Six months after having my first child, I sat in my OB’s office thinking through the Postpartum Depression Questionnaire I had just taken. “That’s not me,” I thought. I don’t find myself crying more than usual. I’m still able to find laughter. And I’ve never thought about harming myself or others. But I was also not me. I had carried a weight on my chest for the last two months. I was constantly at a tipping point. Anxious was no longer a feeling, but a constant state of being. And I didn’t have the words for how anyone could truly help.
Postpartum anxiety, though…
As my doctor explained, I felt like I was listening to my very own thoughts. She prescribed me to medication, which I hated. But I had also had moments where I hated myself. And that was my breaking point. It was a goal of mine to not have to be on medicine forever. It was a bigger goal of mine to love myself again. Telling myself that it was temporary gave me encouragement.
In trying to conquer my postpartum anxiety, I decided to go to a therapist who specialized in women’s health. I can remember weight lifting at her words, “you’re in the right place.” While I knew she meant that coming to therapy was the right place for me to be, I also felt that the universe was telling me that I was in the right place as a mother, a wife, and a person just trying to be better. It gave me the sense that I belonged.
Going to therapy doesn’t mean something is wrong with you. It just means that you want to be better. The world needs more people like you. People who want to be better for themselves and for others.
I had a real fear that by experiencing postpartum, or at least a form of it, meant that I was failing. The feeling of failing as a mom was too much to bear. There was no better role that I had ever been granted. I was absolutely, totally in love with this little human that had added so much color to my world. On the other hand, I was in the darkness of mourning the loss of my former self. I was not the can-do, doing it on my own, don’t need anyone’s help person I was before motherhood. I had to realize that the only thing I was truly failing at was accepting everything I had now become.
Life events change you. They open you up and sew you back together in a new way. You become stronger, wiser (yes, even when mom-brain is so real), and better at the seams. For what is lost, you have to become acquainted with all that has been gained in return. “Becoming” is not easy.
And at the least, let’s consider the fact that it takes a recommended 37-40 weeks to grow a healthy, full-term baby. Perhaps it’s okay if it takes some time afterward to grow into yourself as a mother?
Someone recently asked me if I had had postpartum. Instead of falling into a pit of self-doubt, I thought, “don’t we all?” By the term alone, isn’t anyone who just had a child experiencing postpartum? While everyone experiences it to a different degree, you can’t have a child and not be changed by it. It’s such a general term, with blurred lines and muddy grey areas. And it’s not necessarily negative. It’s very much physical. It’s very much natural.
It’s very much normal. And it’s very much okay. Hear me out, ladies who have experienced and are experiencing “postpartum”: You are okay. You are enough. You are becoming.
Not everyone is going to understand it. Not everyone is going to understand why you dropped the ball, why you didn’t show up, why you’re on the edge, why it looks like you haven’t bathed in four days (…because you haven’t), why you didn’t “just” do x, y or z. And that’s okay. Because it isn’t theirs to understand. But for every person who doesn’t understand, I can guarantee you that there are a handful who would say, “girl, I got you.”
As I took my journey through postpartum anxiety, I considered how my experience with postpartum fit into the overall experience of any physical/emotional/mental challenge. I considered how many women were fighting the same thing, just at varying degrees. I considered how many people were fighting with less, with little, with no support at all. I considered the people who were fighting worse, fighting longer, fighting bigger, or had given up the fight.
Keep fighting. It is so worth it. You are so worth it. We all deserve a Real fight.
“You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” ― Margery Williams Bianco, The Velveteen Rabbit
*If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of postpartum, please seek help. There are a number of resources waiting for you.
- Seek the advice of a family physician or OB-GYN
- Indiana Chapter of Postpartum Support International
- Marion County and Hamilton County Pregnancy, Prenatal, Postpartum Support
- Franciscan Health Postpartum Support Group
- St. Vincent Resources
- Suggested book list: This Isn’t What I Expected by Karen Kleiman, MSW and Valerie Raskin, MD; Life Will Never Be The Same: The Real Mom’s Postpartum Survival Guide by Ann Dunnewold, PhD; Beyond the Blues: A Guide to Understanding and Treating Prenatal and Postpartum Depression by Pec Indman, MFT and Shoshanna Bennett, PhD; What Am I Thinking? Having a Baby After Postpartum Depression by Karen Kleiman, MSW