I call my perinatal depression, ‘postpartum’ or ‘postpartum depression’ all the time. I mean, look at the title of my blog. It’s Postpartum World. That was intentional – as it’s describing my journey in the postpartum period of motherhood and I wanted to write about all things motherhood since my motherhood felt so singular and isolated. However, I’m starting to catch myself more and use terms like perinatal mood disorder, perinatal depression, prenatal depression and so forth.
Disclaimer: This post is not for the Baby Boomers who are mental health advocates and believe that sometimes talk therapy, medication, psychiatry, etc. is needed. This post is for those Boomers who seem to dismiss depression, anxiety and other mental health illnesses as just something that people need to ‘power through’.
I’ve spoken with a couple of my friends and one topic seems to be coming up, fairly often. Being early to mid-thirty somethings, we all have one thing in common.
We are the children of the Baby Boomers.
Baby Boomers are the children of those that returned from war and had a LOT of sex. Baby Boomers are controversial. There’s been a lot of criticism by the Boomers toward us Millennials. We’re called lazy, entitled, and so forth. The Boomers don’t understand why our lives are challenging even though we’ve had to deal with crippling student loan debt, increased cost of living, a huge recession, a substantial deficit, two wars purchased on credit…the list goes on and on.
But that’s fine. I get it. Every generation is like, “The damn kids, these days. No respect. No hard work. In my day, we had to do blah blah blah without blah blah blah…and I survived!” Sometimes it’s hard to see younger folks handed the things that you clawed your way through to get to. Younger folks don’t (and can’t sometimes) appreciate the fires you walked through to get where you are.
As I meandered through the jungle of postpartum depression, I seemed to encounter article after article about other women who were suffering the same despair that I felt. It appeared that there was so much more awareness about postpartum depression. Was the stigma of postpartum depression evaporating?
Postpartum depression (and prenatal depression) doesn’t just affect a mother, it affects the entire family. When I was in the deepest, darkest throws of depression, my husband stepped up to the plate and exclusively handled all night feedings, among a litany of other things. He picked up and dropped off Little Buddy at day care. He got Little Buddy ready in the mornings and was on standby if Little Buddy got sick. He cleaned the house, cooked dinner and basically held us together. I’ve written about this before in my post “Carrying the Team“.
But it’s important to understand that while you have to take care of the mother, you have to ensure that the baby is well taken care of and that the partner is mentally and emotionally cared for as well.
Some of you know that I gained about more than 70 pounds after I got pregnant, mostly due to my prenatal depression. I had spent some time losing weight in 2011, 2012 and 2013. I was at my high school weight in March of 2013. It was hard work, but I did it.
145. It felt great to be there.
My weight slowly climbed upward as I was less rigorous about my diet. I got injured and had to take some time off from running, which didn’t help. Running was a great stress reliever for me – something I really enjoyed…and it helped keep off the pounds when I would go out with friends or share a bottle of wine with neighbors. In 2014 I started training for the Marine Corps Marathon and gained about 10 or 15 pounds as I was eating everything in sight.
So when we discovered that I was pregnant, I was already about 15 pounds heavier than I wanted to be. As morning sickness (or really, all afternoon and evening sickness) set in, I lost a bit. I did OK for the first couple of months. But prenatal depression killed my energy. At the time I thought it was just pregnancy, but it progressed into the second and then third trimester. Not only that, I was eating my feelings. Some people fail to eat when they are depressed…but I eat. Even with my shrinking stomach, I ate pastas, muffins, “second breakfasts”, cakes and anything carb related. For those who know me – it was strange behavior. I can’t stand pastas and rarely eat carbs outside of chocolate cake (which I also don’t eat that frequently).
It’s safe to say that most of my expectations of having a baby were blown out of the water by actual reality. I mean… millions of people have babies every day; how hard could it be… right?
Expectation: Hey, I’ve never been off of work for an entire 3 months – I’m going to get SO much done on maternity leave!
Reality: OMG I haven’t showered in 2 days, I can’t remember the last time I ate, and I’d choose sleep over either of those things.
I also envisioned a beautiful, bonding breastfeeding experience with my baby, which would enhance our relationship. I expected to nurse my baby for at least a year. I mean… millions of women breastfeed every day; how hard could it be… right?
What I couldn’t have predicted was the massive amount of time and logistics involved in breastfeeding; especially after going back to work full time.
I think one of the reasons that we don’t see a lot of candor out there about postpartum depression struggles, is a fear that our children will see these things that they don’t understand and can’t process. These adult themes will traumatize our children, because they can’t understand them.
Several people have asked me about what I would do if my little guy were to read some of the more cringe-worthy feelings and experiences that I had.
It’s a fair point. As some of you have noted, I’m not exactly pulling any punches.
Writing was a necessity for me to process what had happened. But as some of you are aware, originally I was writing anonymously. I also could have written in a journal. I’ve been getting active in postpartum support groups, which is another quasi-anonymous environment; you share your story and confidentiality is expected and required. There certainly were outlets for me.
But what I just couldn’t wrap my head around was that horrible feeling in my stomach. A feeling like I was alone. I was the only one who felt that way. I wasn’t meant to be a mother. And then – when I realized those feelings were postpartum depression, I thought maybe other women had treatable postpartum depression, but I didn’t.
Sorry (not sorry) for the provocative statement. Perhaps I should have added a caveat, but in the interests of not being ashamed of my motherhood, I’m going there.
It’s such a strange feeling when you don’t have this overwhelming blissful emotion that so many men and women describe. I remember feeling alien and isolated. Everyone had promised me that I would experience a love unlike any other when I had a child. When I didn’t, I was angry. Angry at them, angry at myself – I felt like a robot. Why did I do this if I was going to get nothing out of it? What I wish they had told me was that how you relate to your child in the beginning is different for everyone.
One of the things that irritates the crap out of me is this obsession with putting perceived risks to babies’ (or fetuses, depending on your bent on the abortion debate) health over the mother’s needs at all costs. We see this in all aspects of pregnancy. We inform women of this long, long list of things that they can’t do during their pregnancy. When women rebel and actually eat, drink or do some of the forbidden items, we judge the hell out of them and ask them how they could risk doing that to their babies.
In preparation of the next Game of Thrones season, I borrowed a line for the title of this post. But it echoes the flashbacks that I still have from those early weeks. Night time was the worst in the beginning.