Saturday, February 9, 2013

Postpartum depression...why the shame?

Postpartum depression. I find it surprising that more people don’t talk about it. But I can understand why. I don't recall a lot about the days immediately following the birth of my first child. Even as I write this, my feelings are hard to retrieve, tucked away and hidden in a far-away place. My safe place. My, I-don't-pull-these-memories-out-to-fondly-embrace place. I don't like to share my inadequacies or my fears, or hold these moments up to a harsh, unforgiving light. But I suspect stories don’t flow until they’re ready to be told, and in sharing this, I may help those who feel the same way I once did; those who feel untouchable when it comes to being swallowed whole by consuming sadness.

Back when I was pregnant for the first time, I recall reading about emotional elements that could unfold after childbirth. Mostly, I would skip past these sections, thinking: "I don't get sad. I don't fall prey to feelings of depression and all that crap. And if I do, I'll just count my blessings and bitch-slap myself back to reality."

Big talker, slow walker. The first day home from the hospital, hot tears of shame washed my face, as I inwardly burst over the loss of my old life - my freedom, the relative safety of never exposing my heart in this magnitude, never feeling this raw - all while addressing my feelings of inadequacy and the utter betrayal of maternal instincts. I had expected the weeks following the birth of my baby to be the most joyful of my life, and yet it was as though suddenly I was looking through the lens of a camera, and the world was set to grey. I worried about everything at once, almost as though I had to figure it all out. Right away. How would I know if he was sad? In pain? Was I feeding him enough? Could he feel my love, even though I trembled with fear? Who would teach him how to walk? What if he got in a car accident one day? What if, what if, what if....what if I wasn't good enough to be his Mama? As I cradled this wondrous new being, it dawned on me that I had perhaps forgotten how to love someone that fiercely – I was terrified of being that vulnerable, reluctant to bare my soul that openly at the risk of looking foolish, scared shitless that I didn't have all the answers. Scared to death of letting him down, and we had only just met. I desperately needed my mom; I certainly wasn't ready to become one.

When you have children, your significance is altered. Accepting where you are and what you've become, feeling blessed for what you have, seeing your entire existence reflected back at you through the eyes of a child - absorbing that - completely and utterly understanding that we are just a part of something much bigger than ourselves, well, let’s just say it hit me like a bat upside the head. You know what else I learned? That it's perfectly all right to want time to stand still. Just for a while. To say to those around you, "You go ahead. I'll catch up in a bit." Yes. Sometimes all you need is a moment or two to catch your breath...that moment to find yourself again.

Being in the presence of my children humbly reminds me of how far we drift from our divinity, how our innocence quietly slips away without our noticing, how we forgot what’s truly important, and how we crumble at the feet of true beauty. Could it be that our children grant us an all-access pass to glimpsing eternity? I’d like to think that. I think in staring at a newborn, we catch a glimpse of what we've lost...a reflection of what was once ours. We see our innocence and purity as was intended, and it brings us to our knees. God's so close, it knocks the air right out of you.

Mercifully my foray through the darkness was brief. My dark, twisted sense of humour is usually enough to make light of any situation; normally, I can find humour in the smallest of things. Let it be said though, the amusement of wanting to slam your head in the cupboard door repeatedly, every hour, eventually grows thin. After doing a little research, I learned that a very high percentage of women experience postpartum depression, particularly in the first few weeks following birth. It’s a hormonal imbalance, which I never would have believed to be true. But I get it now. Lesson learned. It's only after we've met the monsters that we grow fearful of the dark.

Incidentally, after hearing my birth story, a close friend of mine (who happens to be male), winced in horror and declared: "I would liken it to post-traumatic stress. I mean really...if you got hit by a semi, and your genitalia got severely mangled, would you not be in shock? I would say it's pretty much the same thing. Only in this case, once it was all over, you were handed a baby." Fair point. Perhaps I fell upon the path where postpartum depression and post-traumatic stress collide. Women of the world, I urge you...feel free to talk about it. It doesn't make you a lesser person. Rather, coming through it gives you a bigger heart. It's mental health week. Let's listen to each other with an open heart, and replace our judgement with compassion.

I don't have a tattoo, but at the ripe old age of 38, pardon me, 27, I'd like to get the following quote inked on my body: (My mother will faint. But not before issuing an oral dissertation on how silly a tattoo will look when I'm 80.)

"Men are haunted by the vastness of eternity. And so we ask ourselves, will our actions echo across the centuries? Will strangers hear our names long after we’re gone and wonder who we were? How bravely we fought…how fiercely we loved…” from Homer’s Odysseus

As for my children, I won’t be here to witness their entire journey, or see how their story ends. This is as it should be - I can only pray I’ll be gone long before them. But I hope they never forget how deeply they were loved. Because in the end, all ego-related issues will be laid to waste; our pride, our quest to be perfect, our attempts to hide our weaknesses, our fears, our sadness, our pain. In the end, none of this will matter.

I’d like to think all that'll matter is how bravely we fought. And how fiercely we loved.


Carmen said...

Well said Janita. Although I did not suffer postpartum depression after either of my children, I did run into the same experience about losing myself about a year and a half ago. I think I had been on auto pilot for so many years I forgot to listen to my heart. I'm all good now though and talking to other women who had experienced the same "superwoman" syndrom was invaluable.

Kellie Garrett said...

I love you, Janita. What a beautiful piece. I wasn't diagnosed until Connor was 5 years old. It was a miracle to find out that there was a reason for feeling so dark.

postnatal depression said...

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Donna Wilson said...

Well said.

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