July 7, 2011

Happier Days

I haven't posted this here yet. It took me a long time to make the decision to share with an unknown entity of people something this personal.

I had Post Partum Depression. I'm not going to share my story -- mainly because that is private and personal and between me, my family and the friends who I chose to look to for support. I am confidently standing on the other side of it now. I am happy and I am really enjoying my daughter and although it took longer than "normal" we have that whole mother/daughter love fest going on and I can finally say that I know what it feels like to have that overwhelming sense of love and protectiveness that comes with being a mom. It took longer than most people -- and that's ok.

I am posting this for two reasons: 1) What helped me more than anything (more than the drugs, or talking to my friends) was knowing that other people out there have gone through or were going through the same thing. It made me less ashamed and feel less like there was something terribly wrong with me -- both as a human and a mother. So if someone sees this and realizes that and it encourages them to reach out before the situation gets worse then it'll be worth it. 2) Supporting someone with PPD can be a really hard thing to do so I will provide some suggestions.

1) YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Someone else has done this. Someone else has felt the opposite of what everyone else says you are supposed to feel. Someone else has felt the disinterest, the anxiety and the disconnectedness. Find someone to talk to. Talk to your spouse, your partner, your mother, your father, your in-laws or your best friend. Then go talk to your doctor. If you are comfortable with taking an anti-deppressant and/or anti-anxiety med then do so. If not ask for suggestions on finding someone to help you work yourself through this. Don't hide what you are going through from people who love you. You CANNOT do this alone. Find a main support person. For me that was Chris -- I could not have done this without him. He was my rock even at three or four in the morning when anxiety attacks struck.

2) How to support someone you know who is dealing with PPD. First off, PPD is sneaky -- you can be fine one second and the next completely consumed with anxiety and sadness. So, don't assume because you see a friend who is coping with PPD happy one day that she is back to "normal". Ask frequently and specifically how your friend is doing with the PPD. She might say she doesn't want to talk about it. That is fine. And you will be able to tell that by her response -- but also simply asking "How are you?" or "How are you feeling?" will probably not make her feel comfortable enough to be open.

Of course, don't judge. It sounds easy but be careful when you are that sensitive a lot can seem like a judgement. My milk dried up and it made Evie sick everytime she drank it anyway so we made the decision to formula feed. I still feel uncomfortable when people harp on about breasfeeding and about how special it is. Even though I knew that my body simply couldn't deal with the physical trauma of a long labor and exhaustion and a c section and then try to produce milk AND deal with the psychological ramifications as well, I still felt judged whenever someone would bring it up.

Offer to take the baby (if you are comfortable) so she and her hubby can have a dinner out, or go see a movie or just go take a walk and have a bit of time alone.

Help her get out of the house. There were days when all I wanted to do was stay in my pajamas and shut the blinds and hibernate. On the days when I gave in to those desires I was a wreck by the end of the day. On the days when I got out and socialized a bit, even if it was only to meet Chris for lunch, I was much better. A lot of times it took nearly an act of God to get me up and out and about but I was always grateful for the people who forced me.

I know it sounds stupid, but call and see how you can help. If she says she is fine, and won't tell you what she needs help with, think up something appropriate and do it. Drop off dinner, ask what brand of diapers she prefers and bring a package to the house (wipes are also a good option), a big help for me would have been some help in the grocery. It is very difficult to adjust to shopping with a baby. All of a sudden you have less room in your cart, you have a huge baby carrier to haul around and you are worried your child might let out a ginormous wail at any moment and there you will be spotlighted and struggling to quiet your child. I remember once when Evie was about 4 weeks old texting a good friend when I was in Target, "Help! I have to pee! What do I do?" Do I take the baby carrier out of the cart and into the bathroom? Do I take the whole cart into the stall with me? What if the stall isn't big enough? I was baffled. And panicked. Some help those first few trips out would be invaluable.

Just listen without judgement. Ask questions without reservation. It'll make her feel comfortable enough to tell you how she is really feeling. One of my friends who I have known since I was 12 asked me (after I told her), "OMG -- What does it feel like? I've always wondered that..." Her frankness allowed me to think to myself -- "How does this feel? What does it REALLY feel like?" Putting it down in words helped out a lot and I was instantly put at ease. She was the first person I told after our family and Stephen, Libba, Jason and Sarah (who count as family) and just that simple question made me feel less ashamed and less sick at my stomach about it.

Don't be afraid to follow up. The friends who checked in every other week or so to see how I was really feeling were invaluable. I know it might be uncomfortable to ask how someone is dealing with PPD but it's small shows of support like that which really help. It makes you feel less alone and less like a freak and a little less guilty.

I wish this hadn't happened. It is one more way in which I feel like Evie and I got robbed of anything normal. However, it's helped me realize that normal isn't always the way it's going to be. I've learned that sometimes you have to fight tooth and nail for things that you want. In the end, I love being a mom. I love spending time with Evie -- I've never loved anything as much as my little girl. I've also learned that the emotions and all the other "stuff" surrounding the PPD is not anything to feel guilty or ashamed about. It's part of the story of the journey of our family and if you are dealing with this, trust me, hang in there, the story has a happy ending.

This is not inteded to be an all inclusive list or medical advice. If you think you may be suffering from PPD contact your doctor IMMEDIATELY!