Something happened to me several months ago that I was very embarrassed about. I’m not at all embarrassed now that I’m mostly (?!) through the fog of postpartum depression and know that I genuinely couldn’t help what happened.
I was thinking today that maybe it might be important to share it. After all, sometimes the things we least want to open up about are the things God most wants us to. Maybe this will help one person feel like she is not alone or will help one person understand how to talk to a friend or family member with PPD.
Postpartum Depression is not a choice. It is not a decision to be pessimistic or a laziness towards optimism. It is a deep and unexplainable pain. It is mourning the death of no one. It is body-racking sobs and a heart that feels too broken to heal because of a death or incident that did not actually happen. It is panic, fear, desperation, and ultimately confusion. Why do I feel like this? How can I be so sad when I’m so happy about my new baby?
Here’s my story:
I woke up feeling fine one Saturday morning. We all had breakfast and then we headed out to the backyard. I didn’t want to play or move, just sit in a camp chair and relax. I was still sleep-deprived so I didn’t think anything of it.
I was feeling a little down when naptime rolled around so I left the toddler at home with Ryan and I took the baby up to Kohl’s to use some Kohl’s cash my mother-in-law had sent.
I grabbed a few dresses to try on and headed into the fitting room. I put on the first one, which I was kind of ambivalent about, and then the baby started to suddenly scream with hunger.
It was suddenly hot in that tiny fitting room. Very hot. And her screams were so loud and demanding. And stressful.
I sat in the seat, directly across from the mirror, and started to nurse her. And then I looked in the mirror and though horrible, hateful things about myself that I never, never think about other women. My inner monologue was moving at a mile a minute and I was a broken record thinking to myself that I looked so fat, so gross, so zitty, so fat, so ugly, so greasy, so gross, so zitty, so ugly, so fat. I sat there with tears streaming down my face thinking these things, and then suddenly I realized that the reason Ryan was so happy for me to go pick out a new dress was because he was leaving me for another woman.
A prettier, skinner woman who was nowhere near as fat or ugly or disgusting as me.
My heart was racing as I put all the pieces together and realized he was rushing around at home to pack up his things and would be gone before I got back. I knew he wouldn’t leave our son home alone so he would of course be taking him with him. I was going to lose my son and my husband that day, all because I was fat and ugly and gross.
I popped the baby off and pulled my own clothes back on while she cried in her car seat, not full yet and not happy about having to end her feeding early.
I drove home, crying and praying, begging God to just let me get there before he left, to please give me the words to talk him out of this, to help me save my marriage and keep my boy. To not let him be in love with this other woman, to help me lose the baby weight and to get the zit and greasy-hair-right-after-a-shower hormones under control.
And I got home and I found Ryan reading on the couch.
He hugged me and asked me what was wrong, and I told him. All of it. The baby was crying again so he unbuckled her from her car seat and handed her to me to nurse.
And for the first time I felt uncomfortable nursing in front of Ryan. I didn’t want him to see my breasts, so different after two pregnancies, so I used my nursing cover.
He of course comforted me and reassured me. He said all the right things—that he would never leave me, would never take our children away from me. That he thought I was beautiful, that I was being too hard on myself, that I was just having a PPD episode and that everything was fine between us.
I’d like to tell you that that fixed everything and that I was feeling just fine after that. But it didn’t and I wasn’t. Because this wasn’t me choosing to be negative or emotional. This was me believing with all of my heart that my marriage was over, and that it was over because I was ugly.
So I thanked him.
And I watched him like a hawk.
Because I knew he was just saying those things. Eventually he would have to run outside to take a phone call, would claim to be taking a shower when really I could hear a muffled, one-sided argument from the other side of the door, would remember that he just had to run to the store for something silly and insignificant.
My heart ached and I felt sick to my stomach with sadness and grief. I felt ashamed of my body and my looks, humiliated that he thought I was dumb enough to think nothing was going on here. Angry. Angry that he was doing this to me, angry that I didn’t see it coming, angry that he was destroying our children’s sense of family. I felt nervous about having to tell my parents, devastated imagining no longer sharing my life with my husband, devastated about shared custody and imagining the pain it would bring our children to have to see us separately. I thought about the possibility of the children calling this new woman “Mom,” and I thought my heart was going to truly shatter.
Hours later, I felt that rubber band snap-back moment, where you realize that you are going to be okay. You’re raw and hurting for no real reason, but you know it’s temporary and you’ll be okay again by the next day or the day after. You know that what you were feeling wasn’t a product of reality, just a product of postpartum depression.
I sent out an SOS text message to friends and family asking for prayers for a rough PPD day.
I got a myriad of responses. Most were kind. A few were discouraging, made me feel like I was to blame for these feelings. One was exactly what I needed: “I know this sucks and that nothing will make it better, but try to remember that you are not going to feel this bad forever.”
That’s true. No matter how bad it hurts, it’s not forever. It will be better in a month, or a week, or maybe even tomorrow.
Today I am happy to say I haven’t had anything so profound since that day in May. I have had a few weepy half-days, and definitely a few more irritable days than I would like, but nothing quite so Earth-shattering as the above episode. Postpartum depression is a lot more common than you think. It doesn’t mean you are a bad mother, or ungrateful, and it doesn’t mean you aren’t trying hard enough to be happy. It just means your hormones haven’t quite aligned themselves properly yet. There is no shame in asking for help.
If you are struggling with (or think you might be struggling with) PPD and have nowhere else to turn, I would be more than happy to talk to you. Please seek appropriate medical attention and feel free to e-mail me at SKBell36 (at) gmail (dot) com.