December 23, 2014. I was grocery shopping with my husband for our Christmas dinner ingredients. I hadn’t been feeling well all week and had even thrown up a few times but I was also eating terribly so I didn’t think much of it. Then, while grocery shopping I knew I needed to throw up NOW. So I did. Immediately after I thought, “I NEED cold cereal. That will totally help me feel better.” Just like that I knew I was pregnant.
Clearly by the very last post on this blog I have never kept my struggle with postpartum depression a secret. I got a lot of “oh is it a surprise?” responses to my recent pregnancy announcement, and while I can’t blame people for the assumption I still think it is a weird thing to say. Anyways. Regardless of anything else, here I am. About to dive back in to postpartum round three. Sure, maybe this time will be different, but it also might be exactly the same.
From day one dealing with another round of depression has been on the very front of my mind. As much as I would like to plan a nursery, or make cute baby things, I really have devoted almost all of my pregnancy energy towards planning and protecting myself and my family for the journey ahead. I have thought a lot recently how spreading awareness and preparedness about postpartum depression might just be my life calling. The problem is HUGE, and the conversation about it is nearly silent. That silence is a problem for multiple reasons, but that is a whole other post entirely. Tonight I just feel like sharing a small list of things I have thought of to prepare.
1. EDUCATE YOURSELF. If you are having your first baby, or have had others and didn’t experience postpartum depression, my biggest advice is to educate yourself with an open mind. When I was pregnant with my first I brushed off any chapter in any book about “baby blues” because I had never struggled with emotional problems. I really felt like I wasn’t susceptible and any warnings simply did not apply to me. Because of that, when it DID happen to me I was completely unprepared. It can happen to you. It has most definitely happened to someone close to you. Learn about symptoms and internalize that it is an honest possibility and rid your mind of any thoughts or judgement or criticism towards the problem.
2. Understand that if it has happened once, it might happen again. I am two for two, but each experience was very unique which is important to understand. No two people experience it the same way, and the same individual might not even experience it the same way twice. This makes it difficult to prepare for and easy to pass judgement on others. Watch yourself. You don’t know anyone else’s struggle.
3. Open up to those close to you. Be honest with close friends and family. Ask them to check in on you even if you aren’t receptive. Ask them to be persistent even if you are rude. Ask them to dish out the love until you are able to receive it. My first round I declined 18 international calls from my sister before I finally answered out of annoyance and fell apart. I had another close friend who just came one night a week invited or not and sat with me. I will NEVER forget those things, because they saved me. You won’t want to talk. You won’t want people there, but it might save you too.
4. Understand you might not know it is happening. Even going through it for a second time I lived in constant denial it was happening again. “This time is different (and it was), I am totally fine (and I wasn’t)” etc… You will feel guilty for not being happy, you might hate your baby, you might hate your husband, you will probably hate yourself, you might hate your life entirely… it is different for everyone. One common denominator I have found however, is that you will not understand or be aware that this is not you and this is not your fault. This is why opening up to your spouse, friend, or anyone is important. You won’t be able to see out of the fog, you will need people who can.
5. Talk with your doctor before giving birth to start the conversation. This way when you go in for your postpartum check up they will ask, and you might feel more comfortable answering honestly. I have a doctor who has been amazing at working with me… once I opened my mouth. This time around he is on board and we have a plan to fight this battle from the day I give birth. I am not saying you have to choose medication, but as your doctor they can give you options and really help you understand what is happening.
6. Try and identify your triggers. This time around I am going in armed with weapons to kill my triggers. Meditation, exercise, eating well, forcing myself out of the house, allowing people to come over, and even getting a spray tan are on me list. However, I have had to learn and accept that regardless of what I do, I am not safe because postpartum depression is not my fault. It is not in my control. When we can learn to be brave and talk out loud about this problem, and internalize it as a mental illness that is no one’s fault, that is when healing will begin.
I have chosen to be public about my struggle because I wish someone had talked to me about it before I went through it. I feel a responsibility to share what I have learned, and I have a deep passion for trying to get others through their darkness. I just will not quit until education for pregnant women about postpartum depression is mainstream.