If I try, I can think of a lot of things that irritate me. Leaky coffee cup lids. The toilet paper roll put on the wrong way. Dirty laundry sitting next to the laundry basket. I could go on. But what I want to talk about at the moment, bothers me far more than these insignificant little annoyances.
Not long ago, I overheard a conversation taking place among mothers in their 20’s/30’s who seemed to know each other, and were discussing an acquaintance who happened to be a new mom. “I heard she’s not breastfeeding,” said one with an implied tone of disapproval. “I saw her the other day at the store, and she looked terrible… she looks way different without makeup on,” added another with a catty grin. After many other rude comments were made, I heard one of them mutter something that bothered me enough to sit here and write about it. “I heard she has post-postpartum depression, or something like that. I can’t imagine not loving my baby. I never would have thought she’d be the type to be that way.” This was not uttered in genuine concern. This was said in the most judgy, ignorant, condescending way. I didn’t speak up, because it wouldn’t have been nice. But I have some choice things to share now that I’ve had time to digest that remark.
I suffered from post-postpartum depression. For years, this illness robbed me of confidence, happiness, or any ability to be in the present moment with my kids, and loved ones. It unfortunately took me years to get the proper help I needed, which caused many other health issues for me. I had no insight during the worst of it. Sharing my experience with PPD has been limited to a comfortable circle of people. The shame of feeling like a terrible mother doesn’t come close to ACTUALLY BEING a terrible mother; and unfortunately, in my own ignorance, I thought that being diagnosed with PPD did make me a terrible mother. That’s not something a perfectionist, like myself, handles well. The sheer sadness I felt during those years, was the most frustrating demon I’ve ever fought.
I didn’t sleep more than a few hours a night. I fought hard to breastfeed my kids, and quit after 6 months. I only tried it because I felt pushed into it. How could a good mother not give the best to her baby? I could never produce enough milk to satisfy her hunger, and I was tired of feeling like a cow doing her daily duty. I quit. I failed.
The days were long, but bearable. As long as no one interrupted nap time. As long as I didn’t have to leave the house. As long as I reached the evening without falling behind on washing bottles, and laundry. As long as…the list was managed. But with a newborn, or a toddler, or a small child…the list is never done.
I was terrified of SIDS. I was a nervous wreck that she’d fall asleep on her stomach and suffocate. When I’d accidentally fall asleep, I’d wake up in such a panic, staring into the baby monitor trying to watch her belly rise and fall indicating that she was still alive. Sleep was a long lost friend, and tears came easy and frequent.
My life was not my own anymore, and I completely lost my identity. I cringed when other people insisted on holding her. I had a very present, supportive husband, that I would never let help me enough. Having any other event on my calendar, except survival, was almost annoying. Even if I went out, I would just worry about the kids, and be too tired to handle the next day, hardly making the attempt at socializing even worth it.
This is just a tiny window into the spiral of depression and anxiety that I was going down. The illness carried on long after my 2nd pregnancy, and by the time I faced it, it had already sunk its nails in pretty deep. Looking back, how could I have not seen those red flags? I didn’t think anything was wrong. I kept telling myself that being this tired was normal. Not wanting to go out is normal. Worrying about the baby is normal. Not having time to shower for 3 days is normal. To some degree, those things are normal. But when it starts to interfere with your quality of life, it is a problem that needs addressing. I was offered help here and there, and I never took it. A good mom can handle her own baby, I told myself. When this type of thinking starts to compromise any opportunity for self-care, it’s time to reach out. Not fight harder to make it appear like you have it all put together. Do not let shame or feelings of failure get in the way of being able to take care of yourself. Months turn into years too easily.
I could speak a lot about this, and at some point, I may do just that – there’s lots more to tell. But for now, I just want to get one point across. Never at any point during my illness, did I NOT LOVE my child. LOVE HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH IT. I loved my babies, and still love my babies more than anything in the world. They were wanted. They were planned. But my brain was not capable of reaching out and pairing that love with my spirit, or my health. PPD is like floating in a zero-gravity room, watching your child float along beside you, smiling, reaching out for you to grab hold, and yet no matter how much you struggle, you just can’t get to them. I felt like I was always loving them from a distance. Soaking in the little moments are challenging when your brain is wired into a state of duty and worry. Loving something so much, and not being able to feel present with that love is heartbreaking. It literally broke my heart. It has taken years to piece back some of the damage that I unknowingly did to myself, and I’m still not all the way there yet. Thankfully, I now know that it was my body (namely, my brain) that needed a little help, not my heart. My heart was always full. The love was always there. I just needed proper help to connect the pieces. Patience with yourself is essential, and that is very difficult when you’re tired and unwell. I needed education on the illness in order to forgive myself for not being a “perfect” mother.
Why am I writing this now? Because hearing these women tear this other woman down made me angry. If she did indeed have PPD, it wasn’t her fault. Of course, she loves her baby. If she decided not to breast-feed, than so what? Her body. Her choice. Her mental health. If she went to the store without makeup, looking “terrible”, then good for her. At least she was able to leave her house. She’s earned the right to look a bit disheveled…she just grew and birthed a HUMAN. I see a lot of new moms, and new babies on Facebook lately, and I just want these moms to know that even though you may feel alone in your journey some days, you aren’t alone. There are a lot of wonderful women (or men!) out there more than willing to babysit, bring you a coffee, or do your dishes…or bring you wine for a rare quiet moment. Anything. Surround yourself with these women. Reach out when you need it, and let them help even when you think you don’t need it. Needing your village once in awhile is not a sign of weakness. Relish in the fact that there IS a village. Needing medication to help get you through it is not a bandaid, and there is no shame. PPD is chemical, and not a flaw in your character. If you have symptoms of PPD, it is not your fault. If you have anxiety, it is not your fault. Working towards better health and contentment is courageous, and responsible, and this is the part you do have control over. Your child deserves for you to be the best you you can be. You deserve to be loved, respected, and supported – most importantly from yourself.
Pass around a helping hand instead of gossip, or false judgements. If you have any inkling of feeling off, talk about it. Reach out. Educate yourself. If you’re reading this, and it resonates, find peace in knowing that better days are possible. The best way to take care of your family is to nurture your own body and spirit. Pictures are treasures, but they don’t always tell the truth. Trust your gut.