There are mothers all over the world beginning to speak up and share their hearts when it comes to experiences of post-partum depression. Numerous real-lived experiences of those who have suffered in the unknown of this illness exist amongst us. Some of us are ready to shed light on this clouded lonely road many have experienced in silence.
About one in seven birthing bodies suffer the challenges of post-partum depression following the birth of a child. Even though PPD is a form of major depressive disorder (MDD), it is often underdiagnosed. Despite the high hereditary percentage and profound effects on both mother and baby, it is understudied and inadequately treated. Find out more here.
Even though many mothers and birthing persons share their experiences of postpartum depression, it is still not enough. There isn’t enough assistance, validation, and exposure, which adds value to the resources put into support for persons with PPD.
Many mothers are unaware of what they are experiencing until it is too late, or they overcome it alone. Some are lucky enough to be in spaces where it is spoken about and receive validation and help through that.
Some Questions You Can Ask as a Concerned Supporter of Someone’s Mental Health
- How have you been?
- How’s your stress level lately?
- Have you been eating and sleeping?
- Is there anything you want to talk about?
- Would you be willing to talk to someone?
- What can I do for you?
- When is the best time to check in with you again?
- How are you feeling about your role as a mum/new mama/ mama again?
- I have 2 hours a week to give to you in whichever way you may need.
- I am doing a shop run; send me your list, and I’ll grab the stuff for you.
- Are you okay with me holding the baby for a while?
The frosted soundproof barrier – Ferhensha
Looking into one’s life from behind a barrier, watching yourself go through the motions of the day and trying to reach out and hold on to your baby but falling short. Yet, you watch this person in your form doing it purely out of some inner instinct. There are numerous images of me feeding my baby and playing with my baby, but none I remember. For four months, I was trapped within myself in a state of overwhelm. It was a darkness I wished to stay in where there were no expectations, and I didn’t have to show up.
I felt like the walking dead trapped in my mind. I made sure to take multiple images a day because I knew I couldn’t even remember the day before.
Depression can look like this. I was a smiling ghost of a person. Living life with my baby that I couldn’t fully feel.
The Throes of Postpartum Depression
During that time, I felt utterly alone. Being misunderstood, and the reality of postpartum depression refused to settle in my understanding. There was no awareness about what it was and why my baby’s cries triggered a fight or flight response. It was an experience of connecting without feeling connected. I was showing up without acknowledging being in the present moment—what a frightening feeling.
Now, being a mum of two littles: one turning six and the other turning 3, I can finally look back with understanding. My postpartum experience hit home through my first pregnancy and lasted up to four months afterwards. After becoming a first-time mum, I didn’t know what to expect from my emotional and mental health side. The physical and medical processes were known in detail. I knew the new mum’s manual of expectations and sacrifices of self. My baby’s needs and how I had to meet all those needs were my unconscious priority, like a programmed drone.
I did not know someone else had to be there to share those responsibilities so I could meet my personal needs. Having a support structure and system that tried very hard to help, made me feel utterly ungrateful. But not being informed can create a vacuum and lack in that helping space. It can sometimes even make it worse. Being so ashamed of my thoughts, I didn’t share them. Thoughts like regretting having my baby. Sometimes I felt like I may harm myself or him. Forcing myself to block those thoughts as much as they made their way into my mind. I felt distraught and insufficient.
The Baby Comes First
Well, it should be that the needs of the baby are right up there with the needs of the primary caregiver and birthing person. As a constant sufferer of Borderline Personality Disorder, I was not completely surprised with having some mental health challenges after birth. During my pregnancy, I was also going through quite a tumultuous time regarding my career. Although, I could not relate this deep dark low to those experiences in those moments. It seemed so sudden and too deep, too quick. I saw hope with research, the Instagram online mother community, and a partner willing to learn. Unfortunately, I would have never acknowledged and validated my emotional state at the time. And I would have never been able to heal from it through community and communication without those aspects.
The unknown catalysts of suffering
I had an excellent OBGYN. He was attentive and respectful and made me feel heard. He delivered my baby in the smoothest medicated vaginal birthing session. My baby boy screamed at the hospital on the first night. He struggled from day one with colic. I had my entire family help me. I also lived with my mum for the weeks afterwards, which I later realised was unsuitable for my process. There were so many unknown new factors without informed support—the support that saw solely to my deepest needs. No significant red flag factors were picked up. No mention of postpartum depression was made.
The second time around, I had the same doctor. But I ended up giving birth at a government hospital last minute. It was a 3-hour process, the non-medicated vaginal birthing process. It was Hella sore. I was super vocal in there. Choosing to stay home and find flow on my own was a wise decision for me. I knew a little more about what to expect regarding my personal needs. The needs my personality and mental processing were best suited to. This looked very different from having a whole group around. I paid more attention to my mental needs. Knowing more about the lived experiences of postpartum depression first-hand.
Asking for help in specific ways made a bigger difference. The things I knew would overwhelm me, I outsourced. Refusing the complete role of a primary parent and letting my husband step in and find his flow without my interference or others picking up his slack as a dad worked great. It empowered us both in our roles and relationship.
What I know now about mental illnesses
There isn’t a set mould. Your experience is valid. No list can be ticked off against that can tally thousands of individual experiences and box them up neatly, disregarding the experiences which don’t fit.
Our needs, functioning styles and communication languages are diverse and different. Therefore, our suffering will follow that same rule.
Trusted doctors and doulas specialising in these spaces exist. They are here to help. Seek help. Take the meds if you need to—hand over the baton. You do not have to bear it all. There are spaces where you can find help.
I will share a few resources at the end of this blog for easy access.
Shannon’s Story – Lived Experience of Postpartum Depression
What is viewed as ideal in society may be warped by condition
Hi, my name is Shannon, and I am a mother of two little girls. I am a teacher by profession but have been a stay-at-home mom for the past three years.
As a maternal person realised through my love for my sister, I always wanted to be a mother. Finding that I always loved children, I yearned to have my own. But then I fell pregnant out of wedlock (a big deal for my family). As a result, I felt much shame around my pregnancy for the first 16 weeks. Eventually, I came around and felt excited for my baby and the chance to raise a family.
The Misunderstood Challenges of Mental Health
In hindsight, I have struggled with anxiety all my life and depression since my teen years. It was undiagnosed and often referred to as a ‘personality flaw’. So, I never sought help because I thought it was just me.
I was aware of mental illness but had a much grimmer view. The picture of depression for me was the inability to do anything. There was the impression that depression was only treated in mental health facilities.
The Throes of Postpartum Depression
I suffered from mild PPD after my first child was born, but I was convinced it was just the baby blues. It was something I thought I’d get over. And I sort of did, although I haven’t felt quite like myself since. After my second child, we moved across the country, and my Postpartum depression set in hard. I was unable to get out of bed other than for necessities. Like, going to the bathroom or giving my children food. I had to force myself to care for myself, like shower, brush my teeth or eat. There just wasn’t any feeling alive in me.
Due to breastfeeding my baby, I forced myself to eat buttered toast, which went down like daggers. That profound lack of motivation to do anything but lie on the couch or bed took over. Lying down became my usual, something I had to do. Then, the weeping started. Everything would set me in that state. The tiniest things triggered that response. I had no support in this new city we moved to. Without any friends or family nearby, I was completely isolated. I was alone.
Caring for two kids on my own in our home became something I liked in a depressed emotional state. I liked that no one could see the depth of my depression. My house was a disaster, my toddler was watching way too much TV, and I was glued to social media. It was an escape from my mind.
The Assisted Realisation – Mental illness
TW – Suicide
One day I was in the bath, trying to get some time alone. A thought popped into my head as I lay there: “How messy would it be to slit my wrists? Would my husband have to clean that up after I was gone? Would my children see it? Maybe I should rather drive into oncoming traffic?”
The thought came so quickly and wasn’t even shocking to me. I weighed my options as if I were considering the week’s meal plan. At this point, I still didn’t consider postpartum depression.
The next day my mom phoned me, and I could not stop crying. I had convinced myself that motherhood was just hard. A move was hard. I was going through a rough patch. But my mom didn’t buy the bullshit excuses. She told me, very firmly, to book a doctor’s appointment immediately, or she would drive to JHB herself and drag me there. I reluctantly booked an appointment with my GP.
Hope for mental health care
When I got to her office, two babes in tow, I burst into tears.
“I think I’m depressed.” It was all I could muster. This is how the lived experiences of postpartum depression may show up.
She put me on medication, and within two weeks, I could breathe again. I could feel joy. Look at my children and feel wonder, not just resentment. It saddens me that I did not get help sooner. I feel like I missed the first six months of my baby’s life. And I feel like I neglected my toddler for half a year. Knowing what I know now, I would have plans in place postpartum. I would have trusted people (my husband and mother) to be aware of the prevalence of PPD and keep open lines of communication… Trusting them if they notice something. I would go on medication at the first sign of decline. Being one to go at it all alone helps no one. Trying to be that supermum almost killed me.
If I could advise any new mother, especially those with PPD – Shannon
I would say that there is no shame in asking for help. Asking for help is one of the BRAVEST things you can do for yourself and your family.
Postpartum Depression Takeaways – General
After every life experience, no matter the effect it has on your life and person, there will be takeaways. Some of them will be positive takeaways, and some may be hard lessons.
- No matter how alone you feel or think you are, there’s always someone willing to help.
- No one understands the severity of what you are experiencing better than you.
- YOUR needs matter.
- Taking time to be mentally healthier is better for you and your family.
- Being taken care of allows you more capacity to hold your load.
- Accept the help. You are no less of a person or mother if you do.
- Having an illness, whether mental or physical, is not a form of weakness.
- Pushing oneself over the threshold of your capacity is not strength.
- The right medication for you can work.
- You can put the shame you carry down and leave it there.
- You are worth all the effort.
- You deserve to be happy and operate with a healthy mind.
- This list is not exhaustive; add your affirmations and trust in them.
These are but only two experiences—the absolute tip of the ice burg. You are seen. The lived experiences of postpartum depression are seen. You are not alone. Our stories may differ, and so will our experiences. Know that you have someone in your corner, and an account much like yours exists out there. Postpartum depression is a reality for so many. It exists and has also taken many lives with it.
There is hope and a community of women and birthing persons sharing their struggle with postpartum depression to raise awareness and offer support. Take a hand.
The silver lining
I will be sharing more stories in the next blog. I hope you will take comfort in knowing you are not alone as you gain insight into these brave mothers’ journeys. Mental illnesses are as real as physical ones.
Your questions, thoughts and shares are more than welcome in the comments section. Feel free to share and reach out to me if you wish to have your story told.
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Lots of love,