“Have you ever been screened for postpartum depression?” were the words I heard as I sat across from a licensed therapist. My whole heart sank. My stomach twisted in knots. My voice shaking I said “No, why?” I remember thinking, I’ve never wanted to hurt my baby. I’ve never wanted to hurt myself. After handing me an at home test to take, I left his office feeling like I was the biggest failure in the world.
I’ll take you back to that day. Presley wasn’t a newborn, in fact she was around 6 months old. It was my first visit to a counselor since she was born. I asked myself in the parking lot why I ended up here, and knew I needed to stay the path on “fixing” myself. Healing myself. This path is a lonely one though, and one I didn’t want to be on much longer.
My pregnancy with Presley was nothing short of textbook. I felt really good. So good I wanted to take pleasure in all life had to offer. I mostly took pleasure in the food I ate, gaining a whopping 45 pounds! I was okay with it though, and knew it would be easy to take off once she arrived (WRONG). I had read all the books on sleep training and breast feeding, and knew David and I were very capable of getting a schedule quickly and nailing this thing called parenthood (WRONG). I just knew she would arrive before her due date. Not scary early, but a healthy and happy 38 weeks. After all, most women I knew never carried full term – or past a due date (WRONG). On June 23, I waddled into the hospital after doctors agreeing to induce me a week past my due date.
My journey as Presley’s mom began that moment. She was born at 12:13 AM, on June 24th, after pushing only 12 minutes. I didn’t know that was considered a pretty short amount of time to push with your first baby, but I knew I felt stronger than ever before and wasn’t all that surprised. Breastfeeding success came instantly and effortlessly. We couldn’t wait to bring our baby home and begin our life with her. Let me start by saying, my new life as “Mom” even in the beginning was blissful in many ways. I constantly reminded myself of the blessings surrounding us. Family and friends close by, a husband who was totally hands on and not scared to change diapers or bathe. I had it all, but felt like at the end of the day I was exhausted and overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by life’s simple tasks. Tasks like going to the grocery store WITH my baby. I wanted to workout, but was terrified of putting her in childwatch with GERMS EVERYWHERE. Okay, forget the germs, how was I going to get us both dressed and out the door, to the gym, after feeding her breakfast and make it home in time for a morning nap? Why was I STILL overweight at Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas? Why was I still getting up with her and nursing twice a night at almost 6 months old? She certainly wasn’t following the BabyWise schedule I had studied, and for that matter could have cared less what schedule we tried to press on her. She was bright eyed and bushy tailed almost 16 hours a day while I felt bushy haired, over weight and my eyes were the darkest they had ever been. Why hadn’t I bounced back to Mary? Why wasn’t I kicking motherhood’s ASS the way I had kicked everything else’s ass my entire life? That’s when I knew something wasn’t right.
Depression doesn’t discriminate. It comes in all shapes and sizes. It can be seasonal or can last a lifetime. I admittedly had placed a stigma against it – feeling like postpartum depression meant women who didn’t want to take care of their babies. Women who wanted to self-harm. I never realized that simply putting our baby’s happiness before our own can also take a drastic toll on our wellbeing. This was my case in a nutshell. I wanted to do everything for Presley. I was burdened with guilt if anyone took time out of their schedule to relieve me to – God forbid – do something that I enjoy. I also wanted to do everything perfectly. My life was supposed to revolve around her every sound, need, movement and tear. These emotions coupled with the background noise of exhaustion and wondering when I would ever sleep again became all consuming to me. But how could I admit my “shortcomings” to anyone? I bottled it up for far too long. “Oh and by the way, these aren’t shortcomings,” is what I would say to 27 year old Mary.
Seeking professional help was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. To help you understand this more I rank as an Enneagram TYPE 2. Our core weakness is having a sense of pride that leads us to seek constant approval and validation from others. My pride was getting in the way because I was consumed with the thought of what others would think if they knew I was seeking help for what I soon found out was diagnosed postpartum depression. What would the pharmacist think when he filled a prescription for an anti-depressant? In a small town, even my pharmacist had known me and my family my entire life. Once I was counseled through these fears, my new life as “Mom” began to open itself up to possibilities it hadn’t before. Presley’s first overnight stay with my parents, frequent visits to the YMCA where the ladies in childwatch cared for Presley like their own, finding Myrtle Ann Monk, who became a part time care taker for Presley in our home. She also became a second mother to me.
My advice to any mother may be struggling or questioning is don’t wait too long. Talk to someone. Talk to your family, your friends, your pastor, a support group online – whatever makes you feel the most comfortable. If you have struggled with or are struggling with postpartum depression, it doesn’t mean you are LESS OF A MOTHER. It doesn’t mean you don’t love your child with a fierceness that could crumble any mountain. It simply means you’re human, you have hormones, you need rest and your world has been rocked by maybe your first or even third child. TAKE CHARGE and find ways to make yourself happy, whether it means hiring regular sitters, letting family members step in or taking your child to daycare. Do what it takes to allow you to have time to breathe, heal, and be yourself. Don’t be guilt-ridden by needing this time. You deserve it, and your children deserve a mother who can be her best self. My sister-in-law told me in one of my crying spells, “What’s best for Presley is what’s best for YOU.” I’ll never forget that moment on the deck of our lake house. Thank you, Cynthia.
Thank you Lura Beth for being the first babysitter to ever keep Presley so I had “me time.” Thank you Myrtle Ann for picking up where Lura left off. Thank you Jessica for RUNNING WITH ME, and helping me regain a fitness regimen that healed me. Thank you Trang AND Jessica for opening your doors to Presley and me even when I was in jammies and Ugg boots on a snowy day. Thank you Ali for helping me strap Presley in her stroller and take her on a walk for the first time. Thank you Molly for spending breaks from college at our house, loving on Presley and giving me company. Thank you to my church choir for helping me heal through music and prayer. Thank you Mom for taking charge like this was your own experience to deal with. Thank you David for LOVING me when I felt like the worst version of myself, but reminding me constantly that I was the most beautiful being a mother to his child. Most of all, thank you Presley for making me a mom, and loving me unconditionally through it all. Your spirit never suffered because of me, as a matter of fact, I think it shines brighter because of it. As a baby, you were an example of perseverance for me, teaching me to put one foot in front of the other, no matter what. You’re a special little girl, and I’ll forever wonder how I’m lucky enough to be your mother.
I experienced another blissful pregnancy with Lottie. This time, I got a second chance to approach pregnancy differently. I stayed very physically active and ate a well balanced diet, complete with treating myself whenever I felt the need! I also was very open with my OBGYN about my experience with PPD, and we opted to take preventative measures and started me on medication as soon as I left the hospital after giving birth. It was safe for breastfeeding and something I was able to eventually wean off when I was ready. I have two healthy, happy beautiful girls and life is good. My experience with PPD does not define me, but it has shaped me into a more understanding and accepting mother. I’m still Mary, just a bit wiser these days.