It has taken me awhile to write this post. 7 months, in fact. I wanted to write about my experience with postpartum for sometime now, but each time I attempted, I was overwhelmed with emotion, sometimes negativity, and I often felt ashamed. Postpartum depression is something that is not talked about enough. It is hidden. Covered up. It leaves mothers all over the world feeling lonely, weak, and helpless. It is a shame really, because the more we understand about the postpartum period, the more we can prepare ourselves, work through the sadness, and use our community of mothers as a backbone for the journey through it.
Not all mothers experience postpartum depression. But, I do believe all mothers transition through a period of what I like to think of as “Postpartum Discomfort“. My journey with postpartum depression was dark, painful, and lonely, but what was interesting is that it occurred during the happiest, most beautiful months of my life. Here are my 5 truths about my experience with postpartum.
1. You can feel completely depressed, yet utterly happy at the same time.
I have heard horror stories about postpartum depression and feel the utmost empathy for mothers who struggled more than I. I remember holding Luca for the first time and thinking, “Thank goodness. I already love him so much“. My postpartum discomfort set in about 24 hours after Luca’s birth. Luca and I had spent the past nine months together, sharing an intimate closeness, just the two of us. Suddenly, after he was born, we had a room full of people eagerly waiting to meet him and hold him. I couldn’t pinpoint it at first, but I felt completely overwhelmed, anxious, and was numb beneath a sense of panic. Luckily, Timi identified it right away and encouraged me to continue to hold Luca as much as I desired, even when we had visitors. It still makes me cry remembering this feeling. After all, it was the first time I was meeting my son. And I was so eager to hold him, love him, and know him. I wasn’t yet ready to share.
One may think that when you are depressed, that it is the only emotion you feel. However, I remember saying through tears of sadness, “It is strange, because I am also so happy. I love him so much.” It is often this paradox that adds confusion as we work through processing our emotions after birth.
2. You feel lonely.
No matter how many friends and family are in your home and no matter how helpful your partner is, you still feel alone. When it is 3:00 am and you are the only one who can feed or soothe your baby, you feel alone. When your partner goes to the grocery store or work, you feel alone. When you are nursing or rocking your baby to sleep in the dark, for the seventh time that day, you feel alone. You are the only one who is a new mom. There is no one else that feels the same as you do. Not even daddy. You are in fact, lonely in this experience. The sense of loneliness was strong for me. I would say, it was the most difficult emotion for me to work through, because it felt somewhat senseless. I had a great village supporting me and loving Luca. I had the most wonderful partner I could have ever dreamed up. Yet, despite it all, I felt lonely.
3. You begin to resent your partner.
From the smallest things, to the biggest things, you may resent your partner. Your partner can go to work and have a “break”. Your partner can leave the baby for more than three hours at a time without worrying about when the baby is going to want to nurse again. Your partner can somehow, magically, sleep through the baby’s gut-wrenching cries at 4:00 am. Your partner is able to disconnect and relax while you, for some reason, cannot shake this feeling of constant worry and anxiety that you know, you will continue to feel every. single. day. for the rest of your life. Why? Because you are Mom.
4. You have regrets.
“What have we done?” “This was a mistake.” “What were we thinking?” “I can’t do it anymore.” “I give up.” And I even once said as I got out of bed for the 15th time in the middle of the night, “I want to return him.” It breaks my heart reflecting on these moments. My heart aches even thinking that I had, and sometimes still have, those thoughts. Motherhood is difficult. Not only are you a new mother, trying to figure out how to keep this little being alive and happy, but you are also completely sleep-deprived. I felt ashamed to feel regretful. I was embarrassed to tell anyone some of the thoughts I had going through my head. But you know what? Once I did, I realized I was not the first new mom to think those things. I wasn’t the only one who fantasized about life before having kids. There were other moms who locked themselves in the bathroom and cried and cried. I was not alone.
5. You can get through it.
My postpartum discomfort felt like it was never going to end. For some, professional attention and sometimes medication is required to move through some of the hormonal imbalances. I feel very fortunate that I was able to heal without medication. Here are some things that helped me to regain strength, balance, and happiness in my life postpartum.
– Time. Don’t push aside the emotions. Allow yourself to experience your emotions fully. Experience the highs and lows. Process through what you are feeling. Be as present as possible. For some mothers, the hormones will balance out on their own, in time.
– Sleep. Lean on your partner and ask for help from family and friends. A two hour nap can work miracles for the mind and the heart. Sleep deprivation feeds the depression. We need rest in order to heal.
– Exercise. It took about 3 months postpartum, but once I reestablished a consistent exercise routine, I started to feel human again. An hour yoga class revived me and helped me to feel comfortable in my new body. I looked forward to our daily walk out in the sunshine. Exercise gave me the feeling of emerging from the darkness and coming back to life.
– Embrace (or build) your village. Living abroad, I moved through my postpartum discomfort without my family and closest friends by my side. My husband and his family became by backbone. In addition, I built a community of new friends that were also new moms. We go on coffee dates together, enjoy Mommy and Me Yoga, chat by text in the middle of the night, arrange playdates, and even plan girls’ nights out. These women are who helped snap me out of my loneliness and realize that not only am I not alone, but I have a community of women that are by my side on this journey.
– Communicate with your partner and come up with a plan. My relationship with my husband was the reason for my healing process. He was in tune with my emotions and knew exactly when I needed a break or a nap. He cooked for me when I was feeling unnourished and dragged me outside when I refused to leave the house. He encouraged me to schedule in two classes of yoga per week (without baby). He planned a girls’ night out for a friend and me just so I could have a break (and wine!). He takes me out on a date at least twice a month, just the two of us. Talk with your partner. Let him know what you need. Stay connected. Your relationship is the foundation of your family.
– Breastfeeding. Although this may not apply to many mothers, breastfeeding both helped and hindered my healing process. In the beginning, breastfeeding was like a medication for me as I worked through my depression. The hormones released while nursing are a natural method of healing for many mothers. However, at about the 6 month mark, I felt overwhelmed. I felt that I was the only one responsible for feeding and virtually, keeping Luca alive. I started resenting breastfeeding and neither of us were enjoying it anymore. While speaking with a cousin who also suffered from postpartum depression, she explained that she finally felt better after she stopped breastfeeding. I felt guilty at first, but we made the decision to start weaning. In the end, it was the best decision for both Luca and myself. Breastfeeding is a HUGE commitment and a great responsibility. One that many mothers are not properly prepared for. I definitely was not.
Having a baby is the most wonderful gift. Watching your baby grow, learn, and explore the world around him fills you with amazement. Hearing his first giggles and seeing the way he looks up at you, melts you. Every time. Their smell. Their skin. Their eyes. They are simply… beautiful. Motherhood is beautiful as well. But gosh darn, it is hard. I’ve written this post in an attempt to be open, honest, and vulnerable. I hope for it to spread awareness, acceptance, and understanding about the process of postpartum. I hope that moms, who have struggled or who are currently struggling with their own postpartum discomfort, find solace in the fact that they are not alone. I hope for others to gain a new perspective and share empathy with new mothers close to them. Thank you for reading and for sharing in my journey as a newborn mom.