Having a baby is a beautiful thing. Well, not birth. Birth is rather disgusting in a number of ways, but welcoming a new life into your family is a joyous moment. Except when it’s not.
How can that be? How is it that something as beautiful and wonderful as a new little life can bring anything but happiness? The answer is that it can happen when you are dealing with post-partum depression. I know, because I’ve been there.
In July I gave birth to my fourth child. I had prayed for this baby. Months before we ever conceived I felt the longing in my heart for another daughter. God even gave me her name while I was praying. So, when I found out we were expecting I knew what a gift from God she was.
Elizabeth’s birth was fairly routine. Nothing ‘bad’ or truamatic happened. During my time in the hospital I seemed to be recovering quicker and better than I had with my other chidren. What a relief! I had three other children at home to care for, so I needed to bounce back FAST!
If you read my post For The Mom Who Couldn’t Bounce Back And Recover you can guess that my first mistake was pushing myself to jump right back into ‘normal’ life. I wanted to be able to get back to preparing meals, taking care of the kids, etc. So, when my body cried out for rest I ignored it. I started to have some pretty severe exhaustion and tailbone pain, so I would lay down and rest just long enough for them to pass. Even with my mother home to help out in the early days I just couldn’t let myself rest.
When Elizabeth was about two weeks old all of my daytime help returned to work and I was on my own to manage the house. I felt intense internal pressure to ‘keep up’ with everything. Little by little my mind began to focus on how I was failing. Those feelings of failure turned into feelings of worthlessness. I would often think to myself, “Why am I even here if I can’t do this? I could leave and my family would be just fine. Any idiot could take my place.” As those feelings grew I became increasingly short-tempered and miserable. I began to withdraw from everything. I stopped cooking real meals and stuck to only convenience/pre-made foods, because what was the point if I couldn’t cook a ‘real’ meal and get everything cleaned up afterwards? I stopped trying to do things with the kids and mostly had them watching shows while I sat on the sidelines watching. At the same time I began to experience strange physical symptoms. I was having a lot of unexplained ‘asthma attacks’, and would randomly get chest pains. My stress level was always “through the roof” and I was EXHAUSTED! I distinctly remember googling symptoms of heart attacks in women at one point. I knew something wasn’t right. I just didn’t know what.
Fast forward in time to September. I went to my first MOPs meeting. Everyone at my table seemed nice and maybe some time out of the house would get me out of this funk I was in. Our video for the week started and I began to feel the emotions building in me. No problem; I know how to keep my feelings tucked away. I managed to fight back the tears that had begun to fall and regain control. The nice lady next to me was a bit teary, too, so it wasn’t too embarrassing. When the video ended it was time for questions at our tables. I could do this. I could keep my emotions in check while participating in the discussion. At least that’s what I thought!
When that nice lady next to me cried a bit while sharing, a few tears began to run down my face. Then it was my turn to answer. In that moment, the dam broke. Everything I had been holding inside for months came flooding out in one giant, ugly, painfully vulnerable, sob-fest. I was talking about how the thing I was avoiding doing in my life was asking my husband for more help, because I felt like I was drowning. He was doing so much already, so I was ashamed to admit that it still wasn’t enough and I needed more help. Our mentor mom was sitting at my table and was kind enough to comfort me and give me tissue.
MOPs finished and I went home. Once the kids were down for quiet time I started to think about what happened that morning. The woman on the video had been talking about a friend who had been dealing with postpartum depression (PPD). The more I thought about it, the clearer things became. All these months I had been dealing with with PPD myself. I hadn’t wanted to admit it to anyone. I hadn’t even wanted to admit it to myself, but denying it didn’t change the facts.
I’d like to say that the moment I admitted what was going on I was all better, but that’s not how it went. Healing has been a slow (and still ongoing) process. Most days are good now, but some days are still hard. Each day I just keep doing the things I know help me heal and praying for God’s help. Here is what I have found helpful in my healing.
Just a reminder, I am not a doctor or counselor. This is solely my experience.
- Pray! First, let me point out that postpartum depression is NOT caused by a lack of faith or a sign that you are a weak Christian! That is not why I am saying to pray. God is here for you. He wants you to come to Him with your joys and your sorrows, your triumphs and your struggles. Come to God. Cry out to him! Ask Him for help and ask Him to send people into your life who can help you. Plus, Satan will sometimes use this opportunity to hit you where you are vulnerable. He knows what lies hurt you the most and he will whisper them in your ear to drag you further down into darkness.
- Tell someone. PPD is not something to try to face alone. This is the time to rally your support network. Tell your loved ones what is going on, because a) you need their support and b) you need the safety net of people there to make sure that you stay safe. It’s the sad/scary reality that sometimes PPD becomes severe enough that moms become a danger to themselves or others. This is NOT something to be ashamed of. Don’t hide because you are embarrassed, because you have nothing to be embarrassed about. Give those closest to you permission to say something if they feel that you are headed into unsafe waters.
- Seek advice from someone you trust. It may be your doctor, or your midwife, or a friend who has traveled this road before you. As crazy as it sounds, one of the first people I went to (after my family and best friend) was Sara Elizabeth from A Mama’s Story. She had posted several times during my pregnancy about her own experiences with postpartum depression. Normally I wouldn’t have bothered to read them, because it wasn’t really on my radar, but I believe this time God put it on my heart to read her story. When the time came I felt comfortable asking her for advice. I also sought out a friend who had been open about her own experiences with PPD.
- Medicine? This one is an intensely personal decision and I fully believe that there isn’t one clear right or wrong answer that will fit everyone. For some people, medicine is a lifesaver and a key factor in pulling them out of a very dark place. For others, the side effects of the medicines create more problems than they solve. For me, I chose not to use medicine because I have a history of being extremely sensitive to medication side effects, so I knew in my heart that it wasn’t right for me at that time.
- Get practical help. This one is especially helpful to do before your baby is born, but will still help even after you begin to deal with PPD. In an article on Baby Gooroo, Kathleen Kendall-Tackett discussed some research surrounding motherhood, “Stern and Kruckman noted that cultures who had low incidence of postpartum mood disorders all had rituals that provided support and care for new mothers.” If you read last week’s post about recovering from childbirth, you can probably guess that I believe that ignoring my body’s physical and emotional needs while recovering from Elizabeth’s birth contributed to my postpartum depression. This isn’t a ‘magic pill’ that will automatically prevent you from facing PPD, but it can go a long way to helping. If you find yourself in a dark time and dealing with PPD and you need help, ask for it. Ask your husband to take over some of the household duties. See if a friend or family member can help care for your baby (and any other kids you might have) one or two afternoons a week so you can get some rest (rest can be a key part of both physical and emotional recovery). If nobody can chip in and help with meals, take the easy way for a while and either choose easy/convenience foods (sandwiches, frozen food, spaghetti) or take-out for a bit.
Have you ever dealt with postpartum depression? What were some things that helped you?