No more whispers. Talking about PPD at full volume.

July 20, 2011

After months of alternating between feelings of anxiety, anger, confusion and sadness I finally heard what everyone was whispering to themselves and no one was saying to me:

I’m dealing with postpartum depression.

There you go. No more whispering. It’s a thing. A thing that happens. To a lot of women. And no one talks about it, except in shameful whispers.

That stops here. I HAVE POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION AND IT’S OK. I mean, ha, ok, it’s not great. For sure. But it’s ok. I am going to get through it. I love my child more than anything, I am not going to hurt anyone, I’m simply struggling with this gigantic life transition.

Notably, some women experience PPD in a much more severe way. I don’t mean to minimize it, this is written from my personal experience only.

Here’s the thing. I have a history of anxiety. Diet and lifestyle changes are what saved me before, what gave birth to this blog, this business of mine. But anxiety is still ingrained in my being. We made a huge move to the DC area when I was 35 weeks pregnant, leaving behind all of our friends. We have no family here. My homebirth plans get botched, I ended up with a disappointing c-section. I’m a new mom without a clue, with little support. Breastfeeding is much harder than I ever thought it would be. Not sleeping is much harder than I ever thought it would be. Getting this high needs child to nap is impossible, thanks anyway Dr. Weisbluth. The “not knowing” is much harder than I thought it would be – not knowing if he’ll cry, not knowing if he’ll sleep, not knowing if he’ll love me, truly and fully, the way I love him.

Ok, I do know that he loves me. But until he can say it aloud, I have my moments of doubt.

4 months ago you could say I had some baby blues. Now it’s pretty darn clear. My doctor finally said it aloud.

Postpartum depression it is. The label fits, so I’ll wear it.

And dudes, it sucks.

The funny thing is, now that I’m in the fold of motherhood I hear from so many women who have gone through the same thing. No one wants to scare you with this when you’re pregnant – after all, you might be very happy with your perfectly easy baby. But it’s true – PPD is darn common. One woman told me she was depressed after each of her babies, and it got worse with each one. One woman told me she had PPD so bad she had no feeling at all towards her son. One woman told me that Zoloft saved her life.

Whoa.

“The first of many strange paradoxes of human motherhood: that mothering is the most powerful of all biological capacities, and among the most disempowering of all social experiences.” – The Mask of Motherhood by Susan Maushart

I’m not looking for pity or advice or sympathy. I am looking to speak out, to bring to light some of the difficulties women are up against. Just like with breastfeeding, I find it AMAZING that I could go through 30 years of life and never hear the truth about PPD until now. That it’s regarded as a shameful secret instead of a thing that sometimes happens when your body creates another human being from scratch.

I am not embarrassed. My brain chemistry, my hormones, whatever, they are off. And I’m adjusting to this new role at the same time. My baby is neither easy or convenient (though very cute and smart). It makes sense to be a little whacked out. I’m gonna give myself a break.

Seriously. My body has never done anything as intense as carrying Danny, creating every cell of this little boy, giving birth to his 9 lb. 1 oz. beautiful being. It might take me some time to recover, more time than I thought.

And in the meantime, I want to spread the word that having a baby is a much bigger deal than it is usually made out to be. We grow up being told we can do anything, everything. Women can be CEOs. Women can run for president. Women can have it all! And then you suddenly have a baby and your life becomes about leaking boobs and understanding different types of cries in the middle of your sleep-deprived life and suddenly you feel like you have very little else.

It’s important work – the work women have been doing as long as time. But now it’s on top of your successful career, your wild and varied hobbies and travel plans. It means you very well may not run for president this year. Or next. Or the next. I should mention that I’ve drastically changed the way I do business and it brings me great joy to step outside of the mother role and help my clients with what I do best. But it is, no doubt, different than I anticipated.

You have a baby and your whole world changes and you wonder, Who Am I?

You have a baby and a mother is born. I heard that a lot when I was pregnant. What I didn’t hear was that there’s a part of you that’s gone forever, a part you might need to mourn.

You have a baby and your marriage changes. You are now hardwired to meet your baby’s needs first.

You have a baby and you’ve gone through a one way door. It can be terrifying.

You have a baby and s/he might not behave like the books say. You might find yourself doing crazy things so that the child eats and sleeps, things you never thought you’d have to do. Things you feel embarrassed about when other moms brag about how “good” their child is.

So, this blog is about balance. Living a balanced life has been my mantra for years, since I realized that kale and yoga could save the world. Well, I’ve just been handed my biggest challenge yet and I need to defend my thesis.

I’ve hired babysitters, I’ve made it a point to get back to yoga classes. I have a mommy group and make social plans whenever possible. I have weekly therapy. I tried Bach’s Rescue Remedy but don’t notice any effect. I tried a natural anxiety reliever, GABA, and it made my lip swell up. Weird.

Full disclosure. I also tried Zoloft in a desperate attempt to regulate my moods. I know it helps many women. I hesitated for weeks, finally filling the prescription. It gave me insomnia and a panic attack after a single dose.

I remembered that percosets made me hallucinate when I had my wisdom teeth out, that local anesthesia for a gum graft once made me pass out. I have a bit of a strong reaction to medication. Heck, nutmeg once got me high!

So I personally am not planning to try any more pharmaceuticals. If it had worked, great. It could have been very helpful for a few months. But the these side effects are not something I can experiment with and still care for my son. That’s something else no one mentions – if you do decide to get the support of an antidepressant, you might need to experiment with different doses and types before finding one that works, that doesn’t cripple you with side effects.

Um.

So, here we are. Trying to eat my dark, leafy greens every day. Trying to live in the moment, using nighttime nursings as a chance to focus on my inhales and exhales. Trying to embrace the experience instead of fighting it.

Talk about it, out loud.

Please see the follow-up to this post, Kicking PPD’s ass.

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