How Can You Tell?
Sometimes I wish moms with PPD and PTSD came with signs on their bellies.
Signs that said, "I have PPD/PTSD. I'm having a hard day/week/month/postpartum year. Please be gentle with me. Today, I need ___FILL IN THE BLANK___ from you to help me feel better."
Because it's so dang hard to figure out who's doing OK and who's not.
Now, I believe that ALL new moms need TLC and attention... but moms with PPD and PTSD need it even more than most.
A few weekends ago, I visited a woman who had a baby 3 months ago. Her husband used to work with my husband, and I don't know this woman very well... not well enough to say I'm "friends" with her.
I had heard that she had a very easy pregnancy, and a vaginal birth that went well. I knew that she ended up with an epidural, which she hadn't originally wanted (granted, I got the spotty details about her birth story from my husband, who heard them from her husband... so we all know how accurate that birth story is!).
For all appearances, she was doing great 3 months postpartum. Back to working out with a personal trainer, back in her "pre-baby jeans," baby was sleeping through the night, baby was a happy, sweet soul, breastfeeding was going well... and she had decided she wasn't going back to work and felt great about it.
As we were leaving, I gave her Rescue Remedy as part of her new mom gift. She said, "What's this for?" I said, "You know, for all of those times when you feel stressed, overwhelmed... like you can't deal with everything. Rescue Remedy will calm you down. Just put a few drops under your tongue, and everything in your body will chill out."
She looked at me like she had no clue what I was talking about... like I was an alien for suggesting that she feel stressed or overwhelmed after having a baby. I'm pretty sure the Rescue Remedy will get put in the back of some shelf somewhere to gather dust.
I felt instantly foolish and stupid. Her reaction brought me right back to all of those feelings of "I'm not good enough... I'm a terrible mom" for being sad, mad, and unable to deal with anything after Ev was born.
I went through three bottles of Rescue Remedy during those first few months postpartum (heck, first 2 years postpartum!)... and Rescue Remedy hadn't been enough. No, I needed my red wine, too!
How could a mom of a 3-month old be doing better than I had done as a mom of a 19-month old? Gosh darn it, Christi, what a loser you are.
My mind knows this isn't true, but my subconscious speaks louder than my mind most days. She speaks before I can tell her to shut up.
How is it possible, after 2 years of breastfeeding, getting up in the middle of the night to comfort my son, feeding him 3-5 meals a day, dressing him, changing diapers, dealing with tantrums, bathing him, talking with him, singing to him, and obsessing over whether I'm doing things right... how is it possible that I still feel like a mother fraud... a fake?
The truth is, I still don't feel like a mom.
My uterus and my body never got a chance to become a mom. There will always be a gap there for me. Will time allow my heart to close the gap? Will another birth close that gap? Oh, please, please, please, I hope so. 'Cause right now, it feels like I've got amnesia that's keeping me from recognizing that I am a mom.
It's really weird for me to watch myself when I'm around new moms who are doing well. I get very nervous and awkward. I simply don't know what to do or what to say. As I type this, I feel the tears come up... the nerves are still so raw, even after 2 years. Raw in a different way... a detached way... but raw nonetheless.
Part of me is so happy for this new mom friend of mine... happy that she seems to be doing so well.
A different part of me wishes she'd had a traumatic birth, or was having a tough time... because I can identify with that. I know what to say - and how to support - a new mom who's had a C-section, or PTSD, or PPD. I simply don't know what to do around moms who feel empowered by their births... who love their kids unconditionally... who aren't pissed or sad.
I just have such a hard time believing them, for one thing. I feel as though they MUST be pretending, right? I simply can't relate to that experience of motherhood as bliss. Is it even real?
So, then I become Awkward Mom... searching, asking under-the-radar questions, trying to figure out if the mom is really OK, or if she's just pretending for my benefit. And this kind of searching conversation is awkward to do when your husbands are in the room... and even more awkward when you don't really know the other new mom.
Ben and I left the house, got in the car, and drove away. Could she really be doing that well? I hope so, keeping my fingers crossed. But how to tell, for sure?
A few minutes into the ride, I said to my husband, "Well, they seem to be doing great."
He said, "Yep."
Then I said, "But you just never know what's going on when we're not there."
Ben said, "Yeah, I know what you mean. You just never know."
And Ben and I sat there in the front seat, sharing a moment of silent knowing. A bonded moment of parental maturity that was laced with sadness and a kind of lost feeling. For we were both remembering what we had been through together these last two years. Although we went through the C-section and the PTSD/PPD at the same time, we experienced it very differently. It was a very, very lonely time for both of us.
So, we sat there, thinking about this new parent couple we'd just hung out with. And there was a heavy cloud of longing in the air, longing for the simple happiness of his friends... of the ease with which they navigated the early months of parenthood. What would our life be like now if our first few years of parenthood had been like that? What would our relationship be like? What would our sex life be like? What would our son be like? Ah, the birth trauma touched so many things... things we'll never get back.
But as we both sat there deep in memories of our own experience... we both wondered... was everything as it appeared for our friends?
Ben and I are all too familiar with the fact that new parents can be good actors and actresses. We were, for goodness sake. The picture that appears on the top of this post was taken when I was in the depths of PPD despair, but you'd never know it to look at me, right? Parents with PPD are very different in public than they are behind closed doors.
Something that really frustrates me about new moms is that they all talk like they're fine. What's up with this? Do we feel like we don't have permission to complain and tell it like it really is? When is this darn "Motherhood is bliss" stereotype going to get smashed against the wall into a thousand pieces so we can really, truly talk about what it's like to have your whole world thrown into upheaval?
** I know that not all moms feel this way, but I'm talking on behalf of those who are hurting and having a hard time. **
I'm not sure how to connect with new moms (particularly those I don't know well) and let them know that it's OK to talk about how they're really doing. How do I create the trust and space to allow for that kind of conversation? I simply don't know. If anyone has any suggestions, I'd love to hear them.
The funny thing is... I could have said to this new mom friend of mine, "You know... after Ev was born, I had postpartum depression. For 2 years. I never expected it would happen to me... but it did. It was awful, and I didn't even realize what was going on for months. If you're ever feeling down, or depressed, or overwhelmed... and it doesn't feel right... please give me a call."
Now, why didn't I say that to her? Well, because she looked so... good... and happy... and I felt silly saying it. It seemed like this new mom was getting along better after 3 months than I was after 23 months.
HYPOCRITE, HYPOCRITE... Christi, you hypocrite!
Why is it so hard for me to talk about my rough postpartum time? I mean, that's exactly what I get mad at other moms for doing... not telling it like it is. Why do I have such a hard time talking about this with people I know? I have no problem with people I don't know... I have no problem posting it to the masses on this blog... but my tongue gets tied when faced with a friend or acquaintance or family member.
I feel like no one wants to hear it... that it makes me look weak... that this new mom will never feel that way, anyway, so why bring it up?
The other part of me simply doesn't want to talk about it, because I don't want reminders of it. It's so painful that I just want it to go away... and not think about it. Maybe that's why we moms don't unite enough to help the new moms who come after us... it's too painful to live through the memories. We've been there, done that, survived, thank God, and we don't want to go back... thank you very much.
It's been almost 3 months since I had my last PPD/PTSD episode... thank goodness. I really do think it's gone for good. But now I'm dealing with the aftermath... how do I behave as a "survivor?" To be continued... if you got this far, thanks for reading. No matter how I try, I simply will never be a concise writer. :)