made. I was so afraid that people would say, "Well, maybe she made the wrong choice," or, "Clearly she shouldn't have become a mom." It was my own fears and insecurities bubbling to the surface, covering my mouth and keeping me from reaching out when I needed my support system the most.
I Was Afraid It Would Make My PPD Worse
Looking back, it's clear to me that this fear went hand-in-hand with the fear that speaking about my postpartum depression would make it "real." I've lived my life under a banner of avoidance for a while (I mean, I procrastinate like it's my job) and I honestly thought that if I just ignored my feelings and disregarded the heaviness I felt on a daily basis, it would all go away.
It didn't. Not talking about my postpartum depression is what made it worse.
I Was Afraid I Would Be Remembered As "The Mom With PPD"
I don't want people to remember me as the new mom who dealt with postpartum depression after she had a baby. I want to be remembered as the woman who loved having a baby, who did her best to be an incredible mother and who failed, but always figured it out (eventually).
To be pigeonholed because of one story I told one time, kind of sucks, you know? I am more than just a postpartum depression diagnoses, but I was so afraid that's all I would be if I spoke up and talked about it.
I Was Afraid People Would Feel Sorry For Me
It's that look of pity that I can't stand. You know the one. Someone's head tilts slightly to one side and they furrow their concerned brow and they talk to you as if you're a child. I didn't want that. At all. I wanted to be treated like a person, not some ineffectual being that needed to be pitied.
I was so afraid of "the look," that I kept my postpartum depression to myself. Looking back, though, I can tell you with complete confidence that I would rather be on the receiving end of "the look" every damn day for a year, instead of deal with postpartum depression on my own.
I Was Afraid No One Else Would Understand
I would look these women's filtered, perfect postpartum pictures and feel so, well, broken. Those new mothers looked so happy and blissful and tired, sure, but in this really fulfilling way. I didn't feel the way they looked, and I had convinced myself that I was alone in my diagnoses. I kept telling myself that no one would understand, because I was the only woman I knew who was dealing (or had dealt with) postpartum depression.
Of course, that isn't true. An estimated 20 percent of women experience postpartum depression. That's 600,000 women in the United States, every year. I wasn't alone, and the moment I spoke out about my postpartum depression I realized that friends and acquaintances and coworkers had experienced PPD, too.
I was never alone, and neither are you.