Today’s topic is a serious one: postpartum depression. I’d like to introduce my wonderful friend, Karen, as today’s guest writer. Karen is a substitute teacher and mother of two. She enjoys running marathons, teaching, cooking, and finding awesome deals for her fellow mommy friends. I asked her to write today’s post for me. So here she is:
Like many mothers before me, I looked with anticipation towards the joys and challenges of raising my first child. My pregnancy was beautiful, energetic, effortless. I expected that my lifestyle would change in unexpected ways when my little girl was born, and I welcomed the coming discoveries. When days were hard, I internalized the struggle, but adjusted over time. My second baby, however, left me blindsided. Naïvely, I had imagined that the second pregnancy, birth and postpartum phase would be simpler, chalked up to the fact that I had experience and knew intimately what was coming. Enter reality: persistent fatigue, nausea well into thirty weeks, and nerve pressure that resulted in more than ten weeks of insomnia, braces on both arms, and permanent loss of feeling in the tips of some of my fingers. I don’t know when the prenatal depression and anxiety set in exactly, but by the second trimester my whole self was suppressed enough to erase all sense of joy and anticipation about my baby. All I could think was, “let this be over!” Being a self-motivated and independent person for most of my life, it didn’t even occur to me to ask for help around the house, babysitting for my daughter, or even confide in others. I just tensed up and held my breath for the next blow. My son arrived in one of the most wonderful birth experiences in my mind, a beloved gift. I expected my emotional struggles and physical pains to dwindle after giving birth, but instead I developed new symptoms. Beyond the stereotypical exhaustion and tears, I was feeling constant, unprovoked, intense irritation and anger towards my family. I started to have irrational thoughts, like my very presence was preventing happiness for my family (even though my family kept me included and a mother is the absolute most important person in a child’s life). I found joy in nothing. I was embarrassed that I was struggling, because I thought that no decent mother had such feelings. If this whole motherhood deal is so difficult for me, I must have been doing it wrong. I blamed myself for not yet reaching the “right” amount of sunshine, exercise, nutrition, sleep, etcetera. I thought I could find an ideal combination of self-care that would free me from my trap. Evil lies, all of them! And yet, I did it, I grudgingly and through sobs, said the words, “I need help,” to my practitioner at my six week postpartum checkup. Very receptive and without any judgment, I was handed a prescription for an antidepressant, a list of local counselors with experience treating PPD, told to keep up the walks in the sunshine, and asked to return in two weeks to make sure my care was underway. Hallelujah for informed and supportive doctors! Have you ever heard that asking for help is the hardest part about overcoming a problem? Not for me. Sure, I felt a sweeping relief after divulging my concerns to my doctor, hope at my early positive response to medication, and more relaxed after I had found a licensed therapist that I liked. However, healing and overcoming depression is a lot like signing up to run a race. When you pay your entrance fee and complete enrollment, you feel a great sense of motivation—even having nearly 100 calendar days marked by some workout and knowing you will run 300-400 miles just during training doesn’t faze you. But then, the moment you commit to a race doesn’t carry you one foot towards the finish line. Taking step after step whether feeling hot, wet, sunburned, happy, energetic, tired, miserable, blistered, accomplished, or bored—only this will lead you to your goal. Likewise, my recovery has been based on continuity, telling myself to just keep taking steps! And yet, I can actually say that I cherish moments of this experience. Moments when an aspect of my treatment flowed beyond me and became comfort, courage, or acceptance in the life of another mother who was hurting but not able to get help. Moments when admitting my need for medication helped close relatives realize that they are not alone or crazy or outcasts for having mental health needs. Moments looking into the eyes of a friend or doctor or counselor and seeing the empathy for my despair become respect for my choice to grow and be open and seek help. Moments when I get a glimpse of the best parts of me, they are still here! One of the greatest sources of comfort and hope during my growth has been a community of incredible mothers and professionals who support women caught in the grips of perinatal mood disorders. I am assembling a post of resources guaranteed to unsteady stigmas and hopefully shatter the silence on these devastating, but extremely treatable, afflictions. Meanwhile, keep taking steps! —Karen C.