By Felicia Dougherty
I remember a friend in high school shared that her mom suffered from depression. She confided in me that she feared she would one day too. At the time I couldn’t really grasp what depression really meant or looked like. Later one of my closest friends even today suffered from panic attacks, anxiety, and bouts of depression and still I had no framework beyond someone being just really sad. That is until this past year happened.
I’d say looking back that I was already dealing with a bit of prenatal depression. (Which is a thing! I had no idea… hindsight!) A mother figure had recently passed too soon along with two friends following the two years after. Grief is one of those awkward emotions that makes so many of us uncomfortable because we’ve mostly been taught it’s weak or that there’s a limited amount of time. Grief is also a beautiful thing because it opens the door to greater healing for areas of trauma we might have never noticed.
“We run from grief because loss scares us, yet our hearts reach toward grief because the broken parts want to mend.” – Brené Brown
“I had no idea that the gate I would step through / to finally enter this world / would be the space my brother’s body made.” -Marie Howe
Grief, hormones, a cross-country move and then the last straw: gender disappointment. You can read my full “Post-birth” story on my online journal, but essentially this happened: I had no doula to tell me “you can do this” (which was absolutely needed even on my second birth and even with the supportive partner I have), I was at a hands-off birth center (which I loved but later realized I needed a little coaching) and my mantra I was holding onto internally was “just a little longer until you meet your little girl.” …Then I birthed a beautiful baby boy.
“The Baby” was his name. – a distancing tactic I had no idea I was doing.
(Postpartum Depression in Plain Mama English)
One in particular where Ezra wasn’t latching well, my then two-year-old, Harper, was being a sweet big brother and giving too many kisses while I was trying to nurse and internally I felt this constricting tension. I wanted to scream. After pleas, I pushed Harper back, not hard, but enough to where he stumbled on his own feet and fell on his bum. He was crying, I was crying, “the baby” was crying and I was alone. I called my husband, Ty, at work and thankfully he was able to come home for a few hours to help get us resettles and me reset.
I would never wish depression on anyone but there is something to be said about the often used adjective: sadness. It really shouldn’t be used at all because it’s not a deep inconsolable sadness, it’s a deep void of no emotion. And something I had never experienced up to this point. It was like a heavy slime all over me making the task of getting out of bed daunting. Thank god breastfeeding was going well because I’m not sure I could have managed making and washing bottles every two hours.
The trouble with getting help with PPD is the stigma. Well meaning family members asked if the kids were okay and safe at the mention of “baby blues.” I get it, a lot of the stories we’ve heard are mothers who have gone too long without support which caused heart-wrenching actions like harm to herself, her children, even suicide or infanticide. Like I said, most of these are undiagnosed. No mother wants to even remotely be accused of being a “bad mother” or “unfit”? Not one.
Thankfully, I have an extremely understanding and caring husband. He listened to me as I sugarcoated what I was feeling, “some light baby blues” and was unwaveringly there for me when I was brave enough to say “postpartum depression” out loud.
I barely mentioned it to my midwife at my 6-week postpartum visit and without hesitation handed me a number of a therapist who specialized in PPD. I plopped down on a couch in her waiting room the very next week. I was nervous, for sure, but wanted this icky slime off of me.
She led me into her office which was very un-alarming. No squeaky leather couch, she didn’t have me lay down, close my eyes and spill my guts. Instead it felt more like a living room at the perfect temperature. She offered me tea and the room smelt wonderful but not as though she tried, just as though it was. I sat in silence for a moment and then we started with just my birth. I had what she identified as “birth trauma” which is essentially PTSD.
What I learned is that there’s incredibly hard trauma that immediately causes PTSD and then there can me trauma that triggers tension in the body that has been there for who knows how long because undealt with trauma never goes away. Thus all the past trauma and undealt with trauma creates a break. And this, I have now come to be desperately thankful for– my birth trauma created a pathway to further healing and I am more whole and happy then I’ve ever been.
What made facing and naming PPD so hard for me is that I wasn’t depressed always. I wasn’t anxious always. I’d just have moments that would last minutes or hours. And instead of reaching a point of “healed”, I still have moments. Yet there’s bigger and longer gaps of time in between. My therapist calls this “post traumatic growth”. I also started writing more which is so healing. Finding space for me, self-care; important in every part of motherhood.
I continue seeing my amazing therapist weekly, we’ve now are working on a past undealt with trauma using a type of therapy called “timeline therapy” but there is always space to debrief if there were “moments” throughout the previous week.
This was my journey. Every mother’s looks different and I would encourage every mama to get curious and look within because you matter, you are enough and you are worth being taken care of.