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.
I never thought I would be in a position where I wasn't capable of being a mom to my new baby, but that was reality and my husband had to return to work. My husband and our parents hired a part time nanny those first few months to help out. Nanny M showed my son love and took amazing care of him so he would never know or remember that his mom couldn't at first. She would ask me to help her feed him, change him, talk to him, watch him during tummy time, etc. for as long as I could manage. She never pushed and eventually I started doing these things naturally on my own. I will always be so grateful to her.
My sister, familiar with what I was going through in her own way, came to visit, helped take care of my son, always checked in, and just wanted me to get healthy. I knew she was always cheering for me in the background. My mom held my hand literally and figuratively during the whole battle. When she couldn't be with me in the South, she would be on the phone with me. I would call her sobbing every morning while walking circles around my neighborhood. She helped me find the right therapist and get on the right medication. She constantly assured me that no-one would ever let me stay the way I was, no matter what had to be done.
My therapist specialized in treating moms with postpartum depression. She was my savior. She got me to a psychiatrist who put me on the right antidepressant and anxiety medicines. I no longer take the anxiety medicine (it took three years to wean off), but I will be on the antidepressants for the rest of my life. I'm a medicated mommy and damn proud of it! Therapy gave me the safe space to just be in the postpartum depression and medication got me back on the path to a new normal of happy and motherhood. I spent most sessions sobbing, refusing to believe I would ever want to be a mom and get better. But eventually there was less sobbing, more talking, more figuring out how to be the mom I was, and forget about the vision of motherhood I had created for myself during pregnancy. She helped me become me again, the me who writes this blog, the woman and mom who accepts herself as she is, not who she thinks she is supposed to be.
I never hid my struggle from my close friends. I wouldn't have been able to even if I tried--they just know me too well. I wasn't really answering the phone or returning calls at the time, but that never stopped any of them from sending a text, emailing, or leaving a voicemail just to check in. Just knowing they were all there rooting for me, talking behind my back, wanting their old Jen back really helped.
Once I started to feel some semblance of normal, I returned to hot yoga, something that really provided me with balance before I got pregnant. Going back to something that was "me" brought me closer to becoming myself again. I also slowly started to take my son to various Mommy and Me's with other moms I knew. Being around other new moms and just having people to talk to made me feel more like a mom than I ever had. And it made me feel more human again.
It's really important for me to stress here that I got through this one day at a time. One day was all I could barely handle until it became two days, a week, a month. But at first, I couldn't see past the moment right in front of me and that's okay. Getting better from postpartum takes time, patience, and lots of self-care, three things that are a tremendous struggles for moms. I know it's so easy to feel like you will have PPD forever and you will never get better, because that's how I felt. But if you can recognize what you are going through, ask for help and take it day by day, you will get better. I know this because I did.
The help you need might be different than the help I needed. You might not even realize you are suffering from postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety until a few months in. The journey is different for every mom, but the point is that you will need help and there is no shame in that and even less in asking for it. Let yourself be helped. Don't pretend that you don't need any and everything is fine. It's not and that's okay. You can't get better if you don't acknowledge that something is wrong. And you can't treat this on your own. Your village might be different than mine, but it still takes one.
All the help I needed, asked for, and received resulted in me finding my way back to myself. It happened slowly over time, but by month six, I could see light and feel love towards my son and the idea of being his mom.
Somewhere during month six, my husband, son and I went over to a friend's house for dinner. Not just any friends. Our first friends we made after moving to the South. My first friend to become a mom. My friend who I would call in the throes of PPD hysterically sobbing and exclaiming, "I love your boys, why can't I love my own? What's wrong with me?" At her house that day, she watched me bond with and love on my son and I could see her smiling at me from afar.
Later that night this friend would email another friend (the one from previous posts who was always at my house and forcing me to walk the mall) and the subject line would read: "She's Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!"
And I was...not fully, but the most so far since Mason was born. And by a year?
To be continued...