mom holding her son's hands in the sunset

To My Son, as the Storm of My Postpartum Depression Is Passing

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Dear Little Buddy,

Your arrival into this world was complicated. When you burst forth into the sterile light of the operating room with loud, gusty cries, I cried with relief. Relief that the part of growing and building you was now complete. Yet, I had no idea I was in the midst of battling a demon, who would only strengthen during your first months in this world.

You were pink, plump with tiny lips overcome by your massive rosy cheeks. There was so much love for you in the hospital room. Your father proudly called the family to tell them of your arrival. Your aunt fell head over heels in love with you when she saw your beautiful face. Your grandmother cried, overcome with emotion when she saw you for the first time, resting on my chest. I learned a new tender side of my own father, as your Pap gently held you and spoke in hushed tones.

Even I was taken aback, as those immediate postpartum endorphins and adrenaline surged. Those emotions were fleeting. Perinatal depression robbed me of the special bond so many new mothers blissfully describe.

You had nothing to do with the hopelessness and despair I felt. Depression is an illness. It lies. My reality was distorted. The chemical imbalances that had trapped me in this strange, alternate world prevented me from connecting with you. I struggled with the concept of love.

When the storm finally broke and when treatment started to work, I finally could see through the clouds. I could see this beautiful boy your father and I had created. I could appreciate your chubby thighs and gorgeous smile. I was able to bask in the cute, nerdy little laugh that bubbled up when I blew raspberries on your belly.

You’re an amazing, baby boy. As I shed my baggage from that traumatic, dark time, I can feel our bond starting to form. I can see glimpses of the light. You are that light, little guy. You are the sunshine peeking through the darkness.

Love,

Your battle weary mom

This post originally appeared on Postpartum World.

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When a Doctor Gave Me the Permission I Needed to Accept I Was Ill

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I went to an emergency, after-hours doctor’s office on a Saturday evening on a bank holiday weekend because I didn’t know what else to do. I expected a change in my antidepressant medication or a prescription for anxiety medication, something to take the edge off and help me through another day. My mental health had been declining throughout the past 48 hours. I was, frankly, terrified. I didn’t know what was happening to me and it was freaking scary.

I have battled depression, anxiety and an eating disorder since I was a teenager. I also suffered postnatal depression with my first child but nothing I have faced in the past has given me the sheer terror I have felt on this evening. Postnatal depression hit me again, but this time it was different.

Depression is like an old friend to me now. We have spent many days together. I know his ways and what to expect from our relationship. It is hard but it’s nothing new.

This was something altogether different. It felt like my mind was not my own. In a few days, I became unable to do simple household tasks and care for my children. I needed help at all times and feared being alone with my 2-year-old and 3-month-old. This is no longer the old friend I recognize. This disease is a stranger in my body and the alien nature of my symptoms was utterly terrifying me. The rate at which I was deteriorating was alarming.

It left me constantly wondering, “What is happening to me?” It was nothing I had ever experienced before, which is why the kind words and genuine care from the tired doctor, at the end of what must have been a long shift of frustrated patients irritated by the hour-long wait, were better than any medication I could have hoped to receive. I was given knowledge and felt empowered. He told me sometimes postnatal depression can hit you out of nowhere. There doesn’t need to be a reason why and the quick decline, while scary, is also common. He reassured me while regular depression is an unruly menace difficult to adequately treat, postnatal depression responds very well to treatment.

In that conversation, I was given permission to accept that I am ill. It is not a case of my mind not being strong enough or not thinking enough of the right things. It doesn’t necessarily need a cause or a reason. Sometimes it just happens. I was given hope that I can recover and that people do get through this. I was reassured I am not losing my mind or going mad.

I have an illness, and I have now accepted it. I will need to take time to rest and recover. I will need to accept help to care for my children and to run my household. None of those roles I play are as important as my life. People can fill in for me with childcare and housework, but no one could replace me if I was no longer here.

I need to work toward being OK again. I need to keep myself safe and keep going forward. I need to let go of the guilt of not being able to look after my children right now. I am ill and I need to rest. Rest now mama.

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The ‘What Ifs’ of Living With Postpartum Anxiety

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The “what ifs” of motherhood get the best of me at times. I have come a long way with my postpartum anxiety since my baby was born seven months ago, but nights like this rouse the giant that was nodding off.

My husband drove with my toddler in the backseat, strapped in properly, going below the speed limit through a small town. My son’s window was down, and a stray firework buzzed into their vehicle and popped in the backseat. It melted a two-inch hole into my baby’s car seat canopy.

She was with me and was safe. My son was scared but safe. My husband was safe too, but what if..? I shouldn’t go there but I do. What if my baby had been in the car? What if my son had been leaning up in his car seat? What if the car caught fire?

What if…

At times, I am able to ignore the background noise of the hypothetical chaos and at other times, I can’t navigate my way out of it. It can catch me by surprise and then hold me hostage until each scenario is considered.

I try and talk myself down by reasoning with my brain. Devastation can’t happen because I have taken preventative measures. But how can I prepare for random accidents? Aside from parading my whole family around in life-jackets and bicycle helmets (which after careful consideration I have learned that wouldn’t actually prevent many accidents) there isn’t much I can do.

We do helmets, car seats and vaccinations. We research and choose the safest, but I can’t prepare for everything. So really, I can’t prepare for anything. Now, I’m exhausted from living in my brain. My heart is weary.

I read blogs and “Go Fund Me” accounts, obituaries and newspaper articles constantly. Desperate for details, I obsess over what could have potentially been done to prevent each tragedy. Tucked away in my memory are dozens of things to do to prevent harm being done. Always ask if people have their guns locked up. Don’t step on electrical wires when it is raining. Wear life jackets. Watch my kids if they gulped too much pool water.

It’s nights like these, when a firework reveals my prevention method is a hoax and the universe has betrayed me with keeping the future a secret. I desperately want to preserve this life just as it is. This very desperation is what is keeping me from actually living it.

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Not Even My Closest Friends Knew I Had Postpartum Depression

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I gripped the wheel as I inched across the ice-caked road, my knuckles nearly the color of the falling snow. My thoughts bounced recklessly through my sleep-deprived brain.

What if I slide off the side of this bridge? How will I save them all? How can I get them all out? Who left me in charge of three children? How do I even have three kids? I don’t know how to do this. What if I am ruining them all?

Behind me, my 6-year-old son was chattering away about his day at kindergarten as his 5-week-old sister screamed like a baby Velociraptor on one side of him and her twin brother slept serenely on the other. I barely heard him talking. The heat hissed through the vents, a steady wave of false comfort.

The boy could probably swim, but the water would be so cold it would be hard to move. Would we be trapped beneath the ice of the frozen Mississippi River that had seemingly slowed to a halt below us? And my babies. My teeny, tiny babies. They aren’t even close to 10 pounds yet, I recalled, as though that arbitrary weight would somehow keep them safer in the icy blackness of the churning river below. How quickly could I undo not just one car seat, but two, in the subzero swirl of stunning darkness?

I was terrified — barely breathing, tears rolling down my cheeks.

That late January afternoon, I wondered how I could possibly be responsible for three children. I thought there was no way I could save them. I wondered if this was all some sort of mistake. And I deliberated the best possible ways to shield them from my anxiety-riddled mind.

Was I ever concerned about hurting my children? Never.

But I was unsure of how I could attend to their needs and be the mother they all deserved.

Every word and movement and thought felt like an affront. I was failing at the most important thing in my world — being a mom.

I won’t say I was overly surprised I had postpartum depression. There were prior decades of burying pain and trying to ignore all of the demons who haunted my sleep. But now here I was, surrounded by love in its purest and most reverent form — two babies and a joyful, compassionate 6-year old.

I thought my unending despondency was proof I did not deserve my children. I tried desperately to hold it together. To wish away the feelings of failure and emptiness and despair. I stared at the twins and breathed in their sweet sleepy skin and wished I could stop feeling so horribly sad in the midst of my little miracles.

Not even my closest friends knew.

I smiled and carefully maintained a façade of stability as best I could until I was alone and able to collapse into myself. Acknowledging the hopelessness and melancholy that formed an edge around my every waking hour.

My constant companions were irritability, anxiety, an unending feeling of being overwhelmed and sadness. Pure, shoulder-sobbing sadness. I cried a lot. Sometimes for hours on end — seemingly without reason.

I had struggled for almost four years to get pregnant. Seemingly spreading my legs for every fertility doctor in a 30-mile radius. Broken and nonfunctional parts of my reproductive system were surgically removed. Medications were ingested. I willingly offered my then-taut abdomen as a pin-cushion to the hoards of needles that arrived at my home. A medical waste container assumed a position on top of my fridge.

For years the struggle was fruitless. And eventually, it became clear the IVF was our only option. And so it began in earnest. I ran, I ate healthy, I meditated, I wrote.

And then it happened.

I was pregnant. Not just one, but two sesame-seed-sized hearts were beating inside of me. I was elated and terrified. For 37 weeks, I did every possible thing I could to protect the lives I was now nurturing and incubating. And then they were born. My babies were here. Tiny hands and soft skin and inviting eyes. My heart grew immeasurably, as did my sadness.

It was a desolation that did not fit the attendant circumstances.

Yes, I was exhausted. Yes, I was anxious. Yes, I had the “baby blues” from the sudden surge of hormones (that were not administered by injection). But this was more than that. This was postpartum depression.

I was ashamed. Embarrassed. Worried about what others would think or say. Certain I was a horrible mother and my children would be better off without me. Unable to be away from my babies for any amount of time. Terrified of what would happen if I was not always vigilant.

I sat on my couch, in my car, in the shower, virtually anywhere — willing myself to feel better.

I thought I could fix it. That I could try harder, smile more, eat healthier, get a little sleep.

I was certain I had to take care of this alone and that no one could know how horribly I was failing my children by being depressed. I thought since I was the one who was broken in the midst of so much perfection, I could not tell anyone.

I felt utterly and completely alone.

And then one day, several months after the twins were born, my partner looked me straight in my bloodshot, swollen eyes and said:

“You need to talk to someone about this.”

After much hesitation, I picked up the phone and carefully dialed the number.

I hung up three times before I heard the entirety of the greeting on the other end.

My voice was barely audible. The person on the other end was clearly not in the mood to accommodate or calm my fears. Her concern was only with scheduling an initial appointment, and she fought to understand what I was asking for with my cracking, shaky words. Alas, an appointment was confirmed and the wheels were set in motion.

Close to two weeks later, I met with a psychiatrist. She empathetically engaged me and offered the kindness and understanding I needed. She heard me. She saw me. And she didn’t look away.

The psychiatrist mentioned medications that might help. After careful consideration and having my fears about antidepressants and breastfeeding assuaged, I elected to take a low-dose prescription.

It was an internal battle, and some days I hated myself for needing it. I thought I was weak. More proof I was incapable of being a good mother if I was not medicated. After a while, though, I came to see that nothing could be further from the truth. I had sought help.

I was able to take a step back and understand that even if I was depressed and struggling, my children needed me to be at my best, and I too deserved to feel better.

I was also referred to an incredible therapist who would become a proverbial hand to hold through the darkness.

Several weeks later, I carried my then 4-month-old babies into the waiting room of a clinic at a large public hospital. Each child was carefully cradled in a bulky and protective infant car seat.

I was nervous. Hesitant. Exhausted. Embarrassed. And desperate.

I checked and double checked to make sure I had not forgotten one of my babies — I never did, but I worried regardless. I made sure they were breathing and not overheating.

A bag full of accouterments that rarely needed to be used was slung over my shoulder. Diapers and wipes and hand sanitizer. Toys and clothes and burp clothes. A blanket or two. I tried to convince myself that if I brought the right things with me, I would be OK, they would be OK. We would all be OK.

I was beyond tired.

My bones ached with exhaustion beyond what could be anticipated from caring for two infants simultaneously. My hands trembled from the constant barrage of being so overwhelmed. I gazed lovingly at my two tiny babies and hoped beyond hope I could do better for them.

What if the therapist thinks I am unfit? What if one of my babies starts crying and I can’t get them to stop it? What if I start crying and cannot stop either?

None of these things happened.

I hesitantly sat down in her office and desperately tried to hold it together.

Until she told me I didn’t have to be strong all the time.

Until she explained that my frightening new normal was not abnormal.

Until she said she understood — and I believed her.

It was only then that I let loose a torrent of tears I was not certain would ever end.

I rambled on and on as she looked at me intently with an empathy that spoke volumes. She held my gaze and assured me what I was thinking and feeling and saying all made perfect sense. She seemed to genuinely understand the desolation I felt, and she never assigned any judgment to it.

For months we met biweekly, and sometimes weekly. She provided a safe space where I could open up about my feelings of inadequacy and my concerns for the future.

Some days, I just sat down heavily in the chair, my babies playing at my feet, and said:

“This is really f*cking hard and I don’t feel like I am doing anything right.”

She had an endless amount of patience for my self-deprecation and was there to remind me it was entirely OK to feel simultaneously ecstatic and distraught. More than anything else, she listened and just let me speak — or cry — as needed.

And after some time, the intense sadness did begin to dissipate. I started to find my footing and not feel entirely leveled on a daily basis. It was hard-fought but well worth the effort.

Two years ago, a dear friend was pregnant with her first child, and she lamented her concerns about postpartum depression. When I mentioned I had experienced it and there were options available if it did happen, she was nearly flabbergasted.

“You did?! I had no idea.”

And that was entirely the point.

I hid my sadness and my despair and my tortured thinking from as many as I could. I was ashamed I was sad at such a seemingly happy time in my life. I wanted to let others know I needed help, but I also feared how weak and ungrateful I would seem if I articulated a need for assistance.

According to the American Psychological Association, up to one in seven women experience postpartum depression in the weeks and months after giving birth, but not everyone seeks treatment. Many go through it alone in silence, wondering what is wrong with them.

Depression tells you no one else will understand. It coerces you into believing you are alone and you should be alone. It silences you when all you want to do is ask for understanding and kindness.

Postpartum depression offers the same delusions, with the added variable of a new baby (or babies) and all of the attendant duties, responsibilities and expectations placed on mothers by themselves, their families and society.

It is an equal opportunity offender, catching new mothers off-guard in the midst of what they have been repeatedly told is “the happiest time in their lives.”

Was my childbirth experience the perfect storm for postpartum depression? Possibly.

After years of fertility treatments, the physical and emotional stress of a multiple pregnancy, an extremely difficult delivery with significant blood loss during an unanticipated cesarean section, issues with milk supply, and no family within nearly a thousand-mile radius, I was already running on close to empty.

Did all of these factors contribute to the tidal wave of postpartum depression that left me struggling to breathe? Probably.

Was any one of them the tipping point? Perhaps.

Does it really matter? No. There doesn’t have to be a reason. Sometimes it just is. And that is OK.

Having postpartum depression does not make someone a bad mother. It does not make them broken or a failure. There should be no shame in talking about it, no harm in letting other women know it can and does happen.

Years later, I am still not sure if I am doing anything right. But now I also know that is OK.

Do I worry that my children were irreparably influenced by my postpartum depression? Of course.

Were they? I will never know.

What I do hope is that they were more influenced by my decision to acknowledge that something was not right and to seek the help I needed to be a better mother to all of them.

Postpartum depression is valid. It is real. And it can feel devastating. Those who are struggling with it need and deserve to be recognized.

We can start the conversation. We can hold the hard truths. And we can offer support. Providing small reminders to let one another know that there is no place for shame, and we don’t have to be alone.

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When My Son Grasped a Concept About Mental Illness Some Adults Don't Understand

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This morning on the way to nursery:

Me: Sorry if Mommy was a bit too cross yesterday. She wasn’t feeling well.

My son: Yes, you were a bit too cross.

Me: Yes and I’m sorry. It wasn’t your fault. It was mine.

My son: No, it wasn’t. Why were you being cross?

Me: Because I wasn’t feeling well.

My son: Then, it wasn’t your fault. It was because you weren’t feeling well.

My son in his childish brain managed to grasp a concept many of us postpartum depression (PPD) and mental health sufferers forget constantly. It is not our fault. Being ill means sometimes we act or feel a way we shouldn’t, and instead of feeling guilty and placing blame on ourselves, we should remember that.

You may also notice I explain a bad PPD day as “not feeling well.” I know my 4-year-old might not be able to grasp mental illness entirely, but I know he understands what it is like to not feel well. So for now that is how I explain my PDD to him. As he gets older, I will explain in more detail in a way he can understand, but for now it is just, “Mommy doesn’t feel well.”

On the way home from dropping him off, I thought back over that conversation and it made me remember how that was how my mother had explained mental illness to me when I came into contact with it at a similar age. She described it as someone not being well, and it is the truth. Although physically the person may not be sick, their mind is in a state of being unwell. It is a simple truth people don’t always seem to understand, which in some ways fuels stigma around mental health issues.

I also realized this might be why my mind was so open to empathy and understanding around the issue of mental health. From a young age, I had been taught mental illness is an illness that happens to regular people, not something to be ashamed of. This made me think even more. The stigma of mental health is often due to lack of awareness and understanding. If I wasn’t suffering from PPD, I don’t know if I would have even thought to discuss it with my 4-year-old, as my mother had with me. Yet as an illness, it is just as important and common as physical illnesses.

I think sometimes we don’t give children enough credit for how much they understand. In some ways, they can learn concepts better because their unbiased thinking hasn’t been tainted about issues. Maybe one way of beating the stigma of mental health is to start discussing mental illness with our children, who we consider to be the future. They will one day be adults who will be more understanding and empathetic toward mental illness and will know not to be ashamed to talk about these issues. That is definitely a future I would want for my children. How about you?

Much love,

LGL x

This post originally appeared on Little Girl Lost.

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To the Brave and Tired Mama Just Diagnosed With Postpartum Depression

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Dear brave and tired mama,

I saw you walk out of our doctor’s office today. You were carrying your crying newborn with one arm, and dragging a stubborn 2-year-old with the other.

Your face revealed your utter exhaustion. You tried to hide it with makeup, but I’m a mom too, and I could recognize the truth: six weeks postpartum means you’re still not sleeping more than a couple precious hours at a time each night. And that busy toddler who’s pulling at you and asking you for juice? I’m betting she doesn’t let you rest much during the day.

I heard the nurse at the front desk hand you a prescription for Celexa, and tell you to schedule a follow-up appointment for next month. Your eyes were filled to the brim with tears, threatening to spill over at any moment, and I read both shame and relief in your pained expression.

I wanted to run up to you, hug you and let you cry on my shoulder, and tell you I’ve been there too.

I wanted to tell you how, even though I know you don’t see it, you really are a good mama.

I wish you could see who I saw this morning: a woman in anguish who was still strong enough to get up today.

A woman who was overwhelmed with fear, but still brave enough to ask for help.

A woman who didn’t know if she was going to make it through the day, but still puts one foot in front of the other.

That’s what warriors are made of. That’s what heroes do.

Oh, brave and tired mama, I know. I know your feelings of frustration and defeat. I know how often you say to yourself, It’s not supposed to be this way. I hate myself. I can’t do this.

But you can. You can. You already are.

Stay in the fight.

No matter how hard it is now, keep fighting. I promise you, it will get better.

It will take hard work. You will want to give up. But if you persevere, you can be well again.

You will be yourself again, and you will be better than you were before. I know; I’ve been there, twice.

And I promise, no matter what your demons whisper to you in the darkness, you are needed, you are loved, and you are worth it.

Love,

Another brave and tired mama

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