I once heard the birth of a baby is concerned a traumatic event for a family. And it makes sense, when you think about it.
I nodded in complete agreement as these words came out of a friend’s mouth recently. She cited reasons I was beyond familiar with: the trauma it puts on a woman’s body, the strain it puts on a couple, the emotional distress it causes.
I have been intimately familiar with all of these stresses since the birth of my son. I entered pregnancy — at the age of 40 — after retiring from roller derby. I was in desperate need of rest and healing thanks to concussions and broken bones and sprains and tears. That ultimately led to an immense amount of weight gain (like, 70 POUNDS of weight gain, you guys!), which was then exacerbated by constant nausea, acid reflux, and exhaustion. Like most women, I navigated through horrible swelling, carpal tunnel, gestational diabetes, and back pain. I worked through 37 hours of unmedicated labor and then, an unplanned C-section. And the moment I held my baby in my arms, there was one word that summed up exactly how I felt: bliss.
That bliss is why I wasn’t prepared for what came next. That elated feeling was quickly robbed by a crippling case of postpartum depression.
PPD hit me at warp speed. One moment I was a glowing ball of heavenly elation. The next, I literally thought my family — and my tiny new and completely helpless baby! — would be better off without me.
I was fortunate enough to have a friend who reached out early in my pregnancy with the simple words, “How are you?” She told me about her own battle with PPD and it wasn’t until that moment that I knew that’s what I was dealing with. My doctor was quick to get me on medication. And I immediately sought help from my therapist, who was gracious enough to drop everything on a Sunday to make sure I wasn’t suicidal.
To be clear, I wasn’t suicidal. I don’t think. But yes, there were days that I thought things would just be easier on everyone if I accidentally drove my car into a wall and turned into a flaming ball of metal. I didn’t try it. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish for it. Regularly. To the point I was dreaming about it.
I’d also be lying if I said I wasn’t still struggling months later. I’ve quickly learned that, like everything else in life, parenthood is a daily struggle of questioning everything you do and whether the choices you’re making are going to completely destroy your children as they get older. (Fun fact: Jack fell off the bed THIS MORNING because he was crawling around unattended. Ugh.)
I spent Jack’s first 5 months terrified he’d be the victim of SIDS, wondering if I could survive that, filled with anxiety over his health and my mom’s health and my own health and fearing every little thing that could go completely wrong. Nothing went wrong, of course. Yet I was scared, emotional, and paranoid, and I just couldn’t get a break from my own brain. I nearly drove Topher insane.
Looking back, I’ve realized a few things that probably would have made my postpartum life easier. For one, nursing was extremely difficult for us because my son was premature. If back then, I had the wisdom of the mother of a 7-month-old I am now, I would have kindly asked people not to visit — or at least to not say long. That way, I could literally just lay around naked with him on my chest. My full time job would have been doing nothing but breastfeeding. It’s not that I didn’t want visitors, I just didn’t feel comfortable doing anything but trying to feed him, and it took several weeks to get him to really get the hang of eating.
When asked how people could help, I would have asked for meals to be dropped off. There were days I just didn’t eat because healing from a c-section made it hard to get out of bed. Plus, I was so stressed out about Jack not eating that I wasn’t taking care of myself, either.
I wish I had prepped so I could be kinder to myself. I would have told myself my body wouldn’t bounce back after a month and that it’s okay. That maternity leave should have been about nothing but getting to know my baby and what he was adding to my family dynamic. That a c-section is a pretty big deal and that I wouldn’t be comfortable for quite some time, but to be okay with that.
I also wouldn’t have kept my PPD a secret. I told one of my best friends, and she was a God-send. And of course, Topher and my therapist knew. But as I look back, I wish I had been more open about it. I’m not sure how it would have helped, aside from allowing people to see I needed space and kindness and love. But don’t we all?
Not long after I had made it out of the worst of my postpartum depression, I read a story of a woman that went to school with some of my derby friends. She was struggling with PPD, but she lost. She not only committed suicide, but she also took the lives of her husband and baby. That story haunts me. But it also makes me grateful. I survived. I am here to share my story.
I’m now asked regularly: Are you sleeping? Are you exhausted? How are things going? And my answer is always, “Things are great.” Because they are. Jack is easy and wonderful and perfect. I truly have the greatest gift I could have ever asked for. I’m so grateful and proud we made it through such an ugly darkness.