“I am wondering if it would help to talk to someone at this point,” he said.
My husband, J, caught my gaze as he leaned forward in his chair. His eyes searching mine, and we sat there silently for a while.
‘At this point’? I thought to myself, wondering about his timeline of my suffering. How long had I not been the Kate he knew and loved? I hated that my internal turmoil was leaking into my marriage. Of course, though, it had to.
The fire flickered, casting dim light onto the patio, but the backyard was otherwise dark and quiet. Our two-year-old daughter was in bed and we’d just inhaled room-temperature takeout while the baby napped, nestled into the crook of my arm. Postmates parenthood. How did we survive before it?
In the weeks that had passed since having my son, awareness of my own mental state was beyond my capacity.
I knew, vaguely, that I was not okay but I did not recognize exactly how “not okay” I really was. I counted on J to tell me when I was inching beyond the line of what was to be expected as a new mother of two. What was no longer normal. Normal. I considered the word for a moment. Picturing the letters strung together and imagining their weight in my hand.
N-O-R-M-A-L. It felt foreign, like a language I didn’t speak. I felt anything but normal. I put my wine glass to my lips and took a long drink.
I was tired.
From crying over who knows what. From nursing a six-week-old human around the clock. From not sleeping longer than two hours in a stretch or more than five if you added the bits together. From unpleasant thoughts I struggled to push past, feeling like I was swimming in a riptide. From enduring the outbursts of my toddler who felt confused, betrayed, and unaccustomed to her expanded family.
It was all so tiring. So tiring, actually, that the fact I needed help hadn’t crossed my mind, even though I am literally a licensed mental health professional and was in the process of starting my therapy practice. Specializing in maternal mental health. The irony isn’t lost on me either.
Sometimes you get to a point where you feel so bad, all you can think about is how bad you feel.
When you’re so focused on the pain the world around you blurs and fades away. Obvious courses of action are hidden behind clouds of sadness and exhaustion.
So, with my husband’s support and my mounting desperation for relief urging me on, I set out to find a therapist. I was looking for someone I didn’t know on a personal level, but who I could trust and had the stamp of approval from my Closest Therapist Friends. I found her, and I, as they say, started talking to someone. And I dug myself out of postpartum depression with the support of my family and the guidance of a therapist.
Healing from postpartum depression and anxiety is neither easy, nor is it linear.
It is possible, though. If you are struggling during pregnancy or after having a baby, know that this is not forever. Recovery is possible, and this sort of illness responds well to treatment most of the time. I was in pain, and you might be too. Therapy helps. Actually, it helps a lot. If you are in pain or feel like an empty shell of your former self, I want you to know this.
How you feel is not who you are.
Many of us learn to live with the enormous burden of unhealed wounds. Given time, you tend to fold the pain neatly into your sense of self and go about your everyday life. Honestly, sometimes you have no other choice but to do so. But the pain reemerges eventually and becoming a mother often stirs up our deepest insecurities, revives painful old memories, and has us examining the complexities of our relationships with our partners, our mothers and ourselves. The habits of living you adopted to carry the pain of old scars become especially problematic when you are learning the ropes of being mom, and tending to the constant needs of a helpless, fragile baby.
What does that look like?
For the one in seven women who suffer from a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMAD), it can mean you’re no longer functioning optimally in your job, relationships and in your ability to take care for yourself. Sometimes it’s more subtle and it means that you disengage from the people and activities that used to make you happy. It can manifest as panic attacks, terrifying thoughts about your baby, or even thinking your family might be better off without you. You might feel disconnected from your baby and regret having him (or her) and long for your former life. Overwhelming feelings of guilt, shame, hopelessness and sometimes even rage can also characterize the disorder.
Because these feelings are such a departure from who you’ve always been, you might feel out of control, panic-stricken and consumed with fear that you might actually be going crazy. Frequently, the shame that feeds your inner turmoil is exactly what’s stopping you from seeking help. Shame feeds on secrets, yet so many of us suffer silently, too afraid to admit to ourselves
and our families that we are in pain.
This is not your fault, this is not who you are, and it is absolutely not how you will feel forever. These feelings and thoughts are symptoms of a treatable condition. With help, you will get better.
Asking for help is an act of strength, not a sign of weakness.
Picking up the phone to make that first therapy appointment, asking your OBGYN for medication, or reaching out to your Facebook moms’ group for a therapist recommendation is courageous. It means you are brave. It means you made a bold step toward gathering up the shattered pieces of yourself and rebuilding a new, stronger, wiser version of you. The Mother You, let’s say.
Finding inner peace, learning how to more effectively get your needs met, discovering what a meaningful life means to you, and sharing the weight of your darkest thoughts and experiences will make you feel better. Going through this will change your perspective, enrich your life and the life of your child. You will be a better mother because you went through this and came out on the other side.
There are therapists who specialize in helping new moms like you.
Many women don’t know who to call when becoming a mom falls short of our expectations, fails to deliver the pure joy society promises out of motherhood, and instead feels more like a form of psychological torture.
Many moms have had counseling in the past but are unsure if the marriage counselor they saw, their church pastor, or that therapist from 6 years ago will understand what they are going through or believe how bad they are really feeling.
Perinatal therapists have completed lengthy professional training and undergo supervision specific to addressing the unique needs of women experiencing depression and anxiety during pregnancy or postpartum. Many perinatal therapists have suffered (and recovered) from postpartum depression themselves. (Raises hand).
To locate a trained perinatal therapist in the United States or Canada, reach out to Postpartum Support International (PPI) by calling 1-800-944-4773 or texting 503-894-9453. PPI leads the way in the field of perinatal mental health offering a wealth of resources, support and information about recovery from postpartum depression and anxiety.
Moms can also find support and local resources on Facebook through private groups like Canadian Postpartum Depression Support Network and Postpartum Support International.
If you are having thoughts of suicide, please, tell someone and call Crisis Services Canada at 1-833-456-4566 or in the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for free, confidential help in crisis.
You deserve to feel as strong as I already know you are. It’s time to talk to someone.
Have you gotten help for a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder? We’d love to hear about what worked for you in the comments.
This post might be helpful too: Postpartum Anxiety: She Isn’t Sick, But I Am
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