So what’s MY story and how did I become so passionate about moms and mental health? I have been really hesitant about telling this story. Most of the time when I read therapists’ blogs, most of them aren’t disclosing their own struggles with a mental illness. I took a chance at the support group that I facilitate to share my struggle with postpartum depression and anxiety. One woman said that she could have spoken my words. She expressed that my story resonated with her experience. It occurred to me that women need to know that they are not the only ones. They need to know that they can get better. So here it is. My story, along with some things that I’ve learned during my experience.
The Monster in My Mind
I remember vividly what Postpartum Depression felt like. I felt like there was something in my brain telling me that I was worthless, that my family would be better off without me, and that I had nothing to offer my child. I wanted so much for my daughter. I wanted her to grow up to be a strong and confident woman. But I honestly felt like I had nothing to offer her in comparison to the other women who would be in her life. I had come from a place to of needing to really contemplate if I wanted children. And then it felt like I had made a mistake. My mind would race with questions of, “What was I thinking? Why did I ever think I have what it takes to raise a child?”
But it didn’t stop there. I felt like I couldn’t be honest about what was happening with anyone. I felt as though everyone expected me to be happy. I couldn’t tell them that my baby cried all the time, and that I dreaded feeding her because it meant that she would be crying in pain for hours. The sleep deprivation was far worse than I ever could have imagined. I felt so guilty that I didn’t enjoy breastfeeding because I had been told that it was the best thing I could do for my baby, and that I would feel bonded with her. There were so many expectations that I had for what motherhood was supposed to look like, and I wasn’t meeting any of them. I thought it was all my fault, that I was a bad mom, and that I failed. As a mental health professional, I couldn’t give myself the validation that I would have given a client in the same situation. And how could I? I had a monster in my brain telling me how worthless I was.
I was not myself. My husband, who, through no fault of his own, did not understand postpartum depression, didn’t know what was happening to me. He didn’t know what to do. We knew this wasn’t me. We were all suffering. It was like one day our lives were amazing, and the next we were in hell. I felt like I had two choices: leave, or get some help.
When I was able to admit that I needed help, I did get on medication, and I did go to therapy. It helped. It really did. I eventually was able to feel more confident in my ability to be a mother. I was able to accept that there was no such thing as a perfect mom. My relationship with my daughter grew, and our bond is such now that I know that we are connected forever. My husband and I were able to get back to a good place. I built relationships with people who I could be real with about being a mother, including Tired as a Mother. It took a long time, but I did recover, and we had another child.
I have to say, that the most powerful piece of my recovery was becoming educated and understanding Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMAD). It had been suggested to me by another colleague who knew about my experience that I become a specialist in maternal mental health. It wasn’t long before my second child was born that I received training on assessing and treating perinatal mood disorders. Everything I learned was exactly my experience. I felt so validated. Every treatment intervention I learned was exactly what I wish someone had done for me or told me when I was first diagnosed.
I had come full circle when my second child was born. It was a different experience, but I now had all the tools and information I needed to make the adjustment to having a new baby. I still feared that my symptoms of postpartum depression would return. But my experience was much better. Not only because I knew what to expect already when having a baby and what I would need. I no longer felt ashamed. I knew that it wasn’t me, it was the illness. And I wasn’t going to let it rob me of my life again.
What I’ve learned along the way
I’ve learned so much about the effects of Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders, not just from my training, but also from life experiences. Here’s my list of what I’ve learned that I think anyone who wants to have children should know.
It’s more common that you think:
Statistically, 1 out of 5 women will experience a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder (PMAD). I’ve since have met so many women who have experienced a perinatal mood disorder. It isn’t just about postpartum depression. There are many other PMADs that aren’t talked about that need to be acknowledged for correct diagnosis and treatment.
There must be more awareness and education of PMADs:
As a mental health professional, I knew very little about PMADs before I had my first child. I had experienced depression before, and I thought it was going to be a similar experience. It was totally different. And I’ve learned that not many medical or mental health professionals who are educated about PMADs and know about treatment options. Not many women are familiar with signs or symptoms.
Spouses and partners need to be involved in treatment:
I can’t tell you how many times my own husband has said that he wished he had known how to support me while I was experiencing postpartum depression. Ultimately, we both believe that our marriage wouldn’t have suffered as greatly as it did. I also believe that there needs to be more support for men in the adjustment to parenthood. Research is showing that men are also suffering from postnatal mood disorders.
If you can, think about who you would find helpful to you, and what would feel like help:
Having a new baby is exhausting. These little ones are totally dependent on us, and consume all of our energy. Even the best parents need help. Help from family is great. It really can be. However, it can get complicated, and sometimes it can be difficult for new moms to communicate what they really need because they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. This can lead to further fatigue, burn out, and ultimately more depression and anxiety.
The important thing is to get through this time to adjust to being a parent without adding stress. It’s ok to admit that a family member wouldn’t feel helpful and that maybe a third party would be better. It should be someone who you would feel comfortable having a bad day with and who you would feel comfortable giving instructions to.
Find some way to normalize the struggle:
You are allowed to not enjoy every second of being a mom. It’s normal to feel most of the time like once you think you have something figured out, it all changes. It’s also a common struggle to start the day with a plan, and then all hell will break loose. But until you get used to coping with that, you’ll need some normalization around it. Follow blogs like Tired as a Mother, or Scary Mommy. There are video series online such as Kat and Nan and I Mom So Hard. Learning that the struggles are normal, and finding a way to maybe laugh in hard moments will make such a difference. I joke that I was a perfect parent until I had kids. I make a lot of mistakes, everyday. My kids make me crazy, make me laugh, and I always love them, and they love me.
No one knows why perinatal mood disorders occur. I know now that I didn’t do anything to cause it. They just happen. If you’re suffering, please know that you didn’t do anything to cause this, and please don’t suffer in silence. One thing I can tell you is that getting support from other moms who have been there is one of the single best ways to begin to feel better. If you’re reading this, and don’t know where to find support, please reach out to me. I’ve linked up with Tired as a Mother to provide support groups and other resources so that no parent goes without help. We want you to know that you are not alone and that there is help out there.