Postpartum Depression Shouldn’t Be Everyone’s Path to Empowerment, But It Was Mine
I was 31 years old and mother to a small and loud baby before it ever consciously occurred to me that my passion, my voice and my body, even, were worth much of anything.
Now don’t get me wrong – I grew up under the wing of a strong and confident mother, and I turned into another such woman myself as I entered into adulthood. But there became something about the life I ended up living that left me not so much at the helm of my own ship, but as a wayward crewmember; I’d lie around in my bed, forage for snacks in the pantry, clean up cat puke, and eventually change roughly eight billion diapers before my new and tiny boob-barnacle shipmate would become potty-trained. And so it was all of these things, on top of myriad other daily activities, professional endeavors and the like, that in the end sort of left me with some clump of life experiences that I treasured in one respect, but in another mostly just shrugged at while I likened them to an old pair of jeans.
My life, while joy-filled, wayward and uncertain at times, was fulfilling, yes – but I just wasn’t really steering my own ship.
After the birth of my daughter in early 2013, I accidentally spent a year wading through the fog of postpartum depression. Now, I need to say two things about this: firstly, “fog” is far from the best thing to call it. I’m minimizing it; it was a vicious beast that swallowed me whole. And secondly, I use the word “accidentally” because quite frankly, I had no idea I was in it until it was over.
Postpartum depression has this stigma to it; we are warned of it during pregnancy, or perhaps we give ourselves enough of a mental nudge to keep an eye out for it because we’re taught about how scary and dangerous it can be – but after having been through it, I can’t say with great confidence that we’ve done a good enough job covering the gamut of how exactly PPD can touch on our lives.
It was my understanding that PPD was a dark and harrowing monster – one that stole a mother’s joy and left her instead with a perhaps insatiable desire to harm her baby—or worse, even. It hadn’t occurred to me that PPD could equally so be a suffocating bag that was wound tightly around my neck while I gazed adoringly at my newborn daughter, investing every last ounce of love and energy into her. I didn’t realize that the devastation I was feeling over my broken postpartum body, my premature return to the workforce or the roughly two staggered hours of sleep I was getting per night was indeed that monster; because I was too busy enveloping my daughter in love, feeding her round the clock from my giant, drippy boobs and doing enough bouncy squats to keep her happy that I might as well have started bodybuilding. I loved every minute that I was with her. My heart grew, and my ass shrank.
I just didn’t know how to handle anything else in my life.
I eventually saw myself through the mire, though. Time and perspective have that way about them. Sometime around my daughter’s first birthday, that fog lifted – or rather, that dark bag strung around my neck floated away. And it wasn’t too long after that that I stepped back, took a good look at what I’d been through, and thought to myself, “Why the hell did I keep any of that a secret?” I had become a mother. I had grown and birthed a human, then had been sustaining her life by way of my breasts for over a year and there I was doing nothing but showing smiley and sweet pictures of that babe of mine on social media. Where was the documentation of our sleepless nights? Where were the pictures of the dirty dishes, the insurmountable piles of laundry or the mountains of balled-up Kleenexes that were piled up on my bedside table? Nothing about what I was putting online gave anyone any idea that I spent almost every night crying into my pillow.
So I took a long and studious look at my reflection in the mirror and decided it was my responsibility to make a change. One day I took down the privacy barriers on my Instagram account, another day I created a blog, and another day yet I stripped right down to my skivvies and showed the world what my postpartum body looks like. And there I’d done it – I’d picked up the reins on my own life; I’d grabbed that mighty steering wheel, and I’d taken the first steps to commandeering that ship and forging my way.
Because somehow, I lost all will to care. I’m free, and I’m happy. I’m strong, confident, and hell-bent on making my life my own and living it exactly the way I want to.
I don’t believe any of us should pay one more iota of attention to what the media tells us we should look like, how we should be or how we should feel. I am certain instead that we need to march boldly forward knowing we are deserving of love, of respect and of validation.
So think for a moment: how well do you really love yourself? I’m not talking about platitudes, here – I’m not asking how many times a day you marvel at your hair or commend your artistry when it comes to the application of liquid eyeliner. What I’m talking about is pure, unadulterated love and acceptance for every spark in your heart, every dimple on your thighs, every soft curve and every hard line that exists on or within your heart and your body.
And more than that, I’m talking about fostering the life you want for yourself. Are you living your best life? Are you kind to yourself, uplifting of others, nurturing your deepest needs and honoring your utmost desires? Do you pay careful attention to the sparks in your mind and your body, to your fizzling flame or to the smoke signals your heart is sending out for help?
Consider doing yourself a great service by climbing up onto that platform you’ve built for those around you and setting up camp. You’ll find yourself surrounded by a sea of mamas who are readily willing to sit with you, to hold your hand and to sing your praises until the sun goes down. You’ll find a wealth of strength and deep fulfillment – and honestly, chances are good that there are also a few bottles of wine up there with your name written on them. In Sharpie. By me.
You’ve got this, mamas. I’m fighting for you every step of your way.