Stigma Sucks!

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.

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The Five Stages of Postpartum Depression Grief

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.

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Written For Motherlucker: Let Me Be Your Trench Buddy For Postpartum Depression

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.”

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My Postpartum Depression Journey Told Through Brené Brown Quotes

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… 

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An Updated PSA From A Medicated Mommy

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.

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Written For Suburban Misfit Mom: A Letter to My Pregnant Self

Dear Pregnant Jen,

There is so much I wish I could tell you before you go into labor on that first night of Passover, March 25, 2016. Yes, you will go into labor during the first night of Seder while sitting at a table with 30 of your closest Jewish family members. Papa will be asking, “Why is this night different from all other nights,” and it most definitely is as you simultaneously death grip squeeze your sister’s hand under the table, time your contractions on your iPhone, text a close mom friend who informs you to “call the fucking doctor,” and realize that not only do your contractions not conform to the 5 minutes apart pattern you learned about in birth class, but nothing about labor and delivery is anything like you’ve seen on television or in the movies.

I regret to inform you that you won’t sneeze and gracefully pop a tiny human out of your vagina like Brooklyn Decker in What to Expect When You’re Expecting. You also won’t look pretty, perfect, and polished like Brooklyn Decker during and after the delivery of your baby. Swollen, stoned, and sleep-deprived is more like it.

Let’s start there. Labor is unpredictable and doesn’t always go according to plan. In fact, the word plan really has no business being in the same sentence as the words birth and baby. Your baby is going to do what he wants. He gives zero fucks about your plans, not while he is in your belly and not when he comes out. He doesn’t care that you want his bris to be after Passover so guests can enjoy their lox and cream cheese on bagels rather than matzo. It won’t matter to him that the best mohel in town might be on vacation (although he should because…it’s his penis getting snipped). And he really doesn’t give a shit that you want to do everything in your power to avoid a C-section and have him the old-fashioned way.

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Postpartum Depression at One Year – I Kicked Your Ass!

I remember looking around at Mason’s 1st birthday and thinking, wow I’ve really arrived. I’m a mother, his mother and I feel fabulous about it. I’m surrounded by family, close friends, and this amazing Pinterest inspired decor I paid someone else to craft for me. I’m dressed to match the theme of his Mustache Bowtie Birthday bash, I have makeup on, my hair is blown out, and I’m smiling and genuinely happy.  Postpartum depression, I can finally say I kicked your ass!

The struggle was real and the road was not easy. I fought hard to get better.  I needed lots of help, help I agreed to take, because it’s impossible to recover alone. In the end, I came to accept myself as the mom I was, not who I envisioned I would be during my pregnancy. I started to forge my own identity, something that was completely stolen from me and called into question by having postpartum depression.

I would forever be a medicated mommy and that was okay. I would need the help of a part-time nanny to stay sane as a mother. I would need breaks and me time and not feel guilty about taking them. I would never make my own baby food and my son would only know formula. I wouldn’t always enjoy bath time, kids’ birthday parties, or the playground. I would completely love my son, but my identity wouldn’t be 100% wrapped up in him. I wouldn’t be like my own mother. I wouldn’t be like my mother in law. I wouldn’t be like my supermom friends. I would just be me.

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Postpartum Depression: An Interview With My Husband

I try not to feel guilty about having postpartum depression, but sometimes I can’t help but feel guilty about putting my husband through it. I can’t begin to imagine what it was like for him. Husbands, the fathers of our children, are often left out of the postpartum depression conversation. Our men can be just as clueless about PPD as we are before it runs us over like a mac truck. They must feel just as lost and helpless as the women they love and now share a child with feel. Most want to help but have no idea where to even begin.

I’ve been asked the same question by so many moms I know. They want to know how my husband was able to “get it.” Some of these moms who also suffered from PPD had husbands who didn’t immediately understand what they were going through–how could they not fall in love or bond with their baby right away–why a trip to the gym or nail salon couldn’t alleviate their tears and anxiety.  I remember a few things about my husband during that time. First, he agreed to come to a therapy session with me. This proved to be extremely helpful because he could listen to a trained professional specializing in what I was going through. Second, my husband is a “researcher”, so I’m pretty sure he educated himself about PPD on the Internet. Third, I made him read the information here and he followed it. Lastly, he just tried to be supportive without ever forcing motherhood on me or judging the fact that I wasn’t capable of embracing it immediately.

For these reasons, I thought it would be helpful to write about my struggle with PPD from my husband’s point of view, so I interviewed him. Here are his responses. He promised me he wouldn’t hold back and wouldn’t sugar-coat. He assured me he would give real, honest, detailed responses. Breathe Jen. You will get through reading and reliving this. Read more

Postpartum Depression: The Help I Needed

I consider myself lucky. Maybe not lucky to have gone through the debilitating experience of postpartum depression (although looking back I am grateful–more on that in my next post), but fortunate enough to have recognized something was very wrong within 48 hours of being home from the hospital with my son. Upon this realization, I knew I had to tell someone.

It turns out, if I hadn’t approached my husband and mom, they would have approached me because they noticed something was off too. I had no idea what was wrong, had never really experienced anything like this, and knew absolutely nothing about postpartum depression and anxiety at that time. All I knew was that I needed help because I didn’t want to stay in that hell of tears, anxiety, sadness, and feeling like I made the biggest mistake of my life by having a child and becoming a mother. I didn’t even know what kind of help I needed, just that I had to get better because I felt as if I never would. The help I needed came in many different forms during my struggle that first year.

During my struggle with PPD, my mom and sister were my rocks and my husband was my boulder. My husband really stepped up to take care of our son when I couldn’t. He never forced anything from me, educated himself about what I was going through, and remained a constant source of strength.

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Postpartum Depression: I Can See Myself Again

If you ask my mom about my battle with postpartum depression, she will tell you that she knew something was wrong immediately. That when I got home from the hospital with my son, I just disappeared. The light in my eyes vanished and her daughter was replaced by a shell of a human being she didn’t recognize.

My friends would all tell you the exact same thing. One close friend said she saw it in my eyes right away after viewing pictures from our infant photo session. Another could see it in my eyes in person on the rare occasion I would attempt to be social at a dinner. The comforting thing about all of this is that the people who know you the best know when something is off, they don’t pretend everything is okay, and they want to help you, even when there is nothing they can do but check in and wait until you get better.

During the first five and a half months of my son’s life, I tried to go through the motions of being a mom–changing diapers, holding him, reading to him–you know, the things you have to do to make sure your baby is healthy and happy. I’m not going to lie to you. I wasn’t very good at pretending. I probably spent more time in bed crying and sleeping than with my new baby. My husband and I ended up hiring our night nurse’s aunt during the day time for these months to care for our son. She was a blessing. My son always knew love even if it wasn’t coming directly from his mother. I’m tearing up as I write this. I will always feel those pangs of regret for missing out on those moments of infancy…moments I can’t get back. I’m just so grateful that he will never remember his crazy momma from back then.

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