20 months and counting: when does postpartum depression end?

I’ve heard the question over and over again, and every time it strikes a nerve: “Well, T isn’t a newborn anymore so is it really postpartum depression?”

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The answer is still “Yes.” Why? Because it’s not really any of your business. Okay, defensiveness aside, because that’s what the medical professionals told me. Postpartum depression can crop up within two years after having a child, and even when it lasts it is still a depressive episode triggered by the changes women go through in pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum. Voilà, postpartum depression.

If you’ve read some of my other posts about postpartum depression and anxiety, you will have read that I didn’t get help right away. I suffered in silence for over a year. I didn’t want to be that person, that mother, who couldn’t handle motherhood and would forever be labeled as “depressed.” Of course, that was just the depression talking. Now I can see life so much more clearly, and realistically. Depression doesn’t define me as a mother or a person, it just is something I have, like having a freckle or a funny looking toe. It definitely isn’t a favorite attribute, but it is so important to know that it isn’t who I am, and it is something that gets better.*

I’ve been going to therapy and been on medication, and it makes a world of a difference. You know when Dorothy steps out of the fallen house into a world of Technicolor? Yeah, it’s kind of like that.

woman-sunshine

This isn’t to say that I can’t backslide. Depression and anxiety is something that is like your shadow; always present and pretty hard to be rid of. The good thing is the more light you shine in your life and on yourself, the less formidable the shadow becomes. Being proactive and pushing my comfort zone has been an integral part of my improvement. Social activities, organizing the house, painting, writing, and scheduling personal alone time are all key elements in keeping me [mentally] healthy.

So, no, I’m not really sure when postpartum depression ends and just plain ‘ole depression starts. It really doesn’t matter. What matters is that I keep moving, ever forward, in my journey and that I don’t want to ever become “that mom” again. It’s not about what people think or the labels they might stick to you, it’s about being the best mom to your child possible.

 

 

*If you are struggling with depression and/or anxiety and need help, contact your primary physician, ob/gyn or check out: https://ppdsilencesucks.com/

It happened this morning: The three little words I never thought I’d say as a mother

So, I don’t usually start my posts with an introduction, but I feel like this one needs it. This is a post that I’ve been sitting on for more than a year, because I’ve felt too ashamed to write it. Reading the post again makes me feel like the ultimate failure as a mother. It is raw, honest, and painful. Today I am deciding to share it because I am in such a different place mentally and emotionally, and I’m hoping that looking back at that devastating moment with a newborn might help another mother feel like she’s not alone. Maybe she will feel like there’s hope for tomorrow. Maybe it will get her through another day, and then another. Because the truth is it does get easier. The newborn phase has been the hardest experience I’ve ever had to endure, compounded by my postpartum depression and anxiety. So, without further delay, here is my most shameful moment yet….

It happened this morning: The three little words I never thought I’d say as a mother

It happened this morning. I said those three words I never fathomed that I, or any other mother, would ever say about their offspring. “I hate him.”

I was standing at the side of the bed, having just pulled myself out of it, rolling him off my arm where I had been trying to get him to go back to sleep. My husband groggily looked up at me from his side of the bed. “Want me to take him?” “No” I dutifully replied. I immediately changed my mind. “Yes,” I had said, “I need a minute.”

As I left the room I could feel hot tears threatening to cross my lid brim into reality. He’d been up most of the night since 6:30 the evening before. He woke every 30-90 minutes. Sometimes he was starving, sometimes he was just seeking out comfort. Maybe typical for a newborn, but not for a 5-month-old.

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I went downstairs into another room and flopped down on the guest bed like a ragdoll. I guardedly let the tears fall, not allowing myself to succumb to an actual crying fit. My husband woke me what felt like a minute later, informing me that he had to get ready for work; I hadn’t realized I fell asleep.

I was stuck again with the sleepless monster. A monster that on any other day had the ability to make my heart melt with this toothless grin. On any other day his crying sound of “maaaa maaaaa” made me a love-gooey puddle. But not today. Today in the still twilight I hated my son.

Stuffing away the feelings I strapped him into his high chair to continue our usual routine. I ate my cereal. We started at each other in silence. He looked as tired as I felt. I knew we were at our breaking point. We wouldn’t be ourselves today.

I called his doctor’s office, hope dangling by a thread that she could help me. “What is the appointment for?” the receptionist asked. My answer gushed out in hasty breath, and ended with “We really need some help.” My voice sounded broken, even to me.

After an unusually short and ungratifying nap for both of us, I relegated him to his prop-up chair and turned on cartoons. After moments of indecision, I settled on a shower. It didn’t help. After pulling out clothes that would fit my post-partum body from the laundry pile that never seemed to make it back to the dresser drawers, I was rewarded for my personal time with crying.

I returned to see tears streaming down his face. I didn’t feel anger anymore; I didn’t feel anything. Maybe this was what giving up feels like. I decide to strap on the elaborate baby carrier, clicking buckles and tightening straps that pull my son closer and tighter against me—a last ditch effort of peace and an attempt to finally feed myself.

We stare at each other without exchanging a sound. I wonder what he’s thinking. I wonder if he wonders the same thing. He finally gives up, puts his head down on my chest, and falls asleep. I feel relief pour over me like the hot water of my shower had in what seems like an eternity ago. Where do we go from here?

I pray that the words I had spoken in the early hours were out of frustration, and not my heart. I pray that my son never knows how I felt towards him at that moment, fearing an eternal scar upon his tiny mind.

Where do we go from here? I continue on my path of motherhood, holding his small hand along the way. Perhaps tomorrow will bring me that toothless grin I so cherish, bringing us back in sync within the most sacred bond of nature between mother and child. I’ll hold on until then.

The other side of motherhood. The one that no one talks about.

Motherhood is hands down the greatest experience of my life. I’ve never been so in love with this little cherub that has blessed my days. The kisses, the unanticipated hugs, the unsteady swagger of a new walker; I wouldn’t change becoming a mom for anything.

But motherhood also has its dark parts. The things no one likes to talk about. The day to day experiences that aren’t glamourous or sexy. If I took a selfie it wouldn’t be Instagram worthy. On these days I wonder how I will make it through the vast time spans until bedtime. On these days I do laundry (again), dishes (again), and try to tidy my ever messy house (again). I wonder if I made the right choice leaving work, or wonder if it is time to go back. I find myself fantasizing about an hour alone for lunch, uninterrupted bathroom breaks, and the availability of other adults to talk to. Today, though, I might stay in the bathroom an extra few minutes, just to have some space for myself without a little leech clinging to my leg. My patience sometimes wears thin, much to my chagrin, and I sometimes physically grit my teeth before trying to catch a melody for Twinkle Twinkly Little Star while I’m trying to change an alligator-rolling toddler with a poopy butt. Why didn’t anyone tell me about this part?

Why doesn’t anyone tell new moms about the extent of the baby blues? The depression and anxiety? The isolation? The loneliness? Why didn’t anyone tell me?

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The most important thing that I’ve come to realize is that this is okay, and I truly believe I’m not alone when I hit these speed bumps in the road of parenting. Well, at least not alone metaphorically. Physically, it’s a one woman show over here. Like everything else, motherhood has its up and downs. It’s just that no one talks about the other side of motherhood, the one where you feel so lonely that you want to run up to the next stroller-pushing stranger you see in the street and make friends. Or when you turn on the tv just so that there is another adult human voice in the house because, frankly, a stuffed Elmo telling me about his favorite letters just aren’t filling my void for linguistic interaction.

A mom once told me something that sticks in my mind: “The days are long but the years are short.” And it’s totally true. Even though the days can seem endless, time is really passing by quickly. So whenever I have a rough day, or my little dude and I just aren’t hitting our stride, I remember that tomorrow always hits the reset button and will bring some new development that signals that my little boy is growing up too fast. So yes I’ll get the laundry done and load the dishes, but first I make playtime my priority so I don’t miss a minute. Until mama needs a minute, then Elmo the entertainer can take a turn.

On motherhood and the “Should Be”s

My head is just pounding. My hormones are going insane after finishing breastfeeding. I’m completely exhausted. I’ve been going to bed before 9 pm the last few nights because I can’t keep my eyes open. T is napping right now. My body is screaming for sleep. But instead of sleeping, I started a load of wash, made coffee, and sat down to write. I like to think that it’s dedication, but really it’s because I’m an idiot. It’s because of all the Should Be’s in my life.

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What is a Should Be, you might ask? It’s the annoying tape that plays in my head telling me what to do. I should be getting something done while the baby is sleeping. I should be doing the dishes. I should be writing on my blog. I should be able to handle all of this. I should be able to do it all, all the other moms do. And so I do. I do the laundry. The dishes. Drink the coffee. Write my blog. I put my well-being and needs aside for my family. I suspect that I’m not alone—at least, I hope I’m not. I’m guessing a lot of moms have moments when they are feeling inadequate or not good enough, or just plain out ignore their own needs for the needs of others.

Should Be’s really ugly sibling, Shouldn’t Be, is also someone I’m very familiar with. I shouldn’t be so tired, the baby has been sleeping through the night. I shouldn’t be at this weight anymore, it’s been over a year since birth. I shouldn’t be having these feelings of depression or anxiety, my life is great.

I tell myself a lot of things, and none of them are helpful or uplifting. Now that I think about—write about—it, I’m even harder on myself than I thought. I am completely self-deprecating. This is a scary realization. I have worked—and do work—hard my entire life, and here I am giving myself zero credit for anything I’ve accomplished. I’m berating myself about every decision I have made. This really saddens me. Why are we our own harshest critic?

Now what? Literally, I was just sitting with my chin in my palm leaning over staring at this half-finished post. I wish I had some brilliant introspective solution for you. I want to write about how we shouldn’t be desperately need to be kinder to ourselves, to marvel in our physical and mental accomplishments as a woman and a mother, and take the time to give ourselves what we need. These are all so true, but also feel so trite. I don’t know how to actually accomplish any of these things. The best I can do for you right now is to tell you that if you happen to be reading this and nodding your head along with me, saying “Yup, me too. That’s me,” then you aren’t alone.

You aren’t alone in your ups and downs. You aren’t alone in your eternal search for answers of the right thing to do for your kids. You aren’t alone in feeling so devastatingly alone when you sit at home wondering what to do next with your toddler. You aren’t alone if you’re pumping at work in a closet. You aren’t alone if you’re crying because you haven’t slept in 24 hours. You aren’t alone if your three year old is screaming in the middle of Target. You aren’t alone as a mother.

Maybe I can take some solace in the fact that none of us really have any answers. All of us push ourselves to our own limits and beyond. We as the universal mother are just doing the very damn best that we can do. And that has to be enough, because that is all we can do.

The dirty postpartum words no one talks about…

My struggle with postpartum depression and anxiety

I sit, peering at my nails with scrutiny. There’s something so gratifying about peeling nail polish off. The blank Word document sits open at my computer. I avoid looking at the screen. I realize I’m just stalling. I check the clock. 9:06 pm. I should really go to bed. Just another stalling tactic. What if they think I’m complaining? It doesn’t matter what they think. What if they judge me? Who is “they” anyway? Your potential readers. What if they don’t care about what you’re writing? Well that’s true, they might not.

I peel off a few more shells of nail polish, little by little removing the last evidence of my only “me” time I’ve had in months. I just can’t justify a manicure anymore when I left my job to be stay at home mom. Every dollar counts these days.

That’s not what I’m really trying to write about though. I’m trying to write about a topic that I can barely face as my own reality that I’ve been living the past year.

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I wouldn’t say that I was truly clinically “depressed” after I had my son. I was never diagnosed with postpartum depression, although those silly surveys you take at the pediatrician’s office probably wouldn’t have caught it if that’s what I was. I wouldn’t have let them catch me either. Who would actually circle answers that had scary words in them like crying, hopeless, harming my baby? I wouldn’t be that mom. Not that mom who couldn’t handle motherhood. I trudged on for months, sleepless night after sleepless night.

So maybe I was. Depression is a nearly impenetrable cloud, and in those days of darkness, I was left in its shadow. It was like the sunlight was trying to cut its way past the murky water to the sea floor; I was always left with dim light, trying to find my way through each day. Each monotonous day with a baby. Over. And Over. Again.

It didn’t feel like I expected. I couldn’t seem to pull myself to the surface for fresh air. I felt like I stagnated at about 50-60% of myself. I never could grasp the last missing pieces to feel like myself again. I was anxious. I had bouts of anxiety for no reason, and when I did have a reason, the anxiety was like a vice around my chest, restricting my oxygen.

I’m not depressed. Not me. I’m doing okay. And the truth was, and is, that I am doing okay. It’s hard to believe that though when I was running on no sleep, no caffeine, and no pharmaceuticals, all because of breastfeeding. All because I love my baby more than anything in the world, and I’d do anything to make sure that he is okay. I fell into the trap of “breast is best,” and I wouldn’t hear of doing anything otherwise, to the possible detriment of my sleep cycles and mental state. Okay, to the definite detriment of my state. I wouldn’t even let my mom feed the baby a bottle so I could sleep more than 2-3 hours in a row.

I never had any serious thoughts of harming my baby. Or myself.  I didn’t cry day after day. I didn’t feel like my days were insurmountable. I always could make it through. This, I believe, is the trap that many new moms fall into. We don’t fit the “mold” of postpartum depression, and no one talks about postpartum anxiety, so we think that this is normal, or worse, that we are the problem, or that this too will pass.

Things are getting better for me now. I haven’t gotten help yet, but I plan to go in soon for a mental tune up (I really need to make that appointment). Maybe it’s the full nights of sleep (except when the anxiety keeps me awake), or maybe it’s the hormones settling back down, but I’m feeling a lot better. I do wish that I had gotten help earlier. I wish that I hadn’t been my own martyr, with an “ever forward” mantra, pushing myself past the healthy limits of physical and mental exhaustion. Getting help, whether it be professional or friendship, doesn’t mean I’m not a good mom. It doesn’t mean I can’t do it. It means I’m smart enough to know that the phrase “It takes a village” is entirely too accurate.

I wish I knew this at the time. I suffered in silence for many months. Now that I’m coming out of that dark tunnel, I’m hoping that I can tell you, new mom, that you aren’t alone. There’s nothing wrong with feeling this way. I blame it entirely on the sleep deprivation and wacky hormones. So don’t worry, you’re doing great. But I also want to encourage you to get help if you need it. Don’t wage your internal war alone. You can be so much happier so much faster when you reach out.

You’ve got this, mama.

 

 

I matter to him.

“Maybe I just need to go back to work,” I said to my husband with a shrug. My sentence didn’t come out as a statement; the words fell into each other in a long sigh, like stale breath exhaled after being held too long. It was yet another conversation about tightening the budget, something we’ve done constantly since we decided that I would give being a stay at home a chance. I had never really realized how much we’d been spending, until I had given each dollar a careful examination before setting it free into the world. In truth, it was more than our budget. It went a lot deeper than that for me. It was a suggestion imploring to be closed, denied, and followed up with reassurance that I was doing the right thing by staying home.

I’ve always been insecure. Well, maybe not always, but since arriving at the age of breasts, periods, and bullying, my self-confidence was always at low tide. Today, I’m responsible 24/7 for our offspring, someone we waited and longed for, but suddenly made me insecure and depressed with his arrival.

The first months were easy. I never slept, instead running on love, joy, and adrenaline. I was all too happy to lose myself completely in motherhood. But now I constantly wonder if I made the right choice. Was it the right thing to stay at home? Can I even handle this? Am I doing a good job? Is he eating enough vegetables? How do you feed an infant vegetables, anyway, when most of them are choking hazards and he now refuses to eat purees?

Maybe I am looking for validation, something that makes me feel like I am doing something worthwhile, some physical evidence of my efforts well spent. The extra cash wouldn’t hurt either. In truth, maybe I am just looking to run away. It seems easier to sit at a desk all day than deal with a highly demanding baby: tantrums, nap time refusals, and poopy diapers are just the tip of the postpartum iceberg. Maybe, just maybe, my inner critic is right. “You can’t do this,” she often tells me, “you’re not good enough.” Whether it’s motherhood, my blog, or my choice to nap instead of doing something productive, she is always there to remind me of my inadequacies.

As I stand in the playroom, I half watch him play independently and half scroll through Twitter, jealously eyeing all the mothers who seem to have it all: happy kids, a self-made career, and most importantly, they seem to have showered that day. Unexpectedly, he looks up at me. I almost missed it, lost in the rabbit hole of social media. He looks me right in the eyes and a huge grin lights up his face. I find myself genuinely grin back at him. We hold each other’s gaze for a minute, and he turns back to his toys. The exchange didn’t last long, but it filled my heart to the brim.

Using no words he told me everything I needed to hear. I am a good mom. I am doing a good job. He is happy and loved. I might not matter anymore to my old coworkers. I might not matter to the blogosphere. My opinions might not count to anyone but our family. But my son doesn’t care. With no words he told me the one thing I needed to hear most, and that is that I matter to him.

Changing the expectations of my motherhood

“Damn that’s fucked up,” I thought as I looked in the mirror.

I leaned in closer examining the red splotches and dots on my face that seemed to have cropped up overnight. Probably another shift in hormones, I speculate.

I’ve been thinking that thought, or something similar to it, a lot lately about my body. I escaped stretch marks in my first pregnancy, but my body is still permanently changed. It’s not just the weight; my boobs are different from almost a year of nursing. My hips are wider. Butt bigger. Cellulite spread.

I leaned back, away from my reflection. I really wanted to sleep while the baby was sleeping, but I told myself I should be getting things done around the house. Writing on my blog. Doing something useful. Then I caught myself.

I caught myself getting wrapped up in expectations. Whose expectations? I’m not sure.

​Mine? Society’s? Mine via society’s? I keep placing these demands on myself instead of just being present and taking care of me the way I need to.

By six months postpartum (or so), people really expect you to have your shit together. Like suddenly when the sun rises on the 182nd​ day you are suddenly able to sleep all night, exercise, eat right, lose weight, take a shower, and put on make-up,​ all while having a sparkling clean house and looking well put together in your pre-pregnancy clothes. For some mothers, this might be a reality. They are able to find their groove and regain control of their lives. For others—like me—it isn’t. The baby was still up every two hours. Sleep deprivation was taking its toll, and I looked and felt more like a walking zombie every day. It was also causing depression. Some days it took everything I had to just get through the day; forget adding in the fitness and healthy eating part.

It took me 11 months. Eleven sleep deprived months. These days, finally, he is sleeping at night. The fog is starting to lift. I feel less depressed on more days. I still sleep during the day when he naps, subconsciously feeding the sleepy girl that demands more to compensate for the hours she’s lost. Eleven months of a challenging baby and here I am feeling guilty. I feel guilty when I choose to sleep. I feel guilty when I don’t want to go for a walk. I feel guilty when I’m too damn tired and un-showered to leave the house. Why? Because I’m letting someone else’s expectations dictate how I should be acting as a mom, instead of acting out of self-care for the mother that I am.

I keep reading blogs that emphasize self-care. “You can’t pour from an empty cup,” everyone keeps saying. Well I must be living in the fucking Sahara desert then,​because that cup has been bone dry for years. In other words, I’m really bad at self-care. I constantly put others first, putting all needs above my own. Having a baby just made it worse, particularly since he’s a demanding one.

I see what I am supposed to be. I see photo after photo on my Instagram feed of these stay at home moms in white, bright houses where nothing is out of place. They are showered and look lean and healthy. Their kids looked bathed and happy. “I’m always so happy,” they say, “I just love motherhood so much that I never have a bad day.” Bull. Shit.

Look, I can’t judge you. And I won’t. If that is really your life, then God bless you,​boo,​because you are the epitome of optimism and I’m jealous. But I’m guessing for a lot of those photos, the moms have set up help, a heaping pile of laundry outside of the frame, and that was their first shower all week. These images, along with these expectations that live up somewhere next to the iCloud in the sky, set mothers up for failure. How can I possibly attain such perfection while raising a perfectly polite and sane human being at the same time? And I’m supposed to have more?!

Listen, mama, I’ll tell you the truth. Lean in close (but not too close because I didn’t put on makeup). I’ve got two words for you: 1) Fuck 2) It. Fuck it. Yes FUCK IT. And not in the giving up hope because it’s pointless kind of way, oh no sister. ​I’m saying FUCK IT because you ARE already doing great, you ARE already enough, you ARE a great mom. Don’t put those expectations on yourself. Be the mom you need to be, and it will be exactly the kind of mom your kids need.

Yes it would be nice to get this extra weight off. It would be nice to not eat so much and be hungry all the time because of the calorie deficit created by feeding another living person from my own body. But I have been breastfeeding for almost an entire year and that is one of the greatest accomplishments of my life. I’m [slowly] working on getting back into shape, but I will get there. And the dishes and laundry can wait. Rolling around with my son on the floor is more important than any demand of you should be that society is whispering in my ear.

My son doesn’t care that I’m fat. He doesn’t care that my hair is dirty. He doesn’t care that I didn’t clean the kitchen. He doesn’t care that my house isn’t Instagram worthy. That gappy, toothy grin tells me that I’m doing it right, and that is enough for me.