Of The Overwhelming, Bad Days, and Normal Feelings

by Jessica Martin-Weber

This post made possible by the support of EvenFlo Feeding

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Parenting can be really hard. Even when you love it and feel this is what you are meant to do it can be really hard. Every parent has times when they are overwhelmed and question whether or not they made a mistake in becoming a parent. These feelings crop up in certain circumstances or in the midst of a difficult day. That’s totally normal and usually it passes pretty quickly, is lifted in talking with an understanding friend, or things come into perspective when you get some time alone.

But there are feelings that go beyond this. If you’re experiencing more than occasionally feeling overwhelmed, it isn’t your fault and you’re not a bad parent for feeling how you do, but you may need help. While it is common for most parents to experience moments of questioning and doubt along their parenting journey, a persistent and reoccurring presence of these feelings may be more normal for a postpartum mood disorder.

postpartum depression illness

If you find that you identify more with the normal of a postpartum mood disorder, you’re not alone even if nobody knows you’re struggling this way. Many parents have been there before, you are not alone and you’re not some kind of broken freak. It is possible that you have a medical condition that needs treatment. In reaching out and sharing the experience we can better recognize the normal symptoms of postpartum mood disorders leading to better care for ourselves and our families. We need to understand the normal feelings and thoughts for a postpartum mood disorder.

    • If you have the recurring feeling that your child would be better off without you, this is a sign that something more serious is going on.
    • If you are feeling that you don’t want to be a parent and that feeling lasts for more than just a moment, this is a sign that something more serious is going on.
    • If you are having feelings of wanting to hurt or abandon your child, this is a sign that something more serious is going on.
    • If fear dominates your thoughts and actions, this is a sign that something more serious is going on.
    • If you have anxiety that won’t let you sleep or makes you not to want to leave the house, this is a sign that something more serious is going on.
    • If you have fantasies of hurting yourself or disappearing from the world, this is a sign that something more serious is going on.
    • If you regularly feel rage toward yourself, your partner, or your child(ren), this is a sign that something more serious is going on.
    • If you feel that you don’t deserve to live, this is a sign that something more serious is going on.
    • If you can’t get out of bed every day or you hide away from everyone, this is a sign that something more serious is going on.
    • If sadness and despair color most of your experiences and interactions, this is a sign that something more serious is going on.

 

postpartum depression postpartum anxiety

These feelings are not just what every mom feels on their bad days, these are all signs that something more serious is going on and you need help. These are normal feelings when you have a postpartum mood disorder. Every parent has hard days and every parent has moments when they feel they need a break, but the feelings listed above are more normal of a postpartum mood disorder including postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety. If you have a postpartum mood disorder, you are not alone, others can relate.

Depression and anxiety are real illnesses but because they don’t present with an apparent physical ailment, often they are ruled as just a bad day or a lack of strength or character. This is a lie.

If you recognize yourself in any of these signs, please know that you are not alone but these aren’t the feelings everyone should expect in parenting, these are the feelings that are common with depression and anxiety or a postpartum mood disorder. That doesn’t mean you are broken but it may mean you are unwell. Everyone deserves health as much as possible and that includes mental health. If you had strep throat you would get care and treatment. So it is with mental health. It isn’t a weakness to get help when you are sick, it makes us healthier and stronger for living life with those we love.

Please, let someone know how you are feeling and reach out for help. These crisis lines are available to any parent in crisis:

USA: 1-800-422-4453

Canada: 1-888-603-9100

UK: 08457 90 90 90

And if you know of someone struggling with any of this, reach out to them, here are some tips as to how. Sometimes we need someone willing to help us walk through the process of getting help. To support us and believe in us and to refrain from judging us. You could make the difference in someone’s life by simply caring.

You matter, you are enough. We care about you.

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Jessica Martin-Weber

Drawing from a diverse background in the performing arts and midwifery, Jessica Martin-Weber supports women and families, creating spaces for open dialogue. Writer and speaker, Jessica is the creator of TheLeakyBoob.com, co-creator of BeyondMoi.com, and creator and author of the children’s book and community of What Love Tastes Like, supporter of A Girl With A View, and co-founder of Milk: An Infant Feeding Conference. She co-parents her 6 daughters with her husband of 19 years and is currently writing her first creative non-fiction book.
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A Poem on Postpartum Depression; A #MyStoryMatters

by Melissa Hoos

depression and motherhood

I’m mama to one amazing 10 month old boy. Having been diagnosed with clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder at age 15, I knew I was at a high risk for postpartum depression. Pregnancy gave me a wonderful break from depressive episodes (my psychiatrist would tell me, just get pregnant! It’ll solve all your mental health issues!), but after my son was born, the relief didn’t last long. The hormonal high lasted a few short, awesome days, and then the baby blues set in. My husband went back to work, and I spent that day’s midwife appointment sobbing on her couch – partly because I just couldn’t stop crying, ever, but also because she said the words I was hoping to never hear her say: I think you need to consider going back on medication.

I’d worked SO hard to get off the medication so I could get pregnant, and I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed if I took the same medication again. So I was determined to overcome PPD/PPA without it. My husband took some more time off work, we made a plan, and my mom came to help for a while. It worked, for a few weeks, until it didn’t anymore. 

I knew I loved my son. I knew I could take good care of him. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was just not good enough to be a mother, and he would be better off without me. He wasn’t a colicky baby, and it wasn’t very often that he just cried and cried. My inner monologue often went along the lines of “what kind of mother gets angry at her baby? He’s just tired/hungry/wet and now I’ve made him scared too!” 

No matter how calm and rational I made my thoughts, I just could not translate that into calm and rational actions. It was like being stuck inside my own head, watching someone else pick up my baby with rough hands, hearing someone else say to my baby “what the f*ck do you WANT??” And then the next instant it was me again, sobbing and hating myself because how could I have lost it again? Nursing him after those awful moments was just as much an emotional reset for me as it was for him.

One night as I laid in bed crying, watching my baby in his bed after over an hour of fighting to get him to sleep, I wrote this poem. The first sign of a depressive episode for me has always been the loss of my creative side. I normally love to write, and I decided that despite the fact that I did NOT want to, I needed to. Even if it’s only to unscramble my brain so I could sleep. I let my husband read it in the morning, and I think it was the first time he truly understood how I felt. 

I don’t know exactly what snapped me out of that awful episode. It had been months. I knew the whole time that I should probably stop trying to muscle my way through and just take the damn medication. And then one day, I realized it had been a few days since I last felt out of control. I think, for me, the worst part was the anxiety. I was suddenly able to say to myself, “Hey, if he wakes up, it’ll be okay. I’ll just nurse him back to sleep.” Or, “Hey, if I can’t get him back to sleep, hubby will take a turn and I’ll go get a glass of water.” I started being able to recognize the start of a “bad brain day” and could take self-care measures to prevent another episode from beginning, just like before I was ever pregnant. The cognitive behaviour therapy, anxiety classes, and counselling started coming back to me.

It’s not completely gone now. And since depression and anxiety has been a part of my life for well over a decade, I doubt it ever will be. I don’t know what the next postpartum experience will hold, but I’m writing down ways to cope so that next time, maybe I can bypass a little more of the darkness. Ignoring it just doesn’t work, so I hope that shining a little light on the topic can help someone recognize PPD/PPA in themselves or someone they love, and get the help they need. 

This is my poem

When he’s screaming I can’t 
think and everything starts to look 
red and I just want to
scream right along with 
him, this baby I waited so
long for and asked
God for and 
thank
God
for

Where does my heart 
go when I’m so
angry because it isn’t 
here loving my
son, it is somewhere else and I just
can’t quite reach it

My brain tricks me into
thinking how dare he cry, but he’s just a 
baby and he’s telling me momma I 
need you which these ears fail to
hear with all the 
screaming

I just want to be a good
mother but all I seem to do is 
lose my mind and this isn’t 
me, it isn’t 
me, someone please 
help
me

In the dead of night I watch my baby
sleep in his crib and 
wonder if he will remember the
angry momma or the loving one and the
thought breaks my 
heart because what if he
remembers the
angry one?

He is a piece of me and I
love him fiercely but 
he deserves 
better than
me

God help me

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For more information about postpartum depression visit Postpartum Progress.

  If you’re seeking for advice and guidance, here’s an article on postpartum depression and anxiety.

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If you’d like to share your story with a larger audience, submit your story, photos, and your bio, with #MyStoryMatters in the subject to content @ theleakyboob.com (no spaces).

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Melissa Hoos

I’m mama to one amazing 10 month old boy. Having been diagnosed with clinical depression and generalized anxiety disorder at age 15, I knew I was at a high risk for postpartum depression. 
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When Lipstick Is My Lifeline: Coping With Mental Illness

by Kileah McIlvain

I stood in front of the newest display of NYX Suede lipsticks at the local beauty store, hands trembling from the newest round of psych meds I’d started that week as I picked out the last shade of Stone Fox…my newest most-coveted lip color. I carefully placed it in my shopping bag, already running through eyeshadow shades I’d be wearing to match it. My husband was in the car with 4 cranky and probably hungry kids. But this 5 minutes? It was mine. Even if it was 5 minutes over some damn grey lipstick. It was mine. My shaky hands browsed the sample aisle before I meandered my way back to the front counter to complete my purchase and walked back into the screaming hurricane that was my minivan. I sighed. I could finish this day. I could maybe do it. For 5 minutes, I didn’t contemplate death, or removal of myself, or running away, or that I was having to wean because some medication was supposed to make me not crazy, or the crazy burning pain over every inch of my skin that wouldn’t go away, or overwhelming floods of anxiety. Five Minutes. It. Was. MINE. 

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You do what you can. You say the words. You make the motions.

You feel like like a broken shell. Fragile. Incomplete. Lost.

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This is what I feel like. A lot.

You feel like a muddy flood. Nothing is clear. Everything is swirling.

Being co-responsible for bringing 5 precious lives into the world, 4 of which are living, in the midst of figuring out how to wade through the deep waters of mental illess and a yet-to-be-diagnosed myalgia condition means I don’t have a lot of control. Things come out, feelings wash over every inch of me and it feels ugly. It’s there. It isn’t pretty. It’s part of my journey. It’s my story.


I can’t control the pain. I can’t control the way the new medication I’m trying out makes me feel like shit. Or how many times I have to say no, or flake out because I know that if I expend one more bit of energy…I’ll be paying for it for the next week. My body, my time, my soul, is a precious commodity around here. To myself, my partner, and my kids.

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My first blueberry bush.

So? You can’t control the ocean. Sometimes you can’t even find the damn shovel to dig yourself out of the pit you find yourself in. But? I CAN hold a small container of lipstick. Grasp the small tube and spread it around on my lips and try my best to make an even line with shaky medicated fingers. Because it’s a small thing. But it’s something that I can have a say in. I can tell it where it goes. I can make it as dark or bright or outlandish or as grey as I want to. I can use this lipstick as a badge on my face that declares “I AM STILL HERE. I AM ME. AND THIS ILLNESS INSIDE OF ME WILL NOT CONSUME ME. NOT TODAY.”

It may be something else entirely different for you. Sinking your fingers into the earth and growing seeds. Knitting and stroking and spinning beautiful things from frail fibers woven and twisted together. It may be speaking healing words into a fragile heart, or stretching warm silent arms around the shuddering shoulders of a grieving friend. It may be watching your baby’s breathing as she sleeps…blissfully unaware of the harshness and darkness that life can bring.

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My littlest hobbit. Napping.

Whatever that thing is. Small or great. Cling to it. Whether it’s a tube of lipstick, or a piece of yarn, or a sweaty curl on your newborn’s head, or a plate of food handed to someone who’s belly is empty. Cling to it.

Because really? It isn’t so much about the thing you cling to.

It’s that you are clinging.

So cling, dear heart. And when your hands and arms and soul are tired, we will cling together. 

Because? You are always, and always will be, enough

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Stone Fox lips. Mine.

 

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Six Ways To Support Someone With Postpartum Depression/Postpartum Anxiety

by Jessica Martin-Weber, illustration by Jennie Bernstein

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I can’t tell you the number of times each day we receive messages or have posts in the community group or on The Leaky Boob Facebook page wall from women just beginning to wade into the waters of acknowledging their struggle with postpartum depression and anxiety. The numbers, if we tracked them, would be staggering.

But they aren’t surprising.

According to the American Psychological Association, it is estimated that 9-16 percent of women who have had a baby will experience postpartum depression. Of those, 41% will go on to have it again after subsequent babies.

Which means chances are strong you or someone you know is struggling with postpartum depression or has dealt with it in the past.

The American Psychological Association describes the symptoms of PPD thus:

For mothers, PPD can:

  • affect ability to function in everyday life and increase risk for anxiety, cognitive impairment, guilt, self blame, and fear;
  • lead to difficulty in providing developmentally appropriate care to infants;
  • lead to a loss of pleasure or interest in life, sleep disturbance, feelings of irritability or anxiety, withdrawal from family and friends, crying, and thoughts of hurting oneself or one’s child;
  • be particularly problematic because of the social role adjustments expected of new mothers, which include immediate and constant infant care, redefining spousal and familial relationships, and work role.

The day I knew something was wrong with me was when my second baby was 5 weeks old and I was standing at my kitchen counter, staring blankly into the chocolate milk I was stirring, wishing I could get caught in the whirlpool swirling in my glass. I realized that I was fantasizing about committing suicide in my chocolate milk. That’s nor normal and that’s probably not good, I thought, then I took a drink of the chocolate milk I had just imagined drowning in and numbly turned back to my two children. They needed me, I was the one that was so weak of a person in character that I couldn’t handle it and wanted to die. My thoughts were that I needed to buck up, develop stronger character, and just be a good mom who loved being a good mom.

But I couldn’t try my way out of it. I was certain I was inadequate in every way possible.

The day my husband knew I needed help (he knew something was wrong before then) was when he came home to find me hiding in our closet while the toddler was crying downstairs and the baby was screaming in her bassinet. I had put myself there because I was afraid I was going to hurt my children. Standing above my baby’s bassinet where she was once again screaming, I hadn’t felt sympathy or concern for her, all I had felt was overwhelmed, failure, and the desire to throw her against the wall. Feelings that were so foreign to me and so strong that I became afraid for my children, afraid of what I could be capable of. I hadn’t even known I was capable of feeling that way in the first place. My husband called my midwife and appointment was set that would lead to other appointments and some medications.

Coming through that time was like being caught in a whirlpool, fighting a rushing current that threatened to suck me down. Sometimes I didn’t have the fight for it. Sometimes I did. Sometimes I didn’t but found the fight inspired by my children, my husband, and my friends. In the beginning, that was often the only way I found the fight.

Telling the people around us was a game changer. We were in a transitional time of our life, having just started being a part of a new community a few months before. Our previous community had splintered, we had just moved, and we felt disconnected from friends and never had been very close with our families and I just lost one of the closest family members I had to dementia then death the very day my daughter was born. My family, so far away, was already dealing with a hurt and loss so big I didn’t want to be responsible for adding to it. Hundreds, even thousands of miles and relational fractures separated us from the people in our life that previously had been our people. We were just starting to find that again and I was terrified that this depression, this overwhelming, all consuming inner oppression would drive them away and destroy my family’s chance at having a place to belong and people who cared.

Then something amazing happened. Those people cared anyway.

A small group of friends who we played in a band with and did shared faith with dared to care. Without us even telling them at first, they began to push into our lives a bit, even when I pushed them away. Eventually, we opened up and shared our struggle.

It was then they all grabbed an oar and began paddling my lifeboat against the current of that whirlpool even when I couldn’t. They helped save me. They also helped me find my own paddle not only for myself but to jump in and help when I have friends in the same boat.

As a society we don’t talk enough about mental health and postpartum depression gets little more than a checklist run through with our care providers. So much shame, stigma, and fear comes with admitting struggles with mental health even when we know that it isn’t an issue of good vs bad character. For those of us in the midst depression it can be difficult to express what we need, we may not even know ourselves. For those of us loving someone in the midst of depression it can be difficult to know what our loved ones need, how to be there, or how to help. For those of us with friends and acquaintances we suspect may be floundering, it can be difficult to know. I’m still learning but here is what my friends have taught me in truly supporting someone dealing with mental illness:

  1. Acceptance. Don’t argue that they don’t feel the way they feel, don’t point out they seem to be ok. Accepting what I admitted was what I was experiencing helped me accept it as well. That is the first step for getting better.
  2. Listen. Even if they don’t have anything to say. Even if they do and it takes them a while to figure out how to get it out.
  3. Wait. You may think you know exactly what they need but jumping in with all your suggestions to fix it can be crippling for the one who is not well. Wait with them, along side them but don’t tell them every idea you have for how they can better. Please be quiet about your oils, the diet suggestions, your faith belief promises, your books, your conviction that if they just count their blessings everything will be better, your recommendations for fresh air, and to get moving. Just wait with them. Be with them.
  4. Be there. One of the many sucky parts of depression and anxiety is that it often tells the sufferer they aren’t worthy, aren’t good enough for love. Messages of inadequacy may flood their spirit and in attempting to avoid that pain, they may attempt to avoid the people that want to be there through it and beyond. Be there anyway. Gently, patiently, persistently. Respect your boundaries while you be there and don’t tolerate abuse, but if you can continue being there even when you are pushed away, you may very well help them anchor themselves enough to fight against the current of depression and anxiety that tells them they aren’t good enough.
  5. Share. Knowing others have gone and are going through similar struggles can help. Comfort that maybe they aren’t alone, that others may understand, and that they are not a freak can help those suffering with mental health issues find their own inner power. And to know that others have gone through and emerged able to talk about it and having found a path that worked for them is a message of hope.
  6. Help. Oh this one is hard. How do you help without being pushy? How do you help without trying to fix them? My husband explains it this way: fight along side them, not in front of them (they don’t need a knight in shinning armor), not against them (distracts from the real battle), not behind them (makes them feel they need to watch their back), along side them. My friends helped me most by coming over and playing with my children, holding my baby even when she was screaming (she had reflux, she was often screaming), by sharing their personal experiences with depression and anxiety, by asking me and really wanting to know how I was doing, and by celebrating my good moments when I wanted to celebrate them.

Have a friend or partner you are concerned about? You can help her and by helping her you are helping her children as well. The road to healing isn’t always easy but it’s better when we’re not alone.

Not sure if you or someone you love is experiencing normal baby blues or postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety? This list may help put things in perspective.

 

 

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Postpartum Depression and Anxiety: When No One Knows

by Kileah McIlvain

TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains experiences of depression and anxiety and loss and may be triggering to certain individuals. Please read with care.

postpartum depression postpartum anxiety, monster within.

photo: urban bay photography

I sat there. On the park bench in the middle of Laurelhurst a year ago today. He sat on the other end. I felt like a NOTHING. A Void. A Black hole from which and out of which nothing good could come. I wanted to hurl myself into the quiet duckpond while the local shakespeare players were acting out a scene from Macbeth on the other side of the trees. The feelings of exploding, of darkness, of drowning, of feeling like nothing but a walking corpse never felt more present. What was the point? Why the hell was I put on this earth if God was going to play russian roulette with my life? What the hell was I supposed to do with this gnawing grief of  a past miscarriage and the overwhelming demands of  trying to meet my family’s needs? Why couldn’t I just be kind? Why couldn’t I be strong and be good and just BE who my kids and my husband needed me to be? The questions that had taken root in the dark and walled-up places of my heart began to erupt. The rotten rags that I’d used to stuff up all of the leaks and holes riddling my soul began to surface from these murky depths. I was thrashing around in the gaping maw of my own personal monster. I couldn’t move anymore. I was going to sink. I wanted to sink…and be nothing. It was terrifying.

I. Wanted. To. Die. 

The strange thing is. No one tells you. Either because they don’t know what to say or they don’t even KNOW. It’s easy to smile and nod, and pretend you’ve got it together. Because that’s what you do. It’s invisible, this monster. It chews at your mind and sucks your soul until you feel hulled out…like a painted eggshell that looks great to everyone around you…but you’re hollow and fragile. And no one has a clue. They don’t know that you want to run away. They don’t know that it terrifies you to say anything because you’re sure that if you do, someone will call CPS or SPCC and take your children away. You’re convinced you’re a bad mom. That you aren’t capable of caring for these little humans you gave birth to. The yelling, the blackouts where 15 minutes later you don’t know what was done or what was said. The deeply-ridden shame and anxiety and the panic attacks triggered by the hot water in the shower. I remember the earliest days of my darkness when I laid my son down two weeks after becoming a new mother and cringing because the thought of touching him repulsed me. Because I didn’t want him to touch me. His crying and my exhaustion and me feeling like I couldn’t do anything right (including breastfeeding challenges)…it was overwhelming. And it didn’t stop. With each new life I birthed into this world, my darkness found new depths and more desolate places to dwell. This happened to me. This silent inner monster had blackened everything…and it didn’t go away.

I reached that breaking point a year ago today. I realized that I was unwell. That it wasn’t normal to want to die. That it wasn’t normal to be experiencing panic attacks and blackouts and physical pain because you didn’t want to move or deal or face anyone or anything. That running away from bonding emotionally through touch wasn’t normal.

I’ll tell you what didn’t help.

  • The very cautious ventures into the world of mental health and community before my breaking point had so far amounted to bible verses being shoved down my raw throat (If you just do ABC, God will make it all better!) and people frustrated with my questions because “How could you think this about God? It just isn’t true, and you have to figure that out!”
  • I was told “You’re breastfeeding! There should be tons of lovey warm hormones flowing through you. That isn’t possible!”
  • I was told “Well I got over it, I just had to make up my mind to pull myself up out of this funk.” To which I said “Really? Because I’ve been trying for 5 years and 3 more kids now…and it isn’t working.”
  • I was told “It’s just the baby blues. You just need  YOU-time.” And while that may be the healing ticket someone needs to start getting better…it wasn’t mine. It was only a small number in the equation that was my situation.

What did I do? Well, nothing huge to start with. But talking to someone about it helped. (for me, that was my partner.) No, he wasn’t perfect, but he sat there. And listened. I told him that I was terrified. All the time. I was angry. Angry that God allowed my life to experience what I have. That it wasn’t necessary. That everyone’s life would be better off without me in it. That I wasn’t what anyone needed and I wasn’t healthy for anyone to deal with. I was scared of repeating the harm and emotional and relational damage that was done to me in my own childhood. That started my own journey to health. Reaching out, finding resources, wanting better.

I found a few resources online to point me in the right direction. I was currently breastfeeding my 4th little one and didn’t even know if there were medication options available for me. I didn’t know WHAT I needed, exactly. I just knew that up to that point? Nothing was working. And it needed to change. This had been going on for 5 years. FIVE. YEARS. I didn’t even know what normal meant for me anymore…I only knew THIS. I found a therapist through my state’s mental health resources. I was connected with people that didn’t look down on me like I was some unfit mother…but as a valuable human being who had a condition and in need of help navigating through my depression and anxiety so that I could be healthy again.

Postpartum depression and anxiety isn’t just in your head. It isn’t imagined or something you can just will away or pretend it doesn’t exist.

Postpartum depression and anxiety IS real.

Postpartum depression and anxiety IS a monster.

But it’s a monster you DON’T have to try slaying on your own.

photo: urban bay photography

photo: urban bay photography

Am I there yet? No. But some days I am better.

Sometimes I can look up now and notice that the way the wind moves through the trees is beautiful. I can catch glimpses of hope in my eyes when I look in the mirror. Some days are dark. Really dark. But they are not ALL dark, now. I am not alone. I know now that it’s ok to reach out to the people in my life who are helping me through this. My husband. My therapist. My councilor.  My mind…is better. Medication,therapy, counseling, therapeutic touch, acupuncture, babywearing, herbal supplements, meals…those are a few things that are helping me.  The biggest catalyst for me? Speaking up. Spreading awareness of just what postpartum depression and anxiety feels like and what it can do and resources that are out there to help mothers struggling. Because I am there. WE are there. And things CAN get better. WE are not alone.

Photo: Urban Bay Photography

Photo: Urban Bay Photography

Speak. Don’t stay silent.

Your voice may shake. Your knees may buckle. The monster inside may scream at you. But know you are enough. There IS help. The world IS more beautiful because you are in it. Courage, dear heart. You are enough. And this heart of yours is being forged into a masterpiece. You. Are. LOVED.

Some resources that helped me understand my postpartum depression and anxiety:

Artistic infographics on what it feels like to live with depression and anxiety. Good for people who want to help but don’t know what to do.

A helpful collection of comic strips because a different perspective and sense of humor can help.

A great checklist and resource page that helped me in recognizing PPD and PPA.

 

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