May is perinatal awareness month (Postpartum Depression, Postpartum Anxiety, and Postpartum Psychosis). As a PPD survivor, I know what it is like to feel emptiness, loneliness, inadequacy, fear, & sadness. I knew something was wrong, but I did not have a name for it.
No one checked on my mental health before exiting the hospital. It was as if they were super-duper focused on the baby, but not so concerned about me and my overall mental state. I was turned loose into motherhood with no tools in my tool belt. I had to guess how it was supposed to go. I felt stuck. I felt alone. I felt like a mess. I had postpartum anxiety. I didn’t know that is what I had.
I was ok until my husband went back to work. I kept an eye on the clock. I counted down the hours when he would walk in the door and I’d be able to take a breath and give baby to him and run away and just be alone if only for a few moments to remind myself that I existed.
The door closed behind him and it’s as if loneliness washed over me. I felt as though I was someone else. I felt alone, empty, and exhausted. My house was in disarray. I could barely keep my eyes open. There were visitors and they stayed far too long. I felt like a shitty host. I was sore head to toe, unable to prepare food, present drinks, and clean as much as I would have liked. If Hope cried, I cried. I took it personally if I could not get her to stop crying. I’d feel that jerky nudge on my heart-strings that a new mom feels when she’s not used to high-pitched crying of a brand new baby. I felt guilt that the house was messy, that I was jiggly, that I couldn’t feed Hope as long as I wanted to because my boobs hurt so bad, that I looked the way that I looked, that making dinner made me want to vomit, that my whole body ached head to toe, & that visitors looked at me like I was crazy when I told them I could not leave for 6 weeks due to germs. When others wanted to touch her, I’d run and get the waterless soap.
It was the hardest transition. I just went with it and made my way through, ever so carefully, and the days would grow longer and I grew more lonely, more sad, and I started to feel like a feeding machine. I felt stuck.
I missed my adjoining door conversations, lunches with coworkers, after school meet ups, high fives, & compliments from students and their parents. I missed being seen. I missed the attention and the admiration that I once had being a teacher of 9 years. I loved my Spanish-speaking students and their ever so grateful parents that would bring me tamales right from their kitchens and they would melt in my mouth, as I’d close my eyes with each bite, savoring the taste. I longed for connection with the outside world, but I felt trapped.
I felt like I was making my way through the dark without a flashlight, walking ever so slowly and tripping along the way every couple of steps.
Society does moms a disservice by making it look easy peezy lemon squeezy. They make it look like Leave It to Beaver. Everywhere we look, we are forced to see image after image after image of quick postpartum weight loss, happy and smiling moms, snuggly babies, ever so calm infants nestled in their cribs, babies sleeping ever so soundly through the night without a peep, & little ones in their perfectly put together nurseries decorated right out of Pottery Barn.
The moms look rested, put together, calm, delightful, and relaxed. I so wanted to be that mom, wanted to fit that image and even told my husband that was how it was going to be.
I did not fit that image. I thought there was something wrong with me. If you saw me, postpartum, I’d be quietly seated on my not-so-clean microfiber tan couch with unbrushed teeth, messy hair, 3 day old pajamas, leaky breasts, spit up rags littered around me, spit up spots on my jammies, dirty diapers that didn’t quite make the garbage can, wipes spread out in front of me on my chocolate-colored ottoman, laundry would be piled up for days and begin to look like pieces of furniture, dishes would be sloppily thrown in the sink piled sky-high on both sides, take out boxes would be overflowing the garbage can, and I’d be falling asleep, while sitting up, all the while Hope would be nursing for the millionth time.
The moment we become moms, we start to compare ourselves to others, we check out Pinterest, Facebook, neighbors, billboards, commercials, and instantly feel as though we don’t measure up. & once you finally feel like you do measure up, there will be someone new that we think is doing it better and then we feel shortchanged once again. It’s unfair, unrealistic, and an absolute crock.
I had this vision, this plan, this way it would be and it did not turn out just so and then I thought I’d failed. There is no failing because failing means I never ever tried. & I fucking ran multiple marathons giving birth. Giving birth is like running marathons over and over, again, without stopping.
I often wondered where my old self went. Where was the positive, excitable, happy-go-lucky Mel? She was gone and this gal that replaced her was an eclectic mix of emotions: sad, crying too much, sweaty-palmed, overstressed, overwhelmed, paranoid, and shame stricken.
I wanted to talk to an adult, but was afraid to leave home convinced Hope would get sick. I wanted to go to lunch with someone, anyone, but was scared I’d fall asleep on the lunch date. I wanted visitors, but was petrified that my guests would think I was less than, sub par, not qualified, or not good enough.
Once you have a plan, it falls to shit. Once you have a vision, it gets fucked up. Babies are unpredictable and you have to be flexible.
PPD does not discriminate and moms can appear just fine and be suffering in silence. Talking about PPD is what is going to heal us. Being vulnerable and brave and forth-coming and courageously sharing how we are REALLY feeling will lead us to healing- not saving face, not putting on a mask, and not saying what people want to hear, but being truthful even if it’s hard and scary and unpredictable. Be real, be transparent, and ask for help.
We have a responsibility, as a nation, to RAISE awareness on PPD, to watch out for one another, & to pay attention to our friends that have recently become moms. Pay attention and be mindful of their behavior- if they seem off, or you get a gut instinct something is wrong, talk to them and get them help, ASAP! It could mean the difference between life or death. PPD is not a choice and it is not something that we can push down, push away, pretend away, or ignore. It is not your fault and there is help! GET HELP ASAP!
Treatments for PPD:
It was not until I was 6 weeks postpartum that my OBGYN diagnosed me with PPD. I’d suffered, in silence, for weeks. I was put on Zoloft and it was as if a gentle hand lifted me out of the darkness & into the light.
Treatments: speaking your truth, medication, night nurse, family and friend support, acupuncture, EMDR, proper nutrition, extra hands, postpartum doula, cognitive behavioral therapy, vitamin supplements, intervention psychiatry, ECT, hypnosis, & placenta encapsulation.