I had four beautiful children. My new baby was healthy and perfect in every way. My husband was supportive and loving. I had a safe and comfortable home. We were a happy family.
So why wasn’t I happy? Why was it so difficult to get off the couch and care for my children? Why couldn’t I see how blessed I was and just be grateful? What was wrong with me?
Being able to bring a child into the world is the grand privilege of being a woman. It’s divinely ordained and is the most high and sacred blessing of which a woman can partake. It can also be the most difficult time in a woman’s life. The physical demands of growing and nourishing a developing baby and then giving birth are almost more than we can comprehend. Your body is literally giving life to another human. And even though medical advances have made death during childbirth rarer, giving birth can still be fraught with peril. After creating another person and then bringing that child into the world, the new mother now has the wonderful responsibility of caring for that completely helpless child. Certainly, there are others around to help carry the load but most of the weight rests on the new mother’s shoulders. Add in the likelihood of other young children to care for, daily demands, and it’s easy to see why this may be a challenging time.
So, what was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just be happy? The answer is simple, I was suffering from Postpartum Depression (PPD) or Postnatal Depression, as it’s known in some parts of the world. It’s a condition that affects between three and six percent of women during the period before and after giving birth (NAMI, 2018). And don’t think that just because you didn’t physically give birth that you’re exempt from PPD; adoptive parents can also suffer from PPD. Many women experience the fatigue and hormone shift that accompanies childbirth but sometimes those temporary “Baby Blues” don’t go away. They linger, and they get worse. Some of the signs are:
- Extreme difficulty in day-to-day functioning
- Feelings of guilt, anxiety and fear
- Loss of pleasure in life
- Bouts of crying
- Thoughts of hurting oneself or the infant (NAMI, 2018)
If these symptoms linger for more than two weeks or if you have thoughts of harming yourself or others, it’s time to reach out and get help. Doctors, spouses, friends, coworkers and information on the web are among the many resources available to help you become yourself again.
How did my story end? Well, I’d like to say that I recognized the symptoms and got help. I wish that I could say that I healed and enjoyed being a mother. I wish that I could tell you all the things that I did right.
But I can’t. I knew that I was sick, and I knew that I needed help, but I never took action. Instead I lived with feelings like “if only you were stronger, you would get better” or “why are you so sad? Look at this beautiful baby, you’re just ungrateful.” I told myself that I was weak and that I needed to just try harder to be happier.
I spent two years fighting this battle all alone. I isolated myself from my husband, my children, my extended family, and my friends. I stopped caring about housework or hobbies or even getting dinner on the table. I went into a state of barely functioning. I look back now almost a decade later and I want to wrap my younger self in my arms and help her get the help that she needs. I want her to see that she’s not a bad person for feeling so sad. I want her to understand that depression is an illness just like cancer or high blood pressure and that there is no shame in getting help.
Eventually I did heal, and eventually I found joy again. With time and compassion, I can look back and see that those two years didn’t have to be so lonely. There are many women that are struggling with these feelings of guilt and worthlessness. We don’t have to walk the path alone. Let’s start having the important conversations. When you go to visit a new mother, coo over the baby but also ask the mother how she’s doing and really listen. If you’re that new mother, reach out and be willing to get help. Yes, it’s hard to admit that you are struggling but don’t let that stop you from finding help and support.
Start by talking to your midwife or doctor. They may recommend a support group or a therapist. Perhaps changes in medication or diet will be considered. Getting outside can do wonders, as well as gentle exercise, meditation, and prayer. The most important thing to remember is that there is hope and help and support within reach. You’re not alone and you’re not a bad person for having this challenge. The National Alliance on Mental Health reminds us that “Any woman can experience postpartum depression and it has no relationship to a woman’s capacity to be a good mother. With treatment, she can feel better.” (NAMI, 2018)
Remember the words of the prophet Isaiah. In Chapter 40, Verse 11 Isaiah writes of the Savior Jesus Christ, “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.” Our loving God and His Son Jesus Christ have given women the Divine blessing and right to bear children. Along with that blessing we are also given us the strength that we need to overcome the challenges we may face. Jesus truly will “gently lead those that are with young.” He will be with you as you navigate the sometimes-lonely path of motherhood.
National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Depression/Major-Depressive-Disorder-with-Peripartum-Onset
Help in a crisis text “NAMI” to 741741
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ 1-800-273-8255
Written by Kristen Miles