One of the most (out of many) horrible things about having post-partum depression (PPD) is the silent battle you are constantly fighting, against yourself, alone, while at the same time hoping like crazy that nobody notices that you might be unhappy/stressed/overwhelmed/anxious/you name it. I’m always nervous for people to randomly drop by my house for a visit should they happen to notice the puffiness of my face from crying “for no reason,” or how dirty my hair might look from being in my third day of a “rut” where I just don’t care to wash it, or the unclean dishes piling up in my sink; a sure sign that I’m obviously failing as a mother.
Not every person who has PPD gets it to the same degree; nor does that beast rear its ugly head in the same regard to each woman. With my first born, I mainly dealt with severe crying fits, feelings of failure, and overpowering hopelessness. Whereas with my second child, I have major anxiety, feelings of intense anger, and a loss of self-worth – on top of the crying and feeling overwhelmed.
With my first child, I did not bond with my baby at all when he was first born. It was not until he was around five months old that I finally realized how incredibly in love I finally was with my little person. I didn’t dislike my baby, I just felt like someone had suddenly stuck me with this tiny, little stranger whom I had expected to immediately fall in love with and understand the solution for each and every whimper. And I think I had a slight grudge against him for it, like he wasn’t really doing his part either. “Come on, baby, make me love you!!”
On top of that, I was constantly hopping from one foot to the other, trying my damnedest to make it look like I had everything under control. In reality, things couldn’t have been farther from the truth. And my inability to admit that I was struggling and craving to appear like “The Perfect Mother” was making it far worse. Looking back on those days, especially in old pictures, I can tell how insane that idea was making me. My house was spotless!
Let me make this perfectly clear: I am not judging anyone on how often or not one might tidy up, but a brand new mama, with a tiny, new baby, should be doing nothing more than eating, drinking, and tending to their new little person. She should not be scurrying around the house all day long, bouncing from one task to another and making herself exhausted.
But I couldn’t do that. I felt like every dirty dish had to be washed right away and every dinner should still be homemade and on the table by five. I wanted everyone to believe that I had my shit 100% together and to be amazed by my natural ability. On the inside I was hollow. I wouldn’t understand wholly the reasons why, but my birth had left me feeling like a total failure. Lacking, somehow.
I felt even worse when I thought about how I “should” be happy. “You should be happy. WHY aren’t you happy??” I had a loving and supportive family, a wonderful and devoted spouse, and an adorably perfect new little boy. But I just wasn’t, and it wasn’t until around six months post-partum, at the urging from my husband, that I would finally ask someone for help. It was very difficult for him to watch me go through this, and my random outbursts were draining on our relationship.
After seven months of jumping from one antidepressant to the next, I discovered that diet and exercise worked best for me, and I started feeling better and better each day. It was as if someone was slowly lifting a veil away from my eyes and I started to find more and more joys in my daily life. My son was about 18 months old by then and we had grown much more accustomed to our routine. So this mothering business was not beyond my grasp! I CAN do this!
When I ended up getting PPD again with my second child, I couldn’t help but wonder if there really was something wrong with me. Even with all my learning and understanding that the surge of hormones can make the situation nearly unavoidable, I felt like, “if only I had handled xyz differently” maybe things wouldn’t have ended up back here. I was in a dark spot for about eight months before finally deciding to handle this round of PPD with a new approach. Instead of keeping everything to myself, I was going to tell people that I wasn’t “fine,” I wasn’t going to keep my life under the veil of “The Perfect Mother, “ and I wasn’t going to pretend like I didn’t need anyone’s help.
When people would ask me how things were going with the new baby and ask if they could help, I would tell them the truth, even if it made them uncomfortable, “He’s very healthy, but he’s not sleeping well and I could really use a nap if you’ve got time,” or, “I’m not able to pay enough attention to his older brother and am overwhelmed, would you mind taking him to the park for me, please?” I’m overwhelmed, I’m stressed, I’m tired, I need a shower but would rather sleep. I’m not going to bother cooking a whole meal today, and yeah, my three-year-old is just going to eat Wendy’s for dinner tonight.
Instead of pretending that I wasn’t drowning, I was up front with everyone about what was happening. “These tears? They’re inevitable these days. Yeah, it’s my post-partum depression, but it isn’t all the time or every day. I have good days and bad days with it. It’d be great to have a kid-free day if you have time to take them to the zoo for me.” Being open about my PPD hasn’t cured it, by any means, but at least those close to me can better understand why my laundry might be piling up or why I look like a hobo that day (no offense to any hobos…). It’s because I’m overwhelmed by everything in my life at the moment, and you know what’s truly liberating? IT. IS. OKAY. It really is, I promise.
When things get really tough for me, I try my best to reason with myself. I ask myself three basic questions:
1.) Are my kids happy?
2.) Are my kids healthy?
3.) Do they know that I love them?
As long as I can answer “yes” to those three questions, I feel like we can make it work. Years from now, when my PPD is gone and they look back on their childhood will they remember all the times I might have cried while making mashed potatoes or will they (hopefully) remember all of the times we laughed? Will they focus on the times where I might have gotten more upset than necessary with them and had to apologize? Or will they remember the times we took, each day, to snuggle?
FAMILY is important, not this sickness or the circumstances it might find you in. And having to deal with this sickness is NOT MY FAULT. I am NOT okay and THAT is okay… because eventually we will BE okay! The most important thing is admitting that you are having a tough time and getting the help that you need. Regardless of how little you hear about it or how that one mom friend you have on Facebook might be making herself look like she’s got it all together (honestly, how often does anyone advertise their day to day “failings” on their Facebook wall?), you are NOT alone! You aren’t. All mothers will go through a bout of baby blues at some point post-partum, despite how small or large it might be. And if you are having a tougher time than another mom, IT’S OKAY! It does not make you a bad mother, nor does it make you a failure for admitting it.
We need to end this stigma of immediately being able to gracefully, flawlessly enter a new situation when having our first, second, third, and so forth, babies. Why are we expected to all of a sudden know exactly what to do and how to handle it when we’ve never done any of it before? Parenting is NOT easy and anyone who tells you otherwise either needs to cut the bullshit or put out a damn manual!
Listen, mamas, do yourselves a favor; If you’re reading this post and nodding and thinking, “Yes, that’s me, I am having a tough time!” Go into your bathroom, look yourself in the mirror and say, “Things are tough right now and that is okay! I am a good Mommy!” Say it a couple times. Say it until you can believe it. Then, say it to your partner or a family member, or to a trusted friend. The more you say it the more you will believe it and the less those tough times will add to your stress. And remember that I am sooo right there with you.
If you find yourself in my boat, don’t lose hope. Take things one day at a time. Find things to make you laugh and laugh out loud. Ask for help and don’t be afraid to do so. Don’t hide behind the “I’m fine/everything’s fine” veil. Get a shower (at least) every other day – it FEELS GREAT! Force it if you need to. Eat good food and stay hydrated. It helps, it really does. Maybe if we all stop pretending that everything is okay, the pressure to be “perfect” will take a hike!
*Mama Queenly is a wife to her best friend of 15 years and SAHM to two young boys in Midwest, USA. Her passions include, but are not limited to: writing, cooking, baking, and all kinds of music (both recorded and live). Having had both an induced, med free vaginal birth in a hospital and a birth center transfer turn emergency cesarean, she has very strong interests in pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. She shares the belief that knowledge is our best defense when fighting for our basic rights and feels that she has much to share with other women about her own experiences. “If you have knowledge, let others light their candles at it.*