I still remember the moment I first acknowledge and accept I am suffering. The guilt crept in, and I fall deeper inside my head. I have been cowering from the most severe bout of depression I’ve ever faced. There exists no reason, no humanly possible way, for me to suffer any longer. Yet I manage to. I realize I am facing mother’s struggle like no other: I had postpartum depression.
My first child, a boy, is four months old at the time, a constant mover. Just about to be transitioning to sleeping in his crib. A crib that sits ready for him, that signifies a lack of control on my part, or so I feel. If I set him down in it to sleep, I have no way of knowing if he actually is asleep, or if the silence is dangerous. These thoughts consume me. So much so, that the first several months of his life are filled with guilt-ridden sleepless nights and drudgingly long days.
I have to relinquish control.
One day it hits me: I am not in control. While I can do all within my power, I have lost the battle. Letting go of the thoughts of danger and horror also mean accepting that I can’t get through this on my own. I have to relinquish control, of so much. The sense of feeling overwhelmed doesn’t begin to describe the feelings that pour over me.
The term “postpartum depression” was one I briefly heard during a childbirth prep course, a phrase that I am immediately averse to. Later, I do not understand the implications, or see the signs of something deeply wrong within myself. I begin to fight the signs unconsciously, this I know enough to do. To push the symptoms deep inside, far removing it from the view of outsiders- even those closest to me. I can rush to clean the house in a few minutes before my husband comes back from work. Easily throw clothes on and toss my pajamas in the overflowing pile of laundry. Simply tidy up the near empty fridge and pretend I had no time in my busy day as a new mom to actually shop for groceries. After all, somehow I manage all along to keep our son healthy and happy. So why would anyone take notice?
You just get over it, they say.
People in my life start seeing warning signs. Partly because I am desperate for them to, partly because there is no ignoring it any longer. They begin to see past my clever distraction tool: a cute, new baby. The holidays creep up and more than anything, I want to run away. I want no part in shopping for gifts. The mere sound of a jingling bell makes me cringe.
I begin the course of talking about my condition, slowly dipping one toe into the pool of resources. Some are more willing than others to listen. And some of those people, well-meaning and well-intentioned, nevertheless thrust me deeper back into my cocoon. “You just get over it,” is one particular phrase I hear often. “It doesn’t have to be a problem, unless you let it.” Feeling the depression is my own making and my own fault, I begin receiving help while simultaneously retreating. It becomes a whole new battle for me, except now I am not alone.
Now I Cannot Hide.
Finally, mentally anguished and physically exhausted, I turn to the medical professionals for help. I don’t want to treat the symptoms, I want a cure, to be myself. I begin to learn the true depths of the disease of depression. Many women feel a certain sadness after childbirth. Some women bounce back.
But there are those of us who cannot return so simply to a healthy lifestyle. Far worse becomes the hidden reality. Some women self-medicate. Others turn to ask for help in coping. Some disappear, unable to carry the burden of the disease, yet equally unable to ever accept that it exists. Out of sheer terror, I ask for help. Because I see the other scenarios playing out in front of me, each at a fleeting moment of horror at the mere thought of it.
Your instinct is to help the child first….
There is a keen reason women on airplanes are told to first put on their own masks, then assist children. Your instinct is to help the child first, at all costs, even one detrimental to your own safety. Part of my therapy is learning self-care, knowing when and where I can tend to myself before tending to my child, while still meeting his needs. This alone becomes life changing for me. Never before since my son’s birth do I realize that I am a person, one with needs and wants. And even if I do realize this, I don’t accept it. Much more difficult for me than accepting I have postpartum depression is accepting I choose the course ahead, and that I can change.
Remove the stigma, change the statistics.
600,000 women are diagnosed with postpartum depression each year. These are the women who actually receive a diagnosis. Many more women around us suffer through, and in the end, may even lose sight of where the cycle of depression begins. Eventually, each cycle ends. But where and when? Without help, a diagnosis, or an explanation, far too many will end it by beginning an even more perilous journey. Substance abuse, violence, and even death couple postpartum depression in large number.
For me, learning to speak about postpartum depression is key. I have lived through it, I am a survivor. Thus I feel compelled to urge other women to speak up and speak out. To not be ashamed, or allow themselves to suffer any longer. I hope as a society we can remove the dangerous stigmas of motherhood we have been taught. Ignoring or hiding postpartum depression cannot continue to be on that list. More than knowing for yourself, know for your family and friends that there is a pathway out of depression, one that begins with accepting it exists in the first place.