“But I was ready for a baby.”
“But she is so easy.”
“But my husband and family are so supportive and helpful.”
“But I beat depression long ago.”
These are all of the things that I used to tell myself every time a wave of depression would come over me. Every time life would become too overwhelming. Every time I became anxious and afraid. No matter how many times I tried to reassure myself though, the sad and dark feelings remained. Some weeks they were just below the surface while other weeks they were buried deep. Still, they were always there. And what made things worse was the guilt and the shame. For every time I had a depressing thought or an anxious feeling, I would become so upset with myself for feeling that way in the first place. I had a wonderful, supportive husband and family; a healthy and happy baby; and an overall beautiful life. The shame and the guilt over feeling the way I did and the fear of revealing what was lying beneath my forced smile only compounded my depression and anxiety and kept me from fully enjoying motherhood and being the person that I was meant to be.
While I have started to share a bit about my experience with postpartum depression and anxiety, I have hesitated for a long time to really open up and be vulnerable. Even as I type these words, I am petrified. What will my husband think? What will my family and friends think? And finally, if my beautiful daughter, Sloane, should one day read this…what will she think?
But I have decided to hold back no longer. This is the problem with postpartum depression and anxiety. This is the problem with mental health issues overall. Because I was so scared to admit it to those closest to me and to myself, I suffered for way too long. Because I refused to ask for and seek help, I suffered for way too long. And as I look back at photos from the first year of Sloane’s life, I am heartbroken. For behind each smiling photo of a new mama and her baby, is pain and hurt. Darkness and fear. Each photo that I look at brings back a sense of sadness for me. As I reflect back on that time I realize now how much I missed out on because of my postpartum depression. I was simply going through the motions, saying the things I thought I was supposed to say and acting the way that I thought I was supposed to act. This simply breaks my heart for I will never get back that time with Sloane.
Even though my husband, Brad, and I took almost every baby class that was offered and read a ridiculous amount of books, blogs, and articles; my postpartum depression completely took us by surprise. This is frustrating especially as I had some red flags: primarily a history of depression and family members who struggled with postpartum depression. Yet no one ever pulled my husband or me aside during pregnancy or after labor and said, “Hey, research shows that you are at risk for this. Keep an eye on your thoughts and mood. Here are some resources to learn more.” Even when I went to my daughter’s appointments with the pediatrician, the generic questionnaire they have you fill out did not alert me to my own issues. Sure, it asked if I felt unsafe at home. Nope. Did I have thoughts of hurting myself? Nope. My baby? Nope. Perhaps I would have been more aware instead if the questionnaire had asked if I cried every day? If I felt lonely? If I felt out of control with my emotions? If I had irrational thoughts and fears? If I thought about how much easier life would be if I just left?
You see, I knew so little and assumed so much that I was not prepared to recognize it within myself. When I did finally recognize it, I was too scared and ashamed to admit it. I had it so good. What on earth did I have to feel sad about? But it doesn’t matter. Postpartum depression doesn’t just happen to those who are down and out. Single. Poor. Young. Unhealthy. I recently read somewhere that “postpartum depression doesn’t discriminate.” Exactly.
The first few weeks home from the hospital, I was simply exhausted. Exhausted from a long labor. Exhausted from lack of sleep. Exhausted from the emotional experience of becoming a mother. As the days increased and Sloane grew, a feeling of sadness and loneliness swept over me. I remember dreading the nighttime. I would cry every evening when the sun went down. It meant that the world would soon go to sleep and I would be alone. It meant that I would be sitting with Sloane in her room, nursing, and being alone with my thoughts and fears.
In addition to the sadness and loneliness, I felt a lot of anxiety. One day in early spring (Sloane was born in March), we had a terrible windstorm in Seattle. Our whole neighborhood lost power and I immediately freaked out. I can remember being at the top of the stairs in our home with Sloane sleeping on me in the Boba wrap when the power went out and the house went dark. I immediately dropped to floor and began to cry. Brad ran up the stairs trying to understand what had happened. What was wrong? But no matter how much I tried to impress upon him the gravity of the situation, he couldn’t seem to understand my behavior. I was freaking out about keeping Sloane warm enough and about all of the milk that I had just pumped going bad in the freezer. I was scared of being truly alone in the middle of the night. For without power, there was no TV, no Internet, and nothing to keep me distracted from my own thoughts.
I remember being extremely anxious about anyone coming over. Even though I had asked friends and family to help us with meals during the first few weeks, I would absolutely dread it whenever anyone wanted to come by. I would watch the clock in anticipation of their arrival and during their entire visit, I would secretly plead that they leave. I hated seeing anyone else hold Sloane. I was so worried that someone would cough on her or drop her or otherwise harm her in some way. I never offered to let others to hold her and I would get so upset when Brad would. Baby wearing became my refuge and I would conceal Sloane and hold her close to me even in our family’s homes.
Time passed and I got better at holding back the tears and the freak-outs. We took a wonderful family trip to Hawaii and as summer started and Sloane turned 3 months old, we moved out of our house to begin an extensive remodel.
With the move, however, the depression and anxiety flared back up and I spent the summer months pretending to myself, to Brad, and to everyone else that I was okay. Better than okay. I was awesome. I was working out, eating healthy, cooking, and enjoying summer with sweet Sloane. I was leading groups of women through health and fitness programs all the while ignoring my own mental health and fitness.
“Things will get better when I go back to work.”
“It will get better when we move back into our house.”
“I am fine. This is nothing.”
When I finally did recognize what I was feeling and experiencing was not the norm, I kept thinking things would just get better after such and such event or milestone. But I had gone back to work. I had gone back to a teaching job that I absolutely loved. And my Principal had given me a wonderful schedule, teaching the classes that I wanted. My colleagues were so warm and supportive, constantly asking how I was doing and understanding when I couldn’t meet after school because I had to pick up Sloane. My family was so supportive and helped take care of Sloane on the days that she wasn’t in daycare. I took on more and more at work and further distracted myself from the darkness and sadness within. I started to have irrational thoughts and feelings. Every time I got in the car with Sloane, I had horrible visions of us driving off the 520 bridge over Lake Washington. It didn’t matter how absolutely ridiculous this was, it was something I saw almost every time I drove to and from work. Other times, I fantasized about getting on the bridge Eastbound and not getting off on my exit. Not stopping. Not looking back.
Then, one day in late October when Brad was out of town, something inside me snapped. I picked Sloane up from daycare and it was clear that she had been crying all day. She was dirty and had her 10th runny nose of the year and was simply inconsolable. She cried the whole drive home. I got her out of the car and carried her in her car seat, along with carrying her day bag, my school bag, my lunch bag, and my laptop bag up to our 4th story condo. When we got inside, the weight of everything I was carrying simply became too much. I fell to the floor and started crying. I’ll never forget calling my mom and saying simply, “I can’t do this anymore.” I am so glad that I made that call. I truly was about to break, but my mom was there. She calmly talked me down and brought me back. Sloane and I spent the weekend with her and afterwards I decided to talk to Brad.
“Something is wrong with me.” The look on Brad’s face is one that I will never forget. He almost seemed relieved. “I am so glad that you said something. What can I do?” It was then that I realized that everyone around me already knew even if I didn’t. And they were simply waiting for me to say something. Just this knowledge brought me a sense of comfort. Brad was worried about me. My family was worried about me. I promised Brad that I would go to therapy. I promised him that I would see a doctor.
But I didn’t.
Instead, I further busied myself with school projects and activities. I read more and more personal development and growth books. I continued coaching other women on being their best selves. I told myself and him that I had it under control. I didn’t need anyone else’s help.
The holidays came and went and finally, we moved back into our home. Here I was, finally home and happy at work. Surely, I would be better right? No. The tears still came. The irrational thoughts and feelings remained. After almost a year of suffering in silence, I finally decided to talk to someone.
I do not really remember what I said to the doctor, but I do remember crying…crying and worrying. What would she say? What would she think? She simply listened. She handed me a tissue and listened. Then we talked. We talked about my options, about resources, and most importantly, about how common this was. About how so many women have gone through and are going through what I have. But there was hope. I no longer had to suffer in silence.
So I began taking antidepressants and I left her office with a long list of specialists for postpartum therapy. It’s been 7 months since that visit. I would love to tell you that there is a beautiful ending to my story. Yes, I am doing better. But I am not completely healed. I still have moments where the darkness and fear creep in. But these moments are occurring less and the darkness and fear do not take over. It is almost as if they are at the edges, bleeding in but I have found that activities such as exercise, meditation, visualization, and writing help keep them at bay. The medication helps too. And so does talking about it. I have come to realize that postpartum depression and anxiety or rather some form of depression and anxiety might always be with me. I think my brain is simply wired this way. The same thing that allows me to be so passionate and happy about moments and people in life also allows me to feel so sad and scared. And that’s ok. It is simply something that I have to work on and to keep track of.
That is why I started sharing my story. That is why I put so much of myself out there on social media and my blog. It holds me accountable to being happy and healthy. It holds me accountable to being a better mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend, teacher, coach, and person. I hope that it just might help someone else. My story isn’t over but it could have ended already. It could have ended sadly. But it didn’t. It continues and it gets better and better with each day. And so can yours.
Photos care of Kate Price Photography and Taylor Catherine Photography (respectfully).