I haven’t posted as much as I intended about my post-partum depression and recovery after Sweet Pea’s birth. It’s very difficult to talk about and with a newborn to care for, it is easy to find reasons not to write the next blog post. Now that Sweet Pea is 13-weeks-old, I thought I would give an update and close the whole ‘series’.
No matter how many times you go through it, those first six weeks after a baby is born are hard. Whether labor was fast or slow, it was hard work. You are in charge of the care and feeding of a fragile new person who has many needs and his or her only way of communicating those needs is to cry. You are learning how to breastfeed or juggling formula and bottles. Your hormones are waxing and waning unpredictably and your body looks nothing at all like it once did. It is truly a rough time.
I have often told new moms (and reminded repeat new moms) you have to tell yourself, if you can get through the first six weeks things will change. I won’t say things will definitely get better, but they will change. After the first six weeks, you will likely get more sleep (maybe not enough, but more than before), have healed a bit and feel like you understand your baby, at least to some extent. Your hormones also start to stabilize. For some people, that is enough change that post-partum depression lessens. I am thankful that, this time, I am one of those people who began feeling better at around 6 weeks.
I’m not saying there was sudden relief of symptoms, not at all. It was more like the symptoms slowly subsided. I was very careful this time. I knew, with my father having died just a few months before, that I was liable to have a hard time. With that in mind, I tried to protect my sleep, eat well (meaning lots of protein and veggies, being careful with carbs, and lots of non-caffeinated fluids), take my vitamins and supplements, get a little exercise and stay in touch with friends. I tried to follow my midwife’s suggestions closely, staying in bed for three days after birth, home for 2 weeks and then slowly resuming normal life over the course of two months. I also spent a lot of time praying and was blessed to be in a somewhat intense bible study that kept me grounded in Holy Scripture.
All of those efforts helped significantly. I had some low moments, but was able to handle them. I had a few anxiety attacks and they were rough, but I was mostly able to breathe through them and remind myself that I am equipped to do what I have been called to do. Thankfully, Hubby was home for the absolute worst one. I don’t want to leave any one with the impression that people suffering from depression or anxiety should just pull themselves up by their boot straps, feel better and get over it. That’s not true at all. As I said in a previous post, I have tools I use to help me get through my hard moments and, because I have had this struggle before, I know to use those tools early and often. I know that there are certain behaviors (like lying in bed all day, not eating, or failing to get dressed) that feel like a good idea, but in reality don’t help me. I have learned to take each moment and make the best choice I can for that moment. I have also learned to reach out for help from trusted sources when I can’t find a good choice.
I think it is important to share, I have not always coped so well. After the birth of Polar Bear, I had a very difficult time. Because of reflux, Polar Bear nursed every two hours and vomited after every nursing session, around the clock for the first year of his life. This meant I was sleep deprived and I thought I was failing as a mom. I also wasn’t eating as well as I should have. We had no family or friends nearby, so I had no support system and my hormones were a wacked out crazy mess. I struggled with feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. One morning, I decided I was such a terrible mom that I did not deserve to live. I laid in my bed trying to think how I could kill myself in such a way that my husband would not be the one to find me. I realized that even if I managed that, my son would grow up knowing his mother killed herself and that would mess him up even worse than my terrible mothering. I realized I needed to call for help. Thank God a psychologist I had met during volunteer training with a local crisis agency took my call and talked with me. Over a couple years of therapy she helped me to build my tool box of coping skills.
None of my post-partum recovery seasons has been as hard as that first one. I am thankful I survived that time. I would have missed out on so many wonderful blessings. I feel blessed to have another healthy, beautiful red-haired daughter and that the recovery this time was not as bad as I anticipated. Not to say there will be no hard days in the coming months, but I feel I am equipped to handle them and meanwhile, I will focus on enjoying this new little blessing.
I hope this series shed a little light the dark corners of post-partum depression. Real women, ones who look like they are “just fine” or “have their act together” suffer from it. These women are more deeply loved than they realize and stronger than they think. They have been run over by a fierce combination of raging hormones and lack of sleep at a time when they are adjusting to the responsibilities of the hardest and most all-consuming job on the planet. I hope those reading will do as my friends have after each of my last four deliveries; listen well, speak truth kindly, offer specific support (rather than saying, “Let me know if you need anything” offer specific help such as laundry folding, dog walking, meals, or middle of the night baby holding, depression makes decision making very difficult) lend a shoulder to cry on and a hand to hold when that’s all that can be done and just be there. Sometimes that is enough to get a mom through a rough season of life and when it isn’t enough, friends like that can help a mom get professional help when it’s needed.
I also hope these photos of Sweet Pea will make up for not sharing any before this. I have finally been able to get photos off my phone and camera and onto my computer. I am more than happy to show off photos of her sweet self with the world. :)