It seems counter-intuitive to write a piece on depression while the sun is shining and new life is blooming all around; and yet, here I am thinking, “This needs to be said.”
That new life not only comes with the buds on the trees and the gorgeous blooms, but with all the baby bumps and birth announcements of the babes that have joined the world within the past few months. It is such an exciting and hopeful time; and yet…
I desire a moment to sit with every new mother. To go on a Newborn Tour, if you will. Sure, I want to coo over her little one and smell their sweet head (because that’s what all normal people do in the presence of a baby – duh). But, you guys, do your eyes ever look up at the mom before you and wonder: How is she doing? More importantly: Do you ever take a moment to ask?
I’ll be the first to say that new baby conversations are pretty generic. How is he sleeping? Are they eating okay? She looks just like you! Nothing wrong with any of it. Buuut, what would happen if you asked how the mom was healing, or if she needed a hand with laundry or dishes? Wait a minute – what would ensue if that mom answered in an honest way and said: “I’m having a horrible time with this! Yes, please come over and help!”
Oh, sweet sincerity, where are you? We are so ingrained in our “polite” conversation that we hardly process the words coming out of our mouths, let alone those coming from the person in front of us. How are you? Very well, thank you. Have a great trip! Thanks, you too! Oh wait, you gave me my ticket…you aren’t going on this trip. Oy.
I need to tell you about a time when I had to be honest with myself, and I am sorry if it hurts my loved ones to read it. I need all my new mamas and new mama friends to take note and share in the hopes that no one will ever, ever think they have to mask their true feelings. Because Postpartum Depression is real. Depression is real. If we pretend that everything’s OK, then everyone else out there suffering will think they are the only ones; that they are alone. You are not alone.
I’ve mentioned before that my health was not great at the time of my second son’s birth. I spent my entire pregnancy on pain medication so that I could move – no exaggeration – and care for Max who was only 21 months by the time Quint was born. I weaned myself off the medication so that Quint would not be born dependent, only to develop PUPPPS (Pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy), which is a VERY itchy skin condition (imagine a bumpy rash all over your body that is completely and totally relentless), not at all related to the pain meds, but definitely uncomfortable. My OB/GYN and pelvic pain doctor were in accord that I had to have a C-section (again), and that a hysterectomy following recovery would be advisable. And friends, I hate to frame my situation this way because I was so excited to meet this little person who had defied all odds to be with us. I was miserable, but my Quint was an answered prayer, which made what happened in the months to come so hard to reconcile.
I often wonder: Were we doomed from the start?
I waddled into L&D at 10cm while my husband parked the car. I held my breath so that they could prep me for my pre-determined C-section. My little Q screamed and screamed because he couldn’t latch well. Our feeding issues lasted days in the hospital and months at home. I supplemented. I changed formulas. He screamed. I didn’t heal well. My body hurt. It was painful to hold my son who only wanted to be held. My mom and mother-in-law took care of Max, my husband, my house, and me, while I tried to focus on feeding my inconsolable son and pushing through the pain.
At six weeks postpartum my hysterectomy took place. On our fourth wedding anniversary no less. I can’t really capture the heartbreak of pumping breastmilk during surgery prep to keep up your supply, all the while knowing you are undergoing a procedure that will decimate your chance at creating life again. My brain knew it was necessary. I had to get back to living. My heart bled full-out. I wanted more babies. I wanted more time.
While the surgery went as planned, my recovery did not. A week following the procedure, I had a reaction to the surgical glue used to seal the incision sites. I had to leave my children, again, and my husband had to take off work again, to drive me in to the doctor. Of all the things we’d been through, I don’t think anything affected my husband as much as this visit. Two nurses, on either side of me had to peel off all the glue from my abdomen with tweezers. It was unbearable. My husband reached out and held my hand when we drove home. There weren’t any words to say.
If my story was a made-for-Lifetime movie, this would be my moment to fight back and heal. I’d get a grip on the life I had been missing for so long, and we’d all live happily ever after. In truth, things only got worse. Max was terrified of Quint. He was too noisy and his incessant crying scared Max. I couldn’t lift either child to offer comfort. My amazing mother kept all of us going. My husband went to work and came home to a madhouse. I felt like a failure.
Then these little voices started their subtle, yet, catastrophic attack.
“You can’t even take care of your own children.”
“What mother can’t console her son?”
“What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you get up and do something?”
Over and over again. I cried all the time. I lost my will to try.
And then the most detrimental of all: “Your family would be better off without you.”
And I agreed! Those evil voices were right! I was the broken part of this unit. Everyone else is FINE except for me!
Where do you go with that? How does one simply…disappear? I quickly dismissed ending my own life. My brother had done that, and I couldn’t hurt my family again in that way. And then in a twisted resolution, I started to fantasize about how else I could go. Maybe a car accident where the kids were fine, but I didn’t make it? What if I attempted to intervene in a robbery at the bank and I was fatally wounded? Even writing this, it is ridiculous how seriously these scenarios presented themselves to my sick brain. I remember thinking that people are always remembered in such a rose-colored light after they die. No one will remember my failures as a mother. My kids will be raised knowing I was a good person, but at least it will be by somebody better than me.
And then I’d cry because I was wishing emotional trauma on my children. I’d think: What a horrible person you are. There was no escaping this hell.
My dears, it took every ounce of my being to get out of bed in the morning. When Quint would wake up in the night, I’d curse and cry and wish that someone else would get him. Anyone would do it better than I could.
After the boys were asleep, my husband would prompt me to get a shower, or eat something. I’d sit on the edge of my bed and make a mental list of all the things I didn’t get done that day. I’d feel defeated once again. Then some days I’d have fits of frustration and agitation where any energy I could muster would come out in a rage toward my husband or my children. All verbal, but definitely nothing they deserved. And afterwards I’d feel such guilt. All the time I was guilty of being mean, being lazy, being a pathetic excuse for a mother and a wife. After all, that’s what those voices said – and they were right.
For some reason, though, one night was different. I took my shower and walked downstairs to where my husband was watching TV. I remember very clearly sitting on the couch opposite him and saying, “I can’t do this any more. I need help.”
God Bless that man because he looked up at me, and without missing a beat he said, “OK, who do you want to see?”
And there, in that moment, a little spark was ignited within me. I pushed through the dungeon walls of my brain and finally spoke out against the vicious lies were poisoning my life.
Everything is not OK. But I am going to do something about it.
It took some doing and some gentle reminders, but I finally made an appointment to talk to my doctor. My husband stayed home with the boys so I could go by myself, and I didn’t hold a thing back. I trusted that he would listen to me, and Dr. D didn’t let me down.
I got my official diagnosis of Postpartum Depression and left with a prescription and a recommendation for cognitive behavioral therapy.
All better? No. On the right track? Yes.
I tried 4 different medications, none of which worked out for me completely, but over the course of these trials, I found my voice again. So when the doubts and uncertainty crept up, I was able to push back instead of giving in. I also began physical therapy to address my persistent pain issues. Apparently, having no core strength, paired with a super sensitive pelvic floor, and an upper/lower diastasis recti can be pretty painful! It put to rest my fears that the hysterectomy had not done its job in alleviating my pain. I knew what I was working for, and I was determined to be physically capable of caring for my boys.
It became that in my doing, I was constructing a solid foundation of hope. I no longer felt worthless; I knew that my family was worth fighting for. By golly, I was worth fighting for. My children needed me (me!), and I was going to be there for them.
So when I look at a new mother, I now want to ask the hard question: How are you really?
I want her to feel safe enough to share. I want her to dismiss the guilt, and the burden, and have the courage to say, “Everything’s not OK.”
I must help her see that she is worth fighting for.
We all are.