BabyCenter shares ”about 10 percent of new mothers develop Postpartum Depression, but some experts believe the number is even higher because many women don't seek treatment." Three years ago, I shared a personal story here on the blog, one of miscarriage. I explained that, because my girlfriends had been open about their loss, I knew going into my first pregnancy that miscarriage was a possibility and, in turn, I was able to find healing sooner than expected. (Read that story here) But here's the thing, THIS…Postpartum Depression…no one talks about it. And I understand why! There's shame and embarrassment associated with what you go through, so obviously your first instinct is not to be vulnerable and share your struggles openly. A miscarriage happens TO you and sympathy comes from friends & family with that. But with PPD, you struggle with the feeling that it's YOUR fault that you act and feel this way. It makes you want to hide from your family & friends or put on a brave face while, really, you're falling apart behind closed doors. But if only we mommas struggling with PPD, and those that have found healing, could share our stories, then we would help each other understand that it's NOT our fault! With pregnancy, our bodies have gone through changes and our emotions are under attack. So today I choose to share another personal story, the hurt and heartache of PPD, in the hopes that other mommas will find acceptance & healing in these words.
WHAT IS PPD?
When I googled Postpartum Depression, I read: “PPD is depression suffered by a mother following childbirth, typically arising from the combination of hormonal changes, psychological adjustment to motherhood, and fatigue.” WebMD adds, “If you have it, you might feel sad, hopeless, and guilty because you may not feel like you want to bond with, or care for, your baby.” I know many of you reading that last sentence probably think, "Wow, I couldn't imagine"...well, allow me to share my experience to shed some light.
Looking back, I can see now it started on Day 1 of our second baby being born, another beautiful girl, her name Lindi. With our oldest daughter, Liliana, I attempted nursing, only to discover 2 months later that I basically had been starving my child. Turns out, I had no milk supply and my poor baby girl had saggy skin at her 2 month check-up that, understandably, concerned her doctor. We switched to formula and she was the happiest baby ever since! While I was willing to try nursing the second time around, I went into it with eyes peeled, looking for the same signs I overlooked the first time. Well, our very first night in the hospital resulted in about zero sleep, as Lindi cried & cried, nursing was just not satisfying her. So, in tears, I told my husband that I said I wouldn't do this again and I gave Lindi her first bottle of formula that night. I wish I could say the tears (both Lindi's and momma's) stopped there like they did with Liliana, but the next 2 months were filled with failed attempts at nursing and supplementing, followed by 3-4 more months of switching from one formula to the next (FIVE in all), as each seemed to cause Lindi pain in one form or another. And what does pain in a baby sound like? Ear-piercing, blood-curdling screams in your tired, oh-so-tired, ears...hour after hour, night after night. And when you're in the midst of the relentless crying, no matter what you try to do to appease her, the frustration builds inside, "PLEASE stop crying! I don't know what to do!! I don't understand what's wrong!" Before PPD, you think "Shaken Baby Syndrome" is so absurdly ridiculous, but with PPD, you feel horrified and ashamed that those thoughts ever entered your mind. It was a constant feeling of wanting to get away. Looking back, I realized that when I would catch a glimpse of my baby girl sleeping, I wouldn't stop & stare at how adorable she was, but rather I tiptoed around her thinking, "Please don't wake up. I just can't handle you anymore today."
SIGNS OF PPD
As I pressed on through the sleepless nights, my responses & conversations with others began to send up red flags. During one encounter with my mother, I had Lindi laying in her rock 'n play with a bottle propped up to feed her. Mom questioned me on it, but I shrugged it off with the excuse of being too busy with a toddler running around to take the time to hold and feed Lindi every 2 hours. Then another time, while chatting with a close girlfriend, I let it slip that "I don't feel like I love Lindi, like I do Liliana." What a punch to my own gut, to hear those words out loud. I had been thinking it for months, but I never told anyone before. I felt embarrassed, like a horrible mother, what if Lindi finds out someday how I felt? The guilt laid thick and a few days later, when I was with that same friend, I told her how I was so ashamed that I said that. I know now, that my vulnerability and honesty opened the doors to my healing! My friend began to share her knowledge of Post Partum Depression and from there things began making sense. I would read signs & symptons and things kept matching up! Some PPD comes out in the form of anger, some tears, maybe nervous ticks/habits (it wasn't until I had chewed the inside of my mouth raw repeatedly, that I realized I had formed one!)
I had read many things can add up to cause PPD: fatigue, stress at work or home, insecurities with your new body, loss of control over your home and time. In the first few months after Lindi was born, I don't think my husband or I got much more than 4 hours of sleep each night, talk about fatigue! So clearly, I didn't feel like exercising!! After your first baby, your body seems to bounce back quickly, but apparently, after the second, the belly stays, ugh!!! And the too-small clothes that you throw on the floor are not the only mess in your house. You walk from room to room, each one in shambles and the weight of what needs to be done just piles on your shoulders. There's no time to sleep or workout or clean, let alone follow up on work that is falling behind, deadline after deadline being missed. Every message that comes through about how you dropped another ball just throws you into more of a downward spiral, feeling like you're drowning in a list of to-do's with no end in sight!
SO WHAT DO YOU DO???
How do you break free from the cycle of depression? With a newborn, you think, "Oh, if she could just be older! If I can make it to 4 months old, it'll be so much better. Then 6 months goes by and you notice things aren't changing. At 8 months, you question why is this still happening?" After I realized that I was in a full-blown struggle with PPD, I decided to make changes and get out of this rut! Here & there, change & after change...
- Spring Cleaning
- Watching less TV and getting off FB
- Going outside for fresh air
- Listening to music with a positive message
- Taking Vitamin D for a boost of mental energy
- Joining a workout group with other moms
- Shopping for a new wardrobe that actually fit
- Being pampered with a Spa Day
- Getting out of the house any chance I could get!
- Asking my husband for forgiveness & understanding
- Opening up to my friends & family for support
- Learning to say NO and limiting my list of responsibilities!!
THE HEART OF THE MATTER
With each change, I felt a moment of peace. I could breathe again! But next thing I knew, the baby was crying in my arms, my toddler was running down the hall screaming at the top of her lungs, my husband was asking me what we should do for dinner, and I was trying to fix a work problem on the computer...ENOUGH!! I can't do this, when will it ever change?! After lashing out at my family, yet again, and being at my lowest of lows, I finally realized what needed to change...ME. No matter how many external changes I made in my schedule and life, nothing would be different unless my heart was filled with peace.
"A life without peace is crippled, unable to move forward, hindered from maturing and developing in a healthy fashion"
"Shalom, the familiar Hebrew word for peace which permeates the Old Testament, does not refer to the absence of chaos, but rather to an overall deeply entrenched sense of harmony, health, and wholeness in the midst of chaos."
"If our emotional state is directed by the shifting circumstances of earth, we will constantly be in a state of turmoil and confusion. Up one day and down the next. We need an anchor in our soul to keep us stable and sound...Peace with God is the answer."
~ Armor of God study
Everyone has different stresses in life and reasons that their buttons get pushed, but the thing is we ALL have them, whatever they may be. And in this broken world, they're not going away, so it's how we choose to respond in those moments that will determine whether our outlook each day is one of joy OR depression...and for this momma, I choose JOY over Postpartum Depression!
That choice is not easy and it certainly is not a one-and-done. But over these past 2 months, after choosing peace each day I have seen changes that give me a new hope! (I will say, the days I forgot to were no fun, haha!!) But changes began! The fact that it took 6 months before I started to lovingly kissing my daughter, caused me to struggle with the thought of being cold-hearted. But instead I choose to see it as the signs of a healing mother. AND THIS CHANGE, well I never saw it coming...I have said over and again these past 8 months with Lindi and this struggle with PPD, that we're stopping at 2 children. That decision being made solely on the feeling that I couldn't handle going through another "first year" with a newborn. But last night, as I laid in bed cuddling with my oldest daughter, asleep in my arms, cherishing every bit of that moment, my heart broke to realize that I was saying "No" to more of this. That I was actually choosing to say "No" to another beautiful blessing in my life, ONLY because I thought I was too weak. Well to that, I say God is STRONGER! And while I don't know what He has planned for our family in the future, I'm finally ready to open myself to the possibilities. Praise God for a renewed mind and an open heart!
PLEASE SHARE MY STORY WITH OTHERS
I shared everything above to help others realize that something bigger may be happening and help them understand that there's nothing “wrong with them”. But I'm not an expert, so I encourage those who are starting to question their own feelings after reading this, to take a look at this website that explains the signs of postpartum depression in, what they call, "plain Mama English” along with some resources and next steps.