The difficulty in dealing with postpartum depression, in my experience, was that my husband and I were blindsided.
We had no knowledge of how to deal with the symptoms. The obsessive thoughts were scary, and without a second thought by the doctor I was put on medication that only numbed the surface. We hadn’t dealt with the trauma I experienced while I was pregnant.
If someone had just sat me down immediately and surrounded me with positive therapy, my road wouldn’t have digressed into a four-year battle. It would have accelerated the things that became so critical to my recovery: reflecting back on how I coped with the loss of my friend’s baby, forgiveness of myself, and the understanding of obsessive compulsive disorder and that a thought is just a thought and I have the power to control my response to it. It was also helpful to embrace being surrounded by family and not just expecting that I would be fine.
Until people have experienced it, it can be hard for them to understand the seriousness of the illness. Women need to be supported, not left alone in a downward spiral. They don’t have the coping skills when stress and sleep deprivation take over, and I cannot stress enough the role of education in destroying PPD.
Perhaps adding to the mystery of my PPD and OCD was that to the outside observer I appeared happy. My baby was perfect and never cried. But when I was alone, I was bombarded by terrifying thoughts. My house was my hell. I lived in constant fear that I would harm my son. I lived in secret, so I felt like I couldn’t ask my friends for help. I was a freak who lost all self-power. I was drowning in despair because I was exhausted and starving from the meds, and my weight skyrocketed. I didn’t know how to make the thoughts stop and they continually crept up on me, turning my life into a constant bad dream.
I share my story in the hopes that other mothers will read it and see that if they recognize the signs, ask for help soon, and don’t let their symptoms consume their life, they will heal quicker, and husbands and families will recognize their pain and help them get the support they need.
Just as we educate ourselves to look after the child, we must begin to educate ourselves on how to look after the mother, and surround her with support and love. Moms who have suffered and are suffering need to forgive themselves and take hold of their power and strength.
My choice to share my truth is a powerful tool to teach my son that my struggle was not in vain. I overcame tremendous barriers and forgave myself in order to become a positive role model for him. Our dreams can become reality and any mother who shares her struggle and recovery will impact women and children all over the world. I have instilled in my own son the belief that by healing others we heal ourselves and there is no shame in that. My son will know that I chose to find my spirit and be the best I could be, and when I faced my fears they no longer controlled me. I am ending the cycle of negative patterns in my family and I am no longer a victim.
Choosing not to have any more children was not without thought. My son needs a healthy mother. I have experienced motherhood from start to finish—good and bad—and my son fulfills my needs. I am going to embrace my role as Auntie, which will be healing on a different level. I am free of the illness and will support my sisters as they enter motherhood. I know what help looks like and I am excited to offer support to them as they begin the exciting journey.
I don’t believe in mistakes. Throughout my experience with postpartum illness I have connected with three amazing women who are on a mission to heal – they created The Smiling Mask. I know who I am. I have empathy, and I know how to experience joy and to conquer any adversity that may come my way. My new strength is tenfold because I have forgiven myself, healed, and I can see strength in others. As I connect, the power in healing is great. I continue to learn many lessons along the way. I now know how to cope with stress, and I am finally experiencing the joys of being a mother and having a great time with my son. He is my light and I am amazed at his brightness.
For the husbands out there, you can never plan for any emergency perfectly, but educating yourself is a good start. Surround your wife with support. Build her up. Love her. Remember that you have created a life reflecting your love, and that is beautiful. You must be a team. Listen and observe. If your wife asks for help, offer it willingly and without judgment. Take adequate time after the birth to help her get comfortable and lean on your family and friends to make the transition smoothly. If postpartum depression occurs, fight it. Get plans in place, seek counseling, and investigate. The road will be less of a strain and you will end up with a stronger relationship.
The support I received from other moms experiencing PPD was phenomenal. We all understood the darkness and together in our ability to heal we formed a blinding light. We had mutual understanding without saying a word. We expressed ourselves freely and safely. We healed together and worked as a team to build each other up when we needed support. Our connection as mothers and survivors brought out the best in us.
You can overcome any obstacle—especially postpartum depression—and come out stronger if you love and forgive yourself, and believe in your strengths.
A Note from Dr. Shosh
Having a support system is key, as is supporting yourself. Remember that you are strong and capable – especially when depression tries to steal this knowledge away — and you have much to offer others. Here are a few things to keep in mind during your personal journey.
— Surround yourself with as much “positive” as possible including people, programs you watch, conversation, and all else.
— Like Carla, often we become great actresses, looking fine to the outside world, but suffering greatly on the inside. No one can tell by looking. This is a hidden illness. Unless we’re vocal, those around us usually cannot tell what’s going on.
As Carla aptly states, partners are extremely important in the recovery process. They need information in order to fully support suffering moms.
Photo by Anne Worner CC BY 2.0