The words humble and humiliate start with the same three letters but are quite different in meaning. The overlap in how they sound in some ways signifies the overlap in how they feel.
I distinctly remember how I felt after the birth of my child. My body—distorted, floppy, and full of milk—took on the “hum” of humiliation. I felt like everyone was watching me with amusement as I spun out of control. It was easy for me to be angry at my body, my needs, and anyone associated with me—namely, a nursing infant, who seemed to make me feel worse.
Holding my son’s new body, I worried about what he may face in life. It brought back memories of the humiliation I had faced as a powerless child, a naïve girl, and a mismatched adult. The vulnerability I felt was amplified by the feeling that I wouldn’t be able to protect my son from the very things I had experienced. This feeling not only sent me to the edge, it sent me over.
Had I received the treatment I needed right away, maybe things wouldn’t have become worse. Maybe I wouldn’t have needed to fight so hard to stay alive. But, little by little, the pain and anger grew into a dangerous force, and my life fell apart.
Although I had read about postpartum depression and talked to my family doctor within a couple months after childbirth, the steps we took for treatment were not effective for me. Each time I asked for help, the familiar “hum” of humiliation came roaring back, making everyone around me feel like the enemy.
After a while, few people in my life were even willing to talk to me. I was alone, ashamed, and, at times, hopeless. Because I was not getting the help that I needed, I lost almost everything: income, marriage, home, and friends. Desperate, I moved back to my hometown, only to realize I was living in the bedroom of a man who had molested me as a child. Life no longer seemed worth living.
Overwhelmed one night, I turned to a familiar face for comfort in my isolation: Oprah. I watched an episode on the Twentieth Anniversary Collection of The Oprah Winfrey Show with Dr. Phil and saw a grief-stricken mother close to suicide. Seeing her conquer despair gave me hope that I was not alone and helped me see that my child needed me to get well. I needed to ask for help again. Not sure what to do, I emailed The Dr. Phil Show to ask him to do a show about postpartum depression.
Serendipitously, the producers happened to be looking for medical topics to discuss on a new spin-off called The Doctors. When they called and asked me to appear I hesitated to go on the show. Then I started to think, I am irreplaceable in my son’s life, and in order for me to get well, I have to allow myself to be bad. The Doctors introduced me to Dr. Shoshana Bennett, an expert and godsend in treating perinatal mood disorders. She showed me that I was not alone on my journey through difficult feelings and in transitioning into motherhood.
As soon as we were backstage after taping the show, I realized a full recovery was no longer a dream. My fear of speaking out about my difficult thoughts and feelings went away, because I knew I was talking with a woman who was not going to tear me apart like we were in the Dark Ages. This allowed me to release the feeling that I had to be perfect or keep a secret.
One of the first things we did was to stabilize my nutrition. The effects of sleep deprivation and chronic stress had exhausted my mind and body. I had been relying on heavy amounts of caffeine, carbohydrates, and sugars to function. Even though I knew this was not healthy, I felt as though I couldn’t get out of bed without them. My cellular nutrition had been depleted, and my nervous system took the toll. In order to rewire neural pathways from dark thoughts and feelings, I had to build a platform of health in all body systems. Basics like water, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids helped my mood regain stability.
The grip of humiliation loosened. When I met people that knew how I was feeling and were not shocked or judgmental, I began to release the anger that had been fueled by a feeling of my survival being threatened. I drew boundary lines between supporters and hinderers to my full recovery. I allowed my life to get smaller in the number of relationships that mattered to me.
People, places, and things that I had once believed to be valuable in my life were no longer useful. As I examined them, I realized that some were never really valuable in the first place. They were placeholders for value, not the real thing. The same was true for me. I had been a placeholder for me, merely portraying myself. I began to let go of expectations and to define good for myself, knowing it may all change tomorrow.
Although it has been overwhelming, painful, and even dangerous, I did not lose but gained a meaningful life with my child—one that never could have come before the space and time of postpartum depression. The attitudes and beliefs I held about myself and mothering were worn out, but only worn out by this process. Now, I live a good life with my son and I am healthier, happier, and more grateful than ever before. Allowing my voice to be the loudest voice championing my way has shifted the “hum” I feel to humble.
A Note from Dr. Shosh
As Theresa discovered, PPD is nothing to be ashamed of—nor is a troubled past. Although painful, they are both common occurrences. Keep these additional truths in mind as you go forward:
— With good help, you will shed negative influences in your life and learn to find and keep the positive ones.
— The more untreated trauma you experienced as a child, the more vulnerable you are postpartum.
— There is always hope, no matter how tough it feels at the time. As is the theme throughout all of these stories, you will not only get through it, with proper assistance, you will become better than ever.
Photo by Anne Worner CC BY 2.0