I have mentioned previously, though usually in passing and not in great detail, that I suffered from postpartum depression after Will's birth. I believe it stemmed at least in part from how he came into this world, but perhaps I would have developed the condition even if Will's birth-day had gone more smoothly.
I started feeling contractions on a Monday morning, and by Monday evening/night the contractions were regular and strong enough that I couldn't sleep. We went to the hospital late Monday night/early Tuesday morning - around 2am - and then my labor stalled. We walked the halls of the hospital for HOURS, pausing periodically so I could throw up in the public bathrooms we passed. By Tuesday afternoon the contractions had grown extremely strong and painful again, so we tried an epidural in hopes I could get a couple of hours of sleep. The epidural worked for about 10 minutes and then failed. They tried a second epidural, which also worked for 10 minutes and failed. Turns out epidurals don't work on me. After 12 or so additional hours of excruciating pain and two hours of pushing (at 9-9.5 centimeters because I never progressed beyond that point), the doc decided Will's great big Ferris head had no intention of coming out vaginally and sent me to the OR for a c-section. By the time Will was born at 6:20am on Wednesday, I had been awake - literally no sleep - for more than 48 hours. I had labored - and been on the spectrum of uncomfortable to unbearable pain - for more than 33 hours. It was the only time in my entire life that I ever truly felt level 10 pain, and in those last few hours I wanted to die, so much so that I silently begged God to take me. I could not see the beauty in the experience, or even in my sweet boy once he was born, and I went home with that feeling still weighing heavily on my heart.
I suffered in near silence for weeks, and then months, with no professional intervention. When Will was between nine months and a year old I turned a corner and found myself finally better able to function, but it wasn't until he reached 18 months old that I felt truly "healed".
I should have been on medication. I should have been in therapy. But... In the beginning I didn't realize that what I was experiencing wasn't normal and the systems in place to evaluate my mental health post-birth weren't good enough to catch my symptoms. As time went on, I recognized that not every new mother felt what I felt, but was embarrassed I didn't love caring for my baby the same way they did and therefore did nothing. I became incredibly good at masking my grief and going about my daily life with a smile on my face and bruises everywhere else.
Eventually I emerged from the darkness. If I hadn't, Hallie wouldn't be here; for the longest time, I had no intention of having a second child for fear I would relapse back into a depressive state. So when I found out I was pregnant with Hallie, I waged a preemptive strike. I started keeping a gratitude journal. I worked with my doctor to come up with a plan that would hopefully result in a less traumatic birth. (We landed on a scheduled c-section, which I know in my heart was absolutely, positively, the best possible choice we could have made.) I started seeing a therapist to establish both a relationship with the therapist and a baseline reading of my mental health, and I scheduled multiple therapist appointments for the weeks after her birth so that if I felt paralyzed by depression, I wouldn't have to summon the strength to make an appointment. (I knew that if the appointments were on the calendar I would go.) I don't know if it was my preparation, the grace of God, or a combination of both, but I didn't experience any postpartum depression - or even the slightest bit of baby blues - after Hallie was born.
Despite healing, the damage caused by postpartum depression lingers. For years, whenever I saw a new mother I felt something resembling pity. Whenever I saw a newborn baby I felt something resembling hostility. I feared for the mother's mental health, blamed the baby for her pain, and had flashbacks to my darkest days. Even now, 11 years later, while I can finally look at a newborn with pure joy in my heart, I still feel unsettled when I think about the brave woman caring for that baby, who may or may not suffering in silence.
Storytelling Saves Lives
The mission of This Is My Brave is to "end the stigma surround mental health issues by sharing personal stories of living successful, full lives despite mental illness through poetry, essay, and original music". The organization coordinates performances in front of live audiences and publishes stories to its blog and YouTube channel.
I have no plans to submit my story to the This is My Brave campaign, but in honor of Mental Health Week last week and because my mental health has taken a hit this semester, I decided to share it here. If just one person who is going through something finds this post and feels less alone - and/or gains access to resources they might not have otherwise found - than putting it out there serves a purpose.
The Skimm - a daily news email I receive - did an AMAZING job of covering mental health week. Follow my links below to their webpages, where they summarize what needs to be summarized, explain what needs to be explained, and share links to incredibly valuable resources.
- "Millenials - and young women in particular - are reporting higher rates of mental health issues." Follow this link for a definition of mental health, as well as information about what causes people (specifically millennials right now) to struggle with their mental health.
- "Nearly one in six adults in the United States experiences mental illness annually. That's a lot of people. You don't hear a lot of people talking about it." Follow this link for brief descriptions of and links to more information about some of the most common conditions and the connection mental health has with other conditions.
- "Mental health struggles can be tough. So is the stigma that comes with them." Follow this link for information about the stigma attached to mental health, why/how it developed, and what we can do to fight it.
- "Mental health issues are incredibly common. So it's clear we need help." Follow this link to learn about how we can take care of our own mental health, when to seek professional help, our rights with regard to treatment, and how to help a family member or friend.
If you or someone you know needs help, visit MentalHealth.gov for crisis hotline numbers and online chat services.