Killing the Stigma: What EVERYONE Needs to Know


It doesn't matter if you are expecting, planning on expecting, maybe one day expecting in the distant future, or don't want to have children at all.  This post is for everyone because postpartum depression impacts SO MANY OF US, & even if it won't happen to YOU, it may happen to someone you know & the best way to help that person is to UNDERSTAND what is happening.  Postpartum depression is actually a serious, sometimes life-threatening malady, so DON'T take this lightly!  I know this is not writing-related, but it's a big deal for me & I know others have faced or may face this obstacle.  I want to help.

naysaying the naysayer

IF YOU ARE EXPECTING this may sound like I'm assuming that you will have postpartum depression (PPD), & I'm just a huge pessimist, raining on your baby-bliss parade.  This is 100% not the case.  It is unfortunately very common, & very likely, that a new mother will experience such a wild crash in hormones post-delivery, that it results in PPD.  You can't MAKE yourself not have it if your hormones DO crash, just like you can't MAKE your heart start or stop, or MAKE your stomach not digest food.  I am not a party-pooper!  I want you to know that PPD is something to anticipate & prepare for, because you can't stop it just be sheer will.  This is out of your control.

IF PEOPLE SAY YOU DON'T HAVE PPD do NOT, under any circumstances, believe them!  Your hormones are in your own body, your thoughts are in your brain - you know something isn't right.  No one else can feel your emotions for you.  You are the judge.

(i have been told off-handedly in the past that i was not depressed. it was not from a doctor, it was not after even a moment of reflection or time spent listening to my symptoms.  this hurts.  this kind of response is unfortunately tailor-made to COMPOUND the emotional issues, not create a support which could further your road to recovery.  so folks, if a mother tells you she is depressed, NEVER, EVER, EVER SAY SHE'S NOT.)

NOTE || "baby blues" & PPD are NOT the same thing. "Baby blues" are a usual phenomenon when your hormones naturally go berserk for a few days or a week after expelling the baby.  Your body was chockablock with hormones during pregnancy, & now it's trying to reset for a new phase.  Hormones are not the bee's knees & nothing they do is very friendly, but "baby blues" should pass in a few days.

(not exhaustive list of) postpartum depression & anxiety symptoms

There are many expressions of PPD & postpartum anxiety.  You may experience one, two, four, five...& qualify for the diagnosis: you don't have to have ALL the symptoms - this isn't Pokemon.  I'm going to highlight some that I had to deal with, but know that there are more.

THE INADEQUACY TERROR  ||  I vividly recall trying to breastfeed my daughter early in the morning before one of the grandmothers came to sit with her.  My husband had to leave for work.  I felt I was on the clock.  My daughter wouldn't settle.  She was crying, & I began to scream for my husband & then dissolve into hysterical tears because I believed I COULD NOT DO THIS.  Those words don't fully describe how I felt.

  • i felt i literally, actually, completely, could NOT nurture my daughter
  • i was 100% in terror that someone would come take her away
  • i was deeper-than-the-grave ashamed of my weakness & outburst
  • i thought someone would take my daughter away
  • ditto

THE MORBID TERROR  ||  Another vivid memory, waiting for my husband to come home.  It was winter, it was dark, & time seemed to take longer than it should have.  I began to think something had happened to him.  I began to believe something had happened to him.  I was sure he had crashed & died, & that I would be left the rest of my life to raise our daughter alone.  Do not laugh at this.  This is not like everyday, garden-variety morbid fantasy: this notion latched hold of my brain & would not be shaken loose.  I was a hysterical crying mess by the time my husband arrived - with takeout dinner.

THE FLIGHT DRIVE  ||  Another common expression of PPD, which I felt periodically, was the desire to run away.  There is NO LOGICAL SOLUTION presented by this urge: you just HAVE it.  It can be an urge to run away from your family completely, or (as in my case) to run away with your child.  It can be fueled by irrational panic, or it may simply be a lone but powerful urge suggesting that you NEED TO RUN AWAY.  This is PPD talking.

THE BLACK HOLE IN YOUR CHEST  ||  Probably the first thing people think of when someone mentions depression,  it's that hollow-but-leaden weight in your chest, dragging you down, blacker than my entire wardrobe.  It is an inexplicable, unshakeable, unexpected depression - there is no better word for it: it's more than sadness, it's a crushing of the soul.  The world, like mine, could be full of sunshine, support, & smiles, but all I felt was a deep, dead sorrow.  

THE HARM FANTASIES  ||  This is probably the worst part of PPD that I've experienced.  I was, thank God, never close to succumbing to these thoughts, but I was plagued by sudden, unpremeditated thoughts of throwing my infant daughter over the railing down the steep basement stairs.  I considered cutting myself when my sadness was almost more than I could bear.  These thoughts were never serious for me, thankfully: they were suggestions about contemplating these actions.  But that they cropped up in my brain was terrifying enough!

THE GUILTY SILENCE  ||  None of the above is the expected view of motherhood.  None of it is NICE.  None of it seems HAPPY or CONTENT or GRATEFUL.  As mothers, we're aware that what we're feeling does not match with what we think is expected of us.  What we are feeling terrifies us!  We feel unutterably guilty.  So we shut down.  We close our mouths.  We don't reach out for help.  We tell ourselves we need to "just get over it."  We are afraid

  • people won't understand
  • people will tell us to "buck up"
  • people will think we're crazy
  • people will think we're trying to shirk our maternal duties
  • people will think it's just due to sleep deprivation
  • people will take our children away from us

There is precedent for each one of these to make our fear just that much stronger in our minds.  Mothers have been brushed aside, their struggles consigned to "womanly weakness," they have been judged, censured, & ignored - when their problem is NOT THEM, it's a need for postpartum medical treatment to correct something that is physically wrong & mentally impacting their lives.  Women with PPD

  • are NOT lazy
  • are NOT insane
  • are NOT insensitive mothers
  • are NOT broken

They are flesh-&-blood human beings whose bodies have experienced a catastrophic upset in their critical hormonal balances, & they NEED MEDICAL ATTENTION.

(note: i had both an advantage & an obstacle to face, for my own mother had suffered such severe PPD that she has needed to continue medication to this day. i knew i was at risk & that i needed to look out for symptoms.  AT THE SAME TIME, when the symptoms came, i was afraid they weren't "good" enough, they weren't "critical" enough, that i didn't have the right to claim PPD.  DON'T FALL INTO THIS MENTAL TRAP.  seek help as soon as you notice a continuance in these (or other) symptoms. you are important! never underestimate your struggles because someone else may have it "worse.")

BUT THE GOOD NEWS IS

Yes, it is possible you may have PPD.  DO NOT DESPAIR.  Here I am, with the effects of PPD still in my brain, & I'm a survivor.  My daughter is flourishing.  You'd never know, unless I told you, that I have PPD.  Here is what helped me:

FOREWARNED IS FOREARMED  ||  I had the warning.  Being aware that PPD is a possibility does NOT increase your risk of having it.  You either have it or you don't - but knowing about it beforehand & knowing the signs to look out for makes the recovery/correction process SO much easier, quicker, & avoids severe scarring on you & your family.

EXCELLENT DOCTORS & MEDICATION  ||  My doctor is the chillest bomb.com & I am so thankful to God for putting me in her hands.  I was able to discuss with her beforehand my fears of having PPD, & postpartum I was able to go to her with my symptoms, which resulted immediately in an effective anti-depressant prescription (yes, I was still able to breastfeed!).  Never underestimate modern medicine where it has proved effective for so many.  It's cliche, but TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR.  We're dealing with a mental illness that could potentially harm you & your child: BOTH of you deserve the safety of a stable mind & reliable hormone balances!

(note: something that prevented my mother from getting immediate help was the belief that she just needed to "have more faith" & her emotions would go away.  this is a lie.  this is a damnable lie.  i thank the Lord that we HAVE a medical body that offers us effective medicine for actual, physical problems like PPD.  it's not a "lack of faith," it's a physical illness expressing itself through the mind.  you can't just get over it.  you can't just pray it away.  God has graciously given us a means of correcting the issue: take advantage of that!)

SUPPORT SYSTEM  ||  My husband & I live in the same city as my parents, his parents, & my brother + sister-in-law.  We get together frequently throughout the week.  We have gone to the same church for as long as I've been alive.  In short, I HAVE PEOPLE TO DEPEND ON.  This is an enormous benefit for the mother suffering PPD.  One of the worst things you can do if you have PPD is to shut yourself up in your own mind & try to "take care of things" yourself.  You CAN'T.  You are actually, physically ill: you need support & clear minds to help guide you.

note for mothers: if you don't have a support-system, do everything in your power to get one!  church, work, online friends - whatever & whoever, find people you can trust & tell them what you may be / are facing.  YOU NEED THEM.

note for family & friends: if a new mother in your circle shows signs of PPD, or honours you with the privilege of being told she IS suffering mental problems, ON NO ACCOUNT BRUSH HER OFF.  she is ill & she needs your help.  her baby needs your help.  immediately show her that you care, that you understand, that you are there for her.  NEVER take her symptoms lightly.  your compassion could be the gateway to her healing.  NEVER try to rationalize her communications.  NEVER try to argue her into a "right way of thinking."  take everything she shares with you at serious face value & offer her support, understanding, & love.

thank you

Although this is just a cursory overview of PPD & its treatment, I apologize that it is such a lengthy post.  However, I feel extremely strongly on this issue, & I want women to be prepared, for their friends & family to be ready to offer support.  Mental illnesses are invisible, but real, serious, sometimes life-threatening.  Mothers, there is nothing wrong with YOU, but there is something wrong with your body.  I want to share the hope of familial & medical help because it IS there for you to take!  Whatever postpartum looks like for you, my desire is that we all cherish our families & live a stable, loving life with our babies.  <3

2 ripostes:

  1. Jenny, thank-you for so honestly sharing these details. It helps to know what others are thinking and struggling with in depression, to know how to support, and also how to be prepared in case we ever face it. It's hard journey with no easy answers, and your article offered me some much-needed insight.

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  2. Thank you, Jenny. I know it's hard to talk about and admit to this sort of thing, but you do it well.

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