We Aren’t Asking New Moms The Hard Questions -- And We're Failing Them
One of my good friends recently became a new mom, and I wanted to reach out to her about postpartum depression without seeming like I was being too invasive. It’s not that we don’t have that kind of relationship, because we do, I just know she can sometimes overthink (like me), and I didn’t want to put thoughts into her head during this already overwhelming time.
Not only that, but let’s be honest, it’s not always the most comfortable topic to discuss. But if you love your friends, the subject of postpartum depression needs to be addressed. We started off talking about the struggles of days with a newborn, the sleepless nights, the yellow, breastmilk-runs, the pumping and those lovely mesh diapers. And then I asked about her mental health, and we talked for what seemed like forever about the emotional and mental struggle that is the postpartum period.
It’s hard. And I know it’s not this way for all, but in my personal experience, new motherhood and the postpartum journey proved much more strenuous on my mental health after my first delivery.
When you’re pregnant for the first time, everyone tells you how much life will change, and (of course) that you better “sleep while you can.” But those words hold little meaning until you’re seeing every hour on the hour for many consecutive nights (Weeks? Months?) in a row.
For nine months while we are expecting, we wait to hold these little people. We dream about them, think about them, and long for their warmth on our chest and to smell their fresh baby smell on their head.
But sometimes our expectations don’t mesh with our reality, and that can be agonizingly painful. Especially when the world expects so much out of new mothers when our emotions and hormones are already flooding, the boobs are aching, a baby is wailing, and we’re attached to an outlet pumping. It’s a lot to handle in any circumstance.
And when you’re frequently and innocently asked on what seems like a day-to-day basis in those early days, “Don’t you just love being a mom?” it can make you feel like something is wrong when you don’t feel the way others expect.
And if you’re transparent about your mental health struggles during the early postpartum days, it’s not unheard of for others to self-diagnose your ailment as the “baby blues.” Never to be given a second thought, because the postpartum period is such a huge adjustment, and sometimes moms do feel a little down due to sleep deprivation.
But while that may be a diagnosis for some, it’s not the diagnosis for up to 15% of new mothers. So we need to take it upon ourselves to dig deeper. We need to ask new moms how they are doing, and really listen to their answer without assuming it for ourselves.
Because for me, I was tormenting myself on the inside and felt like a horrible mother because postpartum depression, as well as bouts of postpartum anxiety and OCD were running rapid in the depths of my mind.
My mom knew a little about what was going on, but she couldn’t relate because she never experienced PPD, and I hid even the great magnitude of it all from her. I felt completely in the dark, and even though my experience was only a little under five years ago, it wasn’t talked about nearly as much back then as it is today.
I was terrified of germ-damnation reigning it’s awful terror on my new little family, so I began washing my hands so frequently that they were cracking and bleeding throughout the day.
Obsessing over locked windows and doors became my new norm during the middle of the night hours. Why? I was seriously petrified baby-nappers were going to break into our home. And, of course, I wasn’t sleeping, which obviously was not helping. (But who could sleep with possible baby-nappers on the prowl?).
I would get intrusive thoughts like, what if I accidentally dropped my baby right now? And my mind would race to the worst case scenario in a situation that never even happened. I wondered why I had thoughts like these when they weren’t rational or anything I’d thought of in the past.
All in all, I just felt down. I was constantly stressed and anything but happy. When intrusive thoughts came, it was physically heavy on my entire being. A part of me loved being a mom underneath all of the angst, worry, obsessive thinking and depression, but I seriously struggled to feel joy, and I doubted my self-worth as a new mom.
I wanted to tell my doctor the full extent of my symptoms, and I didn’t. I told him some of it, but not all. To me, he is the best OBGYN in the world, but I didn’t want to tell anyone about my obsessive and anxious way of thinking because I felt so much deep-rooted shame about the issue when I was so excited for the journey of motherhood to begin with. Not only that, but I didn’t want anyone to think I was a bad mom.
I wanted to tell my friends, and I didn’t. I wanted to tell my husband, but I didn’t. And truthfully, nobody really flat-out asked me about my mental health when I wished they would have. Or, at the very least, I needed someone to be transparent. To tell me that they struggled with big emotions and irrational thoughts beyond their control. And above all else, I needed to know that I was not failing.
So now, I ask the hard questions, and I try to be transparent with my past experiences of postpartum depression. Because I feel like if just one mother would have reached out to tell me that I wasn’t alone, I wouldn’t have struggled in silence. On the outside and through the social media world, I was the picture-perfect new mom, but my mental health was crippled on the inside. I was a shell of myself, and I felt like an awful mother.
If you are struggling, talk to a doctor, and don’t be fearful and suffer it out like me. They really have heard it all, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking the help you and your new baby deserve.
And when your friend has a new baby, ask the hard questions with an open heart. Because sometimes it’s not just the baby blues. Sometimes it’s postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, postpartum OCD or postpartum psychosis, and none of those conditions make someone any less of a mother.
I didn’t have the baby blues; I had postpartum depression. And I am still a good mom who loves her children.
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