One year ago this month I was diagnosed postpartum depression (PPD) . I had classic, textbook symptoms that resulted in Jamari and I reaching out to the doctor for help. From the moment the diagnosis “postpartum depression” left my doctor’s lips, I decided I would speak about it openly because I refused to be a stigma. In many cultures, women have an entire month to recuperate from child birth and are catered to; recognizing that child birth requires healing both mentally and physically. Meanwhile, in America, we put pressure on women to bounce back the day after they give birth. There is a ruthless expectation that 24 hours after giving birth (the time in which you are discharged from the hospital), you will lose your baby weight, know how to be a mother, instantly bond with the child you’ve birthed, and cook a roasted chicken dinner with sides for the 17 people at your clean house waiting to greet you from the hospital and touch your child. For me, that didn’t happen. Instead I hated my new role, I hated my body, I hated coming home without nurses, I didn’t want visitors, and I simply didn’t want to touch my newborn or hear her cry. The pressures of being a new mom and failing to feel how everyone told me I would overwhelmed me. The anxiety I felt was suffocating. I felt forced into this new role and I wanted to back out as soon as possible. But why? I had every gadget imaginable, a supportive husband, a healthy baby, and every tool needed to be super mom. PPD doesn’t discriminate, you can have four children and never have it before but the fifth one it appears. It’s new moms, seasoned moms, mom’s that tried for years to conceive, young moms, older moms, single moms…and dads. PPD not only consumes women, but men can suffer as well.
I knew something was off immediately but couldn’t put my finger on it. I kept circling back to my doctor sitting at my bedside in the hospital explaining that “baby blues” are a real thing but if it lasts longer than a few weeks to reach out. I felt like he knew something I didn’t the way he scanned the room and made sure to make eye contact with Jamari about the “reach out” part. I felt so overwhelmed as a new mom. I just gave birth and now the hospital was going to let me take this itty-bitty little baby home with no instructions or follow-up? Jamari and I weren’t even sure how to get the car seat installed properly, but we were expected to be instant parents?
My tears never stopped. I didn’t have expectations for what motherhood would be as a first time mom, but I kept thinking, “why would anyone want to do this” because I would continue crying for days. Tears for absolutely no reason just streaming down my face. Everything triggered the tears; when it was time to breastfeed, when it was time to change a diaper, when someone asked, “how are you”, when I knew visitors would be coming over. The anxiety I had when Audrey would cry was suffocating. It didn’t help that she was diagnosed as colic (what a load of BS) and would scream for hours each day, everyday. I felt incredibly disconnected from the world, my newborn baby, and myself. I had no idea if this was a normal emotionally response postpartum, but I knew I felt empty and I didn’t want this to continue. I had no interest in holding Audrey, caring for her, or being a mom. I kept vocalizing that I wanted my old life back and I hated this.
Jamari was incredibly supportive during this time, and for anyone who knows him knows that tears and emotions aren’t his forte. He knew something was wrong, his wife was a shell of the person she was while pregnant and I wasn’t connecting to the role of “mom” as we had both expected. We attempted to consult ‘Dr. Google’ to find support and read about other Moms who felt like I did, but couldn’t find much. I was so discouraged and numb. Everyone who I talked to kept asking me questions about being a first time mom, and making comments like, “isn’t being a mom the most amazing feeling.” No, no it wasn’t. I would vocalize that I didn’t even want to be a mom and would receive looks of horror. Then I would hear, “no worries, it’s normal.” But, it isn’t. The feeling of wishing myself away and thinking Audrey would likely be better off without me is not a normal feeling, and woman should stop telling each other this. THIS is a cry for help, and if someone tells you something like that, be an open listener and know that was their attempt to reach for help.
Fast forward to diagnosis day and I accepted a prescription for medication to assist in getting me out of this postpartum period. My doctor assured me that this diagnosis did not define me as a mother and I was doing the best thing for our family. It was difficult to accept that the easy transition into motherhood that every other new mom I knew fell into wasn’t happening to me. I even felt compelled to defend the prescription to the pharmacy tech as I picked it up saying, “the doctor said I only have to take this for a few months because of PPD”. I secretly made a promise to myself; I would take the medication for two months and if I felt no different I would get off the medication.
I took my medication with the mindset that I would be getting off immediately because I didn’t really need it. After 3 weeks, I noticed a difference. An amazing, life altering, difference. I connected with the world around me and the fog that I was living in for the weeks prior dissipated and everything around me made sense. When I looked at Audrey and heard her coo, my heart melted. I felt connected to my baby for the first time and began to enjoy all of the mundane things being a mom meant. For the first time since giving birth, I wanted to be a mom and I didn’t fear that I was incapable of my duties. The constant tears stopped and I was able to get through the day without having to retreat to my room to hide. It was then that I realized how disconnected I previously was.
I speak out because I couldn’t find the support I needed when I needed it. Too many women feel every emotion I felt but fight silently to go through day to day life. They fear that they will be labeled, will be outcasted because they didn’t bounce back like their friends. I wrote an Instagram post on it, and began to get messages from other women who have suffered but never said anything. Messages poured in from friends who I never knew suffered, from strangers, from people who social media made seem everything was perfect. So many women reached out to me thanking me for the bravery it took to speak out, but I don’t speak out for the accolades. I speak out because we can’t continue to pretend this isn’t real. You can be the happiest person on the planet before delivering your baby and BOOM like a ton of bricks and completely out of nowhere, you can develop PPD. It does not define you or make you less than a mother. PPD also doesn’t happen instantly, like mine did; you can develop the condition months after you deliver. I don’t know everything about PPD and I don’t pretend to, every situation and person is different. But, I know my story and I promised myself that I would speak about it for Audrey, for Jamari, for every woman who suffers silently while sitting on the floor in their shower crying and thinking they wish they could just disappear.
One Year Later
I still take my medication and am not sure how long I will continue for. Part of me is using it as a security blanket for fear that I will regress if I am off of it. I no longer fear being a mom or failing Audrey. I no longer vocalize internally or externally that I don’t want to be a mom, I absolutely love my role. I have come to terms that social media can be the fog I was once living in, it isn’t always real, so I don’t try to keep up. Many of my social media posts show me with no makeup, mom bun, yoga pants, and a latte because..that’s my life. If bedtime is 6:30 one day because I just can’t handle much more then that is totally fine. Dinner doesn’t need to be an elaborate four course meal (I’ve never made a four course meal), take out is there for a reason. Most days I am not put together and that is life, I embrace that they make dry shampoo, concealer, and face masks for a reason. I have traveled solo with Audrey, developed a routine, and learned things that make us both happy; considering all of those a challenge instead of fear. I have an incredible support tribe which is critical to surviving PPD. My tribe is spread across the country with my best friend living back in PA, my church being in CA, my Mom being in PA, and friends internationally. I can call them anytime and know they understand me and will step in wherever they can. Jamari was thrown into this emotional roller coaster with me and lost his wife for a few months, but never gave up. He sat with me while I cried, took the brunt of the frustrations I felt, and fought harder than I knew he would for me to pull through; I am so grateful for his patience and resilience through this. I am now the mom I thought I could be and everyone around me told me they knew I would be. Not everyday is perfect, actually I don’t think I have ever had a perfect day, but I am surviving this life called motherhood healthy and happy.
Tips for PPD
Be brave and seek help. It can be through medication, counseling, a support tribe, anything to vocalize that you recognize you need help. Help can be in the form of someone offering to clean up your house, bring you dinner, watch the baby while you shower. Take any and all help offered. You don’t need to be a superhero. You deserve the right to ease into things.
Take time for yourself. Self care is essential and you have to care for yourself before you can be expected to care for your family. Take time to do something you enjoy; the gym, yoga class, getting your nails done.
Don’t isolate yourself. It is so easy to fall deeper and deeper into the dark hole of PPD and isolate yourself from everything around you that once made you smile. Try to keep positive people in your circle and keep them informed.
Say no when you need to. You don’t need visitors, no matter how badly people want to see the baby if it is too much stress for you then say no. People will understand, and if they don’t then you probably don’t need them in your life. You don’t need inconsiderate people in your circle. You don’t have to go to events if you aren’t up to it.
Develop a routine. It will help you to maintain some form of normalcy when you feel like your life is cycling out of control. I would give myself a few tasks a day to maintain a routine to my week which would force me to get out of bed on the days I didn’t want to leave.
Don’t rush things. Just because you were pregnant with this little human for 9 months doesn’t mean you have to feel love instantly. It is completely normal for things to take time, for your connection to grow, and for you to develop into the mom you want to be. Take time to get to know your baby, their personality, their cues.