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?”
At Campowerment, a weekend sleepaway camp retreat for women and my happy place, I was lucky enough to meet the fabulous Melissa D’Arabian. You may know her as the winner of the fifth season of The Next Food Network Star, but what you might not know about her is that in addition to being a TV host, author, speaker, wife, and mom to four girls (I love this badass woman!), she considers herself to be in the trench buddy business.
You’re probably asking yourself, what the eff is a trench buddy? I asked myself the same question when she mentioned the term during her workshop at camp. It turns out the term trench buddy articulates the very reason I do what I do—write so openly and honestly about my experience battling and overcoming postpartum depression. A trench buddy is someone who can look you in the eye and say, “I know what you’re going through. I’ve been there too. You’re not alone.” How powerful is that—to build such a meaningful connection with another human being. In my case, with other moms struggling with postpartum depression.
To the moms with postpartum depression: I want you to know that everyday I am in the trenches with you, fighting next to you, fighting for you, looking you in the eye, holding your hand, embracing you, and telling you, “I know what you’re going through. I know it’s dark down and lonely down there. I’ve been there. You will get through it. I got through it. We will get through this together. We are deeply connected through our shared experience and I want you to know you are not alone and it will be okay. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But eventually, it will get better. I know it will get better because I got better. I support you down there in the trenches. I fight next to you, with you, and for you down there in the trenches.”
People may call what happens at midlife “a crisis” but it’s not. It’s an unraveling—a time when you feel a desperate pull to live the life you want to live, not the one you’re “supposed” to live. The unraveling is a time when you are challenged by the universe to let go of who you think you are supposed to be and to embrace who you are. Clearly the universe decided motherhood would be the perfect time for my unraveling…
Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are…Caution: If you trade in your authenticity for safety, you may experience the following: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment, and inexplicable grief. I wish someone showed me that label during pregnancy. It would have said: “Severe postpartum depression and crippling anxiety…”
When we believe “we must be this” we ignore who or what we actually are, our capacity and our limitations. We start from the image of perfection, and of course, from perfection, there is nowhere else to go but down…At some point, most of us begin to believe the expectations about who we’re supposed to be, what we’re supposed to look like, what we’re supposed to do, how much we’re supposed to be and how little we’re supposed to be. We also develop fear of rejecting those expectations. We constantly see evidence that if we do reject these expectations, we will experience very painful disconnections and rejection. So we internalize these expectations and they become an emotional prison. Moms aren’t perfect? I was supposed to be the perfect mom. Thank you, Pinterest, Facebook, and Instagram. Emotional prison equals one year of postpartum depression…
My son turned four this past weekend. For his first birthday, I went big. As a mom who sucks at crafting, I found my inspiration on Pinterest and paid people on Etsy to execute my vision of Mason’s little man birthday bash complete with bowties, mustaches, musical entertainment, photo booth, and of course, signature cocktails served in mason jars.
Everyone knows a child’s first birthday party is actually for the parents to celebrate surviving the first year of parenthood, where they have successfully kept the tiny human they are now responsible for alive. They have figured out how to fit showers into their daily routines, become accustomed to regularly getting spit up on, peed on, shit on, caught throw up with their bare hands, and if they’re lucky, the accomplished the amazing and life-changing task of getting their child to sleep through the night.
I didn’t stop celebrating myself after Mason’s first birthday. Why should I? I never take any attention away from him. I don’t get presents. It’s his birthday. His party. But there are little things I do each year for me too, because his parties always serve as a reminder of the first one, where I can remember stopping to think that “Wow. I’m a mom–Mason’s mom, and I got this whole motherhood thing.”
Remember on Friends, when Monica was about to move in with Chandler and she cried to Rachel, “I have to live with a boy!” That’s how I feel sometimes. I live with three boys. My husband, four-year old son, and dog Harry Potter. And this week, it’s really noticeable because I just got back from a Campowerment weekend with 75 other women, 12 of whom I lived in a bunk with, and the only guys allowed were the hot Ropes men who scream inspiring words at you as you gather up the courage to climb up a really tall, narrow pole, stand up on top of it, and then jump.
I get it. Farts are really funny for guys no matter how old they are. My four-year old and my husband love to fart and laugh about it regardless of the 30 year age difference between them. But maybe, just maybe you both could fart somewhere other than in my face or while piling on top me. And while this is going on, Potter just has to come and slobber all over my face. He’s probably joined in on the farting for all I know!
Speaking of piling on top of me, why is it that I’m the one that gets to be the human trampoline. My son’s favorite extracurricular activity is jumping on mommy while she tries to relax. I’m reading and there is a tiny human climbing on my head. I’ve been elbowed in the boobs, kneed in the crotch, and head-butted in the face too many times to count while my husband cheers him on in the background. Why can’t you both just wrestle with each other and leave me out of it?
I AM A MEDICATED MOMMY! Yes, I take antidepressants. No, I am not ashamed. Not even a little bit. And if you do too, you shouldn’t be ashamed either.
Let’s start at the beginning. On day six of being a new mom, I was overcome with crippling anxiety and non-stop tears. I had no desire to ever leave my bed again. All I wanted to do was sleep and go back to the hospital where people would take care of me and I didn’t have to be responsible for the well-being of another human. Why did I become a mom? I believed I had made a terrible mistake. Obviously something was very wrong.
After a diagnosis of postpartum depression followed by three rounds of different anti-anxiety medicine and two rounds of antidepressants, my therapist and psychiatrist finally found the right drug cocktail to help me. Yes, I felt frustrated while trying to find the right medication and it took some time, but I also found relief once I did. It was the first step to getting better, something I never believed would be possible while in the dark hole of postpartum depression. It was worth hanging in there for. My baby, husband and I were worth hanging in there for.
In the years leading up to motherhood (as in my late twenties), I sucked at sleeping late on weekends. I consistently popped up between 6:30 and 7 a.m. every morning because my body was conditioned for the weekday wakeup. And I was a middle school teacher! If that’s not almost as exhausting as motherhood, I don’t know what is.
If I was able to sleep past 8:30 on a Saturday or Sunday morning, that was a victory. Then I had a child and my body suddenly thought it was back in college, where it never wanted to get out of bed before ten in the morning, ever. Okay, maybe noon. The one that couldn’t get its ass out of bed for those 8:15 a.m. Italian classes. The one who never picked classes if they met on Fridays.
Too bad preschool doesn’t work like college. Drop-off is at 8:50 every day and there is class on Friday. Thank god there is class on Friday! My almost four-year old has no problem getting out of bed by 7 every morning, even though his mommy could use just a few more minutes in hers. Okay, maybe hours. And even though I don’t pride myself on being a morning person like my son, I hate missing drop-off. It’s my right to be able to stay in the car, unshowered, without a bra, and possibly wearing the clothes I slept in the night before.