While everyone is making lists of resolutions and preparing their excuses for why they didn’t follow through with trying to better themselves, I’m reminded of a time when our family made some big changes that had nothing to do with a new year but did result in a happier, healthier Lady. Buckle up, folks. Here’s the tale of my bumpy ride with postpartum depression.
Twenty-four hours after my water broke, twelve hours after labor started, and ninety minutes after the first real push, my second child, a summertime baby boy, was finally here and on my chest. Little did I know that the previous nine months would seem like a dream compared to what lay ahead for the both of us.
Truth be told, the boy was born into a hectic home. The girl was 16 months old and happily running our lives. Construction was well underway at the house, and there were many visitors coming in and out of town. The Man was working so much (days and nights) that he not only almost missed the boy’s birth but he was also away for the boy’s first night home and again for an entire week when the boy was just a week old. I had a bad stay at the hospital after delivery and was rushed back by ambulance a week later with a uterine infection. Our situation was destined for trouble right from the start.
Four weeks in, the boy was still fussy at feedings and anytime he needed to sleep. Six weeks in, we decided to involve the pediatrician. Eight weeks in, once he was taken off of breastmilk and was diagnosed with multiple food protein allergies, the parade of medical professionals and procedures that would enter our lives was just beginning. Looking back, that was probably when my postpartum depression fully set in. It was so much more than baby blues.
The boy cried all the time. All. The. Time. Everyone told me, and I told myself, that it would get better after those first three months. We read the books, did everything that worked and didn’t work on the girl, and went doggedly forward chanting, “three months, three months, three months.” Nothing changed when the boy turned three months. I think I died a little that day.
The Man was always, always working and coming home to a rambunctious girl, a crying boy, and a deflated Lady. My friends and family told me to get out of the house, so I tried to go to playgroups and ladies’ nights. It just made me feel worse. I was surrounded by supermoms! These were ladies who took care of their homes, spouses, children, and themselves seemingly without flaw. They cooked, cleaned, crafted, and chatted all while I cried, cried, and cried. I would smile at them, add my two cents to the conversation, and then run off to the bathroom to sob into towels to muffle the noise. I cried over the guilt of being happy to be away from home for a few moments of peace. I cried over the sadness of my sweet boy trying to live without a remedy for his ailment. I cried over being in a room full of people I considered friends who had no clue how awful my life really was.
I was unhappy all the time. All. The. Time. I never wanted to hurt my children, ever, but I didn’t want to be around them because I wanted better for them and for my husband, my family, and my friends. I was brought to my knees in constant, pleading prayer, begging God to help them all survive me! I wanted to leave, disappear into a hole, and let someone capable come in and take over. I was sure that even a stranger could fill my role better than I could. What kind of mother has a daughter who never leaves the house to play? What kind of mother has a son who cries all day and all night? What kind of wife argues constantly with her husband? What kind of woman lives through the suffering of a miscarriage but then is unhappy with her life as a stay-at-home mom? The harsh voice of judgment incessantly hurled questions at me and I went farther down with each blow.
It all culminated in a terrible fourth month when I made every bad decision that I could and continued to hide as much of my pain as was possible. I was told that my comments, online, on the phone, and in person, were too depressing (even though I thought I was barely putting out what was really going on), so I bottled up even more and charged forward into the darkest days. After a horrible holiday season, I found myself in the girl’s room, huddled into a phone, whispering to a counselor through tears, “Please…please help me. It’s so, so bad. I just need help.” The next week I went in for my first counseling session.
I’m not going to say it was a life-changing hour. It was not. I spent the entire first month of therapy simply recounting, out loud, every negative thought I had…and there were a lot of them! For her part, the counselor listened patiently, without judgment, and softly directed me to keep trying, ignore the thoughts of worthlessness, and reach outside of myself for the healing I needed. She told me that first I had to get better if I wanted my life to get better. She was so right! Like too many mothers, I had forgotten about myself, and I did not ask for help, two terrible decisions.
In my depression, it seemed to me that I was asking for help putting on a new pair of shoes. I wanted them. I loved them, but I just couldn’t get them on my feet. I watched other ladies wear their shoes proudly, walking, running, jumping, and dancing to their soles’ desire…and I couldn’t even lace mine. How could I possibly ask for help putting my shoes on? They’d laugh. They’d judge! They’d shake their heads and use their most sympathetic voices at poor me. So I kept silent, suffered, and berated myself for not being better at living the life I had created.
In all those months with my darling boy, I did not care about me. I put him, the girl, the Man, my family, and my friends first. I worried about hurting, burdening, disappointing, or depressing them. Finally, at six months in, I started doing for me, even though every inch of my being told me that I did not deserve it. I showered often. I think I shaved my legs on occasion. I ate three healthy meals a day. I drank my morning coffee sitting down! I went out of the house alone, with the kids, and with friends. I started exercising! That’s how serious it was, people. All the while, I kept going to therapy. I asked for help. I discussed my feelings! I even peed alone. Oh, that’s right. I dared to shut the door and let the kids cry on the other side, so I could pee all by myself.
Two months of this new behavior and a break in the boy’s illness (which was never accurately diagnosed) got me out of my depression and back to my old self again, just a better version. The boy was about eight months old. We suffered together for that entire time…my sweet boy and I. I had lost myself so completely that I can’t accurately remember events from those months. I was a different Lady then. Turns out, I’m an excellent actress! Only the people who lived in our house knew just how terrible it was. Very few people knew about my postpartum depression once I was diagnosed. In caring for my son and the ones I loved, I forgot to nurture myself. The results were abysmal! I learned an invaluable lesson through my ordeal: taking care of others absolutely includes taking care of yourself.
And now? We’re all doing so much better! The boy finally smiles, and he gives hugs and kisses too. He shovels real food into his mouth by the chubby fistfuls, and he laughs so often! Funniest kid I know. Until a few months after he turned two, he had a special diet, a feeding specialist, a physical therapist, and a speech therapist to help him catch up in his development. It seems that when you spend your first eight months doing nothing but laying and crying, you miss out on a lot! I continued therapy once a week for an entire year. At my last session, the counselor called me a true success story. I could not have been more proud to hear it! Despite our battles and bruises, the Man and I held tight and went on to have a third child. What can I say? When the Man and I make up, we really make up! Although I was at a higher risk for PPD since I’d already had it, I wasn’t worried about life with the baby. I knew the signs of trouble, and so did the people close to me. We were prepared. Turns out we didn’t have to be because other than days and nights of loud, adorable, complicated, endless chaos, it’s been smooth sailing for this family of five.
Would I wish PPD on someone? Never. But there were certainly some hidden gems in my struggle. I have learned to believe that I am a good mother, wife, daughter, sister, and friend. I’m confident that most days I’m going to lose my mind and find an incredible degree of love in a home with three energetic children and two tired adults. Really tired.
And you, dear reader? What did this story do for you? If any part of it felt familiar to you, please ask for help. If any part of it sounded like someone you know, please offer your help! The single greatest lesson I learned from my experience was that help isn’t a four letter word. It’s a way out of the darkness and back into the light. So let your light shine, dear reader. Let it shine.
If you or someone you know might be suffering from postpartum depression, please contact a licensed medical professional for support and guidance on what to do next. For more information about PPD, read here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0004481/