Dear New Moms,
It's been nearly two years to the day since I experienced some of my darkest, most difficult, unexpectedly challenging and at times heartbreaking days.
I don't know where you're at in your postpartum journey, but from what I've found in talking with many of my own friends, as well as other women who've had children, so many of us struggle way more than we are willing to admit. I'm writing this in hopes that you will see you're not alone and that you don't suffer by yourself. No one talks about what could happen after you have a baby. It seems all we hear about are rainbows and butterflies and cute little stories of this and that. And if you're knee-deep in a postpartum mood disorder, hearing stories like that makes you want to hurl.
So, here's my little take on the reality that can, and often does, happen to women when they bring their babies home.
It was two years ago that I brought my beautiful and perfectly healthy baby girl, Kaylee, home from the hospital. What I anticipated to be some of the most wonderful and happy days of my life were, to be honest, nothing short of a huge disappointment and the beginning of a long downward spiral for myself and my little family.
Long before I had Kaylee, I made up my mind that we wouldn't have a hard time adjusting. Since being a mother was something I'd always wanted, I pretty much assumed it would all come naturally and I'd get the hang of it quickly.
I couldn't have been more wrong.
We dealt with struggles breastfeeding, Kaylee decided she was way too cool for naps and I had a pretty traumatic physical recovery from giving birth. Within her first four days of life, my pain spiraled out of control to the point where my husband literally had to carry me from my bed to the toilet to use the bathroom. My dignity was nowhere to be found. I couldn't even turn over in bed without being in serious pain. I could not sleep, no matter how bad I wanted to. I remember telling myself that I may never sleep again. I really believed that.
Four days postpartum I had the first panic attack of my life, and I seriously thought that I might be dying. It was terrifying. And utterly humiliating, as my family saw the whole thing.
I went three months before being diagnosed with postpartum depression. Antidepressants got me back on track, thankfully, and I'm someone who can say I made it through.
During my battle I remember feeling things like a loss of hope that I'd ever feel better. I was exhausted, cranky, mean and did not feel like myself. I was resentful that I had such limited involvement in my daughter's life for the first week because I was hardly able to function myself. I still have guilt about the way I treated my husband. The things I said to him … the way I treated him. It makes me shutter just thinking about it.
I remember feeling crazy because I was convinced my child was going to die in her sleep. I'd get up 20 times a night to make sure she was still breathing. I was constantly on edge, I had anxiety levels that shot through the roof, and my husband sat there wondering what in the hell happened to his wife, because I sure as heck wasn't the woman he married.
I didn't think I'd ever go back to feeling like myself. So many days I wished for the carefree feelings I had before I had Kaylee. It felt like I was constantly worrying about her. Worrying about her health. Worrying that she was okay. Worrying that I was doing everything right. Worrying that people were judging me. worrying that she may not like me.
I was a miserable human being and I tried to hide that from the world. I tried to act like everything was okay and I wanted to give the impression that I had my shit together, but I was nowhere near having it together.
I think many of my problems stemmed from having these expectations that never came to fruition. My ideal notion of motherhood had been shattered to pieces. And while I had a healthy little girl who was thriving, I felt like a complete failure and I was truly convinced the "old me" was gone.
I want you to hear this. Really hear this.
When you become a mother, you will never be the same woman you were before you had a child. You will change in so many ways. You will worry more. You might get angry more. You'll lose your patience. You'll have days when you want your old life back.
And that's okay. Because you'll also learn that your heart will hold more love than you every thought possible.
There are countless women who have been through what you are going through. You may be sad, angry, anxious, overwhelmed, crying all day long, unable to see joy in things you used to, or maybe you're having scary thoughts that terrify the crap out of you.
No matter what it is you're going through, please believe me when I say that you're not crazy. Please believe me when I tell you that you have nothing to be ashamed of. Your brain gets so whacked out hormonally during pregnancy and after birth, and there's not a damn thing you can do about that. I have no doubt that whatever you are going through right now, there are countless other women who have gone through something very similar.
Please believe me when I say that you do not have to suffer.
You deserve to be happy. You deserve to be well. And you will get there.
It may very well be that people around you won't understand you. One of the best things you can do it to educate yourself and friends and family about the symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety, and don't be afraid to be your own advocate.
If you decide to go to therapy, I can't stress enough the importance of finding someone who is trained in and understands the complexity of postpartum mood disorders.
As someone who went through a complete nightmare and made it through to the other side, I'm here to tell you that you can make it too. Two years later I still remember what happened, but it doesn't seem so harsh. The memories aren't as vivid, and in fact, those really scary memories fade more and more each day
You'll never be able to erase what happened to you or your family, but you can heal. You can be well.
Being able to tell my story, to share my experience, to admit some things that I'm not proud of — all of that — has helped me to heal. In fact, the more I talk about it, the more I realize how many women have been suffering in silence, and it's stirred up such a passion within me to advocate for women, to fight for screening, education and treatment, and to do everything I possibly can to help eliminate stigmas attached to postpartum depression and other postpartum mood disorders.
I'm thankful I got help when I did because I think my daughter is none the wiser about what happened. We have an amazing bond and I love her to pieces. I am well. My baby is well. My family is well.
And I want nothing but the very same thing for you.
Sera is the author of Laughing Through the Chaos, a blog about finding the humor in the struggles of motherhood, among many other things. She is a social worker and an advocate for postpartum mood disorder awareness. She is also a very big fan of chocolate and happy pills.