My PPD Story:
A Raw Account of Motherhood with Postpartum
Understand that you are not alone.
When it comes to motherhood, we’ve all been there!
There are so many layers to my story, I am not sure where to begin.
Motherhood has been fickle for me; consistently inconsistent, if you will. Some days, I’m on top of my game, juggling diapers and Legos and laundry and schedules and child-sized meltdowns without missing a beat. My friends and family often tell me I am an amazing mom and on these good days, I think they’re telling the truth. I feel it and I almost believe it. Almost. At least until the stress of being Mom inevitably gets to me once again. On those days, the ones I struggle to get through, I am convinced that I am doing it all wrong and that my children would be much better off with some “Other Mother”: one who doesn’t lose her temper, yell too much or randomly break down crying in front of them. A mom who enjoys getting on the floor and playing with her babies, taking her children on adventures through the neighborhood and crooning off-pitch Disney tunes into a make-believe microphone with her budding rock stars. The mom that I always envisioned I would be when I was given my chance.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” My answer to this has not changed since I was a girl. All my life, all I ever wanted – all that I dreamed of – was to be a wife and a mother and to raise a family of my own. A family, I vowed, which would be devoid of the trauma and abuse that I endured as a child. When I married my 7th grade sweetheart in 2010 and we were blessed to immediately begin our family, I knew I was living the happily-ever-after to my Cinderella story. What I didn’t realize is that motherhood is not the light at the end of the tunnel I imagined it to be. In fact, it’s a journey of its own, chock full of blind turns, road blocks and dark tunnels. This they didn’t cover in my Lamaze classes or at my pre-natal visits or even in the dozens of Preparing for Baby books I read. This I had to learn on my own, through a long, arduous struggle that is My PPD Story.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but my struggle began before my first child was even born. In January of 2009 I began actively seeking professional treatment for some issues I had been battling for years: extreme mood swings ranking at the top of my list. I began to run the gamut of our country’s current mental health system, a course on which I would spend the next 5 years.
It started with a (mis)diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder. I was treated with strong psychiatric drugs; medication that intoxicated and sickened me, yet did nothing for my symptoms of depression and anger. Following a particularly intense meltdown in February of 2010, I voluntarily admitted to an intensive outpatient program at my local hospital. I spent 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 3 ½ weeks attending group and individual therapy sessions. I saw psychiatrists, psychologists, physicians, nurses and professional counselors. I told the story of my background so often that I had it down to a concise monologue, highlighting precisely what I knew the doctors wanted to know, complete with a chronological print-out detailing my mental health journey.
Through all of this, I never felt like more than a number in a system, a case from a textbook. Don’t get me wrong, people were nice and most had good intentions. However, the Psychology major in me felt like the majority of the time my symptoms were just being run through a list in the DSM-IV, paired with the closest resembling diagnosis (in the opinion of my provider anyway), and assigned a treatment, by the book.
No one asked about me; the real me. None of these trained professionals saw the forest through the trees of my emotional wounds, past my masks of self-preservation. No one took the time to genuinely connect with me, understand me as a whole person, get to know what makes me tick. If they had, they would have made the connection between how I was raised and how I was raising my family. They would have realized that I’m a perfectly normal human being, one reacting to life the only way I ever knew. They would have told me that it was okay, that every new wife and mom has similar fears, that what I needed was support. Instead, they saw my diagnosis.
I was a defective product on an assembly line and their job was to fix the defect with whatever medicinal concoction fit the bill, which of course I had to pay somehow – though being a single, White female with a full-time job (or 3) and no kids disqualified me from any type of government assistance.
Still, I rode the waves of the mental health world, allowing several weeks for each of the meds to “kick in” and telling my story, my symptoms repeatedly as I struggled to find the right therapist. Upping my meds when it was clear they weren’t helping; changing them because they still weren’t; adding a supplement pill as advised by the latest psychiatrist…. Still, the crippling ache remained inside. My soul still sank down into the darkness and tears still flooded down my face. My blood still boiled as the raging fire inside me ripped through my body, eventually spilling out into my world and burning those I loved the most. The One I loved the most. The One who, throughout all this craziness, still loved me and wanted me and made me his wife and the soon-to-be mother of his children.
When I discovered I was pregnant with my first child shortly after completing the intensive outpatient program, I stopped all prescriptions. I knew the darkness inside me was not good for my baby or myself, but I also knew the risks I would be taking by continuing those dangerous drugs that only made me feel worse. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, life as an un-medicated “Bipolar” mother, but I also knew it was the best choice for all of us.
The journey was difficult. As much as I wanted children, I did not enjoy my pregnancy. I spent most of it crying and the rest of it angry. Morning sickness lasted the first 30 weeks and I spent the last 10 weeks adjusting to my abrupt role as a housewife/stay-at-home mom. All 40 were stressful. My husband had just discharged from the Marine Corps and was transitioning back into civilian life, an indescribable feat of its own. We were married during my second trimester and moved into our apartment a week before the wedding – the same week I lost both my job and my beloved cat, Daisy.
I was a complete mess. I wasn’t sure what I wanted or where I was going or how to enjoy my experience. The first time I felt my baby kick, I was parked at a forest preserve, sitting in my car having an emotional meltdown, depressed about my life and questioning my future. My husband and I had been fighting – constantly. The fact that we made it to the altar at all is a bit of a miracle considering the strife we battled during our whirlwind engagement. We knew in our hearts that we were meant to be, yet when we would argue, we would seem to forget that we loved one another. Somehow we just kept going. Soon, our baby arrived.
My first night home with my son, I remember thinking that I was going to end up alone. That my husband would leave us and I would end up raising this child on my own. Adjusting to a new baby in the house took some time and put a strain on our marriage. Learning how to deal with my own issues, a transitioning veteran, being a new mom, a new wife… it was all too much. Cognizant of my history, my family watched for signs of postpartum. Sure enough, soon I was back in a psychiatrist’s office, this time looking for a medication that wouldn’t interfere with breastfeeding my newborn.
I told my new doctors that I had previously been treated for Bipolar Disorder. We initially began treatment for the same, but during an intake interview with the psychiatrist, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder was mentioned for the first time. I began to consider this alternative and research the diagnosis. However, we soon moved a couple of hours away from that facility and once again I stopped treatment altogether.
Now, we were in a new home in a new town, hours away from any friends or family (aside from my mother-in-law, with whom we lived). I felt powerless, confined to the house and isolated from my world, something I attributed to both the move and my newfound dependence on a man and his family. My husband and I had a love-hate thing going on; we hated the knock-down, drag-out fights that rumbled their way through our newlywed years, but man – we loved to make up! Not surprisingly, we were soon expecting again.
On Christmas morning of 2012, I awoke my husband with news of a positive pregnancy test. We were overjoyed at our impending new arrival. While I can’t exactly say I enjoyed the pregnancy, I do recall it being easier… even though I was chasing a toddler and the morning sickness lasted 38 weeks the second time around. I had begun a holistic therapy with someone who saw and treated me as a person, an entire being. He never made me feel like one of those defective products on an assembly line and so, with his help, I was able to begin the process of healing myself.
We brought our baby girl home and our little family was quite possibly complete: one boy, one girl and I was beginning to adjust to life in our first little home. I joined the local fitness center and took the kids to baby gym. I even began dreaming of a career in writing, with plans to chronicle my newfound exploration of holistic wellness on my blog. But alas, life happened again.
My husband’s grandmother lost her in-home caretaker and my mother-in-law volunteered to stay with her while they sought a replacement. Turns out the arrangement was a rather good one and remains indefinite to date. This is wonderful, with the exception that it essentially left the responsibilities of caring for the house and property in my husband’s and my hands, a tremendous task for which we were terribly ill-prepared and completely unsuspecting. Yet, as with most of the undertakings we’ve faced in our marriage thus far, we’re learning.
We were blessed to have different relatives stay with us for various spells while we transitioned to the challenge of caring for our family on our own. Each of those experiences taught us lifelong lessons we hold close to our hearts. Still, having so many people in limited space also posed its own obstacles. Perhaps as a result of turning to one another for comfort during these times, we soon learned I was pregnant once again… except this time, it wasn’t joy I was feeling.
We hadn’t planned on having another child and certainly not so soon. My daughter was only 8 months old; my son was not yet 3. My husband was having difficulty securing steady work, meaning finances were tight and tension was usually high. The chaos at home was already too much for me to handle and I couldn’t imagine adding more. Asking for help didn’t seem a reasonable option: after all, we had gotten ourselves into this mess. Besides, I was already trying to ignore the judgment I felt glaring at us from the sidelines. I relapsed. Any progress that I had made in relieving my depression up to this point vanished and left me in the darkest, loneliest place I have experienced in my lifetime.
After discovering I was pregnant with my third child, I spiraled into a deep depression; one that would not fully lift until after the baby was over a year old. For me, the illness came in waves, knocking me down over and over. I would hit what felt like rock-bottom, only to discover there was further to fall. I was paralyzed from even the simple tasks of everyday life by the heaviness of my sickness and so I would often retreat into comfortable isolation.
Whenever I felt a rage coursing through my veins that I could neither control nor understand, I would lock myself in my bathroom or bedroom in an effort to barricade myself from my family. I swore to myself that I would not hurt anyone or damage any (more) of our stuff. I wanted to scream, punch the walls, tear at the fixtures and kick in the door. I wanted to run, very fast and very far away. But I couldn’t run; I couldn’t leave. I had babies who needed me. All. The. Time. Humans whose lives depended on me upholding my responsibilities. After all, I’m The Mom.
Whenever anxiety blanketed me, the intense emotion would pulsate through every inch of my body, the blood rushing to my tear-swollen face, until I was sure that it had reached its maximum capacity and would just explode me into a million pieces. I’d let out a scream, sink into the fetal position on the floor, and begin sobbing uncontrollably. I was gone; disconnected from my world and everyone in it, unable to communicate or even comprehend what was happening inside me.
I lost months – years, maybe – to this illness. I often yearned to be alone. Thrusting my parental responsibilities onto my husband, I’d seclude myself to the darkness in my mind. I’d drive aimlessly, not wanting to be anywhere or see anyone; feeling trapped inside my head. Or I would park next to the river and contemplate my place in this world, ponder my worth and whether I had any as I let my pain stream down my face.
I found myself increasingly exposing my bleeding heart to my husband, looking to him to release me from my self-imposed prison; begging him to give me a way out of my misery and leaving him speechless and no doubt feeling alone and scared when nothing he tried would work. Neither of us knew what to do – how to “make it better” so to speak. Many times I felt the only reason I continued living was because of the growing life inside of me. A life I increasingly felt I didn’t deserve.
When the baby arrived and the surge of post-pregnancy hormones washed over me, I felt at peace for a brief moment. I was happy in my little life, content with my wondrous family and the breath of fresh air a newborn brings into your home. That is, until the PPD crept back in, poisoning my life once again. What once came easily, naturally – parenting – I started to do on auto-pilot. An empty shell robotically fulfilling my duties as Mom… feeding, burping, bathing, diapering, cleaning; repeat… sitting through monotonous songs and repetitive nursery rhymes and brightly colored, too-loud toys. I was a robot at my best; a monster at my worst.
Soon, I began to detach even further, separating myself from my children whenever possible. Too often relying on Netflix to entertain them so I could retreat into my dark, lonely space, away from the family I created, the family I am more convinced every day needs to be free of me…
It’s a cycle that has grown all too familiar: Meals for the kids become whatever I can grab and dump on their plates without exerting much effort. I swallow my guilt and shove nutritional concerns aside as I open another “veggie pouch” for my 4 year old. I have no desire to cook and I certainly won’t feel like cleaning after we eat. Well, after the kids eat, anyway. My appetite vanishes with my motivation right about now. After dinner, I’ll skip their baths, “just one more night” because I don’t have the energy to wrangle, undress, rinse, soap, rinse, play with, dry, and re-dress three children right now. This wash-up will do just fine.
When morning comes, I skip getting them dressed because now it’s actually late afternoon and really those PJs aren’t that dirty (we just put them on the night before last… or was it the night before that?). We aren’t going anywhere today anyway and didn’t we say last night that we would do baths tonight? I skip the story and the song and the sweet good-nights because honestly, I just want to be done with the day. Please go to sleep. Shh! you’ll wake the baby… No, you don’t need another glass of water and you’ve already gone potty 4 times! Get back in bed. Shh!… Lie down, don’t move and please be quiet. Shh!!!… Damn it, that’s it! Back in your bed, now! Just lie down and SHUT UP and leave me alone!!!
Oh, God, I’m so sorry. I know it’s not your fault. Mommy doesn’t feel good, but I’m not mad at you. It’s not okay for me to talk to you like that and I feel bad for doing it. No, I don’t know what’s wrong, baby, and I don’t know why Mommy cries. But I love you and thank you for hugging me and please, sweet baby, please get some rest. Yes, I will, too.
I’m not sure exactly when I started seeing my depression reflected in the lives of my children; I don’t know if I noticed it in their disheveled appearances or if I felt it in the baby’s cry as she suckled at a dwindling milk supply, hungering for nourishment I could no longer provide. I do know I missed it in the voices of loved ones who expressed their concern: at my constant scolding/yelling/punishing the kids; my desire to remain secluded in our home, where I barricaded us from the rest of life; my lack of interest in… anything. I’m not even sure I saw it in my uncharacteristically dirty house or my unkempt, overstressed and angry self. But eventually, I spotted it in my kids; I saw it in their eyes, I heard it in their words, I felt it in the way they treated themselves and others. I noticed the reflection of my lowest and worst self, glaring me in the face and growing stronger each day. And I hated what I saw.
At first this realization upset me. I was failing at the one thing that I have spent my life training for: from caring for my younger siblings to working as a nanny to studying early childhood education and child development in college, my entire life experience has prepared me for this mission. My life was a dream come true, one I only dared to imagine in the innocence of my youth. Yet, here I was living it for real – and I was wasting my time by dwelling in the throes of life rather than reveling in the abundance of it. How did I let myself get here? And what in the hell am I going to do about it?
The truth is I don’t know how this story is going to end. I can indeed pinpoint the exact therapy sessions in which I finally chose to release the pain of my past and how glorious it felt as the ugliness physically left from my body, releasing through my feet and leaving me with what can only be described as pure lightness. I can tell you where I was when I realized that I am not alone in this world, but in fact, surrounded by amazing people filled with good hearts, great intentions and loving support. I can describe with elation the trip I took with my mom that finally healed my little girl’s heart from festering childhood wounds. But my story continues. I can’t yet claim to be cured of my illness, this postpartum demon. Some days are better than others; most are better than the last. It’s a process. One I am still learning – every day a new lesson.
I’m learning that through it all and despite self-talk to the contrary, I am a good mom. I am that “Other Mother,” who enjoys taking her kids on walks through the woods and chasing them until they’re breathless at the park; who worries about their health, happiness and futures; who wonders if she’s giving them enough love, a good balance of comfort, structure and independence.
I’m learning that there a million ways to be a good mom and among these is recognizing that motherhood is stressful. Every day we strive to balance self-care, relationships, parenting, house management, careers and other life stressors – the good and the bad; I’m learning to relieve this stress just as frequently as I encounter it.
I’m learning to take care of myself; to spend time and money on myself once in a while, so I can recharge and prevent Mommy-Burnout. I’m learning to ask for help when I need it and to be thankful when I get it. That Daddy will not always do things the way I would (in fact, I can guarantee that 95% of the time he will do them differently) but that he loves those kids, and tirelessly aims to keep us safe and happy. For that I am truly grateful and blessed. We are all imperfect beings and this means my partner has his own struggles; he needs my love, not my judgment.
I’m learning to love and accept myself as the person I am, complete with imperfections of my own. I’m also learning that I best demonstrate this love and acceptance to my children when I take care of myself and when I share my love with others.
I’m learning that it takes a lot of patience to be an adult, to remain a grown-up when you feel like stomping your feet and joining the kids’ wails. I’m learning how to deal with those childhood issues I naïvely thought I could leave in the past; to face them and not fear them, like all obstacles in life.
I’m learning how to spend more time living in the moment, embracing who I am and where I am here and now. That it’s important to plan and anticipate the future with open arms, but it is more important to inhabit this minute, to cherish life at this moment for the next has not been promised.
Coping with PPD is not easy, but it is possible. I’ve learned that until we release our pain and suffering, until we bring our darkness to the light, we can never truly know peace or happiness. It is with this wisdom that I share my story with you and encourage you to do the same.
First of all, ask for help. Trust me, it’s out there; you just have to find it. Seek professional help, talk to a trusted pastor, confide in a friend… Please, reach out. Connect with someone and share your story: your triumphs, your lessons, your fears. Make new friends and reconnect with old ones. Understand that you are not alone. When it comes to motherhood, we’ve all been there!
My experience has taught me that utilizing the mental health system takes patience, persistence and perception, but the help is available. Stay in control of your body, your mind and your health by being proactive in every aspect of your life, including making the choice to switch to a mental health provider with whom you feel comfortable and connected, no matter how many times it takes. The same can be said about medicine.
Medication is a tool that can be incredibly helpful in helping you maintain homeostasis, providing you the time and space you need to learn, grow and heal. However, it should be only considered as part of your treatment, as should any other therapies you choose to endeavor. True health requires a lifestyle change – there is no drug or therapy or treatment that will magically dissipate your life’s problems. But, medication and therapy can be useful tools in helping you change how you think, how you respond to life’s problems and in turn, how you feel about life.
Ultimately, it’s on you. You have to make up your mind and take action, put forth the effort and open yourself to learning from your mistakes along the way. But I assure you, you can do it. It’s all about perspective. Change your thoughts; your words and actions will follow, your circumstances will shift. You will see results.
Please remember to be gentle on yourself. Give yourself a break. Often. Slow down and enjoy the life you’ve been given, for the good of yourself, your relationship, your family and your community. Soak up the good stuff, release the bad stuff to the wind. Find your passion, your mission, your reason for being and let the chips fall where they may. You can’t control the rest of it anyway.
Like you, I’m still discovering that I have control of my life, that I create my own destiny. I’m learning that the pen is in my hand and that each day is a fresh page. I’ve realized that I determine where my tale goes from here: the woman and the mother I will choose to become, the life that I will decide to lead. I know that I’m writing in ink and I can’t erase my mistakes, but if there’s one thing I’m certain of, it’s that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be… every day writing my story, every day living my dream.
January 1, 2015