It’s been nine years since I first had postpartum depression.
Today life is great and feels real again, but it was a struggle to get there. I had to fight for it. Now I can appreciate the good and the bad, the elation and the devastation, and everything else that comes with the journey. But it wasn’t always that way.
Back then, in the thick of my condition, I felt stuck. Every moment of every hour of every day was torture. I was wracked with anxiety and emptiness, anger and darkness. I couldn’t get a good breath. I couldn’t think a comforting thought. I couldn’t sink into the sheets at night or the yoga mat during the day. I couldn’t relax. I felt like a dungeon, my body brittle and brick-like, with no room inside for good sensations.
To make things worse, three months after my son was born, the twin towers were destroyed. I thought it was a sure sign that I should have never brought a child into this cruel place. I was able to get up and take a shower and appear well enough to care for my son, but that was about it. Really, I felt like I was going to jump out of my skin and go nuts.
“I don’t have the patience for this ‘parent thing,” I thought. I’m a failure, a horrible person. I was unsatisfied and figured that if I wasn’t happy being a full-time, stay-at-home mom then I was some kind of a monster. Look at all those other moms who can do it.
There was a seemingly endless stretch of bad days. You know the ones—when you accidentally oversleep and realize everyone else in the house has overslept, too, and your older child has to be at school early for a field trip and he’s moving slowly like he’s in outer space and your toddler is throwing off his pants because he wants to keep his Thomas the Tank Engine pajamas on and you think, Oh gosh, I just want to crawl back under the covers.
In the heat of postpartum depression I was incapable of dealing with those anxieties, but now I’m better. Now, when I’m having one of those days, I can handle it. Today a bad moment is just a moment. It’s a fleeting thing.
Sure, lying under the covers for another hour would be glorious. Holding my toddler in my lap and experiencing the softness of his Thomas the Tank Engine pajamas as he nestles his head against my shoulder would be great. Having a conversation with my-nine-year old about the characters in the movie we watched the night before would make my day. But the fact is, knowing I crave those things, even though I don’t have time to enjoy them this morning, is special in and of itself. I can enjoy them when I can.
That’s the recovery outlook.
So, what got me through to the other side with my self intact? Lots of things: a shift in mindset, the right physical work on my body, the occasional Xanax or relaxing herbs and tea, the public expression of negative emotions, and good childcare.
The road to regaining my life began when I no longer viewed motherhood as a trap. I also started accepting who I was. I realized that I was not the full-time stay-at-home mom. I realized I had creativity, drive, and passion that needed an outlet. Accepting that, and making room for that in my life, made me a more patient mom. Not accepting it, and letting it distract me, prevented me from fully showing my love to my family. And though it’s not something that I could see when I was sick, today I know there are always options in life, even if they may not be obvious.
When my son was two, I made myself do something I had wanted to do for years: I went back to graduate school and got my MFA in theater. If I hadn’t become a mom, I may have never summoned the focus and discipline to do it. I may have never given myself that gift, the self-recognition that, Yes, I am talented in my field and I deserve the chance to develop those skills further.
For my thesis project I wrote a play about postpartum depression. The play, In the Shadow of My Son, allowed me to express what I went through in a public format, releasing any shame or stigma I was still holding on to. The play did well, with performances in New York City and on tour, and allowed me to create awareness about PPD all over the country. It was a meaningful and powerful experience.
On the physical side, I went to work strengthening the core muscles of my body that had become flaccid during pregnancy. I used a specific series of techniques to release the fear and tension that I had been holding in my joints. The most useful modalities for me—which I would highly recommend to others—were the Alexander Technique, Yamuna Body Rolling, deep tissue massage, swimming, and working out with a good trainer.
The muscles in my lower back felt so tight during my postpartum depression. It was something I had never experienced before and it took months for it to release. But eventually it did release. So it’s important to find the modality that works for you—and not give up!
Educating myself on PPD and finding what worked for me in battling its effects enabled me to have a second beautiful baby boy without the suffering that came with the first. The second time I was aware of what I needed and made sure it was available.
I knew that relaxing and giving myself a break was the most important thing. I played relaxation/meditation CDs whenever my thoughts began to race. I accepted that my body needed at least a month to relax and recoup from the experience of birth, both on an emotional and physical level. I had the assistance and social support in place before the birth. I allowed myself to be pampered, enjoying hot cocoa and oatmeal in bed as I watched my favorite movie. I was able to let go of breastfeeding when it wasn’t working, and do it without beating myself up like I did the first time. I was able to rest and become whole and strong again so I could enjoy my wonderful and growing family.
A Note from Dr. Shosh
This is a dramatic example of how the myths of motherhood can feed into PPD in a big way. It also demonstrates how great the silver linings can be on the other side. Hold on to these lessons:
— You know you are getting better when your perspective returns, when you can differentiate between a tough “mommy moment” and depression.
— Get rid of how you think motherhood has to be. Some moms like staying home full time, some prefer part time, and others decide on working full time outside the home. We can all be good mothers doing it our own individual ways, and we all need to be supported in our choices.
— Learning about ourselves and validating our identities are advantages of going through postpartum illnesses. If you have a passion, independent of your mom role, go after it. A fulfilled, happy woman makes a better mother.
— The mom in this story kicked into gear and got help quickly the second time around, which was so smart!
Photo by Anne Worner CC BY 2.0