May is National Maternal Depression Month. Postpartum depression (PPD) affects 10 – 20% of all new mothers. While 80% of new moms will experience some form of “baby blues,” PPD is a deeper, more severe and longer lasting depression that creates confusion and shame. I thought I would share my story, and join the bigger conversation, in hopes to continue to destigmatize the experience and make it easier for other women to talk about it and seek help.
I had always wanted to me a mother and that dream came true on April 27, 2007, when Maddie Kristel was born. I had to have a C-section which left me in the hospital for three full days. Even now, they were the greatest few days of my life. I was euphoric, feeling no pain and relishing the quiet time with my new little family. We were so well taken care of by the incredible nurses that I sobbed when we left the hospital. I could have stayed there in our bubble forever.
The first week home felt good, normal, happy. Our families were in and out, and I had enough help to get some sleep and start to get my strength back after my surgery. But then things changed. As the excitement of the first ten days faded away, something inside me felt not quite right. I was no longer feeling euphoric. I was supposed to be in the midst of the happiest time of my life. Instead, I could feel a darkness lurking behind me, slowly enveloping me into it.
For me, postpartum wasn’t an all day, everyday sadness. I still had moments of joy. I felt unconditional love for my baby, but it was fleeting. I felt as if a weighted blanket was sitting on top of me and every few days someone would take it off, but only for a bit. I was never out from under it long enough to start to feel better. I felt hopeless, sad, unworthy, overwhelmed, at times totally numb.
One night, I was rocking Maddie, looking at her perfect little face, and I started silently sobbing as I held her. I was so ashamed about how empty I felt. I thought I was damaged, and incapable of mothering. I felt terrible for Maddie for having me as a mother, and Bri for being stuck with me. Even more, I felt like I had made a terrible mistake. I shouldn’t be a mother.
Ten years ago, when Maddie was born, the culture of motherhood was wild. Perfection as a way of life was the only message I saw. If you weren’t whipping up homemade organic baby food, taking your kid to mommy and me three days a week, teaching them sign language and dressing them in Ralph Lauren, while maintaining a pristine house you were failing. God forbid you worked because not only were you failing, but you also didn’t love your kid. Every day I woke up feeling as if I failed before I even started the day. The external pressure to be perfect, the stress of building the business, and the depression seemed, at times, insurmountable.
And then, one morning when Maddie was about five months old, I woke up and the darkness was gone. Like magic, like a veil just lifted off of me. The weighted blanket was gone, and it never came back. As I sat up out of bed, my feet hit the floor and I felt like my old self. The sun shined through the window in Maddie’s nursery as I walked in and saw her happy little face looking up at me. I was overcome with relief. I knew I wasn’t a bad mom, I wasn’t unworthy, and I loved her with every fiber of my being.
I was fortunate that my experience ended on its own. That’s not always the case. Now, with the confidence that comes with age, I’ve talked to so many of my friends who had a similar experience. They speak of the same desperation and feeling of shame. We all agree it would have been so helpful to know that we weren’t crazy, ill-fit moms. And that the constant pressure of keeping up a perfect life didn’t help, in fact, there were days it would make it worse.
PPD is treatable. Eating well, working out, and self-care make an enormous difference. Therapy and medication, when prescribed by your doctor, can get you through the darkness, give you back your mind and allow you to enjoy your time with your baby. If someone you know is experiencing PPD, do what you can to support them. Let her know she is okay, and loved, and not a bad mom. And for all of us moms out there, let’s continue to be realistic about the challenges of motherhood and not feed into the false narrative of perfect parenting by presenting ourselves in an unattainable way. The more we look out and take care of each other, the better it will be for all of us.