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

____________________

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.

____________________

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).

____________________

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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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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