Several weeks ago, I wrote a that got a lot of attention, and my surprise about that should have been clue #1 that something was very wrong. When I wrote down and shared my postpartum experience on social media, I never expected so many comments of support from people I haven’t seen in years, all the private messages, text messages, emails, even handwritten cards. I never expected for a friend to go so far as to make an appointment for me to go see a therapist.
I never expected to be admitting today that I have postpartum depression.
I still feel weird putting that in writing. I don’t think I’ve even said the words aloud. I guess that’s partly because you just never think these things will actually happen to you. But there’s part of me that doesn’t fully believe it. The part of me that says I’m just a shitty person, an unfit mother, and a wimp, and I should just buck up, shut up, and take care of my fucking responsibilities. On good days, I realize that’s probably the depression talking.
On good days I also know that this is actually the second time I’ve had PPD. Even though this is the first time I’ve had a firm diagnosis, the first time I’m getting help, and the first time I’m popping a pill to get me through the nights, this isn’t the worst time. When I first became a mom 2.5 years ago, the early months were even more difficult, but I never told a soul the sheer depth of it. I can’t fathom riding a rollercoaster and forcing myself not to scream, but that’s what it was like. I held on for dear life and just rode it in the dark until it was over.
It scares me, now that I’ve started to talk about this openly, how many women out there go through this alone. I get it. There is so much baggage wrapped up in the idea of getting help when you have PPD. You feel paralyzed by the logistics involved in getting help. You don’t want to be a burden to your family. You don’t want to put your needs ahead of your child’s. You think that if you could only get in a nap in the afternoon, everything would be better. You think that if you could only breastfeed or if you could only breastfeed better or if you could only give up breastfeeding, you would feel fine. You convince yourself that you’re not sick, just incapable or unworthy. You have a good day or a few good days and think you’re cured.
Of course, the elephant in the room, the heart of why I think so many women forego any kind of treatment: the fear of losing your children. Let me repeat with emphasis: the fear of losing your children. I wasn’t shaking my babies or holding a knife to my throat or anything, but my mixed-up brain convinced me that there might be a chance that my words could be twisted or misunderstood or that maybe I would end up in the hospital… I didn’t know what the implications of those things might be. So, yup. I get why women stay silent.
This time was different from the last, different because someone decided to go out of her way to take action for me when I was functionally incapable of doing it myself. I’m not suggesting that we should expect our friends to be responsible for our mental health, but I do think that we all need to work together to identify and treat postpartum depression. A lot of the responsibility for this has fallen on the shoulders of our OB and pediatrician’s offices, but it’s much too easy to lie or downplay or be written off. I would encourage all women who are currently pregnant to work with your close friends and family to make a plan. Type it up, like your birth plan. Study it, like your baby development books. Because when you’re in it, “I need help” are the hardest words in the world to say.
This post is part of a week-long CT Working Moms blog series.