Monday, May 27, 2013

Mama Monday: Maternal Depression Awareness Month

Did you know that May is Maternal Depression Awareness Month? There are so many different "awareness months" that they become a bit of a joke sometimes. However, in the case of maternal depression, I think an awareness month is truly needed. Los Angeles County currently has a movement to increase awareness and treatment of these conditions, and they have put together a public service announcement about it.

I was hesitant to add anything other than the video to this post. I haven't spoken much about my experience with postpartum depression, and I'm not completely comfortable talking about it now. However, this video reminded me of one of the most difficult aspects of my experience with PPD -- I felt like I was the only person going through it. I'd never known anyone to talk about dealing with postpartum depression, and I felt that it was something shameful and unnatural -- that I was a failure as a woman and a mother for feeling anything but incandescent bliss after having my baby. I loved him instantly, but my love for my baby was fraught with fear -- fear that I couldn't take care of him, fear that he would die, fear that he would never love me. All of this was compounded by the trauma of my lengthy labor, C-section, an incident where Caleb's heart rate dropped dangerously low, my inability to exclusively breastfeed him, and his hospitalization with RSV. I felt that I was a failure as a woman -- I couldn't have him the natural way, and I couldn't feed him the natural way. Every time he cried, I saw it as my failure to provide for his needs.

I didn't want to consider that I might be suffering from postpartum depression because I was blessed to have an amazing support network. My mom was able to stay with me for more than two weeks, my husband is an amazing, involved father, and my neighbors and fellow churchmembers brought meals, helped me clean my house, and offered emotional support. I felt that I didn't "deserve" to have PPD -- I had so much help, so why was I still struggling? I also felt ashamed. I didn't want to admit that I was struggling. I was worried people would think I didn't love my baby, which was never true. I was ecstatic when I found out I was pregnant, and I loved Cal so much that it frequently brought me to tears, but everything terrified me once he was born, and it seemed that everything was going wrong, and I blamed it all on myself.

I'm not going through all of this to give a sob story. Even now I am hesitant to press the "Publish" button, worried about what people will think of me. Because I am sure there are people out there who see PPD as a failure to be a good mother. However, I want to share this for two reasons -- first, so that if you are going through a similar experience, you will know that you are not alone, and second, to motivate anyone who is suffering to seek help. I was so hesitant to tell my doctor that I thought I might have postpartum depression, and even after taking that initial step it took me a few weeks to pursue treatment. However, once I found some help -- as well as applying a lot of meditation and prayer -- the clouds suddenly began to lift. I want to make it clear that there were always moments of joy with Cal. The first time I held him was an amazing, beautiful experience. But in those first weeks, those moments of joy were fleeting and surrounded by exhaustion, self-doubt, and a darkness I could not lift.

It was gradual, but after a few weeks of treatment, I remember a specific moment when I knew the worst was over. I was sitting in the rocking chair, holding my sweet boy and playing with him, and I felt an overwhelming sensation of joy and contentment. I thought to myself, "I love being a mother!" A moment later I realized what a blessing and what a change that realization was -- and I thought about how wonderful it would have been to have reached that point earlier, if I had been able to "speak up when you're down" earlier. I am so grateful for the encouragement I received to get help when I did, and for the way it helped me to recover from PPD.

So please, please, if you are struggling with this, take the burden from yourself. There is light at the end of that tunnel, and you are a good mother. You will get through this, and you will love being a mother. You have done nothing to deserve this, and you deserve to get better -- for you, your baby, and your partner. It will get better, and there are so many resources to help you if you only ask for them.

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