*trigger warning* This is my story, well, part of it. And I share it here to show you just one snapshot of what PPD can look like, there are so many other ways it rears its ugly head. But silence only perpetuates the stigma, so here it is, in all it’s rawness and truth.
Rage overtook happiness. I would look at my daughter and feel nothing. No joy. No love. She would ask me to play with her and dance with her, and I could barely summon the energy to sit up let alone dance. Annoyance bubbled. Rage would explode the moment she started whining for more attention. Before I had my son, her little brother, I’d have dance parties with her daily, before she could stand and walk on her own, I’d salsa dance with in my arms nearly every day. We’d run along the lakeshore, we’d giggle and laugh. Laughing while depressed felt awkward, like my face didn’t quite know what to do because the emotion wasn’t behind it to tell it what to do.
Five months after my son was born, the first Polar Vortex hit Chicago. We didn’t leave the house for almost the entire month of January 2014. I had no desire to be around people, I used my infant – who happened to have a rare skin condition which was exacerbated by the cold – as an excuse to just stay in the house and nurse and snuggle, nurse and snuggle. He was such an easygoing baby that I projected all my emotional ailments onto my daughter: she was rebelling, she was a threenager, she was having a hard time with the transition of adding a family member, she was strong willed. But really, she was upset because she had ostensibly lost her own mother, her secure base, and didn’t know how to get her back.
I remember thinking: I’m the child development expert, this would never happen to me, I know what I need to do, why do I feel like I’m drowning? Shame. Fear. Sadness. Rage.
I used to administer mental health screenings to new mothers as part of my previous job. I knew the signs. I knew the dangers. My brain knew all these things. But I simply couldn’t notice it in myself. That’s the tricky part of mental illness. You sometimes don’t know it’s there until it’s too late. Fortunately my immediate support network consists of my incredible husband and family, plus my incredible friends who do not pass judgement on me when I emotionally vomit all over the place or become deafeningly silent or anything in-between. These women, who at the time, I’d known for less that 2 years, brought us home cooked meals, they helped me care for my children, they cleaned my house, they shared personal stories and struggles – as solidarity, not as competition – they encouraged me to do what I needed to do to climb out of the tunnel.
And I climbed out. I fought. I fell, and then I fought some more. And as a part of that fight, I became a doula, and I started my own business, I took back control of my own damn life and told postpartum depression to go to hell.
But the fight isn’t over. For myself in the aftermath of broken relationships that need repair, and all the other hundreds of thousands of people (just in the United States) affected by postpartum depression, the fight is far from over. So, where do we begin? Right here: thank you to the people in the public eye who speak about perinatal mood disorders, thank you to the neighbors and friends who listen and notice when their fellow community members need help. Thank you to organizations like Postpartum Progress who offer programs in a variety of mediums to reach as many people as they possibly can. Keep fighting the good fight.
Lastly, but most importantly, on a personal note: thank you everyone whose instincts told them to hold me and my family up while I found my voice telling me to run, not walk to find help. THANK YOU:
To my husband who kept our entire family afloat
To my doula: who encouraged me and supported me when I told her I wanted to become a doula myself, a process that helped me see that I was worth something to someone even when I felt like I was failing at most everything else in my life – thanks Cait.
To my family: who not even living in the same state as me, and even as we all navigated through my dad’s fight with cancer, were always willing to help at a moment’s notice
To my friends, my village: who kept my family fed, in love and nourishment, when we simply couldn’t do it ourselves – you know who you are.
To my other, other half, my life doula: who understands the need for community in an ever isolating world and workforce, who knows when and how to hold space and when to call bullshit, who doesn’t ever let up on the dream – thanks Shawna.
And to you, soon-to-be mama, thank you for reading this far. Now, I implore you, surround yourself with people who care for you without judgement: friends, family, care providers, neighbors, because you should never have to be alone, but especially as you welcome a baby into your family, you will not regret it. I promise.