Yesterday, I read about the tragic death of a fellow mama in BC. It broke my heart to read her story and watch the footage of where she was last seen alive. And so at 2 am last night after I fed my own new babe, I lay awake thinking about her little family that she left behind. Her little one, her husband, her parents.
Postpartum issues have only recently started to be discussed as a normal occurrence. Slowly but surely, the days of seeing article after article of postpartum women basking in the glow of their newborn (read: vernix) are being replaced with real talk about the real hormonal foul play that occurs and is frightening.
Don’t get me wrong. After the recent birth of my son, Micah, I experienced the glow that I didn’t have with my first. So, I’m by no means saying that everyone is depressed after they give birth. No. If you are not depressed, anxious, ragey, or anything ‘off the scales’, I’m wickedly happy for you and I experienced that too this time. It was awesome and that should be talked about too because moms need to hear the good stuff.
But as is pretty typical in life, it’s really easy to talk about the good stuff. The good times. Our culture thrives on it, in fact. And therefore, in a culture that cultivates norms of ‘quick fixes’, convenience, pain-masking, pain surpressing, hard times rejecting, expectations of constant marital bliss, isolating motherhood, Pinterest motherhood, passive fatherhood, discipline free = pain-free childhoods, kale (i just threw that one in there for good measure..), and ‘my child is gonna die if I look away’ attitudes, talking about how some women may not be blissful postpartum just sounds wrong and awful. It sounds like someone should call CAS (cause that’s what we do now right?).
So not only does a mother have to battle her own feelings, she also has to battle a culture that she perceives as judgemental, not supportive. Not open to her. Not catching her. Not there to help her. She can’t readily go next door and expect a warm smile, coffee and a cookie. And in the midst of her confusion, hormones, sleep deprivation and being a human feed bag, she confronts a culture that has isolated its mothers and put enormous pressure on them to be happy regardless.
Recently, in a conversation with some other moms about postpartum issues, we talked about how if even one person said out loud in a public forum that they experienced a type of darkness after birth that was real, frightening, and cultivated wildly terrifying thoughts of danger and harm, moms would feel more comfortable talking about their issues.
At the time, during that conversation, my resolve to be open if it happened to me this time (i was not open when it happened to me with my first and I regret it), was pretty high. But as is not surprising, in the past couple weeks I experienced some of the darkness and it was very difficult to say nary a word. Now that I’m through it, I feel compelled to say out loud what I could not then in case it helps you, mama. And I hope it does. So here goes:
For me, my depression and anxiety was sparked a 6 weeks. I was flyin’ high till then, back to a regular schedule of life at 4 weeks pp. I was doing school drop-off, errands, house cleaning, hosting people, making dinner and loving life. At around 6 weeks, we took on some extra things (some intentionally, others not) and I got overwhelmed when I tried to kick it into high gear to get through. I thought to myself, ‘ I’ve been feeling great, i’ll just take a day to rest with the baby and i’ll be fine.’
I was not fine. My mood started to slip, and I became very very very tired. I started having strong images of running away and what it would take to accomplish that. I started having feelings of detachment from my sons. I started isolating myself from people I know who love me who I could call in a heartbeat. I started crying alone in the bathroom, telling myself I was alone. I started physically curling my body into a ball in my bed, on the couch.. under any blanket I could find and cry. I struggled to tell anyone, even my husband. I picked up the phone to call a friend in a moment of courage and when she didn’t answer I wept and let it confirm everything that I knew to be true in that moment: I am alone. I want to leave. I need to leave. I need to buy formula. I need to write a note. I need to go. I need to go. I need to go.
I was lucky in that the darkness while real was not consistent. Often I would feel better if I slept for a couple hours. There was solace in that.
During one of my crying episodes in the bathroom, my husband came in and sat with me. And I couldn’t say a lot but I was able to say: “I don’t think i’m okay”. And then he asked me 50 billion questions because it was easier to say “Yes” or “no” then “I want to run away from you and the kids, noone loves me, part of me wishes I was dead already.”
Thankfully this conversation led to greater support for me from him- he would call me every day to ask me how I was doing till I could see my midwife in person. When I saw her, she called my doctor right away and made me an appointment for the following day. She told me to sleep, slow down, eat better, drink more water and basically act like I just had a baby.
In another moment, as tears streamed down my face, I was somehow able to voice to another mama that I was feeling terrifyingly alone and that I didn’t know how many steps lay between me and doing something that had permanent consequences. She told me she had had a similar experience and that I needed to talk to a doctor,
This was my darkness that gripped me.
I promise you, if you say it out loud, the darkness gripping you will lose some power. Maybe it won’t go away completely, you still probably need to seek help, but it will lose some. Some of those powerful feelings of isolation you are having will lose what feels like a strong foundation and you can grip to something else: hope. Even if you can for a moment.
I want to leave you with 3 action items:
1. If you are experiencing any of what I just described please talk to someone. Believe me that you are loved even if it doesn’t feel like it. Find a moment of light if you can.
2. If you are pregnant or going to give birth soon, have a real conversation with your partner or supportive people in your life about Post pardum issues and what to look out for. My husband and I did this and I wish we had read more things together on what to look for as oppose to a general conversation before I gave birth. You may not be aware when the darkness is gripping you, so they really need to be. do the same with your medical caregiver.
3. If you are a mama who has experienced postpartum anxiety/depression/rage, I am asking that you please consider commenting below with your experience.
You have no idea who you may be helping or impacting today, who you may be saving. We aren’t all living side by side anymore, mothering together, doing life together where these things may become obvious. so i’m asking you today:
will you put your heart out there today, for the sake of the one beside you in the trenches?
When will we start talking postpartum mood disorders seriously?