Is it the Journey? Or the Destination?

The other day, I was posting on Instagram. I don’t put pictures of my son on Facebook, Instagram or the internets in general to protect his privacy. But I took a picture of his toys and used the hashtag: #damnilovethatkid.

It’s a funny thing, that hashtag. It seems like such a simple phrase that any parent would utter. “Damn, I love that kid”. But as I’ve written about before, love was a hard fought battle for me. My detachment from postpartum depression was the cloud that invaded my every being.

I remember the handful of times that I would drop my son off at daycare and he would wrap his arms around my legs and bury his face. I remember the handful of times that I would pick him up and he would come running to me in joyous rapture. Those moments were precious to me. They were moments that I actually was able to truly believe that he actually loved me and knew who I was.

Those are the problems of the detached mama.

Doubt that her child loves her because she couldn’t love her child enough when they were born…because of the postpartum depression. Doubt that her child would be forever scarred from those first 6 – 12 months. Constant frustration that she isn’t having the same experience that everyone else is; she’s supposed to feel this unconditional love that’s stronger than anything anyone has ever known. She’s not supposed to feel an inability to enjoy and appreciate her child.

So the detached mama gets help. She recognizes that things aren’t normal. She gets her medication, she goes to therapy. She gets better. She feels like herself again. But still, the love hasn’t come. Having her child feels like a warm affection, but it still doesn’t match the awe and majesty of the love that other ‘normal’ mamas describe.

Her life is a continual long sigh. She feels stuck. She feels like she’ll never love her child the way she’s supposed to. She feels like she’s defective; that somehow something got broken when she was created. She puts on a brave face, but wonders if her child knows of her struggles.

So she marches on, with a smile on her face. She nods when people talk about the glory, the beauty, the sheer awesomeness of having children. She connects with them when they talk about how hard it is, but that common ground slowly dissipates when they go back to talking about how amazing parenting is. She tells herself that she’s just not cut out of this parenthood stuff.

She’s confused. The medication’s working, she feels better, she’s been able to make her life what it used to be. But she’s still…’abnormal’.

But then over time, the switch goes off.

The baby is no longer a baby. The baby is a toddler. The toddler has personality and giggles. The toddler says “no”, “thank you” and “oh shit” (oops). The toddler runs around like a tiny T-rex and dances in the sunshine.

Those warm feelings of majesty and sheer awesomeness and beauty finally hit her like a ton of bricks. The struggles and the doubt have been forced out and she can finally say, “It’s so hard, but yes…it’s so rewarding” and truly mean it.

Postpartum World_ICON_4C_Green Rattle

If you’re struggling with detachment, hold on to hope. Be patient with your treatment. Attachment takes time and there’s nothing wrong with you if you need some extra time to get there. Don’t expect an immediate spark once you start to feel recovered from the depression. Be kind to yourself.

 

It’s OK to Acknowledge the Dumpster Fire

Frequently when people are going through some pretty tough shit, we have a tendency to minimize people’s problems by informing them that other people have it worse.

It’s true. There are always going to be people who have less than I have, who have worse problems, who have been through more. But are we really doing our friends, families and moms a favor by reminding them of this?

This type of stuff is exacerbated for moms too. I see it all the time on baby boards on the internet, comments that others make, etc. Often folks tell moms suffering from postpartum depression to just ‘focus on their sweet little baby’ and just remember that it is going to get better and ‘at least you [insert something about you having it better than some other person on the planet]’.

Is that really helpful? I mean, I know mindfulness is a great tool for people. But when you’re going through a chemical aberration that (in my case) keeps you from even being able to form an attachment with your ‘sweet little baby’, this advice rings hollow. Moreover – this type of advice is actually intended to be a distraction. It’s supposed to distract you from the misery you’re feeling by giving you perspective.

But why can’t we focus on the fact that we’re just having a tough time? Why can’t we acknowledge that yes, we had a baby but our year was kind of crummy? It’s almost like there’s this fear that if we acknowledge the last year was a rolling dumpster fire, that we’re subconsciously applying that descriptor to our child.

Of course that’s not what we’re doing. Sometimes life is just hard. Sometimes you can’t see the silver lining in the clouds. And sometimes, for postpartum depressed mothers, you just can’t see how great your little baby is because of the illness that has wrapped its talons around your brain.

2015 was awful for me. 2016 was kind of a dumpster fire too because it started off with suicidal depression. I’m acknowledging that. I’m owning it.

But the cool thing is: I know how bad it was for that year and a half. Now that I’m better, I can sit and say, you know what? My life is SO amazing now…because it is exponentially better than it was 10 months ago. I can see and feel the difference. I’m so incredibly proud of the fact that I fought so hard to get better. I’m so incredibly proud of the fact that I have the energy to care for my son and actually like doing so now.

Acknowledging the bad helps me appreciate the good…SO much. So if you (or your partner) are having a tough time and going through the hell that is postpartum depression – acknowledge it.

Because when you get better – it’s going to be INCREDIBLE.

Postpartum World_ICON_4C_Yellow Rattle

Understanding your Partner’s Perinatal Depression

One of the things that breaks my heart the most is when I see or hear feedback from moms with spouses or partners who don’t support them.

I’ll mention first that living with someone who has depression, anxiety, perinatal mood disorder is incredibly challenging. It’s very hard to know what to do or even recognize it as an illness at times. My own husband, who has always been an advocate of mental health struggled at times while I was going through perinatal depression.

However, I feel that one of the main reasons that I got through what I did was due in part to his unwavering support. I’ve written before about his kindness, understanding and generosity. He felt powerless and didn’t understand how I could say some of the lies that depression was feeding me. He didn’t blanch when I wanted to leave him and run to Europe. He knew that the depression was twisting my mind in ways that I was helpless to suppress.

So let’s talk about how to survive when your partner is going through postpartum depression.

  • This isn’t the time to question your relationship

Remember: this isn’t about you, partner. It’s hard not to take this personally, but you’ve got to keep in mind that this isn’t a statement on your relationship, this doesn’t define who your partner is as a mother, wife, girlfriend, etc. She is going through an illness that is warping her brain. She can’t help the things that she’s thinking. But they’re not really her thoughts. Her anger, her sadness, her disconnection is not really hers. So listen and validate…but don’t take it personally. You may have issues in your relationship that need addressing, but you might not. You should not make any major life decisions while your partner is going through a major depressive episode. You’re not dealing with the real her. This is the time for unconditional grace. You can deal with any relationship issues later, when she’s healthy.

  • Get smart on postpartum depression

Read books like The Postpartum Husband. Look at the articles online about postpartum depression and anxiety. Remind yourself that this is a disease. Your wife or partner’s hormones are not handling things very well and it’s creating a toxic chemical cocktail. She isn’t just sad. Her mind is literally filling her thoughts with lies. She isn’t weak and she can’t just snap out of it, she needs support and good treatment.

  • Fill in the gaps

She’s afraid to be alone with the baby. She doesn’t have the energy to care for the baby. She doesn’t have the energy to do her share of the household chores. She’s not lazy; the depression just saps her energy to literally get out of bed, some days. If it seems like a lot, just remember she carried your baby for 10 months and birthed your beautiful child. Step in and fill in the gaps. I know you’re tired from working full time. But this IS temporary. When she’s better, she’ll help out too. You’re just carrying the team for now.

  • Advocate getting help and be her assistant

If she needs it, call the doctor for her. Stepping into the dizzy and complex mental health world is tiring and overwhelming. Do research on a therapist and a psychiatrist. Go with her to the doctor and help her express her symptoms. Look up to see if there are any postpartum support meetings in the area. Tell her you’ll watch the baby while she goes to meet with other women who are suffering. Tell her she’s a good, strong mom for seeking out help. 

  • Validate her and cheer her on.

Tell her she’s going to get through this, every day. Tell her postpartum depression is very treatable. Tell her that she’s not a monster and she’s not a freak. She’s just sick and she’ll get well and when she does get well, she’ll have a beautiful baby and loving partner waiting for her. Tell her that she’s not alone. Tell her that there’s anywhere from 10 – 20% of women out there who are going through exactly the same thing.

  • Take time for yourself

Caring for a partner (and a new baby!) with depression is a huge, overwhelming job. Call in reinforcements. Take an evening off when your partner is having a good day. If she can’t handle it, see if the grandparents can come in and help out with chores around the house and the baby. It’s painful watching a loved one go through postpartum depression. So take time to grieve and care for yourself as best as you can, when your partner can handle it. Keep reminding yourself that this is temporary and you will get through it.

Postpartum World_ICON_4C_Yellow Rattle

Do you Need to Save your Life?

Photography Credit: eKate Photography

WARNING

TRIGGER ALERT: In depth discussion of suicidal thoughts and plans

Note: I am not a licensed mental health provider or doctor; this post is strictly based on my experiences and these tips are based on what worked for me. 

As part of my therapy, I talk to a lot of different women about their postpartum depression/anxiety experiences. So the word ‘suicide’ gets quite a bit more use in my day to day vocabulary now.

In going through my own struggle with suicide ideation, it’s taught me a lot about the human body, the mind and what suicide really is. Before I had perinatal depression, I had heard phrases such as “suicide is selfish” and “suicide is a cry for help”. I didn’t think much about it. I knew of people who had died by suicide, but I didn’t know anyone personally. Since I’ve experienced the pull of suicide during the throws of depression, both of those statements seem trite and hollow…if not just a complete misunderstanding of what drives people to take this very permanent path.

Continue reading “Do you Need to Save your Life?”

The Medication Conundrum

Recently, Postpartum Progress posted an article that was originally posted on Scary Mommy. The article was about a woman who has suffered from treatment resistant depression for years. Her depression was naturally exacerbated with childbirth and the postpartum period. She expressed her frustration with well-meaning family, friends and strangers when they would advise her on how to treat her depression.

The full article is here.

Continue reading “The Medication Conundrum”

Dear Mom Fighting Postpartum Depression

Dear Mom Fighting Postpartum Depression and Anxiety,

We know what you’re going through. It’s hard to believe, but we’ve been there. Many of us have felt what you’re feeling.

We all got better. We know. You’re thinking, “but you all must be different! I’m actually untreatable. There’s no way I’ll ever get better. This is all life is. My life is over.”

We thought that too.

Continue reading “Dear Mom Fighting Postpartum Depression”

Oh hello PTSD…

So we’re 11 months out from having our baby. Things are going well! I feel happy, content…but more importantly, I feel like myself.

Hooray!

And then I saw this new Mazda commercial. As I watched, my stomach turned. Tears started pouring out of my eyes. Flashbacks to that horrible perinatal depression fluttered across my closed eyelids. Flashbacks to the hopelessness and despair. Visions of my friends enjoying their babies while I felt like I was dying; like my life was over. My heart started to pound. My palms started to sweat.

Continue reading “Oh hello PTSD…”