Okay, bear with me because first, I had to take pain meds tonight but I’m determined to write anyway and second I’m very tired already but I’m determined to write anyway. Did I mention I’m determined? To write? Something?
I want to talk a little about post-partum depression. If you are the partner of woman who is amenable to the possibility of child-bearing some time in the future, then I beg you to read this. Please.
Post-partum depression is loosely defined as “baby blues” that don’t get better within a month. This is as simple as I can put it and frankly its best you remember that simple definition. PPD is a very serious condition. It is related to several things having to do with child-bearing but none of them are the root cause alone. There’s a certain amount of mystery as to whether a mother will have baby blues or end up with actual PPD but there is one thing that is the most obvious “risk factor” for baby blues becoming PPD. That risk factor is lack of partner/family support after birth.
I want you to let that sink in for a minute. Consider what that means, if you are the closest loved one of a woman who might bear a child in the future. You, the partner, the primary family member or hell even just the best friend or roommate, are probably the most important factor that will determine whether or not that beloved mother ends up crying for a few hours, a few days or ends up killing herself. Other factors come into play, of course, but the main thrust of studies and research has revealed that lack of support is the most important risk factor for whether a mother experiences PPD. If you think I’m being dramatic, I’m not; PPD is a very real dangerous condition that can even lead to psychosis. Or suicide. And what is the procedure by which Obstetricians and doctors “screen” for PPD? They talk to the mother and ask her obvious questions about how she’s feeling. How well do you think that’s going to go?
Let me move into the personal here… not only have I been through PPD, I’ve known quite a few other mothers who’ve experienced different levels of it themselves. The saddest part, to me, is that NONE of us talked about it when it was happening. We all talked about it afterwards, but when we were going through it? We kept it quiet.
Were we afraid of being dramatic? Were we worried no one would believe us? Were we trying to “be strong”? Were we aware of how irrational our thoughts and feelings were and so figured we had a handle on things? Were we convinced that what we were going through was shameful and foolish?
Yes, to all of the above.
But you know what? I don’t even want to talk about those things. Being depressed is a catch-22 and everyone knows it. The more depressed you are, the less likely you are to seek adequate help. The more depressed you are, the less you realize you even NEED help. The more depressed you are, the less you even care about getting help.
Let’s get really personal. I’m going to tell you a little bit about my worst PPD. and I’m going to describe it, somewhat how it felt to me: random, non-sensical and without connection to my actual situation.
I believed my child hated me. I believed everyone knew I was a terrible mother. I believed scientists were on the verge of altering reality so that time could be reversed and changed and any minute now reality was going to come to a dead stop. I believed strangers were going to break into my house and hold my children at gunpoint. I believed my house was going to spontaneously catch on fire. I believed my child was actively trying to break my will. I believed my husband was resentful of me. I believed everyone thought I was lazy. I believed I would never feel “normal”. I believed monsters were going to be awakened from my subconscious and given life and come to eat us all alive. I believed that if I didn’t clean something every day I would wake up alone. I believed nothing was good in my life. I believed my husband looked down on me. I believed my friends were all disgusted with my decision to have a child since i so obviously could not take decent care of it. I believed one day I’d wake up and discover I had missed decades of her life. I believed if I took her outside, her “real” mother would discover her and take her from me. I believed everyone was laughin at me. I believed millions of roaches were hiding under my porch and delighting in my terror by darting out, one by one and if I went outside alone, they’d all descend upon me at once. I believed I was ingesting something that was slowly poisoning me and someday they’d discover what it was after I was already dead. I believed my other children were going to live forever and forget me someday.
I was afraid to go outside in the daytime because when I did, nothing seemed real. I was afraid to go out at nighttime because I couldn’t see well enough to be ready for when the monsters starting pouring out of a hole in space-fabric. I was afraid to talk to anyone because they’d know how horrendously inept I was and everything would be taken away. I was afraid I’d tell too much and be put away and worse, I’d like it. I was afraid to ask for help with anything because people would lie to me and what I needed wouldn’t happen and then everything would fall apart. More than anything, I was afraid to go to sleep because I knew I would die in my sleep and my baby girl would die too if that happened. That was why I never took a nap if I was alone in the house. That was why I had my husband wake me up whenever he left for work. He thought he was just kissing me goodbye while I slept but I woke up almost every time and got out of bed once he was gone.
Everything was my responsibility and I knew I could not possibly do any of it adequately. Everything was my fault. But the whole world was trying to beat me down. I was a terrible person and no one liked me, they only tolerated me. Even my own child did not act “normal” towards me and that was the proof that I was horrible AND that the world hated me.
Yet all the time, I knew I was wrong about almost everything. I knew I was being irrational. I joked a few times with very close friends about a couple of thins then blew it off before they realized the extent of… my crazy.
There was never any danger that I was going to hurt myself or my child. Not directly.
but you know what makes me weep? thinking of all that time wasted.
There were moments I’d look at my baby daughter and just feel like i was going to burst with all the love and pride and awe in me. I couldn’t imagine there was anything in the universe ever before or after that was half so beautiful as my child. I didn’t care about anything because she was everything.
But then there were moments where I just wanted her to disappear. JUst stop NEEDING me for a moment. Then on the rare times when she didn’t need me, someone else was always there, needing me. And I was angry about it but guilty too. I am mother to three other children. I am a wife. I am a friend, a sister…. I had no right to ignore all those others.
but looking back on it, I see…. everyone did need me… they were just doing what they always did.Because no one, including me, told them any different. No one told them that what needed to happen was for someone to realize I needed someone too. I needed to be taken care of. ANd not just for a day or so. I needed a lot of help. and I wasn’t getting it. I coudln’t realize that at the time. I wish someone had.
Because what i went through? was hellish. Really. I look back and I HATE those first six months of her life. I wish so bad I could do it over again.
I wonder though.. if I did it again, would I really know better to do things differently?
Because feeling that lack of support and being flushed with hormones really does a number on your perception of reality. When you look down at the most fragile thing in life and realize “this is all you, man” its the biggest burden you’ll ever carry. Then if you look up and realize you’re not just alone carrying it, but you’ve got even more burden to be laboring under?
Then I hear about other mother’s battles with PPD.
Recently, I heard about a mother who was friend to a dear friend of mine. That mother hung herself. That’s not even outlandish. Postpartum suicide in the USA is about 10% (and that’s just the ones they KNOW are suicide)
You may not think that’s a big number but I do.
Because it isn’t just about suicide, its about pain.
And depression that gets like that? Its painful. Make no mistake.
And the biggest factor in making sure it doesn’t get that way?
So if the most important thing in a new mother’s life (to prevent painful depression) is other people, why is it that all the literature warning about PPD is aimed at the new mothers?
Where is the campaign to educate partners?