I have post-partum depression. This is actually my second time. I realize that being so public with it may invite some criticism, but I feel like sharing this is something I should do. My reason for blogging about this is two-fold: one, I don’t want social media to give anyone false ideas about what my (and the many women who suffer with this) life is really like; and, two, I think there is a lingering stigma attached to post-partum depression, and so many mamas suffer alone.
Don’t misunderstand, I am not an expert. I’m speaking strictly from my experience, though I would imagine my experience would have a lot of overlap with others who have dealt with this (possibly even depression in general).
Also, let me get this out of the way: my precious girl is now 3 1/2 months old, and I couldn’t love her more. This isn’t about if I’m grateful enough, a good enough mom, or even if I’m trusting Jesus enough. Post-partum depression turns you into a person that you don’t recognize, and it has become my belief that you need things like counselors, support groups, and medicines to help you to get through it.
As I said, this is my second go round. You would (or I did) think that I could do something to prevent it if I’ve been down that road before. It’s been very discouraging to feel like I can’t seem to have a baby without ending up here. But I know that I can’t trust that feeling.
Each time, it has been a LONG road of feeling overwhelmed at the littlest (and not-so-little) things, feeling completely spent physically and emotionally, and feeling trapped in a deep pit before I could admit that I needed something outside of me to help me. And while I could recognize the signs and symptoms as they were approaching, I felt the need to work harder at “pulling it together”. I would beat myself up for not having enough patience and for allowing myself to go on these emotional roller coaster rides. I would feel frustration when it was hard to bond (with my screaming, inconsolable infant). I would feel sadness and anger (at myself) if I perceived that others could. I would feel guilt when baby was actually happy, but I was still sad. I would feel guilt for having all of those feelings when I have such a fantastic support system.
I was recently talking to a friend who just had her third child about how I was doing…really. She offered sympathy and encouragement, saying that I would be surprised at how many mamas in our community have dealt with this and needed to go on an anti-depressant. And it made me think, How silly that we don’t talk about it! I’m not saying that anyone struggling with post-partum depression should walk around telling everyone they see. I don’t think that is helpful or healthy. And I have moments of actual happiness in the midst of this, but I have learned that it is not doing anyone (yourself, mainly) a favor to suffer in silence.
I know that many women feel shame. I must say that I don’t feel a whole lot of shame about it (when I’m thinking straight, anyway), but I still find it so hard to reach out for help. For starters, I have a complex about sounding like a complainer, and it’s hard to admit that things are still not going well. But mostly, it’s hard to have the energy to get help. When I’m in that crisis state, everything feels like a mountain that must be moved. It’s overwhelming. In all seriousness, please don’t ask me what I want to do for dinner. I feel panicky when trying to schedule appointments (especially because it means trying to coordinate child care). When I’m not in a crisis state, I believe I’m finally getting a handle on things, and I don’t need that other stuff (i.e. counseling, medicine). It’s hard for me to decide that I need help because I’m not in a state to make good decisions.
That is why I would say, to all those who know and love someone (who might be) facing post-partum depression, be patient (God bless you, husbands). Don’t expect much. Offering all kinds of well-intentioned (but unsolicited) advice can make things worse. Give clear and simple instructions if it’s necessary. Don’t avoid these women either. They need your love and support. Be supportive of the decisions that they make and acknowledge that what they are going through is just plain hard.
And to the mamas who are crying and feeling hopeless months after baby’s arrival, you aren’t alone. Having a baby can do a real number on your mental wellness. But it won’t be this way forever. I can say with confidence that, as much as there were moments in my depression that I thought would kill me, I am so amazed (on the other side of depression) at the beauty of their creation. He is so smart, so fantastic, so creative and joyful. She is so lovely and so uniquely her. That is why, for me, it is so worth it.
One of my first thoughts after finally starting an antidepressant with my firstborn was Oh my, why didn’t I do this sooner? I just want to encourage you (and I’m reminding myself as much as anything) that there is help, and you don’t have to feel miserable.