Today I’m discussing Postpartum Depression in honor of another Momma lost.
Within my community everyone is Facebook friends via subdivisions, little league or the YMCA. A tragedy shook us recently when a sister of one of the girls that runs in overlapping circles of acquaintances took her own life.
Through a scan of her most recent Facebook posts she looked to have it all. A proud wife, a mom of a beautiful baby girl, a devoted sibling, a fun friend, a Christian sister.
In fact she looked like any of us.
However unbeknownst to her husband or family she was suffering from excruciating postpartum depression. Nobody knew as she was able to hide it.
That too sounded like so many of us.
A few of my girlfriends and I spoke in hushed tones at a dinner out the other night as one of us had attended the wake and didn’t have a clue what to say to the family in the receiving line.
I mean, what can you say beyond a heartfelt “I’m so sorry?” What words could possibly mend the rawness of loss or bridge the chasm of grief? There are none. Even “I’m sorry” sounds too hollow.
So over supper we talked about the ugliness of this secret shame. I shared how a friend of mine had notes written out to end her life when Baby Blues became something more aggressive and dangerous. Left to think that the world would be better off without you as a new mom right there shows how reality is hijacked. But for God my friend’s mother intervened and pulled her back into the light.
It wasn’t so with this sweet soul they laid to rest last week. And with a four month old daughter left behind we were all pained at how tragic it is.
Trying to figure out how things go so wrong when just a few months ago you were aglow flipping through a Pottery Barn Kid’s catalog picking out your last items to finish off the nursery. Settling on names, baby monitors, bottle or breast, cry it out or co-sleep. Nothing on this planet would seem more bizarre than to say in less than half a year you’d choose to slip away and not see your little one wearing those precious 6 month old onesies or 12 month old bubble suit you received at a shower. Wouldn’t even compute.
But here this family mourns. What happened?
All of us are mommies in my tribe, some single births, some four or more kids. We know what happens after the hospital cuts off the baby alert ankle bracelet and gives you your child free and clear. The hormones. The lack of sleep. The day/night confusion. The nursing dramas. The health worries for our babies from thrush to belly button scabs that won’t heal. The health worries for us from sitz baths that nobody has the time to take to C-secition scars that ooze strange colors. The unexpected NICU visits. The reflux for the baby. The night sweats for you. And did I mention the hormones?
I will honestly say due to lack of sleep and a traumatic birth of my first I had delusional thoughts about him falling off the diaper changing table or me dropping him as I walked down the stairs. Horrific frightening worst case scenario thoughts that scared me. Now I understand once the placenta is delivered our “feel good hormones” of pitocin bottom out – right when we are handed a little human to keep alive. Back then I thought I was possibly psychotic and that my brain wasn’t cut out to be a mother. Talk about feeling like a troll. Every well meaning older woman in the grocery store asking me about my baby’s schedule felt judgmental. I didn’t want visitors and bawled like my baby when my Mother had to fly home. Scared to be alone with my son and fearful of the horrific thoughts that would flash through my head, I stuffed it all down and trudged through not wanting to bother anyone.
By the grace of God a woman in the check out line at the grocery store asked me how old my son was – now we were into week 3 and I still didn’t have a system or clue how to soothe this kid. Instead of giving me her list of “must do’s” in raising a baby she gave me something else.
I will never forget how I couldn’t even make eye contact with her to answer his age and name and she said “but you’re here.” Then she said it a few more times and turned so I had to look right at her. “You made it out of the house with your baby. You got your shopping done. And it looks like you’ve showered this week, right?” I nodded. “Well congratulations! That’s huge. It’s so tough with a newborn, and you are at the hardest switch from none to one, but you’re doing it. You’re here!” She actually got everyone around me to clap and nod along which prompted so many moms there with their teens or long moved out kids to come over and encourage me, tell me their first month horrific baby story they now laugh about or would just put a hand on my arm and said “good job mom!”
I will never forget that day.They came together in the check out line and made me feel capable in that moment. Connected to something bigger. Encouraged to keep going.
Oh I wish that for every new momma now. In fact I seek them out in Target or Kroger to confirm how surprisingly tough newborns are and how unnecessarily tough we are on ourselves. Magazines touting celebrities back to pre-baby weight in two days. Pressure from ourselves to be out with that new pram looking assured. Questions from strangers how our baby scheduling is going and unsolicited advice nobody wants to hear. It’s too much.
We are set up for disappointment when our post-delivery reality looks nothing like our pre-baby fantasy.
So if you are going through a dark chapter please seek out help. And after the birth of a baby don’t be fooled that our hormones settle back to normal quickly because mommas of toddlers can struggle with depression too. And sometimes all seems good until you wean the baby and hormones crash again.
I want to encourage you to listen to your gut and speak up. If not to your partner or your doctor or a friend, then Google a counselor, talk to a MOPS leader or ask your preacher for a name. Talk to your momma friends because I promise you somebody in your group is on something or has sought treatment for postpartum depression before you. Like you would seek out help for high cholesterol or low blood pressure, so should you be confident that altered brain chemicals are just as high of a priority to address now.
My friends and I decided that nothing would be more important in honoring this sweet momma who could not bear life any longer than to speak up. Use our voices to tell our stories, to share support to other new mommas, to peel back the curtain of shame on depression because let me say it’s alive and well amongst mommas.
- Depression is not weakness.
- It is not that you just haven’t prayed hard enough.
- Or not found the right vitamin or supplement yet.
- It is not a phase you soldier through.
- It is not laziness.
- It is not poor mothering.
- It is not payback.
- Depression is not fixable by putting on a happy face or a stiff upper lip.
- It is not going to banish you out of your group of friends (and if they have a problem, ditch those mean girls and come hang out with my awesome tribe.)
- Serious life ending depression is not just needing a good night’s sleep.
- It is not selfishness to seek help.
- It is not having too high of expectations.
- It is not being self centered.
- Depression is not having read the right parenting book yet.
- It is not to be sluffed off as baby blues that will pass in time.
- It’s nothing to be ashamed about.
- It’s not a bother to seek help because you deserve more.
You deserve life in abundance.
You deserve to live.
And your baby deserves a healthy, whole, happy most of the time because let’s be honest life is not a chick flick, here for the long haul momma.
So sweet friend if you’ve ever been there, encourage another. If you’ve never been there, say a prayer of gratefulness and keep an eye out for your friends. And if you’re smack dab there in the middle of more than the blues, please find a lifeline and come join us in the light.
And may we all take a moment to pray for those littles left behind by mommas who were in the dark so deep their stories ended too early in grief.