Having a baby is one of the most amazing and beautiful experiences in life. The ability to carry, nurture, birth, love and raise a child is truly a gift. As with any gift, being a good steward of the gift is important. That is one of my governing truths as a parent and it is the lens in which I reached out for help when I was diagnosed with postpartum depression after the birth of my son.
My pregnancy and the birth of my son was a joyous occasion. My husband and I longed for and prayed for a child. When we found out we were pregnant, it was a celebration for us and our family and friends. Our son could have not have been born in a more welcoming community. We were blessed with five baby showers, jobs that were incredibly supportive and flexible. We found a wonderful, safe, affordable for us, fun daycare that our son stayed in from the age of 8 weeks until he started kindergarten. We were members of a church community that loved and supported him. I don’t think the child’s feet touched the floor of our church his first two years of life.
We gave birth, brought our beloved home and then started this new life together. Intellectually I was ready. I’m a reader, a gatherer of information – so I read books, surfed the web, talked to women I respected (and some I didn't just to learn what not to do) to get the lay of the land. I knew what to expect when expecting, what I didn't know was what to expect after expecting.
My first night home after everyone had left and my husband and son laid down for a nap I just remember feeling so incredibly scared like there was some impending doom ahead of me and I would face it sooner than later.
A lot is made in our culture about using fear to your advantage, face your fears and all that. I was in no position to face that fear and turn it into anything positive. It was a strong opponent and I had no resources to face it. I found myself consumed with being scared and self-doubt. My husband was so natural and self-assured in his role as a parent. He was the one the doctor handed the baby to when my son first appeared in the world. In those early hours and days in the hospital unless my son was eating, he was in his father’s arms. Since my family was out of state, we took lots of pictures those early days and weeks to send to family. My aunt called me one day and said, “those are really good pictures of the baby and Greg, but can we get one of you with the baby”. Instead of celebrating my husband and his success as a parent, everything that he did reminded me of how lacking I was. How the hell could I take care of baby? I never baby sat as a kid, barely even knew how to change a diaper. What on earth did I get myself into?
Going back to work felt like a relief to me. Finally, back in my own element. I know work, I know my job, I’m good at my job there is no fear, no self-doubt there. For some women, returning to work is difficult. I was so happy to be able to get back to my routine. The eight hours at work was a reprieve but once I got home and back to the baby, all of the negativity started back.
The last straw came one morning when my husband was giving my son a bath. To this day, I don’t remember the conversation. I just remember being so mad and grabbing something and throwing it. My husband who had my son’s legs in one hand and a washcloth in the other – gestured at me with the washcloth hand and said “We’re going to see the doctor, today”.
I called the doctor, got in told him what was going on, how I was feeling, how I wanted to feel and got the help that I need. My doctor was an incredible resource. For me, I needed to stop breastfeeding in order to start taking anti-depressants. In addition to the anti-depressants he recommended group and talk therapy.
I felt so relieved to finally KNOW why I was feeling the way I was feeling and there were resources out there to help me through my postpartum depression.
My depression. Not my new mommy blues. Not my sleepy mom brain. Depression. It’s a diagnosis for a disease that for me was treated with medication. I was not, am not a bad mother. I was a woman who just had a baby and found herself struggling with serious anxiety that could have jeopardized my ability to take care of my baby. Yeah, I had a place to live, yeah I had a great husband, yeah I had maternity leave and health insurance and I had post partum depression. There is nothing in post partum depression that makes it only something that middle class or white women experience. We do ourselves and our families a disservice by minimizing mental health issues. Our God is an amazing God, and yes, while prayer changes things – I believe that doctors, medicine and therapy can change things.
Our community does not stigmatize other diseases, we should not stigmatize mental illness either. The number of people who expressed doubt about Miriam Carey’s post partum depression based on her work as a dental hygienist or the car she drove or how she looked, show that we still need a great deal of education about mental health. Post partum depression can look like Miriam Carey, God rest her soul, it can look like me. It can look like anyone.
Check out www.mamsonbedrest.com which is a great resource for women of color dealing with post partum depression.