This letter is written to the brain that feels overwhelmed, depleted, lost in the trees, and unfamiliar. The brain that suddenly feels uncertain and detached and scared. Yes, that one. This letter is written to the postpartum brain that has a hold of that Mama who is working so hard to see past the fog that is getting in her way of feeling like herself.
Dear Postpartum Brain,
Let me explain what is happening to you so that you feel less afraid, if even momentarily less afraid. There has been an earthquake of sorts. A beautiful baby has been born (and I know that you know this intellectually but simply might not know this with the breath of comforting emotion that you so desire). And with this beautiful baby has been a wave of receding hormones that are affecting your capacity for health and wellness. As that baby left the safety of your belly below, the levels of estrogen and progesterone have dropped significantly in the body that you manage. Those hormones are required for the effective functioning of the parts of you that are required for emotional balance: serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. While some brains find a way to balance back out after this disruption, yours has not.
The imbalance of hormone levels in your body is interfering with your capacity for effective functioning, and so you are left feeling challenged. To put it more simply: the shifting hormone levels are interacting with your chemistry to make you less resilient to stress. While you, Dear Postpartum Brain, once danced beautifully (even while stumbling at times) though periods of stress with relative ease, you are now unable to do so. And how frustrating! You suddenly are not able to think clearly and problem solve as you know. You are suddenly frozen when you are used to flowing freely. You are suddenly more alarmed and anxious about things and suddenly you are even more in need of feeling control than you are used to. You, Dear Brain, are being held hostage for the time being.
And it is likely that you are getting in the way of your body and your spirit. Those two parts of yourself are now being held hostage by you! I know that you do not mean for this to happen, but your body is tired and depleted and your spirit is crushed. Your body is not being well taken care of by you and so it is void of energy and nutrients. You are keeping it awake at night. You are quieting its hunger and interfering with its desire to be fed. Your body craves your empathy and your courage and your creativity and your strength so that it can be well. Your body is calling to you. And, because you are not functioning the way you would like to, you are having a hard time answering with ease.
Oh, and your spirit! How much your spirit has been quieted during this siege! Your spirit lacks the energy for company, for social contact and for familiar love. Your spirit suddenly feels less than, feels judged and feels inadequate. Your spirit is suddenly being taken hold by all of the challenges in its past that it had finally managed to overcome (or so it thought!) because you are unable to think of those challenges with perspective. Your spirit is whispering when it used to sing loud. Your spirit is tentative when it used to be proud. Your spirit is weakened when it used to be strong.
Perhaps you have been here before, Dear Brain, before this beautiful child was born. Perhaps you have once felt this betrayal and perhaps the birth of this sweet darling baby has sent you back to a place of challenge. My guess is that if you have been here before, you are feeling let down by your own strength to heal. And my guess is that if this is all new to you, you are frightened beyond belief because you cannot recognize yourself.
So … here’s the deal. You are not lost forever. Yes, I know you believe that you are, but you most certainly are not. With time and care and effort to heal you will once again know yourself. You will have the strength and clarity to give your body and your spirit what they need, and you will know- with certainty and with pride that your beautiful baby is so lucky to have you just as you are. You will know, not just intellectually but also emotionally, that this baby with the soft skin is yours and that you are hers. He will gaze at you with longing and you will gaze back at him with longing in return. No, Postpartum Brain, you are not lost forever.
But, you must get help. I am certain that in most situations you will not just heal on your own with wishful thinking or determination or faking it till you make it. And, in fact, these strategies are likely to wear you out even more. Most brains under siege like you will need some support that comes from elsewhere — from an empathetic ear, from a medication that will heal your wounds, from some strategic planning around getting you what you need to be well, be it sleep, or food, or love and support. Yes, yes, I know that you want to push through this all by yourself, but why? You are so loved, Dear Postpartum Brain, and you deserve for someone to hold your hand.
I am hopeful that you might feel a bit less lost after reading this letter, or, perhaps, that you might have at least a better sense of why you are feeling so strange. Be kind to the Mama who houses you, Dear Postpartum Brain. Be not judgmental but empathetic. Be not unfair but kind. Be not distraught but hopeful. You are still you. And that Mama needs you.
Kate Kripke is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) specializing in the prevention and treatment of perinatal mood disorders. She is also a blogger, regular contributor to Postpartum Progress and the Colorado State Coordinator for Postpartum Support International. Kate lives in Boulder, Colorado, with her husband and two young daughters.
Donations to Postpartum Progress can be made here: http://postpartumprogress.org/donate-postpartum-depression-2/