Postpartum Depression is isolation, fear, loneliness, and sadness.
Now that I'm pregnant with our 3rd child I've been pondering upon my postpartum experiences with both my children. Since time has passed, I'm able to look back and get a clearer picture of what I was going through. When I gave birth to my son in 2010 the subsequent months were a dark and lonely time in my memory. When I think about how I felt and the way I acted, it's almost like I'm looking at another person. The person I became is so unlike the person I normally am, I can't help but think, "Was I really like that? Was that really me?" what gives it away is the tight knot that forms in my stomach whenever I think about it.
The thing is, I thought I was prepared to be a mother. I read numerous books, watched a million YouTube videos on child birth and nursing. We had the nursery all ready to go and every baby product that was necessary. But nothing prepares you to be depressed. A few months before giving birth I remember reading about Postpartum Depression and talking to people about it. I remember people saying "Some women get so depressed they want to abandon or hurt their baby." It's funny how when we talk about Postpartum Depression or read about it, people always equate it with its most extreme dark form, when those cases are a miniscule percentage compared to the massive numbers of women who deeply love their baby but are depressed after giving birth. When we attach PPD with only its worst form, we don't talk about it for what it is. All we do is stigmatize the people suffering from it. Now I know, you can still love your baby more than life itself and try to be the best mom you can be, and still suffer from it. In reading its harrowing descriptions I quickly dismissed it thinking, "That will not be me."
But, I don't know if its a combination of being up all night when the rest of the world is sleeping, or being sleep deprived, or the hormone changes, or the stress and the burden of being a new mom, maybe it was all those things, but after my son was born I found myself deeply depressed.
I remember staying up at night clutching Joey and suddenly my heart would palpitate and I would get so scared. I thought I saw things and heard things, that (I know now) were not there. I remember crying hysterically for absolutely no reason. I remember listening to David Archuleta songs and crying thinking "He really understands! These songs are so deep!" I still have his songs on my iPhone and every time they play, I laugh at how ridiculous those thoughts were. I remember watching 50 First Dates on Netflix one night, and weeping when Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore broke up. I remember every time I nursed my son I felt like every last drop of epinephrin or Oxycontin or whenever hormone makes you normal and happy, would get drained from my body. I tried looking up information on it, but couldn't find any information online about being depressed after nursing. I remember pinning after my old life, when I was free, and my husband and I had time to ourselves. I lamented the end of date nights and romance. I bemoaned the end of my youth. I felt the toxic cocktail of all the the above mixed with a deep sense of inadequacy as a mother. I remember my husband grabbing my shoulders and looking at me with eyes filled with concern and saying "It's going to be okay. I need you. Your son needs you. We need you." Tears fell down my cheeks. I heard him but I wasn't listening. I felt like I was drowning and he was calling after me. His words were inaudible as I was sinking deeper and deeper into sadness and despair. Everyday I thought "My life is over.." I mourned the end of my life as I knew it and had no picture of the immense and immeasurable joy that was to be mine, living the life of a mother.
PPD went on for a few months. I remember when my son was 1 and 1/2 months, waking up in the middle of the night because he was crying. I was grabbing his diaper while holding him, half awake, I glanced his way and he was looking at me and smiling for the first time, a full bright smile, brimming with love and innocence. I'll never forget that face. For the first time I sensed he knew me, he recognized me and was happy I was there for him. I felt like someone took a pickaxe and chipped a hole in the concrete emotional prison I was in. The first piercing beam of light that was my son's smile became the first of many. Day by day his smiles, his recognition in who I was was, his interactiveness, slowly chipped away at the depression. By his 100th day it was nothing but a distant memory and the indescribable joy of motherhood took over. I realized I can take him places! Everyday was like a play date with me and my chubby beautiful baby. I realized that I alone, as his mother, was given unlimited access in discovering his unique personality. I got to experience the world through his eyes and nurture him each day and each day I fell more and more in love with him. I think about that time period when he was 3 months to 2 years old, and it was an absolute dream. I have nothing but happy memories of that time.
I look back and I realize at the time I didn't identify what I was going through. I just thought "Of course I'm sad, I'm sleep deprived!" I kept my struggles deeply hidden, not only from the outside world but also to myself. I couldn't be going through PPD, because I felt that would mean I don't love my baby, it would mean I was a bad mother. Now I know nothing was further from the truth.
I think about how, after I gave birth to my daughter, I didn't go through the same depression. The funny thing is my postpartum was much harder with Kaitlyn. It took longer for my body to recover, she didn't sleep through the night until 6 months as opposed to 2 months with Joey. Also nursing Joey was cake compared to Kaitlyn. Nursing Kaitlyn was an absolute horror show the details are not for the weak of heart or stomach so I'll spare you.
Was I tired? Yes. Was I in physical pain? Yes. Was I depressed? NO.
It could be because I was so preoccupied with my son's adjustment to the new baby, or maybe it's because I made more of an effort to be around people, but if I had to pin point it I'd say it's because I knew the prize was well worth the struggle.
I look back and I strongly believe there is a spiritual aspect to why women go through PPD. Why is it that when we as women are tasked with the most important job God has placed before us, that we feel the most scared, alone, and vulnerable? If you know of someone that just gave birth offer your support in the form of company, a hot meal, an encouraging word, but most importantly offer your prayers. Pray that she'll be reassured, strengthened, and protected.
Part of me wishes I knew back then what I know now. If I could go back I would say this to myself and to any new mother out there struggling:
It's hard and painful but that is not your fault. This time period, as stressful as it can be, is no indication of how amazing your life will be as a mother. Like the yellow brick road littered with jewels, motherhood will give you access to an indescribable experience, where the journey itself is a gift. You are not alone, do not be scared, you are a great mother, you are amazing, just take it one feeding and one sleepless night at a time. Slowly you'll see the bright colors and the sparkling jewels in discovering how unique and amazing God created your baby. As Robert Frost says "The only way out is through." You will make it through, better, stronger, and in love.