This is What Postpartum Depression Looks Like
Quite a while ago, I saw an article with smiling moms and babies that was attempting to dispel the myth that postpartum is something that you can see; that it is visible to the naked eye. No one, except my mother and my partner, even suspected that I had postpartum because they were the only ones who saw me cry even when things were going "right." Once I was diagnosed, a family member did even really believe it because I was functioning so well. As a friend of mine once stated, PPD is a monster, and what people don't often realize is that it is a quiet monster that inhabits you from the inside, the absolute core of new mamas.
The picture that accompanies this post is from my daughter's first birthday and, granted, I was doing a lot better by then. But I want to show what postpartum looks like because, what I'm realizing is that it doesn't really have an expiration date. At fifteen months, from a clinical standpoint, women are usually back to a semblance of "normal" - whatever that means once you have kids - but some, like me, continue the struggle that comes in waves and sometimes threatens more vigorously with the unexpected jerk and background tug of an dark emotional undertow.
I don't really want to repeat all that has been said, very eloquently, by other mothers on the subject. But I do want women to know that it comes in many forms and manifests in different ways. Some clinicians now consider it more of a spectrum insofar as it can start in pregnancy and continue well beyond and look different at different stages. I guess what I do want to say is what I needed to hear in my darkest hours, so here goes.
- You are not alone. Many, many women experience postpartum and you are not a bad person because you are having this experience.
- You will get better. I absolutely f*ing PROMISE even if it takes bucket loads of meds and intensive weekly counselling sessions. Do it. You're worth it. And there is greener grass on the other side of that hazy black fog.
- This is your experience of motherhood, and even though it feels like a raw deal, it will prepare you for the challenge of motherhood as a whole like nothing else. If you thought you were strong before, watch out world, cause now you are one ferocious beast mama. You can do anything. You're a mother.
- My postpartum turned out to be a gift. A scary, sh*t-soaked, dark tunnel of a goddamned gift but a gift nonetheless. It made me find my voice as a mother and as a woman more fully. It made me rethink my priorities, the way I live my life, the way I value my time and the uselessness of not accepting what is. Some of that just motherhood will do to you but I think that the depth of the transformation is born out of struggle. Oh and I struggled.
- Everyone wants to support you. Tell them so they can.
- Don't be ashamed of not having a joyful experience. Sanitized motherhood is only for the faint of heart. It's all a rollercoaster of impossible and beautiful. Some of us just have to trudge into deeper waters to find the joy.
- Don't let other people define your experience of motherhood. Just because your friend Karen just popped a baby out with the same ease as a blackhead and can't stop telling you about ALL THE JOY that this baby brings to her heart does not mean that that is the only experience or the one you "should" be having. It means it's hers. Yours is yours. And they are both sickly sweet and beautiful.
- Don't let anyone shame you for feeling the way you do. Don't apologize for not having the feelings, or having scary thoughts, or wanting it to be all over. Just talk about with people you trust so that you can get better more quickly.
- Accept your experience as it is so that you can work on ways to bring joy back into your life.
- Don't associate with people who tell you that "it doesn't get easier." Well, don't cut them out completely, especially if they are you know your mom or your partner (shout out to my mom and my partner for never doing this! WOOT WOOT!) but say this phrase at every opportunity: "Oh yeah? Do you still have to change your kid's diaper, feed them by hand, and get up with them 1000 times a night? I didn't think so." Yes, being a parent means always being a parent but if you seriously cannot remember how terrible it is at the very beginning, then you should never, ever talk to new mothers. Like, EVER.
You are magical. You are strong. You don't have to feel anything you don't want to. Find the joy in the little things. I almost cried with joy the first time I bathed my daughter because it was the first time I had felt happy since she was born. So now, water connects us.
Her and I sink and swim in this beautiful mess together.