It was a small thought, popping into my head for only a split second. But it left me terrified and shaking as I stared at my three-week old baby.
He was only crying, as newborns are apt to do. But in the midst of everything on my plate, I simply couldn’t take it anymore. I needed him to stop, and my mind—in its exhausted, stressed, and anxious state—noted one horrifying way to make that happen.
This was new. He was my fourth child, but my baby blues had never gotten to this point, and I could no longer blame it on the stress of moving with a newborn. I needed help. But how could I bear to let another person know the terrible act my brain had conjured up in desperation? How could I admit that I, a mother of four, had thought of hurting my little one? Maybe if I ignored it, it would be as if it hadn’t happened.
But I knew that was dangerous. I had to confess the dark thought I never imagined could be my own, and so I confided in one friend I knew had lived through postpartum depression. She immediately told me to get help, insisting I tell my husband and get back to her once I had called the doctor.
My husband acted quickly, taking time off work to help me care for the kids and to care for me—to be sure I ate regularly and slept whenever I could. I then opened up and talked to others about my situation, hoping that the more people knew the more people I’d have checking in on me, holding me accountable so I couldn’t talk myself out of getting help.
Why Don’t We Talk About Postpartum Depression?
Postpartum depression didn’t seem like a taboo topic prior to my diagnosis. While I felt shame and guilt for my depression symptoms—the intense anger, the overwhelming feeling of failure, and the inability to focus on anything—I felt little, if any, shame for the depression itself and readily talked about my situation with friends and family.
So I was rather shocked to learn that many friends had walked the same path and endured the same struggle. So many women had been or were currently where I was, yet few had ever talked about it openly before. While it is quite possible that I am simply more open than most, I realized that postpartum depression—like other mental health disorders or pregnancy loss—is still a topic we too often tiptoe around, brush under the rug, or hide in our proverbial closets.
Mental health woes can be difficult to wrangle with. Unlike other ailments, there is often no physical evidence to point to and say, “See that? I’m obviously broken.” Instead, we are left to rely on our thoughts and feelings—which often come and go so quickly, we wonder if help is really needed. Even after I started treatment, I questioned if my issues were real, if my symptoms were as bad as I let on, or if my situation actually warranted calling a doctor. While the medication helped quell my anger and keep the sense of doom at bay, it did not erase that plaguing doubt.
But hearing friends’ experiences with postpartum depression helped me fight that inner denial. Talking with them—sharing the ups, downs, confusion, and stress—brought me comfort and combatted the loneliness. I had a sounding board, women to confide in, a group that could help me identify when I was experiencing normal adjustments to treatment (such as the random down day that struck after a few good ones).
They encouraged me to revisit my doctor when not-so-normal symptoms crept up—like when I found myself retreating from disciplining my children, giving up when they misbehaved, and dreaming of running away, convinced my family would be better off without me constantly failing them. My doctor promptly increased my medication so these new symptoms wouldn’t become my new normal. It worked. After a few weeks I felt much more balanced. The anger was no longer uncontrollable. The feelings of despair and failure weren’t hanging around. The thoughts that I could barely utter had vanished.
Moms Need To Open Up And Help Each Other
We are not all so lucky. For others, the shame and guilt surrounding depression keeps them silent. Their symptom denial prevents them from seeking help. They might suffer alone until it either eventually passes—stealing from them the joys and delights of caring for and bonding with their baby—or swallows them whole. The latter happened for one Army wife, Allison, just a couple months ago. She was drowning under the weight of her postpartum depression, alone and silent, until she acted on those scary and painful thoughts and took her own life.
Like most of us moms, Allison had likely gotten all the reminders from her doctors regarding the warning signs and when to seek help. But the guilt, the shame, the denial? These are real barriers to recognizing these signs and taking the necessary steps to get treated. It doesn’t have to be this way. We don’t need to tiptoe around this, pretending like we’re fine when we aren’t, or hiding past scars from others.
Instead, let’s talk. Really talk. Not just a reiteration of the same bullet points of signs and symptoms that all of us moms have heard time and time again. Let’s discuss what postpartum depression really looks like, by sharing our experiences with the new and expectant mothers in our lives. Let’s confront the doubt and denial head on, together, so that another mom doesn’t shrug off her symptoms as “not that bad” until it’s too late for her and her family.
This road sucks. It is hard. It is scary. It can be lonely. But it doesn’t have to be.