When a woman becomes a mother, she has an ideal image in her head of how everything is going go. She plans the birth, breastfeeding, the colors of the nursery, the outfit the baby will go home in. We plan for this child for nine months.
However, when things don’t go as planned, when a darkness descends over your intentions and you find yourself sitting numbly on your couch as your baby wails from the swing, you will have questions.
When you are slapped across the face with postpartum depression, you will demand answers to these questions; questions for your doctor, your mother, your husband, and most important and potentially harmful, yourself.
1. What have I done to deserve this?
This is perhaps the first thought you will have when you realize something has gone terribly wrong. What could you have done better while pregnant? Maybe you didn’t do enough yoga. Maybe you didn’t take the right vitamins. Maybe you secretly didn’t want this child as much as you thought you did.
You have done nothing to deserve this. Do not allow this disease to question your intentions as a mother. You surely did the best you could while waiting for this child. You don’t deserve depression. You deserve joy.
2. What if I tell people and they judge me?
The stigma hanging over postpartum disorders waxes and wains like the tides. We go through spells of public outcry—mothers resorting to suicide, leaving their families in ruins. We go through glory days where a beautiful young celebrity mother breaks the silence of her struggle.
There are always going to be people for both sides of the game. If people love you, they will hold you up and lift your face to the sun. If people choose to have the opinion that you aren’t really sick, that you are just being lazy and tired and that every mother goes through hormonal changes, you can choose turn your back on them and be silently strong against the crashing waves of their criticism, or you can be brave and educate them. People are only afraid of things they don’t understand, after all.
3. Am I damaging my baby while struggling with my disorder?
I’m going to get personal here.
I struggled with depression before pregnancy, during pregnancy, and after pregnancy. I was always honest with my daughter about what was going on with me. If she asked why I was still in bed at two o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon, I wouldn’t say, “Mommy is just tired. I’m fine.” I would say, “Mommy is sick.”
Instead of growing up scared and neglected like I always imagined her to become, my five-year-old has grown to be an incredibly sensitive and empathetic human being. She can sense when an extra hug is needed, or when simply sitting next to her mother, who is weeping on the bathroom floor, will suffice.
Women who fight against PPD do it for usually one large reason: For the love of their children. It may feel like your battle is keeping you from loving your baby. You may feel distant and cold. You may feel that you are never going to be that perfect mother. I am here to tell you that you love your child just as much as a mother who breezes through their postpartum period on a cloud of joy and engagement. You will fight every day to remind yourself why you brought this tiny human into the world. You will cling to that love like a talisman that will keep you from spiraling out of control completely.
4. How can I do this to my partner?
The partners usually bear the weight when the mother is struggling with a postpartum disorder. They must pick up the parenting slack which may not come naturally to them at first. They will also have to watch you become unhinged and attacked from the inside of your mind by something they cannot protect you from.
Postpartum depression will beat at your relationship. It will test their patience, their strength, their endurance. They will deal with the crying, the rage, the suicidal thoughts and actions. They will take your guilt in their hands and try to turn into something more manageable.
If they are true and good to you, they will realize that this isn’t something you are doing to them. It is something that is happening to your family.
5. How can I be expected to ever feel normal?
Self-care is really the biggest weakness that PPD eats at. The longer you stay in bed, the more you skip showers and real clothes, the bigger your aversion to socializing becomes, the more ground the disorder gains.
If you lay still, you will atrophy. You desire to do anything about this will slip between your fingers. You must force yourself to sit up. You must meet your eyes in the mirror and talk yourself through small steps of menial routines. “I am going to put on real pants today.” “I am going to curl my eyelashes today.” “I am going to go to the grocery store today and buy five things that I don’t need.”
If you do not push yourself to feel like yourself, you will wake up one morning and not recognize who you have become. And then, you will feel very defeated.
6. When will I get better?
Once you are hit with something as debilitating as postpartum depression, you shouldn’t hyper focus on getting better. Don’t put all your chips on medication working, therapy clicking, and your mood miraculously lifting. It is a gentle balance of all of those things, and they will require constant maintenance.
You will not wake up one day, months after giving birth, and find yourself fully restored. You will feel better, that is true, but you will always have to be vigilante. It gets easier, however, the longer you go on. You will learn the tricks and weaknesses of what hounds you. You will learn the Achilles heel of depression and you will not be afraid to arm yourself against the darkness that will always lurk in the recesses of your mind.
You will not be cured of postpartum depression; you will become something much more important. You will become a warrior.