In the last several years, more and more celebrity moms have opened up about their struggles with postpartum depression. They are women who look like they have it all. They are women we assume live perfect lives as they travel on private planes with their personal chefs and glam squads. They are women we would never think could have any problems because why would they? They are beautiful, famous, and wealthy enough to afford anything they want, including teams of baby nurses, nannies, and other child-care services that make a mom’s life easier.
They are also women you didn’t know struggled with mental health issues in their first year of motherhood because they kept it secret. They are women who became moms and had no clue that motherhood didn’t always come easy. Moms who didn’t know what was happening to them when they didn’t experience the magic of motherhood portrayed by the movies and TV shows they act in. Moms who didn’t admit they suffered from postpartum depression until after they made it through to the other side. Most importantly, they are moms who can teach all of us some valuable lessons about maternal mental health and why we must keep the conversation about this very serious, even life-threatening issue going.
Four years ago, I gave birth to a healthy baby boy. A few days after taking him home from the hospital, I became convinced I didn’t want to be his mother. I had made a terrible mistake by having a baby. I had no idea what was wrong with me. All I wanted was to be the perfect mother madly in love with my son. Two weeks later I was diagnosed with postpartum depression.
I don’t remember writing during that year while I was sick, but I recently came across an unlabeled composition notebook, and when I opened it, what I found inside broke my heart.
I wrote the following on May 27, 2013, two months after my son was born.
Yesterday, my son Mason turned 2 months old. Yes, I have a son and I wish I didn’t. I also have postpartum depression, which is apparently the reason I don’t want him. I now take anti-anxiety medicine and antidepressants. I see a psychiatrist every couple of weeks and a therapist twice a week.
When I had postpartum depression, I could barely leave the house. I rarely left the house with my new baby for almost six months. I was lucky if I could get out of bed and get dressed, let alone do the things that used to snap me out of a horrible mood. Getting my nails painted with the latest gel color wasn’t going to fix anything. Exercising just made me more tired and meant I had to be around people. Girls’ night was the last place I wanted to be. Showing up on my yoga mat wasn’t going to happen. Retail therapy wasn’t therapeutic at all. And the last thing I wanted to do was talk about what I was going through.
Postpartum depression is so much more than just being “moody.” It’s not an exaggerated form of that time of the month. It’s going to last longer than those two weeks of “baby blues.” It’s a serious mental illness that can present itself in so many different forms and requires medical treatment. Each woman’s journey and struggle will be unique to her, her symptoms, and her risk factors. As a result, many new moms don’t even recognize they have postpartum depression. They find themselves flooded with guilt, wondering how they could feel so miserable during what they thought would be the most magical time in their lives. They feel too ashamed to tell anyone because they don’t realize that one in seven women have some form of what they have. And like me, they don’t find any solace in the activities that used bring them joy.
Postpartum depression is not a one size fits all illness, which makes it difficult for outsiders to process. While every mom will get better with treatment, there is no formula that predicts when. Some women suffer for a few months. Some for much longer. I struggled for a year. Husbands, family members and friends want to help, but don’t always know how. They don’t always understand what mom is going through. What should they do? What should they say? Other moms might not get it if they didn’t have postpartum depression when their babies were born. Sometimes knowing what not to say is just as important when it comes to offering your support.
We’ve come a long way.
Do you remember what I was like when you were holding my new baby boy, your first grandson in this photo? You said it was as if a light suddenly went out in my eyes. That I looked like a ghost of my former self.
You also told me you would never let me stay that way. You said that one day my son would be my little buddy. You answered your phone every morning when I called you as I was walking circles around the neighborhood ugly crying to you that I would never get better. You promised me I would.
For Mother’s Day, I want to say, “Thank You.”
Stigma sucks. Stigma is the reason so many moms don’t talk about postpartum depression. The reason they struggle in silence. The reason they don’t ask for help and get the treatment they need to get better. The reason they would rather pretend life is perfect. The reason they take their own lives. Did you know that of the hundreds of thousands of women who suffer from a postpartum mood disorder, only 15 percent of them get treated? How heartbreaking and outrageous is that?
1 in 7 women who give birth each year experience symptoms resulting from a postpartum mood disorder. That’s close to 1 million women annually having some form of mental illness after the birth of their babies and close to 850,000 women not receiving the help they need to get better. That’s way TOO MANY women. Postpartum Progresss, Inc. reports that more women will suffer from postpartum depression and related illnesses in a year than the combined number of new cases for men and women of tuberculosis, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimers disease, lupus, and epilepsy. I bet people with these illnesses usually admit they are sick and seek professional care.
Getting postpartum depression was sort of like a death for me. It was the death of the perfect and perfectly happy mother I thought I would be when my baby arrived. You’ve seen her countless times on Pinterest boards and in Instagram photos. You’ve heard about her from friends, strangers, and celebrities who make motherhood look so easy and tell you it’s the most magical experience where you feel nothing but overwhelming love, joy, and the constant desire to spend every waking minute with your new baby.
You see her posting Facebook videos of herself, hair blown out, face fully made up, carrying her baby in that soft cotton sling every mom seems to own while she simultaneously purees her own baby food, designs the stickers she will use for those adorable monthly picture updates of her baby, and preps an organic meal filled with protein and vegetables for her and her husband to eat once she’s had her fill of breastfeeding, bonding, and reading time with her little one.
I thought I would be her. I had planned to be her during my whole pregnancy. I thought every mom I knew and followed was like her. Then I became a mom and learned I was nothing like her (it took me a bit longer to realize no mom is like her because she doesn’t exist) and that fairy-tale version of motherhood I sold myself died with her.
I’m probably going to get some slack for writing this article, but I want to discuss a parenting phenomenon I’ve observed too often lately. Why is it so much easier for dads to hire help and make their lives easier when watching their children? Why don’t they appear to feel guilty about this? And why do we, as moms judge and criticize them for it?
I know lots of moms, that when they make plans with friends for an afternoon or evening, their husbands often call a nanny, babysitter, or family member to come over and help with the kids. And when mom hears this, she responds with anger and frustration, complaining that she doesn’t understand why her husband can’t handle taking care of all the children alone, something she does every single day of the week.
I want to first differentiate between the men who are literally never alone with their children and refuse to be, forcing their wives to never be able to take a trip, attend a special event, or a night off with the girls unless they arrange for their own child care. I’m not talking about these men. That topic deserves its own post. I’m referring to the average hands-on, involved dad who likes an extra set of hand with his kids when mom isn’t home. Why shouldn’t these dads ask for help if they believe it will make their afternoon or evening easier?
I knew I wanted to write this post immediately after leaving my son’s occupational therapy evaluation, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted anyone to read it. Since I’m a mom who owns her flaws and believes in sharing my mistakes and what I’ve learned from them (thank you postpartum depression), here it goes. Maybe I can save you the time of repeating this one and you can move straight to the lesson learned part.
At the end of 2016, I met with my son’s preschool teacher for the mid-year conference. I always go into these things excited. My son loves school. He is so curious. He loves to discover new things. His imagination blows me away. I always want to learn more about what he does all day at preschool and the progress he is making.
I also go in nervous because we live in a world where we have become obsessed about our children’s development. Don’t try to tell me you’ve never obsessed. I’m guilty of it too. Before a parent teacher conference, even at his young age of four, there are always the thoughts of, “What if he isn’t making progress? What if he isn’t hitting the milestones appropriate for his age? What if he isn’t socializing with the other kids? What if he finds certain tasks more difficult than his classmates? And what will I do if his teacher expresses concern about any of these issues?”