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You Don't Need to Justify Your Postpartum Depression

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Today, I stopped making excuses for my postpartum depression and anxiety.

I had all the reasons in the world to be depressed and anxious. I had a preemie baby in the NICU. Due to preeclampsia, I suffered under magnesium sulfate treatment for days before delivering my son at 32 weeks by C-section. Then, I developed a massive hematoma that caused my incision to open, sending me to the emergency room twice before proper wound care was administered.

None of those things could have happened, and I still could have experienced postpartum depression and anxiety. Postpartum disorders plague between 10 to 15 percent of mothers. Mothers who have perfect births. Mothers with traumatic births. Mothers with all the support in the world. Single mothers without a support network. Mothers who successfully nurse, struggle to nurse, exclusively pump and formula feed. Mothers of their first, second, fourth (and beyond) child. Mothers of all races, creeds, life experiences and situations. Some of these groups are more at-risk than others but that doesn’t matter to mental illness.

Yes, certain scenarios will increase the risk of developing postpartum disorders. I should know. I checked off nearly every box on the list, but I didn’t have to. Postpartum disorders don’t care how many risk factors you have or don’t have.

For a long time, I felt like I had to justify my postpartum depression and anxiety. I blamed it on my prenatal illness, my premature delivery, my surgical complications and the trauma of having a baby in the NICU. I also had a history of depression and anxiety, conditions that kept my husband and me from trying to conceive for several years, thinking I needed to be “better” before we should have a baby. (The joke was on me, but that’s another post for another time.) I was the perfect candidate for developing postpartum disorders. I thought I could point to those and say, “See? This isn’t my fault. I was set up. I was programmed for failure.”

Then, I realized: It doesn’t matter. No, it isn’t my fault, but I don’t need to say so. I shouldn’t need to claim I was at risk to make anyone believe me or listen to me. I never failed, and no one and nothing was to blame. I was sick. I wouldn’t need to justify a cold or a broken leg. I didn’t need a reason to have depression and anxiety. I just did.

What was always the strangest part was I would never ask another person to justify their disorders. I reserved doubt only for myself. My stigma only applied to me. I was the only one who ever offered excuses, explaining my damage as if doing so would release me from the responsibility of my illness. I was trying to fight depression and anxiety with logic and that isn’t at all how it works. You can logic postpartum disorders all day long, upside down and backward, and it will never make sense.

My history was only good for one thing: understanding what I needed to heal. My traumatic birth experience caused post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which I understood was fueling my depression and anxiety. I knew I needed to deal with that before I could truly climb out of the darkness of postpartum disorders.

So I eagerly sought out therapy to ease the flashbacks and trauma, and I found success. I knew that in the past, I’d been a healthier person when I was on medications for depression and anxiety. So I sought out great doctors and therapists, which I was lucky enough to find! They provided me with the guidance I needed, and got me to a place where I could start to help myself. I finally realized hanging on to my “reasons” for being sick was not helping.

I have postpartum disorders. Maybe it’s because of my experiences and history, maybe not. The only reason my experiences and history matter is because they’re tools to help me recover and maintain a healthy self. I don’t need an excuse for who I am, how my brain and body work or what I think and feel. Neither do you.

Originally published: June 29, 2016
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