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Getting through the first six months: my struggle with postpartum depression

Hi guys! I wrote a guest blog for YMS in January, and it was so therapeutic and inspiring to me, that I asked Kimmie if I could come back for more. Fortunately, she said yes! This time around, the subject is a little more sensitive and a lot more serious, but it’s so important to me that awareness continues to spread around postpartum depression*, and the stigma that is associated with it. I recently read an article about a Mother who took her own life after losing her battle with PPD, and it truly broke my heart because I, along with so many others, can relate to her. Until you’ve gone through it, you can never really know what it feels like. And although I was never formally diagnosed, and my experience may be mild compared with others, the feelings were there and they were very real. It is my hope in sharing this piece that someone out there might be reading, who needs to hear it the most. Please know that you are not crazy. And you are not alone.

My preparation for having a baby consisted of eating entirely too much mac-and-cheese and spending entirely too much money at Pottery Barn Kids (I spent like $100 on a crib bumper that’s still sitting in the packaging. Clearly I didn’t do my research, or I would have known these things are a no-no). I didn’t do much reading about what to expect when the baby comes. I had no birthing plan, other than hoping to deliver naturally with the strongest epidural possible. So when I had Grace, unbeknownst to me, there would be very intense emotions in that moment and in the weeks to come. For the first several days, my heart felt like it was on fire and at any given moment, was going to literally burst out of my chest. I would look at this little person in her newborn sized onesie, sleeping peacefully in her rocker, and just start crying because I loved her so much. At the very same time, I had these intense, unwanted images racing through my mind that something bad was going to happen to her.

When it was time for bed, I would envision picking my baby up to walk up the stairs, and I would trip and fall and land on top of her. Or, during bath time, I would pick her up and she would slip out of my hands onto the floor. Once when I was taking a shower, I had her sleeper outside of the door, in front of the stairwell. I pictured the whole thing tumbling down the stairs with her in it. These kinds of thoughts continued and they came out of nowhere. I couldn’t stop them from happening – I just quickly shook my head, so as to shake them out of my mind. I felt like I was living in a Stephen King novel at times. I never told anyone – I thought it sounded too crazy. And I have an overactive imagination anyway; I’m always on guard. But after weeks had gone by with no improvement, I did some research and found that it had a name: postpartum depression. I stopped right there because I didn’t feel depressed – quite the opposite – I felt so enamored with this baby.

After Grace turned three weeks old, my husband had to return to Colombia, and Grace and I stayed back with my Mom in the States. Lucky for me, that’s right around the time her nightly “witching hour” started. For four weeks straight, I would look at the clock around 5pm and start to get anxiety because I knew what was coming: 4-5 solid hours of Grace fussing and fighting going to sleep. I would walk with her around the living room, walk with her around the kitchen, sway with her in the bathroom with the fan on, rock her, play music, make “shhhh” noises, give her a bath. Eventually one of those things would work, but it was never the same, and we had to play process of elimination each night to figure out the winner. In the absence of my husband, I still thank God every day that I had my own Mother around during that time. Her patience and love were everything. I also was very blessed to have had several close friends become new Moms not too long ahead of me, who I would call on and find that this evening fussiness was a pretty normal thing. The reassurance helped, however, my tears started to take a turn from feeling so in love to feeling so deflated. But then the new day would start and the joy came rushing back in. It was a never-ending cycle of highs and lows.

When it came time to return to work, I cried at my desk for the first week. A part of me felt happy to be getting out of the house and back to normal. But the other part of me felt extremely guilty for leaving my baby at home with someone else, someone I barely knew, to care for her. When the weekends rolled around, I felt like I needed to give all of my attention to my baby. But I was tired. Tired from working all week. Tired from breastfeeding. Tired from pumping. Tired from not sleeping at night. With the pressure I had put on myself to exclusively breastfeed combined with my husband’s regular work travel demands, I felt like I was starting to lose it. Some days were easier than others, but overall, I didn’t feel like myself. I tried to laugh it off by making ridiculous jokes, “Grace didn’t sleep again last night, excuse me while I go jump off my balcony!” And while I was lucky to never have true suicidal thoughts, I was hurting inside.

I wanted to bail on the whole thing and book a one-way ticket back to my early 20s, when the biggest decision I had to make was picking a spot for Friday happy hour. When you get married and it doesn’t work out, you get a divorce. When you move to a new city and it’s not what you had hoped for, you leave. When you start a new job and realize your boss is a complete a-hole, you quit. When you become a Mother, you certainly have the option to jump ship. But you are still someone’s Mother for the rest of your life. I couldn’t shake this feeling that there was no going back; this was a permanent arrangement. I felt so ashamed. And embarrassed. I had friends, best friends, who had suffered through miscarriages. And infertility. Who confided in me how badly they wanted to be a Mom. And here I was, with a perfectly happy and healthy baby, having these thoughts. There were other Moms around me who made it all look so easy. Why couldn’t I be like them? How could I be so ungrateful? How could I love my baby so much and still feel this way? I didn’t 100% realize it at the time, but I was slipping into a rather dark place.

Thankfully, everything started to level out for me around six months. The vivid images of something harming my baby started to fade away. The constant feeling of being so in love, yet wanting to run away from it all started to balance out. The breastfeeding sessions started to become shorter and more consistent, and the schedule started to get a bit more predictable. Grace started sleeping longer stretches at night and taking more regular naps, which meant I was also getting more regular sleep. My mind started to mellow out, and slowly but surely, I started to feel like myself again. Like a normal human being, who just happened to also be a Mom. But those first six months were hard. There was this unwavering struggle of feeling like a piece of me was missing that I’d never get back. Like I left my old life behind and this was my new life, and I didn’t quite know how to identify with the new me. But I’m still me. I still like to take a nap on a Saturday afternoon and have a cocktail come Friday night. I like to look though cookbooks and find new recipes. I like to spend time with just my friends, and just my husband and just myself. And at the end of it all, I feel so blessed that I have a husband who lets me nap, and girlfriends that I can drink wine with and be real with. And a sweet little baby to read a bedtime story to every night. <3

*If you are struggling with postpartum depression, no matter how mild or severe, remember that you are not alone and there are a number of resources available to you. I have an amazing tribe of women in my corner, who I was able to be open and honest with, who helped see me to the other side. If you don’t feel comfortable opening up to family or friends, and would like to talk with an outside source, YMS is always available and ready to help guide you to the right place. Additionally, here are a few helpful sites:

http://postpartumstress.com/

http://www.postpartum.net/

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/postpartum-depression-and-the-baby-blues.htm

XO,

Jacki

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