‘Nobody tells you how hard it is.’ I realized I am not alone in this experience, in these feelings.’: Mom opens up about postpartum mental health journey

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“To the woman filled with anticipation, fear, and unknowing, I see you.

To the woman laboring for hours to bring life into the world, I see you.

To the partner filled with fear, compassion, and worry, I see you.

To the woman exhausted from sleepless nights, I see you.

To the woman who knows she needs to but just can’t ask for help, I see you.

‘Are you okay?’

The question I want to ask every woman I see with an infant strapped to her chest or being pushed in a stroller. And more times than not, I do. And immediately after the question is posed, 9 times out of 10, I see tears well up behind her mask. She swallows, looks back at me, half-seen and relieved and half-exposed and vulnerable, and pushes out a lie. ‘Yeah. I’m okay.’

I follow up, usually with a baby strapped to my own chest as well, ‘I see you. I was knocked on my a** by the first few months. No one tells you how terrible it is!’

A sigh of relief, a nervous laugh followed by an exhale, ‘OMG, right? So hard. Nobody tells you how hard it is.’

I have made a handful of new mom friends in the park this way over the last year.

And it’s true. Nobody tells you. My mom says nobody tells you ‘cause then women wouldn’t have babies!’ And the thing is, some women do tell you or hint to you subtly not to scare you. But as mothers-to-be, I don’t think we fully hear it. Maybe it’s a primal defense mechanism, the selective hearing. Or we, as not-yet moms, think, ‘That won’t be my experience.’ At least that’s where I landed on the spectrum, and then wham! I got pummeled by the newborn/postpartum/fourth-trimester portion of the program:

A mom sits on a couch outside with one hand on her pregnant belly
Courtesy of Adrien Broom

Birth. Holy s**t.

Can’t walk, physical fatigue/exhaustion.

Emptiness and fullness at the same time.

Tailbone broken?

In my case, unexplained nausea and vomiting for weeks on end.

Crying. Crying.

Breasts swell. Such discomfort.

Bleeding.

Crying.

Day? Night?

You’re doing it wrong.

Extreme guilt for the smallest thing.

Can’t form complete sentences.

Delusion.

Extreme isolation.

A loneliness I never knew was possible.

How is this okay?

How do women do this?

Why is this so hard?

Why am I so upset?

Why did I do this?

What have I done?

Just a small sampling of my body and mind in the first couple of weeks.

And the more I opened myself and talked to other new moms, the more I realized I am not alone in this experience, in these feelings.

For me, together with the extreme, undefined GI sickness and being a business owner in the middle of a global pandemic while not being able to see my friends and community I so strongly gain my energy and support from, I fell hard. And I judged myself for it.

How am I so sad?

I wanted this so badly.

I am a master of the mind. I teach easing of the fluctuations of the mind for a living.

I have so many tools. Why can’t I pull myself out of this?

I’ve never felt this before. Is it anxiety? Self-doubt? Depression?

No, that can’t be it. I’ve never felt any of that like this before.

Weeks of these feelings inside my heart, my head, my body. Weeks of fending off the questions: ‘Are you so happy?’ ‘Are you so in love?’ And me gritting, pushing out a smile and a lie so as not to be judged by the truth of me screaming on the inside:

‘No! I’m not okay! I’m not happy. I’m miserable, this is actually the worst ever.’

‘In love? I have no idea. I hardly know who this little amoeba is. If he’s not screaming, he’s sucking the life force out of me.’

Until finally I couldn’t respond anymore. I turned off the phone. Stopped going on social media. And just sat in the depth of this new foreign despair, surrendering to the fact that this must be my new life, my new reality. Until one day I crawled out of myself long enough to fall into my love’s arms and confess, ‘I’m not okay. I’m not okay. I’m not okay.’

And that final confession is what ended up opening the door to freedom for me.

It led me to pick up the phone to my midwives. To my therapist. To get an appointment to have an analysis.

I fought it still. Even after the diagnosis of postpartum anxiety and depression. Even after reading that 40% of women suffer from this, and that’s only counting the women who come forward for help. And since the pandemic that number has jumped to 70%. 70%!

Antidepressants were recommended.

A woman places her hand on her heart while holding a bottle of antidepressants in her lap
Courtesy of Margot Broom

No. I can’t do that. That’s not me. I can move through this on my own. I have made it through so much in this life without going there.

And still, crying. Not being able to talk to others. Not being able to see the joy in life. The joy in this new being.

I finally started asking other women I know who had taken antidepressants either postpartum or in general and an overwhelming response came back to me.

‘They saved my life.’

‘It changed everything for me.’

‘It helped me so much in a time of need.’

With my therapist, I expressed how much judgment and shame I had towards myself about considering taking meds. She said they were ‘tools to help.’ Just like all the other practices I have are tools. How are the meds different? If it is going to help you come back into balance why wouldn’t you use it to help yourself?’

That conversation, followed by a best friend saying, ‘Think of it as empowering yourself to take a step forward into some relief,’ led me to pick up the script. I held on to the bottle for a few more days until finally, in another fog of tears, I looked at my beloved holding our child and saw the love, support, and worry in his eyes. And then I empowered myself.

‘If I feel I can’t do this for myself, do it for the love of my life. Do it for my child. Take back your power and take the step forward.’

And so I began. Every morning I would stand in the kitchen, pill bottle in hand, and as I took the tablet I would repeat the mantra: ‘I am empowering myself.’

And so the road back to self began, again.

Slowly the oppressive grief, guilt, and anxiety began to lift. It took time. It took patience. It took compassion.

My eyes began to open to a new grounding. And new awareness and appreciation of this new life. A new balance.

There wasn’t a huge change but a gradual lifting of the fog. I thought the meds would change me. Make me a different version of myself. However, I found it was the opposite. I found myself seeing the rationality of life again. Falling back into the compassionate woman I’ve known myself to be and extending that compassion to myself for the first time in a long, long time. I found that extreme harshness of judgment of myself, my body, and my actions softened. I was able to look at myself and my body and say, ‘Wow, good job woman.’

Mom holding her baby boy in hospital bed
Courtesy of Margot Broom

And so this new chapter of my life began, again.

Yes, nobody tells you how hard it is. Or maybe they do, and we don’t listen, or we judge. But more often than not, we as a society don’t talk about how hard this time is for women. We don’t share that 40 to 70% of women are impacted by postpartum anxiety or depression or both. We skirt around these conversations because they are uncomfortable and challenging.

I get it. It’s hard to understand someone else’s grief, someone else’s trauma. And that’s the thing, we don’t have to understand it, we don’t have to fix it, we need to normalize it. We need to speak into the world that it exists and that women are going through it every day. We need to share that we are not alone and that there are tools to help.

It took me 17 months to write this. Almost a year and a half to share. Writing through tear-blurred eyes over that time. And as I sit now knowing this will be shared soon, I have a palpable feeling of courage and vulnerability. Both values I feel are necessary to change the way we look at ourselves, the way we look at the world, and the way the world looks at the challenges of postpartum struggles.

I can sit here in confidence and say that this last year has been both the best and worst year of my life. That I have learned more about my body, my heart, my ego, my mind than ever before, and that although I may wish that things had been different I can look back now and be glad they weren’t, because damn did I learn so much about myself, and isn’t that what this life is all about?

Talk to each other, and share your truth. Know your truth may help to normalize something for someone. Know that your vulnerability is your courage, your courage is your vulnerability. Know you are seen, you are loved.”

Smiling pregnant woman standing with hands on her stomach
Courtesy of Margot Broom

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Margot Broom. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her blog. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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