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.

 

Share

Sleeping with the enemy- PAHO of The World Health Organization accepts funding from Nestlé

By Laura Griffin and Jessica Martin-Weber.  This post takes a look at the relationship between Nestlé and the Pan American Health Office of The World Health Organization.  Laura breaks down why this relationship is a conflict of interests, why parents and breastfeeding supporters should care, and what we can do. 

On October 19th, Reuters reported that the Pan American Health Office (PAHO) of The World Health Organization (WHO) had gone against previous policy and accepted funding from industry, including from Nestlé who donated $150,000.  I do not believe that this unsupportive support is going to do anyone any good.  Except maybe Nestlé.  Just as formula companies breastfeeding hotlines are marketing gimmicks masquerading as support, so is Nestlé’s donation to the Pan American Health Office.  Make no mistake, a company as savvy as Nestlé would never give such a substantial donation if they did not believe the dividends would be worth their investment.

Nestlé is the most boycotted company in the world, due in no small part to their serial violation of the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (WHO Code). The WHO Code was drawn up in 1981 to protect the health of mothers and babies from predatory marketing, pressure, and false claims about infant formula.

formula advertising WHO code violating Nestle

Around the world they have made claims that their formula is good for babies brain development “like breastmilk” and perfect “for the hungry full-term infant”. Nestlé’s has invested countless dollars and hours to market their formula products specifically to women that would otherwise breastfeed, utilizing images and language that implies an “as good as” or even superiority comparison of their product to breastmilk.  They have coerced women in third world countries into formula feeding using sales people dressed as nurses and giving out free samples. The samples run out after the mothers’ milk has dried up and, often unable to afford the formula, they resort to watering it down to make it last longer. There is often no clean water source for these women to use for formula which brings further risks to the health of their children. I am incredibly lucky to live where it is rare for an infant to die of malnutrition or diarrhoea but in these developing countries it is a very real risk, exacerbated by this predatory marketing.

Please, reader, understand that this is not a case of “formula bashing”. I believe that women who need or choose to formula feed should be allowed to do so without lies or pressure from companies who are more interested in profit than health. They deserve to be able to trust the product they use. They deserve to be the foremost consideration of the formula company.  The honorary chairman of Nestlé, Helmut Maucher once said “Ethical decisions that injure a firm’s ability to compete are actually immoral”. Every family, whether breastfeeding, formula feeding, or both, deserves more than this!

This is not the philosophy of a company we want to join forces with the Organization entrusted with our health and that of the most vulnerable people in the world. I personally consider it unethical for PAHO to have partnered with a company who have violated the WHO countless times and have consistently put profit before the health of their customers.  To say nothing of the irony that several, if not all, of the preventable chronic diseases of the world today that PAHO and WHO are supposed to be fighting such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and more are linked directly to the very food-like products that come from Nestlé.

Four of the most prominent chronic diseases – cardiovascular diseases (CVD), cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and type 2 diabetes – are linked by common and preventable biological risk factors, notably high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and overweight, and by related major behavioural risk factors: unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and tobacco use.

~ Integrated Chronic Disease Prevention and Control from The World Health Organization’s website, emphasis mine.

 

A petition has been started by “Friends of the WHO Code” calling for an end to this partnership and for the return of Nestlé’s money. The petition can be found here.  There has been a call to boycott Nestlé for a very long time for a number of reasons not just limited to their unethical marketing practices of their infant feeding products but also because of known problems within their supply chains of production involving the very worst forms of child labor including harmful settings, abuse, child slavery, and kidnapping.  Standing against Nestlé is advocating for mothers and children around the world far beyond formula, read about the problem with chocolate here.

What can you do?

  • If you feel that Nestlé has no place at the PAHO-WHO table, then please sign and share the petition and share this information with friends and family.  Often, when I explain why my family boycotts Nestlé and their subsidiaries, I receive shocked responses that this company that works so hard to put forth a family friendly face of support is in fact regularly undermining the very people they claim to support.  People simply have no idea.
  • Tweet @WHO and @pahowho using the hashtag #NoNestle to express your concern over this leading health organization accepting funding from a private company known to violate their very own code of ethics in marketing breastfeeding substitutes.
  • Follow @NestleFail on twitter to support the cause and follow the latest information on holding Nestlé and other companies accountable for the predatory marketing tactics.
  • Join the Facebook page “Friends of the WHO Code” to stay informed of this situation and to know how to participate further as a voice for mothers and children.
  • Consider participating in the boycott of Nestlé products as every cent you spend on their products goes toward the profits of a company that repeatedly exhibits questionable ethics and jeopardizes maternal/child health through out parts of the world.
Please understand, this is not about using formula, it’s not even about Nestlé’s formula.  This is about standing together to hold accountable the organizations that are responsible for gathering and distributing life saving health information and to let corporations know that ethical practices and authentic caring for people matter far more than slick marketing and donation gimmicks.  Will you stand with us?
Share