posted in Mom Stories
I remember sitting in my living room on my couch saying it over and over: “I can’t believe this. I just can’t believe this.” I had just been diagnosed with postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and I was shocked. How could I have a disorder? How could I have a mental illness? Those are for other people. I’m me, for goodness sakes. I’m great! I’m smart and accomplished and a good person. This CANNOT BE HAPPENING.
I don’t know why it was so hard to accept. For weeks I had been very ill. I couldn’t eat, and couldn’t sleep, and felt anxiety eating away at me every moment of the day. I had a beautiful new baby boy that I had wanted and now instead of being happy and serene I was a huge mess.
I was the exact opposite of everything I thought I should be as a new mom. There might as well have been a giant, Broadway-style sign with blinking lights above my head, and a neon arrow pointing down, saying “Postpartum Depression!! Right here, folks!!” But I couldn’t see it, and now that I had received an actual diagnosis I was still stunned.
I think for many moms, if not most or even all of us, recognizing and accepting that you have a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder like postpartum depression is hard. At first you want to believe there has to be something else going on. “Maybe I’m just over tired. Maybe it’s because this parenting thing is all so new and I don’t know what I’m doing. Maybe this is what new motherhood is supposed to feel like. Maybe this will just go away on its own.” You keep pushing onward despite your misery because you know there must be a good reason you’re feeling this way and eventually you’ll figure it out.
Then you think you should be able to just handle whatever the problem is yourself no matter the reason. “I’m tough. I just need to do more. I will take vitamins and eat piles of broccoli and exercise and be more spiritual and think good thoughts and stop being selfish and find gratitude and be more organized and keep reminding myself that I’m lucky and I have no reason to be depressed or anxious.” And so you hang on for dear life and try to get through every day with gritted teeth even though you’re falling apart inside. Eventually you realize that’s not working either.
Then there’s the period where even though you know something is terribly wrong and even though you know you can’t handle it yourself anymore you just can’t reach out for help because you’re convinced the help will only harm. “I will be judged. I will be marked somehow. Everyone will know I can’t handle motherhood. People will think I’m a bad mom or that I’ve given in.”
The sad part about all of this denial is that it leads moms to suffer so much longer than we need to. We’re so confused and afraid that we end up dragging out our suffering for weeks and even months on end from an illness that is actually the most common complication of childbirth!
In some ways, I feel lucky that my symptoms got so bad so early that I couldn’t avoid the fact that I needed help. I stopped fighting against it and made the call and found out that what I had was a real, bona fide illness that was fully treatable, and that no, I didn’t have to keep living this way at all. Not only that, but I found out that more women around me than I EVER HAD ANY IDEA had been or were in the exact same boat. Hundreds of thousands of them. I learned that I was not at fault and I was not a bad mother and I would indeed get back to the old me that I had known all along.
There’s nothing wrong with having postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety or any other maternal mental illness, and there’s nothing wrong with seeking help for it. Truth is, you’re going to need help for all sorts of things as a parent, whether it’s getting through postpartum depression or figuring out how to deal with a sleep issue, or the going rate for babysitting, or the right response to a teenager who is getting too sassy, or the best bribes for a reluctant potty user.
I heard in yoga class this morning (don’t roll your eyes) the phrase, “You can’t give what you don’t have.” If you are struggling mightily as a new mom, find acceptance for yourself, and love for yourself, and seek help for yourself when you need it. Doing this will not only lead to your recovery, it will also be a gift to your baby. Not only will it allow you to get back to being the mom you know you can be, it will also allow you to one day teach those same lessons about acceptance and receiving help to your children in a way that is meaningful and will last.
Photo credit: ©Fotolia – kanzefar