I find it ironic to consider writing about post-partum depression when one of the biggest problems with it is this lack of ability to communicate about it—and that was my main problem when I struggled through it for the better part of a year.
Even now I am not sure I’ll do it any justice: each woman’s experience of it is so different. I’ll add, too, that sometimes the partner in the woman’s life will be affected, and that was somewhat the case with me, too—and that makes sense, considering that when someone goes through darkness that those they love might enter it some, too.
Still, one of the main things I faced that I know many women face in dealing with PPD is this lack of ability to communicate, and certainly being misunderstood in ways that contribute to the sadness. And the spiral that spins and slips down from this can almost feel unrecoverable.
I’m not going to suggest that I just climbed straight out of this hole—I kept slipping back. Internal and external conflict contributed to whatever it was that had triggered in my mind, in my hormones, in my spirit. The first issue for me was recognizing what I was experiencing—for a long while I simply let myself and my needs go, wore myself down to exhaustion, until I could not respond, sometimes, to both my children and my husband. When they encountered their own melt-downs I simply could not meet them where they were—I wanted to crawl into a corner and hope that all of it would go away.
Both a saving and failing grace was pumping—something which had nearly broke me with my first daughter, tied to all her feeding issues as a cleft baby, and which I revisited as I fell in love with my second beautiful daughter, born without any major issues. Both were C-sections—the second I begrudgingly entered because I was 42 years and at 42 weeks my placenta was showing signs of starting to wear out. I was blessed here as well with the right team of midwife and doctor giving me choices, with the exuberant experience of a Family Centered Cesarean, without which I might have gone deeper into a hole sooner and lost sight of myself. The insidious seed of age dug in deeper into my mind: this is it, it told me—your last. Enjoy. And enjoy her I did—a delight still now, and I see looking back my true saving grace, this lovely little patient, easy-going creature. Taking her time to grow while she waited for me to grow.
I guess when I realized that her slow weight gain and developmental markers weren’t a danger to her, I turned and saw myself—I stopped working only outward. I realized I was doing what I do when I get stressed: turn it all out instead of taking a good look at myself. In truth, I did not want to look at myself.
My most pronounced symptom—a searing anger and resentfulness about so many things—was a final blow to my ego and consciousness, and nudged me toward wondering, am I alright? Why can’t I control this anger? And this problem remained even as I identified it and found—and this is key—the right person to unload the knotty mess I’d created.
I had to accept that the person who was to help me could not be family or even my partner—it had to be someone professional, someone to help me stand outside myself and help without bias, but someone who could share my sense of faith and doubt, my fears, my hopes, what little I had left of them, and respect them in the same loving way family would have. I feel I was quite lucky, quite blessed, to have found the right balance in this endeavor. I think when it comes to mental illness—and PPD displays the extent to which mental issues are tied into physical ones—the right partnership and guidance can be difficult to find.
I was determined to approach my problem as honestly as possible, but I did not feel comfortable with prescriptions, and wanted to find a different way. My hormones are still a sign of the tumult within even now, but in the raging midst of my darkness so difficult to overcome. My personal journey ended up not including drugs of any sort—instead, what helped me was a change in diet and addition of supplements, exercise flexibility, consistent counseling, and even, ultimately, sharing within the context of professional counseling with other women suffering from PPD. Any combination of this, including the careful use of drugs, is normal—all good approaches to the issues which snarl the body and soul grappling with PPD.
When I’d started out, I never dreamed of sharing this with anyone else—and as I lifted up some out of my mire, I found myself stunned to share with amazing, strong, brave women who allowed their honesty, unfiltered by platitudes, to stand clear and help me see the deeper issues entangled in my outward signs of anger and resentment. The perspective was unexpected—and the much needed acceptance of myself as flawed and whole at once was a final push toward health.
Since then, in times of doubt, I have continued a combination of practices started or suggested in counseling: journaling, prayer, meditation, self-care of any sort. My favorite consistent practice is meditation—taking the pause seriously, allowing for that good look at self regardless of the opinions bubbling from within, the self-judgement, recriminations, and messiness. With consistent practice and humility I become more still, deny less, accept more, and open up—and I’m never going back now.
Instead I hope to take someone’s hand and move forward some more.