Right around 2 or 3 weeks postpartum…that dreaded beast all pregnant moms fear reared it’s ugly head. Postpartum depression. Yes…it is in fact a real thing. And try as I might to prevent it (yeah I don’t know how either…I think it was mostly a combination of exercise and wishful thinking), it struck. It wasn’t the kind of postpartum that makes headlines. The kind where the mom feels disconnected from her baby or wants to hurt herself or doesn’t love her child. Mine was the kind that made me feel disconnected from…me. I was in love with my new baby. And luckily, and likely in large part because of my husband’s willingness to help (I often joke that he would be the baby’s mom if he could), I never really felt overwhelmed as a new parent. I was too excited and in love to feel overwhelmed. The sleepless nights and cluster feedings…well, they seemed to bother everyone else more than me. I was so enamored with my child that I didn’t care if I never slept again. And as I type these words while my family sleeps, I realize I may actually never sleep again…but anyway. I was in full new mom bliss mode. Until slowly, I started to notice myself feeling disconnected. There I was in the mirror. Frumpy, tired. A few grey hairs that up until now had eluded me, framed my face. I didn’t mind how I looked. I was in love with my body for having created a miracle and my husband makes me feel beautiful no matter what. But I didn’t see me. I saw past me. It was the strangest feeling. As the norco prescription wore off and the pain of my C-section set in along with my new son’s round the clock nursing schedule, I found myself in bed more and more. My husband was out living life…going to the office, getting to eat out, hitting the gym. But I was bedridden.
I began to feel out of sorts. I didn’t know who I was. I didn’t see a future. I worried that I was holding my family back. That I was a terrible partner to my husband because I couldn’t fix myself up and take care of the house and make us dinner and take care of the baby all at once. Life became a blur and the part of me that knew it was all temporary…disappeared. I found myself sobbing more and more. Wishing I could be out in the world doing things, then feeling guilty that being home with the baby wasn’t enough for me. My very patient saint of a husband just kept reminding me that what I’m feeling wasn’t me. But, there was no faster way to piss me off than to dismiss my feelings as hormones, and surely he must not understand what I’m going through, and how dare he say that to me, and I’m just going to pack my things and leave, and, and, and…
…and then I decided that because I was having these awful thoughts, I wasn’t fit to be a mom. My baby deserved so much better, and in fact with a mom like me, what chance did he have to succeed in the world? Then I decided I wasn’t fit to live.
No, I don’t think I was ever going to kill myself. That’s not something I could ever do. But, that doesn’t mean my brain didn’t entertain the idea. And the funny thing about the brain is, is how easily tricked it can be. Tell yourself you are happy; smile, even, and watch what happens…you start actually FEELING happy. Why? Because your brain doesn’t know the difference. It will act accordingly as if that smile you forced was from genuine joy. So after telling myself I was unfit, and depressed and filling my head with constant worries about my own inadequacies in pretty much every aspect of life, my brain started to believe it.
Having struggled with depression often in my life, I’m usually quick to spot the signs. In this case, though, I was convinced that I could beat it, without medication, merely by wishing it so. I mean, I told my brain I was depressed, couldn’t I just tell it I wasn’t depressed? I told myself I was stronger than the hormones, and that I had the power to make this all go away. Well, unfortunately, that’s not exactly how it works. Don’t get me wrong. It helped. Mindset is a very powerful thing. But it helped in the sense that it kept me from destroying my life and my family. That was the first step.
Step two: Communicate. Asking for my husband’s help was a critical turning point. We sat and talked for a very very (VERY) long time about what postpartum depression meant to us. One thing that helps us communicate is to demystify the meanings of words, so that we understand what each other means when we say things. It turns out we had different definitions of postpartum depression, and once we were able to start talking about it, we were able to start formulating a plan to get better. The change in hormones in the weeks after birth is incredibly powerful…that period is an intensely difficult storm to weather. And as we began to clear out some of the debris left by Hurricane Hormone, we found that at the heart of the issue was that I was lonely. Profoundly lonely. I longed for the baby to have his vaccines so that we could be out in the world again. Going to the grocery store across the street from my house became a daily event. I needed something. With postpartum depression now demystified in what I refer to as “our shared pool of meaning” (we read A LOT of communication books, folks!), we were armed for the fight. What does a lonely new mother need? To get busy. Boom, step three.
The plan was simple. I needed to find a way to balance being a new mom who wants to do everything with and for my son, with a healthy dose of positivity and activities. 1) I would go back to work…at least part time. Yes, it was very soon, but I needed the interaction with other adults, and I was able to take the baby with me. 2) One day per week was set aside as Family Day – for friends and family to come visit with me and the baby. 3) One day per week was for mom groups and mommy-and-me activities. 4) My husband would take the baby for one hour each evening so I could decompress. I wanted to find me again. Read a novel, write something, take a bath. Yes, many days it didn’t happen (because you can’t tell a newborn that mommy’s on break right now!), and many days that hour was spent washing breast pump parts, or folding teeny tiny laundry, but the intention was enough. And on those days that I did get my hour, seeing those two boys coming marching into the bedroom to let me know my hour was up melted my heart. Because an hour away from my baby was enough to make me miss the hell out of him.
Along with my plan to stave off loneliness and depression, working on nutrition and finding ways to exercise (when I was feeling healed), meditate, and work on my mindset were also critical. Everything I did had to become very intentional. I had to learn to control my thoughts and fill myself with as much good as possible. I was determined to get through the baby blues sans antidepressants.
I should have prefaced all this by saying, I am very lucky. I live in a place and time that offers me a lot of advantages. My community has created so many amazing services for pregnant moms and new families. I have been seeing, at no cost, a Perinatal Emotional Wellness Counselor (read: Psychologist), since early on in my pregnancy, because (who would have ever thought?!) pregnancy causes a whole lot of changes and with those changes comes stress, anxiety, fears, and even depression. Having someone tell you the things you feel are normal new mom fears and adjustments that all moms go through, is empowering. It’s like joining an elite club…with a very rough initiation process. But once you get through…it is the greatest club in the world to be a part of. And it is an honor to be in the Mom Club.
These options might not be available to everyone, but the point is…there are options. Lots of them! As long as you look for them. I urge you to look into community resources. There are so many that I never even knew about until I got pregnant, and they have made all the difference in my life. And if you don’t have any resources available, you can always, ALWAYS fall back on mindset, communication, and planning. If you believe it, you can achieve it.
Sorry for such a long post. Goodnight.
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