A MOM ON A MISSION

Hi, I’m Jen Schwartz, and while I’m not a medical professional, I consider myself an expert postpartum depression survivor, maternal mental health advocate, and a mom who wakes up every morning, pops her happy pills, and does the best she can. Some days that means I rock the shit out of motherhood and others it means I drop my kid off at school in the clothes I slept in, put him in front of a Paw Patrol marathon after pick-up, and hide in my room having a good cry and eating chocolate until my husband gets home. In both versions, I know I am enough.

And just to be clear, I still have days when I feel depressed. I still take medicine. I still see my therapist. I still cry and spend a full day in bed because I’m not up for doing anything else. I still struggle and fall apart. I don’t always think motherhood is the best thing that ever happened so me.” Shocking right? It’s the truth and I’d bet my shoe collection it’s the truth for so many other moms too.

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Until motherhood, I had never been depressed, but looking back at my life, that’s not really true. I had just never been formally diagnosed by a professional. I can remember plenty of days where I felt sad and didn’t want to do anything but curl up in bed. I didn’t want to talk to anyone and had somehow misplaced my joy. I remember having panic attacks when I moved into my first apartment in New York City. Apparently, all that made me a higher risk case for postpartum depression when I decided to become a parent, but I don’t remember reading that in my copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting.

I never thought depression, anxiety, medication, therapy, feelings of guilt, failure and the belief I made a mistake becoming a mom would shape the welcome party ushering me into motherhood. I didn’t go in thinking I’d be coming out as a medicated mommy who could barely hold her shit together in those first six months. I couldn’t fathom being the girl who walked circles around my neighborhood in the clothes I slept in, ugly crying on the phone to my own mom, telling her I was in hell, and refusing to believe that I would ever get out.

But that’s what happens when postpartum depression shows up to greet you when you bring your new baby home from the hospital. You feel more than overwhelmed and exhausted. You feel helpless and can’t see any light in the tunnel. Your own light goes out and you think you will be stuck in that darkness forever. And if you’re like me, you have no clue that you’re actually not alone in that darkness. That what is happening to you is extremely common and happens to hundreds of thousands of new moms each year.

So, in that dark tunnel I remained, feeling alone, feeling crazy, feeling ashamed that I felt nothing for the adorable baby boy in the next room, feeling suffocated by anxiety and the desire to want to sleep forever, and feeling like there was obviously something wrong with me because I sucked at motherhood while everyone else smiled for Facebook and Instagram with pictures of their new babies labeled with captions like “amazing,” “so in love,” “the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” or “life is complete.” And there I was, beating myself up with guilt and self-loathing because I couldn’t feel any of it. I remained in the dark for almost six months. Somehow, magically at six months, someone or something turned the light on in my tunnel. Maybe it was my therapist. Maybe it was the antidepressants. Maybe it was the patience and determination I begrudgingly held on to. Whatever it was, I found myself putting my baby in his stroller and walking to the park by ourselves. That was the first time I voluntarily left the house on my own and not out of obligation.

More firsts followed that one. The first smile I didn’t fake. The first bath I gave my son because I chose to. The first date night I truly enjoyed without anxiety. And day by day, those firsts turned into seconds and thirds, and six months turned into a year until I lost track of how many times I was able to do something with my baby. Until I started to feel like I wanted to and could handle being a mom. Until I started to notice love and connection replace the guilt and shame.

I got better one day at a time. Postpartum depression recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. There were times when I would feel incredible for a whole week and then all of a sudden, the depression and anxiety would come back with a vengeance. And even though my therapist warned me that could happen, I would feel defeated and slide back into that dark place I thought I would never climb out of.

But I did climb out. I fought to find my light, and in the process, I discovered my incredible strength, self-confidence, voice, and passion to share my story and help others. And most importantly, I learned that mountains were not meant to be climbed alone.

I know what it’s like to feel as if something is terribly wrong with you when you don’t experience those immediate feelings of joy and bliss after the birth of your baby. When it seems as if motherhood comes naturally to every other mom but you. When every mom you know is madly in love with her child, but for some reason you can’t stop crying or maybe it’s the opposite: you feel nothing at all. You’re miserable, crippled by anxiety, have zero interest in that adorable little baby in the next room and can’t seem to pick yourself up off the bathroom floor.

You feel like a failure, a horrible mother, and completely alone. That you are the only one living this personal hell during what you believed would be the most magical time of your life and you will never, ever get better. I’m here to promise you, there is nothing wrong with you, you’re not a failure or a horrible mother, you’re not alone, and you can get better. I did…

With the right combination of medication, weekly appointments with a therapist who specialized in postpartum mood disorders, and check-ins with a psychiatrist, I started smiling again, fell in love with my son, and rediscovered myself in the process. I found tremendous inner strength and learned the importance of accepting myself as the mom I am (one who pops an antidepressant every morning and hates mommy and me classes), not the mom I thought I was supposed to be (domestic goddess and Pinterest’s mom of the year). I not only fell in love with my son, but I fell in love with myself, just as I was.

What I realized when I got better was that I had become so obsessed with the mom I thought I should be that I never stopped to understand she didn’t actually exist. And when motherhood didn’t fit those unrealistic expectations I put on myself, my body went into shock and I physically got sick.

I think so much of getting postpartum depression had to do with women never talking about the ugly, messy parts of motherhood. I was completely clueless about postpartum depression when I was pregnant. No one educated me about the risk factors, which I had tons of. I had no idea that 1 in 5 new moms are affected my mental health issues each year. I thought it was just me!

I never thought something like PPD could happen to me, but it did and now I am grateful for it and all I have learned about myself and being a mom, including the importance of making my needs, health, and happiness a priority.

I wish someone was this real with me when I was pregnant. I wish I saw more of that on social media. The moms who pretend everything is filled with unicorns and rainbows all the time are full of shit and ruin it for the rest of us. I know that now. I’ve chosen to own my illness and who I am as a mom, without guilt and without apology. I am enough. Actually, I am pretty badass for fighting my illness, finding my authenticity, and letting go of all those “shoulds.”

I share my story and speak out because I want to help you find the courage to do the same, without the fear of being judged. And I won’t stop speaking out until the stigma surrounding these taboo subjects of motherhood are destroyed and no mom ever feels like she has to suffer alone and in silence.