postpartum depression, mental healthDear Mama,

A little more than four-and-a-half years ago this guy ROCKED. MY. WORLD.

From the moment the second pink line appeared I knew that my life was gonna change. I didn’t know why or how back then, but boy did the gut instinct that I was in for the ride of my life immediately strike me. I didn’t speak for a few hours after that positive pregnancy test. In fact, I sat in silence on the couch, pretty much in shock all night.

I’m not sure what happened inside my head and heart next, but over the course of the following weeks and months I began to love the baby inside me. We didn’t choose to learn the gender at the ultrasound, but I knew he was a boy in my heart of hearts all along. I didn’t know what he would look like, but I knew a very old soul with a hearty head of hair and a Y chromosome was growing inside me.

Pregnancy was all about birth preparation and “the Nursery.” Ironically, my second son is about to turn one and his nursery isn’t really much more than a bedroom with the necessities. But that’s another story for another time. One of the many lessons learned the hard way.

In 2007, I focused all my energy on growing my baby and giving him (and me) the birth experience we both deserved and I so desperately was convinced I needed. I didn’t think I needed to prepare for anything afterwards, because you know, breastfeeding is “so natural and normal” and I had been babysitting for years. And I was an aunt. An aunt whose niece had lived with me for the first two years of her life! My sister and her fiancé, both teen parents, made it seem so easy and fun. I mean how hard could diapering, feeding and holding a sleeping baby be after all?

In the end, I experienced a birth that looked nothing like my plans, hopes or dreams. It began as a very long unmedicated labor and ended with a very conventional c-section under duress. As this video explains, I was so traumatized that I couldn’t really comprehend what I had been through, let alone muster up any desire to see my baby. Thinking back, at that moment I think I wanted to go to sleep and not wake up for a very long time, believing that it had all been a terrible nightmare.

Things sucked for a long time. My son never latched and a failed attempt at breastfeeding made the pit I was already in seem even deeper. I had thoughts and feelings that scared me for months. For the first time in my life I was not comfortable in my own skin. Even while by myself I felt nauseous from the anxiety and racing, irrational thoughts. I think perhaps it could be compared to the feeling in a moment that someone who rates public speaking as scarier than death is thrown on a stage in front of 5000 people. I felt like that for eight weeks straight. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t make decisions. It was as if overnight I changed from an authoritarian, confident, intelligent and decisive woman to a mess of a human who could barely manage to complete basic tasks like showering, brushing my teeth or having a brief conversation. I couldn’t order from a menu. I couldn’t clip my toenails. I was a walking shell of my former self.

Then the treatment plan we put in place began to take hold. I started getting out a bit more. Showering daily. Went back to work and could put myself together enough to do my hair and makeup and respond to emails. I could be by myself with my son for a few hours at a time without having a panic attack. Sure, I still had to employ very specific strategies to keep the anxiety at bay. Don’t leave room in the calendar for idle time. Be sure to engage with other moms and children. Tell my husband what kind of day I was honestly having.

Months later, I had my act together. I was accomplishing things at work. I was writing my blog, had started a local PPD support group and became very open and honest about my experience. I began to feel the strong call to advocacy and peer support for women who were suffering as I had.

Still, I didn’t feel confident about motherhood. At this point, my baby was a toddler and separate anxiety and “Mama, hold me” had kicked in. I told my therapist, “I don’t want him to want me! I love him; I feel better; but I don’t want to deal with the pressure of another human being needing me that much.” I hated playing with toys. I couldn’t stand the mundane and repetitive nature of hanging at home with my kid. I longed for more hours at work, more date nights and rocking my son to sleep at night, because in that moment I always felt in control. I could be me again.

It’s taken over four years, a second child, dozens of therapy sessions, hundreds of hours of conversation with my girlfriends and tons of prayers to discover what was preventing me from the last step to wholeness. For me, wellness came years before becoming whole and comfortable as a mother. Those who are still struggling with motherhood after surviving PPD, this post is dedicated to you.

I have discovered we so often resent the challenges life has uncovered and waste hours of our time ruminating on how things might be different or feeling sorry for ourselves or guilty for our circumstances. It’s incredible how much I like being a mom since I’ve given up on trying to find everything that stinks about it. And I believe it is a much better use of my time and energy, too.

I have stopped trying to change my situation by wasting mental energy lamenting it; it’s inefficient. It points my mind towards pessimism, zaps me of passion for my life and for improving it. If I spend too much energy looking backwards or to the future, I know I will fail to even see, let alone allow myself to enjoy, the present.  No matter where you are in your journey, this is what I want you to know:

  • You are so much stronger than you know.
  • Getting better and finally being a Survivor feels even better than you expect it will.
  • PPD and related disorders are incredibly brutal, but also 100% treatable.
  • The network of women who are not only willing to help, but desperately want to is now huge.  Please, please be sure to reach out to us.
  • There is no shame in the symptoms of PPD and no blame in the diagnosis of it.  No matter what you may be feeling right now, you need to tell yourself again and again that it’s not your fault.
  • Relaxing, letting go of the need to lament how difficult motherhood is, and embracing the good stuff about these cute little people we are charged with raising into competent adults is pure bliss…but only sometimes. 😉
~ Amber
Amber Koter-Puline’s passion is using social media to help others.  When she is not working, blogging or caring for her family, she volunteers in the area of Women’s Mental Health, including as a facilitator of support groups.  Amber is fueled by relationship, yoga, prayer, and bacon.  She lives in Atlanta with her sons and husband.  Follow her on Twitter @atlantamom.
The 4th Annual Mother’s Day Rally for Moms’ Mental Health is presented by Postpartum Progress, a national nonprofit 501c3 that raises awareness & advocates for more and better services for women who have postpartum depression and all other mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth. Please consider making a donation today, on Mother’s Day, to help us continue to spread the word and support the mental health of new mothers.