I’m usually the person who is most comfortable bringing up the things no one wants to talk about. I point out the elephant in the room and give it a name. I don’t believe in hiding things.
Although I feel an incredibly strong pull to share what is going on for me, which I’ve always honored in the past, I haven’t done so because I have been afraid. Afraid of being judged and treated differently. Fearful of disappointing friends and family and of making them worry.
Continuing to keep it all inside is only doing myself a huge disservice. This morning I remembered some of my previous pieces and thought “Well, maybe it won’t be such a surprise if I share this.” Then I thought of my post about shining my light and honoring the dark is my work in this lifetime. I wrote that and meant it so the question became will I let my fear keep me from living it? The answer was no I don’t want to let my fear keep me from living it so I started to write this piece.
The first two months postpartum I thought I was doing really well, and in some ways, I was. The reality is I was also in shock. My son’s delivery was incredibly traumatic… I almost died. How could I not be in shock? As I went into the third month I started to feel and feel very intensely. It felt like someone had ripped the shade off the window while I was sleeping and the sun came pouring in blinding me.
I fought the anxiety and low mood. I did my best to smile and be happy. I tried super hard to see the joy in having this time with my son. I took tons of pictures and sent them off to everyone. Externally I was holding it all down like a champ but internally I felt the fabric unraveling.
I was referred to a program for women with postpartum depression and anxiety. I sat there during the support group and thought I could relate somewhat but in the end I let my pride and denial decide I didn’t need to be there and didn’t go back the next week.
It caught me off guard how often I thought about the program even though I had decided not to go back. I thought of it every time he cried and my insides felt like they were vibrating. Whenever someone told me what an amazing job I was doing and all I felt was anger. I thought of it every time I felt like leaving the house by myself and not looking back. Every time he did something that I knew I should feel all sappy about but felt only emptiness. I thought about the group every day for a week before I decided to go back.
I attend group and art therapy just about every week now and at least once a session someone, myself included, will say something like “I know this should be the happiest time of my life but…” or “I know I should be enjoying this time with him/her because it won’t last but…” The amount of pressure put on women, overtly and covertly, to feel all the fairy tale feelings about birth, postpartum, motherhood, and their child/children is insane.
The amount of shame I have been feeling around not seeing my son, myself and this time as they do is also insane. It is a big part of why I haven’t written this sooner. But shame doesn’t go away by pretending we don’t feel it or the things we feel. Shame thrives on our isolating and staying quiet in the dark. It dissolves when we come into community and shine a light on it with the loving support of others. Going to group and art therapy were my first steps to dissolving my shame. Writing this and sharing it with all of you is the next step.
This isn’t at all how I pictured postpartum life being. I knew before he was born that I had every risk factor for postpartum depression but I hoped with all my might that I had done enough work to not end up with it. Even knowing I was at risk doesn’t ease the blow of this experience. I’ve been depressed in the past, a lot actually, but it never connected so directly to a person as this does. Everyone else sees my son as this light and joy and a symbol of hope. I can see that but there are times when he is just a symbol of what has happened to me, what is happening now, and all I wish hadn’t gone on and wasn’t currently happening. Sometimes it takes everything I have to remember he didn’t cause this and he went through his own trauma during his birth. We are both in need of healing.
Our art therapist asked us to consider our experience with postpartum depression and anxiety as not that but rather an alternate view on postpartum and motherhood. What if we are experiencing it in a broader emotional spectrum? What if we are seeing the other side of the coin?
When I start to beat myself up for how I am feeling and going through these days of motherhood, I remember her question and ask myself what if this is just my experience? Not good or bad. Just my experience. When I can shift my perspective to this, it is then I am grateful for how things are going. Feeling depressed and/or anxious is just that – it is how I feel. It is information my body and mind is sharing with me that I can use. How I feel isn’t who I am.
If someone you know is going through this, ask them what they need and give it to them exactly as they’ve asked for it to the best of your ability. Their experience and what they say they need is more important than anything you’ll read in a book.
If you are going through this, reach out. Email me or contact this organization: http://www.postpartumprogress.com/the-symptoms-of-postpartum-depression-anxiety-in-plain-mama-english
You are not alone.