I have a whole bunch of posts pending…more than I have the time to devote to writing. Lots of ideas….so little time!
Anyway, I picked this article I read in Parenting.com, parts of which really resonated with me. The article, “When Postpartum Depression Lasts” by Susanna Sonnenberg, reflects the author’s own PPD experience, which seems to have had a long lasting impact on her, so much so that she has residual feelings of loss, sadness and painful reflections on her first months at being a mother.
How well one mom is able to come to terms will differ from the next mom and will depend on a number of factors such as how severe her symptoms were, whether she was quickly and effectively treated, and whether she received some sort of therapy to cope with her feelings of loss (e.g., lost opportunities in bonding), guilt (e.g., for experiencing PPD to begin with), sadness, etc. Therapy sessions, journaling/blogging, and providing other mothers with support are some of the ways PPD survivors come to terms with their experiences.
There are women who– like Marg Stark, fellow Mount Holyoke College alumna and author of What No One Tells the Mom– are unable to return to their pre-baby emotional selves. For these women, it seems that the biology behind their moods is permanently altered during the childbirth process.
As for me–and I can only speak for myself here–I pretty much returned to my pre-baby emotional self–except, that is, where it concerns my pre-baby body. As I indicated in my previous blog post titled “Just Because I’m Blogging about PPD Doesn’t Mean…”, I’ve managed to come to terms with my experience, finding it very therapeutic to journal my thoughts and feelings into my book and my blog, meet other PPD survivors and subject matter experts, and help some moms along the way. I did return to my pre-pregnancy weight shockingly fast thanks to the rapid, unintentional weight loss caused by my PPD. But my completely sedentary lifestyle and confinement within my house for over 3 months did a number on my body. It took a while for my legs to not get tired so easily from simply walking at the nearby mall. My triglycerides level was at an all-time high (nearly 400), probably thanks to the chemical upheaval from my childbirth experience. With the help of daily jump roping (400 jumps in about 5 min) for a few months, I was thankfully able to drop the levels by 50%. I had back pain and left hand numbness issues (which turned out to be a pinched nerve from misaligned vertebrae), both of which were resolved by a few visits to my chiropractor. It also took a while for my hair to re-gain its former thickness.
Do I wish I could provide advice and comfort to others I know, and would being able to do so give me a sense of satisfaction? Yes!
Would I feel less alone in my own PPD and motherhood experience, knowing that others have had similar experiences–thereby, normalizing my own experience? A resounding Yes!
Do I envy those who have snappy childbirth experiences? Hell, yeah!
Do I envy the Gillian’s of the world? I’d be lying if I said No.
But remember, the key difference between the author’s experience and Gillian’s lies in the amount of support they received. According to Gillian, she had tons, while the author had very little, if any. The following sounds so much like my own circumstances:
“In my experience, having a new baby was a lonely trial, friendless, sunless, sleepless…..By choice, I lived thousands of miles from a difficult family, and few of my friends had children. I was without a guide, and every demand of the baby’s felt overwhelming…..I didn’t want to leave [the hospital], didn’t know how we’d do the blanket [in reference to swaddling] at home.”
She assumed that Gillian would need her advice because she would need it, just like she would’ve liked to get it but didn’t, as a first-time mother.
“[She] opened the door, beaming wide, the baby propped over her shoulder; [and] I noticed the wood floor, sun shining onto it through the French doors, dust-free, crumb-free. Her hair was clean. Her laptop stood open on the empty dining table……’I don’t want to tell my friends,’ she said, ‘but [the baby’s] sleeping six hours at a stretch.’…..She praised her in-laws, so helpful and available, told me how excited she was for her mother’s next visit, listed the nonstop help of friends and acquaintances. Her story of becoming a mother was about family and support and glorious spring and strength and new pain and two pushes. Two pushes.”
The picture she paints of Gillian–a woman who appeared to take to motherhood like ducks take to water right from the get-go, like they were born to do so without training of any sort–is one of a woman who appears as if she were born to be a mother, all radiant and confident. She looked perfect, the house looked perfect, her baby was able to sleep early on in enviously long stretches, and she claimed she received tons of help from friends and family. And all this after a mere two pushes. The perfect pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood experience all rolled up into one. I devote a chapter of my book to saying that such perfect experiences are not representative of what all women go through, contrary to what societal beliefs and motherhood myths would have you believe. Though it’s definitely nice to wish for smooth experiences, it really is best to keep your expectations in check. Trust me. Hope for the best…you know how the saying goes.
Like the author, I would like to have the opportunity to offer my help and advice to other new moms, thinking they would need and appreciate it, just as I would’ve appreciated it during my first stab at being a mother. Just like the author, I’ve found that not everyone is going to need or even ask for any help and advice. My friends and relatives all seemed to have no need for my advice/help, even while knowing what I had gone through, with the PPD and all. Which makes me feel like I’m the only one in my immediate circle of friends and family who has ever experienced PPD. The lack of PPD may be due to the abundant support they receive from family during the first critical weeks of motherhood and smooth childbirth experiences (after all, lack of adequate emotional/practical support and a traumatic childbirth experience are risk factors for PPD). In fact, many of my Chinese friends had their mothers stay with them for the first 2-3 months. Either the mothers flew in from overseas and stayed for that time period, or they happened to live nearby and came over everyday to help out. I look at and think about those situations with envy, thinking that that is the way it is supposed to be….and yet why didn’t I have such fortune? Somewhat selfishly, I’ve yearned to find a friend or relative with a similar experience with respect to childbirth complications, uncertainty at being a new mother and taking care of an infant for the first time and/or having to deal with PPD. After all, it’s natural to feel the need to find someone with similar experiences to try to normalize your own experience…it would help you feel less alone.
“I’d expected her to feel alone and desperate, and she didn’t. I’d expected that she’d need my support, that no matter how many good minutes she had, the bad hours would overwhelm her. I needed her to be like me, so that I could be the wise one now, the healed and the mighty; then my loneliness and depression wouldn’t have been for naught. I wanted to be the one to teach her that it would get better. Instead, she reminded me …..that motherhood’s first months gouged a terrible pit in my heart. Becoming a mother was nothing like I’d anticipated.”
Now, I would like you to think about how PPD has impacted you. Has it been many years since you’ve had PPD and you find that you are still struggling with certain feelings of loss from having experienced PPD while trying to deal with the fact that there may be others around you who are like Gillian, seemingly filling the shoes of the so-called perfect mother? Or have you completely come to terms with your experience, feel no regrets, only a sense that your experience with PPD has made you a stronger person, empowered with knowledge that you can use to help others (that’d be me)? Or somewhere in between?
I think one of the keys lies in how your motherhood experience turned out relative to your expectations. The larger the gap, the greater the sense of loss. If you find that you are struggling with feelings of loss, please don’t take it the wrong way if I suggest you talk to a therapist experienced in treating moms with PPD. It can do you a world of good to have someone help you process and cope with your feelings and experiences.
Let me end this post by saying that, for a good number of moms, their PPD experiences have motivated them to dedicate their lives to helping other mothers get through their PPD experiences, either by 1) becoming psychiatrists, psychologists, registered nurses, social workers, 2) forming PPD support groups or other not-for-profit organizations like Santa Barbara Postpartum Education for Parents, Postpartum Resource Center of NY, and MotherWoman, 3) blogging, like Katherine Stone’s Postpartum Progress, or 4) using other social media means to support mothers, like Yael Saar’s PPD to Joy and Lauren Hale’s #PPDChat on Twitter.
After all, we PPD survivors do share a common bond. We know what it’s like to have PPD. We understand. We care. We are what is referred to on Twitter as the #PPDArmy!