News came out this week recommending better screening pregnant women and new mothers for depression. A mother who ultimately became a counselor after suffering from postpartum depression and founded Postpartum Support International hit the nail on the head: “Pregnancy isn’t from the neck down.”
I couldn’t agree more and, in hindsight, I wish I had been more aware of the risk of postpartum depression when I had my daughter. But instead, it was just “something that happened to other people.”
Right after giving birth, I could feel the anxiety building inside of me. Trying to nurse her in those first few days was rough and discouraging. Our well-meaning family was turning up the heat to come see the new bundle of joy, but I wanted to see no one.
We ended up being in the hospital much longer than anticipated because I had lost a good amount of blood and they were “monitoring” me. I had hoped that that would mean more practice and support with nursing, but ultimately, I just felt overwhelmed and stir crazy.
Not exactly how I imagined the first few days of my new life as a mother.
When we finally did come home, I initially felt relieved to be in our own environment, but it didn’t take long to start feeling like someone else’s house, unfamiliar to me.
Family started “scheduling” time to visit. I didn’t want to leave the house let alone have anyone over.
I remember one day in particular, when my cousin came over to meet the baby. The sun was out, my mom was over helping and my baby girl was still in the preciously sleepy newborn phase.
It should have been a nice visit.
But, as my cousin cradled my girl in her arms, catching up with my mom, I felt detached. I couldn’t even listen because I was actively fighting the urge to burst into tears. And, in fact, I couldn’t fight it because I ended up excusing myself, running up to my bedroom and sobbing into my pillow.
Soon, the paralyzing anxiety set in. I worry anyway, but this was a whole new level. I could barely make decisions, I lost my appetite and, even though I was getting up for late-night feedings, I was so “wired” with worry that I didn’t even feel tired.
I felt like I was going crazy. I was so desperate to feel better that I even called our holistic birthing class instructor (also a doula) trying to procure a donor placenta. I felt like an addict calling my dealer, but I didn’t know what else to do.
Finally, I called my midwife’s office to see if they could prescribe me an antidepressant and they did. I had never taken one before, but I was willing to try anything (hence, the placenta).
Thank god it worked.
I started feeling better within a week. Not normal, but better. I was lucky. Soon after, I went to see my midwife for my first post-partum appointment where I learned I had lost all 40-some pounds I had gained in a matter of 6 weeks.
Okay, so maybe some of it was water weight, but it was a tangible sign that something really hadn’t been right, I wasn’t just crazy. I was relieved for many reasons.
As I started gaining back my wits, I would make light of this traumatic experience by jokingly referring to my post-partum “diet plan.” But the truth is that PPD is no joke. I was lucky enough to recognize it quickly, but not everyone is that lucky.
There’s so much pressure to have this perfect bond and perfect love and everything will be so natural and easy. While that maybe some peoples’ experience, those of us who didn’t have that need to speak out and share the other side. I’m a big believer that so many women experiencing this go too long before getting treated because they are afraid of admitting they don’t have that “perfect” experience or that it somehow makes them a bad mom. But here’s the truth, mamas: we are all our babies have and they need the best versions of ourselves.
I remember tearing up when my daughter’s pediatrician gave me the “oxygen mask on an airplane” talk (you know, the one about taking care of yourself first before helping others). But it’s true! Getting help and doing what you need to do for yourself actually makes you a great mom. It may feel counterintuitive in the moment, but trust me on this one.
If our babies could talk, they’d be saying, “Take care of yourselves, mamas.”