7 Discoveries From a Mom Climbing Out of Postpartum Depression
On June 18, 2015, I gave birth to my daughter. Nine days later, I suffered a stroke.
Before her birth I was the Picture Perfect Prego Lady; glowing, wide-eyed, anticipatory, awaiting the arrival of my mini-me who bounced and butterflied around in my big beautiful belly. She arrived…and then nine days later I nearly lost my life. I’ve spent the past six months working fervently to get it back. Thankfully, I’ve physically recovered from my event, but with the emotional toll of a new baby and a stroke, along with a few other setbacks, I found myself hurled down to depths; into the unfamiliar well of postpartum depression (PPD). I felt like I was huddled and alone at the bottom of a huge well. The walls were slimy and slick with regret, fear and disappointment. I could see light at the top, but I had no way to climb out — or so I thought.
For the first few weeks, I refused to admit my condition out loud. But one day, I could feel the ground beneath me sink. The distance to the top of the well grew longer. No one could reach their hand in and pull me out. I needed a ladder to make my way step by step to the surface.
Here are just a few steps on the ladder that have brought me back out into the light:
1. Admitting I had PPD reduced its power.
I remember receiving a visit from the postpartum nurses a day or two after my baby was born. They came to the hospital room to educate me about the signs, signals and feelings associated with PPD. I listened halfheartedly. There was this bundle of beauty breastfeeding before me. How could anything like that steal my joy?
So I brushed them off. But as weeks turned into months, the light from my eyes dulled and an incessant lump in my chest weighted me to the bed most days. I felt like a burden to my loved ones. I would make plans with the intention to execute ,and then come up with an excuse to ditch out. My doctor suggested I could be struggling with “a little postpartum” and I brushed it off. Until one morning, the urge to escape the pain grew so strong I rushed to the emergency room. There, I finally broke the “I’m going to be the perfect, happy, get my body back, feed my baby homemade organical baby food and enjoy every minute of this journey” vow that society shoves down our throats and admitted I had an illness. “Doctor, mom, dad, Dave, friend…I’m battling postpartum depression and I need help.” That statement alone dissolved the stigma. I was allowed to be broken. In doing so, I was allowing myself to get help and heal.
2. It’s important to find your tribe.
I was confounded and shocked to find I wasn’t alone. The hospital I delivered my daughter at had a free postpartum connection group. I remember the first morning I decided to show. I strolled in with my baby still in footie pajamas, dressed in my finest spit-up laden hoodie and worn out yoga pants, hair a toppled knot on my head. Looking around, I saw many women looked the same! This was not the Stroller Strider Brigade dressed in their best pea coats; this was a circle of swollen-boobed, worn out, tearful, tired women trying their best to understand who took their joy. Each of us told our story, and I found great comfort in the camaraderie. The woman to my left and to my right felt just as anxious as I did. We found strength in our weaknesses. We connected through Facebook and phone numbers. Now, I have an army of Blues Busters at my fingertips any time the darkness knocks at my door. We encourage, we shoulder, empathize and spur one another out of the darkness. I made new friends, women of all walks of life walking this road together hand in hand.
3. Medicine may not be a maybe.
I let mine sit in the cabinet for the first three months. There was no way I needed that — I was already different. I didn’t want any foreign substance to ravage my mind more. But thanks to the postpartum group I joined, along with my doctor who I trusted, I took the first step and started medication. I thought by taking the meds I was weak and out of control, that I surely would become more out of touch with my old self.
But about two weeks after starting, life was less intense. I was not so easily angered or provoked. I began to smile. The tiny slice of rationality I had left began to grow into a bigger piece of my mental pie. The daily anxiety and throat lumps became more manageable. I began to see them for what they were — no, they did not disappear, but I was able to put them in their place and stand up to their threats. The medicine softened my rigid edges, allowing me to absorb the healing process with more patience and grace.
4. Sometimes you have to scare the hell out of family with honesty.
I was not blessed with a super supportive family. They are of the “just snap out of it” clan. During my fight and plight with PPD, things were made worse by their criticism and cynical comments. My family judged me every step of the way through my healing. But this was a blessing in disguise. I was forced to lean on my friends and my Postpartum Tribe in times of trouble. With the help of the support groups and therapy, I grew fearless in sharing my story with friends in the outer circle, and found so much love and support in doing so. And once I admitted my weaknesses, my friends — who I thought were picture perfect — began to admit their troubles to me. My relationships with my besties grew deeper in those few months. I told them my struggles and asked them when I needed something, whether it was someone to watch the baby so I could sleep or go to therapy or shower. And they delivered. It was like getting to know one another all over again. Now those bonds are strong because I was raw and real with the people I thought would judge the harshest.
5. Love that baby.
This one is hard. Because people say it all the time, “Just enjoy it, isn’t it wonderful?” Yes, it would be wonderful and I would enjoy it, but the truth is it’s hard to truly love someone when you don’t love yourself. So here’s what I did. No matter how horrible I felt on a day-to-day basis, I kept one thing consistent: bath time. Bath time was our bonding time. I put her in her little tub and looked into her eyes. She would smile and splash and her lilting laughter would fill me with delight. It would make me feel like I was doing something right. After bath I would lotion her down and sing some silly made-up song as I caressed her from her tummy to her toes. The physical touch bonded us, created happy hormones, soothed her and I together as we prepared for evening. In keeping this routine, the closeness leaked out into our days and our connection grew over weeks.
In a world where everything was wrong, there was one truth I could hold fast to: I was a good mom and my baby loves me. Hold tight to your right to be loved by your little one; it will carry you.
6. Take it one hour at a time.
“One day at a time” is too long, especially if you’re at home alone, working a full day without your baby or in the throes of depression. The leader of my postpartum group gave the best advice: “Not one day at a time, but one hour at a time.”
OK, this hour I’m making breakfast. Then, I’m throwing in some laundry in between playing with the baby. The next hour she’ll nap and I can read or reach out to a friend if I need to. I will not Google depression during my free hours. I will write and reach out and walk and put on some Jack Johnson and hour by hour I will make it through. I will attend a few postpartum groups to break up the day. I will schedule therapy and a weekly check in with my doctor. I will email an old friend. I broke the day down hour by hour and reached out to my safe zones, until my safe zones grew wider and I was suddenly busy.
7. The “old you” may never return.
I ached and longed for the “old me,” the fearless and joyful girl I was before my joy was stolen. Before depression threw me into the well. Through my journey, I found that perhaps the “old me” stepped aside to let the bigger, brighter, stronger version of myself come through. The version that feels compassion for the mom struggling with the screaming kid at Target. The girl that answers truthfully when someone asks “How are you?” (“I’m OK. I’m struggling today but I’m getting better.”) and in doing so opens herself up to new and deeper relationships with her peers. The woman that battled this Beast to the ground with solidarity and steadfastness because she wanted her daughter to know her mother is strong and resilient. The woman who can help someone else who might be hurting. The woman who has walked up and out of the well of depression, despair and disappointment; who picks up her baby and points joyfully at the sun.
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