Postpartum Depression: Happening to a Mom Near You
Black-ish is one of the best shows on television right now. Don't believe me? Let me count the ways! It's pro-black (I'm rooting for everything black), its conscious, its funny, the cast is amazing, the black girl magic is on 10 (Hey Tracee Ellis-Ross, Marsai Martin, Jenifer Lewis, & Yara Shahidi!), and the story lines are relatable; sometimes too relatable. I thought it couldn't get any better than the season 4 opener Junteenth and then they hit me with the second episode Mother Nature which had me like:
As I watched Bow struggle with Postpartum Depression, I struggled not to cry. My husband was in the room so I felt like I had to hide my emotions. Now I don't want you to think that I can't be vulnerable with my husband. The real struggle was that I've been in denial for a really long time about my own experience after the birth of my son.
If you ask my husband or mother whether or not I dealt with postpartum depression they will tell you YES, without hesitation. I, on the other hand, have refused to believe that I experienced it for years. In my head, I was just a first time mother, who was figuring it all out. Parenting is one of those “learn it on the job” type of positions. It doesn't matter how many books you read, videos you watch, or classes you attend, that first night that they send you home with the baby will have you shook. I was looking at the doctors like "Huh? You want me to take him home with me? Already????"
And it definitely got harder before it got easier. I quickly learned that there are some things that I just don't know until I know. My son turned three November 5th, so it's been a while since I experienced it all. However, while watching the episode of Black-ish some of the following symptoms rang true:
Deep sadness or hopelessness
Crying all the time
Feeling nothing, empty or numb
Handing baby off often
Feeling irritated and having no patience
Telling everyone you’re fine while you hold back tears
I remember being so in love with my child, and being so grateful that he was mine. Yet, I also remember feeling overwhelmed and guilty that I wasn't handling things better. I was irritated all the time and had no patience. When my husband would walk in the door from work I would eagerly hand our son off to him. I resented him for leaving me to fend for myself all day and I felt disconnected from the rest of my friends and family. My sleeping habits were shitty and I was super emotional. I simply chalked it all up to my hormones being out of wack. I never thought of harming myself or my child so I just figured I was in the clear. The truth is I was drowning.
In the episode I appreciated the writers for giving Ruby aka Dre’s momma aka Jenifer Lewis' rude af character the line "this is what new motherhood looks like. Bow is just weak". Because that's the same bullshit that I told myself. I was supposed to be overwhelmed and sad and irritable and tired and I wasn't supposed to complain about it. My husband and mom tried to have conversations with me about how I was changing, but I couldn't hear them sincerely voicing their concern. Instead I heard, "why aren't YOU the first person that Justin goes to when he needs to be consoled", "why don't YOU want to hold him", "why aren't YOU doing this", YOU'RE just counting down the days until YOU don't have to breastfeed", which all sounded like YOU ARE A BAD MOTHER. And because I was defensive, I couldn't hear anything else. Deep down I knew I wasn't a bad mother and that I was trying my best. I couldn't understand why they couldn't see that too. In hindsight, I was depressed and didn't want to accept it. Motherhood is hard af by itself, I didn't need any extra labels.
I was trying to figure out what it meant to be a mother. I didn't need any other new labels.
What I've learned between now and then is that postpartum depression shows up differently in each woman. Some women have suicidal thoughts, some never do. Some women don't really feel sad, just extremely indifferent. Some have baby blues while others have full on depression. Some women get help, while others just keep crawling forward. I tried the latter and I eventually ended up in my therapists' office 2 years later. While it can be tough, it's really important to be in tune with how you're feeling and ask for help when you think you need it. What you don't deal with will continue to show up in your life (trust me on this one).
So how can you learn from my mistakes? Read on for ways to deal as a new mom or help a new mom.
IF YOU'RE A NEW MOM:
Talk about how you're feeling:
Confide in someone you trust about how you feel. Tell your mother, sister, partner, or best friend what you're going through. Sometimes it's just good to get it out. If you're not ready to say it out loud, journaling can also be helpful. It will help you to record how you are changing and allow you to see it in retrospect even if you don't see it at first.
Confide in other moms:
When I was pregnant I joined a November 2014 Babies Facebook group. Although I don't check it too often now, they were a great sounding board to learn that I wasn't in this alone. Women discussed everything from breastfeeding, to rashes, to sleep habits, to teething, to mommy stress relievers. There were so many women who were open and honest about what they were dealing with. Just a couple of weeks ago a mom asked if anyone else was struggling with potty-training. As woman after woman chimed in that they were too, I began to feel like I wasn't a complete failure. The potty struggle is real y'all. Find your tribe and ask for the help you need.
Make time for you:
In the beginning it will be hard to get quiet time alone, but you have to create opportunities. It may start off simple with an hour alone in the bathroom to light a candle, put on some music, and sing or cry in the shower or tub. This is where family should step up for you. Then gradually, ask for time outside of the house. Maybe it's a quick nail appointment or dinner with some friends. Either way make time for you and don't feel guilty about it. Baby will survive a couple hours without you.
Seek professional help:
The treatment for PPD is the same as the treatment for depression that happens before or during pregnancy. If you have mild symptoms, your provider may recommend regular check-ins. If your symptoms are more severe, your provider may recommend talk therapy, antidepressant medication, or both.
IF YOU'RE A FRIEND OR FAMILY MEMBER OF A NEW MOM:
Check on your friend:
This can be a phone call or a simple text message. Don't be offended if they don't respond immediately or don't feel like talking. Trust me they're busy. Being a mom is literally a 24 hour commitment. Try to check on them regularly or weekly.
Be of service:
Consider dropping off a meal for the family, washing dishes, or washing a load of clothes. If you feel comfortable you can also offer to watch the baby for a couple hours so mom can get some much-needed rest.
Think before you speak:
I know you want to be helpful, but if she didn't ask for your advice, don't give it. I know you have kids and know everything there is to know about child rearing, but you can not tell someone else how to raise their child. It's annoying! Now if she tells you that she's struggling with something, that's a good time to share what you know. Otherwise, watch your tone and be thoughtful when sharing what you've noticed. She WILL put up a wall if you say it the wrong way.
Look I get it. This is tough for you too. However, I’m still going to bet you’re not struggling as much as mom. So repeat after me: "What can I do for you? Is there anything I can get for the baby? Would you like me to hold the baby for a while? I can change that diaper. Sit down, let me get that for you." Also if you have a baby sitter (mom, sister, etc) that you can trust, plan something special for her. She probably will not want to be away from baby for long, but a quick dinner outside of the house is always nice. When in doubt, repeat.
I know there's always more that can be done. Got more great ideas? Sound off in the comments section.
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