I read the list of Postpartum Depression symptoms. What surprised me was that nearly every single item looked normal.
Everybody feels this way after having a baby, right? I mean, every mom feels hopeless and numb and so, so sad and distant from her baby sometimes, right?
Many moms do, but that doesn’t make it normal.
Oh yeah…those intrusive thoughts, the ones so violent and terrifying that I buried them deep down and tried to forget? When was I going to face those? Not normal.
What stared me in the face as I read that article was not just a mirror of my symptoms, but the understanding that I was trying to rationalize my situation away. I’m an emotional person. I feel things deeply, reaching extremes often several times in the same day. I’m guilty of simmering in my own feelings until I can’t see straight. Introspection can rob my awareness of outer realities. So I have lots of practice telling myself things like: you’re being dramatic. You know it isn’t as bad as you feel it is. This won’t last! Hey, you birthed three other children and you’ve all survived, right?
Here’s the thing. All those things I told myself were true, at least some of the time. Rehearsing concrete facts sometimes helped me gain perspective during those bleary-eyed days that I’m only recently crawling out of. But my problem was that I wasn’t recognizing how deeply my mindset of shame isolated me and fed my depression.
This wasn’t my first brush with postpartum depression or depression itself. This was another brush with my habit of comparing and minimizing my depression, thus robbing myself of healthy growth. The tape playing in my head said, “you should be fine, get over it”. It is very closely related to another familiar voice I’ve listened to for far too long. This one tells me I can’t and don’t understand my situation properly and I can’t trust my perspective. As you can imagine, it is paralyzing. It is not a voice of freedom. There’s a lot more I’ll write about on this later…
After reading that article I stood in the shower obsessing it over. I tried, from every angle, to say I did not have PPD. Stephanie, this is just one of your low moods. (That has lasted for weeks.) What do you expect to do to help yourself, frolic in nature all day? Paint your nails while watching hours of chick flicks? Sounds like an excuse to be lazy and avoid the responsibility that you signed up for when you became a parent. Tomorrow you may not feel better, but you will feel very silly for thinking you should classify your little troubles as Postpartum Depression.
Please tell me you see how dangerous this type of thinking is! The message of shame is “be quiet!”. When I listened to that voice of shame that sounds so reasonable, I sank a little farther away from everyone who loves me. I sank both away from myself and deeper into myself at the same time.
Motherhood is so hard. Sleep deprivation is so hard. Thinking that you have to do hard things alone makes it worse and we were not designed to go through life that way. I began to see that the label of postpartum depression was not a title to restrict or define me, but a tool I could use to avail myself of help and healing. I winced inwardly when I told my husband, mom, and a few close friends “I think I’m struggling with postpartum depression”. Yet when I uttered those words, I took power away from what threatened to suffocate me and harm my family. I was no longer slugging it out on my own, in the dark. I took one more step towards trusting those around me that have proven their love for me again and again.
Mothers, postpartum depression is common, and it doesn’t look the same for everyone. If your struggles look nothing like a friends’ but something isn’t right, reach out. It does not make you weak. It does not make you a failure. It means you are a strong woman willing to face the music that threatens to signal your defeat and turn those notes into a theme of grace and triumph. Don’t try to do it alone. Vulnerability may not be easy. But those who love you want to do just that-love you.
Today as I rocked my baby to sleep I gazed at his eyelashes, round cheeks, and fuzzy hair. He’s less of a stranger to me than he was a month ago. Now I know that I know him, and he is a delightful person. I had prayed for him months ago. I wept when I thought I wouldn’t have him. Then when he arrived I felt like a total failure as his mom and feared I’d never bond with him. But now, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Some days panic grips me and tells me this is not over and I will fall back into this pit again. And I might. But if I do, I won’t be alone. And I don’t have to be quiet any more.
I’m still learning to destroy the voices that bind me. But I do know that the voice of freedom belongs to my God, and he has never left me. He has heard me, and he will hear me yet.
P.S. If you struggle with PPD or postpartum anxiety, please reach out to a family member, friend, or therapist. The above link has help resources too.