A friend asked me recently when I struggled most with postpartum depression. This is a friend I have known since my oldest child was a few months old. And she didn’t know. Many of my friends didn’t know, maybe still don’t. They didn’t know because I didn’t know.
They didn’t know because I was afraid to use the words postpartum depression. I believed the stigma that postpartum depression only happens to moms that don’t love their babies, moms that don’t take care of themselves naturally, moms that aren’t me. I believed that postpartum depressions was only postpartum psychosis. I didn’t know it included social anxiety, anger, and obsessive thoughts. I didn’t know that I wasn’t alone.
They didn’t know how I struggled because I wasn’t able to name my pain. It felt too multilayered to pin it down as “sad”. I had no idea how to explain the social anxiety that took over my usual gregarious nature. I second guessed my feelings because I “knew better”, because I had elating, glorious days in between the hard ones. I still struggle with naming this experience as Postpartum Depression out of a fear that it takes away from the love and joy my babies bring me. I know better and I still feel ashamed. To feel anxiety and depression around something one desires is a heavy mixed bag. Postpartum Depression feel such a small, closed label to encapsulate the radical transformation of motherhood and all the emotions that come with that.
But now I do talk about it. I use the label. And by speaking the secret I found help that was unavailable to me in my silence. Support group, therapy, changing views on medication, deepening friendships, boundaries. Women have come out of the woodwork to share their own stories with me. I felt worlds less alone in my 3rd postpartum, even in the moments when I wanted to hide in a cave with my baby, even when I couldn’t sleep for fear something would happen to him, even when I felt I couldn’t handle it. I knew I wasn’t alone. Because we are 1 in 5.
Dear 1 in 5, your honesty may scare you, but I promise it won’t break you. When you share how you feel, help becomes available. If someone discredits your feelings (there will be plenty!), please find the courage to share again. When you share, you break the stigma. When you share, you honor your wholeness. People will judge, but they will judge you no matter what. The amount of women who thought I was a goddess-mother that only felt love and peace until I started sharing about my experience with PMADs makes me sad. I was only sharing one side of this multifaceted experience. I was making others feel alone while I was suffering alone myself.
And what I want you to know, Dear 1 in 5, is that you are not a bad mother for your feelings. You are no less of a woman. You are not wrong. You are more than your feelings, and yet your feelings still matter. You matter. Your happiness and self-worth matter.
Remember: we are 1 in 5. If you know 10 people, you know 2 other mamas that have struggled, too. Maybe not exactly like you - Postpartum Mood Disorders wear many faces. But there are other moms out there to confide in and there are many, varied routes to wellness.