I titled this post Great Expectations because expectations played a big part in my experience with PPD/PPA. Having had PPD/PPA with my first child, I knew there was a 50/50 chance it would return. I even had a plan. But somehow I thought maybe it wouldn’t. The writing was on the wall. I was having trouble sleeping and I dealt with some difficult stuff personally and at work during my pregnancy. So I really shouldn’t have been surprised the dark cloud came back.
The first few days I felt pretty good and tried to tell myself I’d beat the odds, but as it slowly crept in, I knew I was wrong. And it made me mad. The good news? I knew what I was dealing with. The bad news? I knew what I was dealing with. And if you don’t know what it’s like to feel anxious or depressed, that’s a good thing. I wouldn’t wish it for anyone and I’m glad when people don’t understand. I know sometimes people would look at me and think, “what’s wrong with her?” or “here she has a wonderful new baby, why isn’t she happy?” Believe me, I thought those things too.
The other piece of good news is that this time wasn’t as bad and I knew it would end. I like to look at the experience through a couple different lenses. The first is the five stages of grief. I’ll start by saying I was so happy to have these babies. And I thought because I’d read a lot and been around babies, I knew what it was going to be like. Expectations that it’d be hard, but wonderful. I guess my expectations of motherhood were not realistic. Both times I had a wait and see attitude thinking this is probably just the baby blues and it will pass. But it didn’t. The first time the cloud seemed to get bigger and bigger and time dragged on.
I remember staring at the clock willing it to pass. Ten to twenty percent of mothers experience PPD and of course I asked myself why me. Who knows? When you’re in denial, unfortunately, you might put off getting help. I kept track of when I started taking medication both times and how long it took to feel better. The first time I also had to swallow my pride and go to talk therapy. I had gone before and didn’t find it very helpful, but this time it was. And the worst part the second time around, was lying when people would ask how are you. I’d say fine. I could hear myself tell the lie. And I could see the look on their face when they didn’t believe it. Because when I was depressed, it wasn’t me.
There’s a lot of feelings associated with PPD. Helplessness, tearfulness, fear, anxiety, sleeplessness, lack of appetite, lack of interest in anything enjoyable, guilt, irritability, loneliness, irrational thoughts, shame, etc. This is compounded by lack of sleep, isolation, breastfeeding, and a major life change. I hated myself. I thought I was a bad mother. Everything everyone did annoyed me. I was mad I didn’t feel a connection with my baby right away. It wasn’t fair. I thought the babies would know and they’d hate me too. I worried about subjecting them to medication, but it turns out there isn’t really an effect. This time around I was sad I couldn’t spend as much time with my daughter because I was with my son. I missed holding her and felt I’d missed out on something, but that’s also become an easier balance.
Bargaining usually happens with a higher power. I didn’t bargain so much as pray that it would end. And it did. Eventually one day you wake up and feel like yourself. Another irrational thought I had was that this happened because I had never really had many difficult times in my life. As if everyone has some kind of quota of hardship. One thing that is not helpful is when people say, “well look at so and so, they have it much worse.” That is probably totally true. And it is totally not helpful.
Depression is the biggest part. Crying for no reason. And it’s probably the hardest part for those around you. You don’t want to see anyone or go anywhere and hardly anything makes you happy. Food? No. I shrunk down fast both times. I’d rather stay overweight than depressed. I had a lot of dark intrusive thoughts. I remember staring out the window, watching television coverage of an oil spill and thinking why had I brought an innocent child into this horrible world. Or the second time I thought why did I do this again, it’s so hard.
The worst thought I had was that if me and the baby went into the pool we would both be quiet. No crying and no more thoughts. I didn’t really want to hurt myself or my baby, but I wanted the pain to go away. I hate to think about that part, but it’s part of my reality. Eventually things are okay. For me it was time, Zoloft and forgiveness. I stopped hating myself for needing so much help and not being the mother I thought I was supposed to be.
The second time around I had a plan and I engaged it. And I don’t feel bad about it. And talking about it. I probably talk about it more than anyone wants to hear, but it helps me. And I was surprised by how many mothers related, yet no one had ever mentioned it before. So I share my story and I read others. I recently read Brooke Shields book and for the most part it was like she was in my head. The other lens I use to look at it is what it must look like from the outside. I always felt this was an out of body experience. Seriously, like I was a shell and I could see myself from the outside and I knew it was wrong. At least in hindsight. I can look at pictures of myself and I can tell where I was mentally.
One of my friends would ask if my cloud had lifted yet. And it literally felt that way. The second time I woke up one Sunday morning and I decided to make a smoothie. That may seem trivial, but it was a big deal. It was the sign that I felt good. image One thing that makes me sad is how much I forgot. I think forgetting is the body’s way of healing in some respect. I had forgotten so much of what my daughter’s first months were like. Perhaps so that I might have another baby. They say that about labor pains anyway. And you remember it hurts so bad, but the pain isn’t as vivid. There’s a start and a finish.
So I’m trying really hard this time to remember what things are like. But I’ll probably forget again. With that said, the first week home I was like a mama bear. I just held my son constantly. Maybe I shouldn’t have because I got super tired. And I was super bitchy. I’m sorry to anyone who had to deal with me. Then I felt like a pile of poo. So the next few weeks I became a zombie. And eventually the cloud lifted and I became me. I know this wasn’t my fault but I never stop wishing my family didn’t have to go through it with me. But boy am I glad they did. I could never thank them enough for supporting me and loving me through the uncertainty. My husband had to stay strong while worrying about me and being the best dad to our kids. One rough day my mom literally had to hold me while I laid on a bed and cried in a dark room.
Who ever thinks you’re going to have to hold your adult child? My mom, my sister, my mother in law, and so many other family members have been the best support system we could ever ask for. I know not everyone has that. We are truly blessed. Whether they were there to talk to, help around the house or hold one of the kids, we have been surrounded by love. So many friends came by, brought meals, called, texted. I sometimes feel guilty for needing so much help. But now I realize that it truly does take a village to raise a child and I could not be more grateful for my village.
Some mantras I found online that helped…
Just because you feel like a bad mother doesn’t mean you are not a very good enough mother (The perfect mother doesn’t exist, the desire to be a good mother is what makes you into one, the rest is practice and love).
Just because you are angry at your toddler doesn’t mean he doesn’t feel your love (Anger is another form of caring, and there are very healthy ways of expressing it.
Just because you feel like shit doesn’t mean you don’t have a heart of gold (and a mind of diamond!).
Just because you try and fail doesn’t mean you are not accomplishing things (failing is no fun for the ego, but it gives you lots of opportunities to learn).
Just because you had a setback doesn’t mean you are not making progress (actually setbacks are a sure sign of progress! and boy, I would much rather never have one ever again!).
Just because your husband is picking up some slack doesn’t mean you should feel guilty (it’s ok to feel the guilt, it’s a practically unavoidable knee-jerk reaction, but the guilt doesn’t make it wrong).
Just because you are crying doesn’t mean you are weak (Accessing your tears gives you power).
Just because you don’t have power over your PPD doesn’t mean you don’t have power in it (practising your power makes it grow, using these mantras is a good start).
Just because you hate yourself doesn’t mean you are not loveable (Thank goodness, self-loathing doesn’t block your amazing-ness from shining).
My kids are the best thing I’ve ever done. My love for them is infinite and overwhelming. Like they say, nothing worth having comes easy. So parenthood won’t be easy, but it’s worth it. I’ll end with one of my favorite quotes. Thanks for reading about my journey and thanks again to everyone who helped along the way.