The list of events in my life that truly changed who I am is pretty small. Like, there are some coming-of-age moments and that-was-the-best-day-of-my-life days that come to mind, but things that have rocked me to my core and actually caused true change in who I am as a person and impacted my core values? That’s a very, very small list. Postpartum depression & anxiety is on that list, and it’s pretty high on that list, actually.
The experience I had, the treatment I received, and the growth that occurred because of it was unlike anything else I’ve ever encountered. It’s hard for me to say if it was the PPD that changed me or if I changed because of it, like that whole chicken & the egg dilemma. At the end of the day, it probably doesn’t matter that much other than the fact that I am now different than I was before I went through it.
Now, don’t get me wrong; it was awful. The paralyzing fear, the debilitating anxiety, the overwhelming sense of dread and deep, dark sadness… it was more than I could handle on my own. It felt like it would never end and that I’d never get back to normal again, which is a nasty trick of the condition, if you ask me. But I did get through it, it did end, and I did get back to normal, thankfully. Seeking treatment was a huge part of that, and I don’t know what would have happened if my husband hadn’t forced the issue to get me the help.
As positive as all this sounds, and even now, when I can look back on that experience with the luxury of hindsight as almost a blessing since my life has changed so much for the better, let me be very clear: I never want to go through that experience again. I never want to feel that sense of despair and worry ever, ever again. And although it was a huge catalyst for change in my life, helping me really find who I really am, what I really value, what motivates me and how best to care for myself, I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone. Additionally, if there was a way to take those feelings away from all women (and men) who experience it, I would – in a heartbeat.
When I first found out I was pregnant this time around, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t mixed emotions right out of the gate. As happy as I was to be growing our little family, I also knew that it meant that the possibility of having my PPD come back was very real, and that really scared me. There have been a few things, though, that I’ve done over the course of this pregnancy to lessen that anticipatory anxiety.
I have never been a proponent for suffering in silence. I’m also someone who thinks it’s better to take the risk to be outwardly vulnerable for the sake of growth and connection. A huge part of my recovery was finding that sense of community among other women who have gone through what I went through as well as speaking out and educating other people about PPD. I don’t know how many times I shared my story with other women in my life only to have them tell me how much they struggled or how they probably should have spoken up or gotten help but didn’t. Life is too short, and too precious, for that matter, to suffer alone.
So, I’ve been open about my experience. Right from the beginning. I shared my experience with PPD online and in person with all kinds of people, like other women in the treatment program I attended, with my family, with my friends and co-workers, my therapist, and a whole long list of other random acquaintances I’ve come across- including, but not limited to, other moms at playgrounds, my MOPs mom friends, people in my WW workshops… you name it, I’ve shared it. It’s part of my story, so if I’m talking with someone and it comes up tangentially, it’s not something I shy away from or hide.
I’ve also been open about my worry about it coming back. I have shared that worry with my husband, my parents, and my very best friends – they’re my support system, so it makes complete sense that they’d need to be in the loop about how it’s a real possibility that it could come back and that I’m thinking about that. We’ve also talked about what that would mean for them, and what they might do or say if they start to get the sense, once the baby arrives, that it’s back or that I’m struggling. Having people in your life who know you, that you can trust, and who love you enough to be a mirror in this way is so, so important.
Additionally, I have talked with my therapist about this as well as my OBGYN – the two people who are and will be instrumental in my physical and mental health, who are trained to do so. You can bet your bottom dollar that it’s been a regular topic of conversation in my therapy appointments, something we touch on every few sessions just to check in and see where I’m at and how I feel about it. In my first prenatal appointment, my OBGYN and I (and my husband) had a very honest conversation about what happened last time and what the options are this time around. It’s been on the radar for all of us, and we touch base often.
Have A Plan
A huge part of removing some of that anticipatory anxiety about the possible return of PPD is the fact that I do have a plan in place for what to do if it does. There’s a phrase I say all the time: “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” It would be naïve of me to pretend the possibility isn’t there, and because I know that, it is in my best interest to account for that fact. That’s why, as I said previously, talking with my support system and my doctors has been so imperative. They’re a huge part of this future plan.
I’ve mapped out what this birth experience is supposed to be like to help reduce some of the fear that surrounds the experience. You can’t plan for everything, but there were a few things I know triggered a ton of anxiety that led to my PPD experience, and I have accounted for those things. For instance, this time around, I know I will be having a c-section (because that’s what’s best for my body and this pregnancy), so the unknowns surrounding labor this time around are removed; this helps manage expectations, which reduces my anxiety. I know this time around I won’t be stuck in labor for 55 hours before the decision for a c-section is made, like my last birth experience. I know that this time around I will not be breastfeeding, which is the best decision for me and my body. I know that I have a support system that will hold up hard truths to me if I need them to and will provide encouragement as needed. I know that I will be seeing my therapist regularly and, if the need arises, I will attend the same treatment program for PPD I did last time to help battle it. Lastly, although I personally do not wish for this to be part of my treatment plan, I also know that there are medications I can take to help stabilize my mood or help balance me back out of PPD does come back.
Everybody’s body is different, and everyone’s plan will look different, because each experience is unique. If this is something you struggle with or you’re facing, really think about what it is that will help you manage those feelings and set yourself up with the best course of action to combat some of those triggers and to get the help you’ll need.
Give Yourself Grace
The biggest takeaway from my PPD experience and the personal growth that has come since everything happened has been the granting of grace to myself. This has been something I have encountered as essential in pretty much every aspect of my life. Most of the time, this means I cut myself slack or let myself off the hook for things: maybe the laundry didn’t get done that day because I snuggled my baby instead; maybe I didn’t get everything on my list done today but I got 3 of 5 of the things done; maybe I yelled at my husband because my patience was thin but I apologized later and said “I love you”. The thing is that we are human; it means that failure and falling short of expectations is to be expected.
What I’ve been telling myself as my new baby’s due date inches closer and closer is that there’s room for me to not be perfect when everything happens. I tell myself that although, of course, I’d prefer that my PPD does not come back, it will be okay if it does. If it comes back, it does not mean I’m a bad mama. If it comes back, it does not mean that I am weak. If it comes back, it does not mean that I am a failure or deficient in any way. And if it comes back, I have my support system available to help in every way they can, and I have a treatment plan I can fall back on if I need to, in varying degrees of support.
The Bottom Line
I can’t predict the future; all I can do is try to manage those things within my control. I think they call that “controlling the controlables”. The best way I know how to do that is by being open about what it is I’m worried about or struggling with, having a plan for how I’ll deal with it if/when it comes, and giving myself grace through it all. These things may look different for you because everyone is wonderfully and beautifully unique, and we all have different stories. But there is one thing I do know: if you’re in the same boat as me or struggling with something else, doing these three things will help you, whatever that looks like for you.
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