Vanessa is an amazing example of not only surviving Postpartum Depression (PPD), but of being able to speak to the gifts such a difficult experience can bring:
Going through postpartum depression completely blind-sided me. I didn’t know what was happening to me and when I tried to tell people, they would say “Yeah, motherhood is so tiring; it will get better.” I wanted to believe them, but I felt like I was unraveling. I had a postpartum with an anxiety/panic component that left me practically sleepless for 11 days. I would sleep maybe 30-45 minutes in a 24 hr. period. I would wake up with my heart racing. Trying to get back to sleep was nightmare. I was beyond exhausted to the point that I felt like I was starting to hallucinate. I wasn’t sure what these “intrusive” thoughts were, but they really scared me. I was scared to tell my husband, but I was not sure I could trust myself not to hurt myself. I was beyond terrified, certain I was off the deep end and beyond hope of ever getting out of this dark hole.
With the help of her husband, Vanessa sought help from a psychotherapist, and reproductive psychiatrist who helped her with medication. The treatment prevented her from harm, and hospitalization—but not before it had taken a heavy toll on her body and spirit. At the same time, Vanessa speaks to the transformational gifts she has experienced as a result.
Relationship with husband
Having PPD gave me a new found appreciation and love for my husband, even more than I already did. When I took my vows for better or worse I never imagined that how bad worse could be. The way my husband adored me throughout the whole process and loved me for the person he knew I was and not the shell of a person I had become… was amazing. He was by my side every step of the way, calling Drs. for me when I couldn’t, just fighting for the best for me when I felt like I couldn’t fight anymore. It was very humbling for me to go from caretaker of my husband and boys to needing full time help. I feel like it opened another dimension and depth to our relationship for which I am very thankful.
I also feel like I have become more assertive and more intentional. A silly example, I took my two boys for a haircut the other day and there was a TV that had Jerry Springer on, not a huge deal but that show doesn’t align with how I want my kids to speak or behave and I asked the lady if she could please turn it off, in the past I would have been more shy and just try to ignore it but it would have bothered me.
You mentioned the word, “intentional”, what does it mean for you?
I have realized that I can’t make everyone happy with my choices or decisions. So when I do need to make a choice or decision I weigh it against if it is in best interest of my family and myself. Before I probably would have accepted responsibilities or done things out of obligation. Now I know now more clearly what I am passionate about. Sometimes that means saying no to the Valentine’s Day party at my son’s school, and not feeling guilty about it. I think learning to balance out mommy guilt though is going to be a life-long process or at least 18 years. But I definitely have more perspective now and have given myself so more slack. I feel so much more confident and able to voice my opinions. I think I have a new understanding for the preciousness and brevity of life.
How would you say your experience of ppd helped you in that?
I never expected or anticipated this illness and it made me realize that we are indeed human and although this didn’t take me out, it could have and I am going to spend every day I have here making it count.
Growth and Compassion for Others
I felt like I saw myself growing in my compassion for others, especially people experiencing depression. It opened my heart to a whole new dimension of empathy. I didn’t realize before how physically debilitating and paralyzed depression can make a person feel. I was shocked to learn that depression is a very physical illness. The body aches I experienced were unreal. I told my husband it felt like my bones were cold and achy. I felt also more numb than sad. Which in my mind before I thought depression meant people just cry all the time, although that was a significant symptom I felt more numb than sad. I remember looking at my baby and wanting deeply to connect and I would literally force myself to smile at him because I had remembered something I had read before about the negative impacts of depression on babies, that made my resolve all the stronger. And I have to say my almost 1year old is the happiest little guy I know!
Freedom from being “perfect mom”—the biggest blessing
I have freed myself from trying to be a “perfect” mom. This is the hugest blessing, and despite the suffering I endured, I am so thankful that post-partum depression “happened” to me. I NEVER thought I would ever say that in a million years but it took me to a depth that I had never known and now I feel like I am walking in a higher place then I was before. I never would have given myself permission to receive help, because as a stay at home mom I “should”
be able to do everything. Getting help and having someone clean my house and do the laundry has freed me to play more with my kids and be more engaged instead of running around trying to get it all done to be the perfect mom. I came to a point in my postpartum depression where
I pretty much stopped functioning, for our family it was not a choice whether to get help or not. My husband had just started a new job and had already taken lots of time off, for the birth of the baby and trying to take care of me, the baby and my 2.5 year old. I experienced a lot of guilt at first having someone else do the laundry and cleaning, and watching my kids so I could nap. I realized that cleaning was not as important to my identity as being present for my children. Allowing myself that luxury and freedom has been one of the best things I have done for our family and it took me getting to such a low point to reach out and get that help.
Where do you think your beliefs about the perfect mom came from?
That is a really good question, I am not sure where this fictitious woman came from. Probably bits and pieces here and there. I think when I accepted my job as a stay at home mom, I think comes with it certain connotations like if you are home you “should” be able to do it all alone. Where I feel like looking back in history or in other cultures families are raised by multiple generations and one person is not expected to do “it” all alone.
The best thing that I heard in the depths of the depression, was that it is treatable and you will get better. Even though I absolutely didn’t believe it, I thought I have to be the exception and that is
something the doctors have to say. I kept thinking what if it doesn’t work for me. But here I am a year later my baby’s first birthday next week.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I would like to say, don’t try and figure out what next week is going to be like just be here today and get through hour by hour, sometimes moment by moment. Try and listen to your body, something really strange for me was that I was drawn like a magnet to go sit in the sun every day. That is the only place that felt comfortable to me; I am NOT a nature girl at all. As soon as I would watch the sunrise I would go out all day until the sun set. Later I told my doctor that, he said that my body was trying to heal itself, that’s pretty amazing.
And joining a support group was very helpful to me, my friends who wanted to help but had never gone through it before were sweet and well-intentioned but talking to someone going through the same thing brings strength. You are not alone by being open and vulnerable you will literally be shocked by the women you know who have suffered. There is a 1 in 8 chance that you know someone who has been in a similar circumstance. By breaking the silence and destroying the stigma of this frightening illness more people can heal.
I extend my deepest gratitude to Vanessa for sharing her story. Increasing our awareness about postpartum depression is an essential tool to healing and helping. If you have questions or concerns about postpartum depression, please visit www.postpartum.net. For information regarding medication during pregnancy and postpartum, please visit www.otispregnancy.org.