Many of the blog posts I write relate to motherhood, my experiences raising my children, and the joys, challenges, and simple moments of being a mom. I like to keep things light and helpful, with an undertone of health and wellness. This light, joyful approach to motherhood hasn’t always been my experience, however; in fact, some of my close friends and family know that when I first became a mom, I experienced a kick in the gut of postpartum depression. I’ve decided to write about this time in my life in case there are other moms out there dealing with this turmoil of hormones. Sometimes reading about someone else’s experience can make you feel less alone, more normal, and helps you to find assurance that everything is going to be ok.
My son Joseph will be three years old this January. He was born in the wee hours of Martin Luther King Day on a bitter cold and snowy morning. Less than 24 hours after he was born, we got hit with yet another snow storm, one of the many that blanketed Boston that winter. As I lay in the hospital bed with my warm, healthy, cherub baby boy sleeping peacefully on my chest, my stomach churned with feelings of doubt, insecurity, and gloom. I tried to tell myself that these gut feelings were just the baby blues that I had read about, but deep down I knew something was more wrong.
Joseph was one specimen of an infant. Born at ten pounds on the dot, he nursed immediately, peed and pooped beautifully, and loved being held by all doting friends and family members. In my first few weeks of motherhood, the three most common phrases I heard were: Isn’t he amazing? and Don’t blink – it goes by so fast! and Enjoy every moment! Guilt crept into my gut and secured its place among doubt, insecurity, and gloom because I wasn’t enjoying every second. I wanted it to go faster. And I honestly don’t think I could appreciate how amazing he was.
The two week window of the baby blues came and went, yet I couldn’t shake this more-than-blue feeling. Sure I was sleep deprived and exhausted from nursing, but why did I feel like I wanted to run away? Why did I desperately miss my old life? Why did I want so badly to not have this little life depend on me for everything? Those thoughts scared me, but for many weeks I wouldn’t look into the fact that I was suffering from something more than sleep-deprivation and a hormone readjustment. This cocktail of hormones that was redistributing throughout my body was not mixing well.
One spring day when Joseph was three and a half months old, I googled “postpartum depression.” I started reading that about 10% of women suffer from postpartum depression, but this made me feel even more like a failure. Only 10%? Surely it must be more. There must be other new moms out there who feel trapped, tired, and swollen. It had to be more than 10%. I came to my own conclusion that only 10% of women report experiencing postpartum depression but that hundreds, even thousands of women quietly suffer alone, embarrassed to not be “enjoying every moment.” As I read through lists and lists and lists of postpartum depression symptoms, I became more confused. I had some of these symptoms, but not all. Was I just totally wacked out now? Did I actually have postpartum depression?
Finally – FINALLY – I came to this one particular website that spoke to me. I read the following paragraph and felt relief like I hadn’t felt in months:
You may not be experiencing all of the symptoms … or even most of them. Postpartum depression and anxiety are not “one-size-fits-all” illnesses. Your experience may include just a few of the symptoms and you may not have others at all.
Not one-size-fits-all. May not be experiencing all of the symptoms. May not have others at all. I remember my eyes blurring with tears as I sat at my kitchen table. The sink was full of dishes and Joseph slept soundly in his car seat. I have this. I thought to myself. While admitting this felt scary, a tiny glimmer of hope nudged into my gut. That same gut that had been in turmoil for the past three and a half months. If I know what I have, I can start to get better.
Finding this website was the first step in my healing. The second step was telling my husband. He knew I had not been myself since Joseph was born, yet his world had been turned upside down as well after becoming a first-time dad. We had both been adjusting to roles as new parents, and these were unchartered waters. I remember showing him the website, telling him that I think I’m suffering from postpartum depression, and it all clicked with him as well. It felt liberating to speak those word out loud – I have postpartum depression – and be met with support and compassion, not shame and disappointment.
Next, I found a support group in my area to attend. I was not against medication, but I wanted to try some other forms of healing first. I can’t recommend support groups enough. Talking with other moms in the safety of this group was a turning point my getting well. I remember another mom, suffering herself, offering me advice. She was so selfless and kind, clearly hurting herself yet still able to offer love and support to me, a fellow new mom experiencing a similar traumatic entry into motherhood. I felt normal and less alone than I had in months.
In addition to the support group, my husband made a big effort to support me having more time for myself to re-charge. Oftentimes this “me-time” would come in the form of yoga class. Ben would make a point to come home from work early so I could head out to the studio. Yoga, at this point, was not about the exercise. Instead, the heat from the Bikram Yoga class, the safe environment in which I could take care of myself, and the mental break my mind received from listening to the teacher instructing the class all helped to slowly get me well.
Another concrete change that had a big shift in my healing was when Joseph started eating solid foods. I had been breastfeeding and pumping, so to have some of the pressure taken off me was a great relief.
A side-note to the postpartum depression is that just until recently, I realized I was also suffering from D-Mer (Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex). This is a rare (or maybe not so rare?) condition when basically, a mom experiences negative emotions when breastfeeding. Yeah, negative emotions when breastfeeding. Awful. And in my case, I was breastfeeding my big boy ALL THE TIME. You can read more about D-Mer here to answer more questions. It took having my second child 20 months later and not experiencing these negative emotions to realize that something was very wrong the first time around. Needless to say, exclusively breastfeeding my son with this condition did not help the way I was feeling.
Weeks passed by and then months. Joseph was 6 months old in the middle of the summer, and longer days and warm weather shifted my mood and mindset. While I wasn’t yet completely comfortable and confident in my new role as a mom, the dark cloud of depression started to dissipate.
While this time in my life was scary and dark, I don’t want to forget it. I want to be able to talk to new moms and support friends who may be feeling this way. I want to tell them that resources exist to help them feel better. No mom should be embarrassed or ashamed for getting hit with postpartum depression, she can’t help it. The sooner I identified what was actually wrong, the sooner I found myself on the road to recovery. Babies need a lot of care. A tremendous amount of physical, emotional, exhausting care. But moms do too.Motherhood is a wildly exciting, emotionally draining, life changing role. So pace yourself. Take time for yourself. And never be afraid to reach out to those who will support you.