My PPD Story
There are so many things about childbirth and parenting that people just can’t describe or explain. One of these things is just how hard giving birth really is.
Another is the reality of postpartum depression (PPD).
I knew what PPD was. The information is everywhere a pregnant woman goes. I don’t think I’m all that unique when I say that I really never thought it would happen to me.
The birth of my first son resulted in a C-Section which made my introduction to motherhood a difficult one. It was hard. As in “rock my world” hard. It was “holy shit what did we do” hard.
I had trouble bonding with him. I could feed him but I was barely able to take care of him. I felt awful. I felt unfit, like I was missing the “mom gene.” I thought I was failing in every way. Every day. I loved him dearly, but it didn’t feel right. I felt like I should love him better.
When my husband went back to work, I was terrified. I would usually call him within a couple hours asking him to come home because I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t be alone with my own baby. I felt like, no, I was the worst person in the world.
Even worse, I couldn’t talk about it. What would everyone think? I have dealt with some stuff in my life, but I have never felt more alone. The sadness was unbearable. The only thing that I could do was sleep. It was my only escape. I prayed that I would wake and it would all be better. Friends would come by to visit and I was paralyzed. I wouldn’t answer the door. I sat in a dark house waiting for the minute my husband would get home so I could escape. It was like a battlefield inside my mind. I couldn’t think my way out of it. It was so obvious how flawed I was. I can’t do this. My son was 4 months old when I remember the thoughts started coming.
I started thinking maybe my husband and son would be better off without me.
Thankfully, in my case that was a wake-up call rather than a further descent. I couldn’t rationalize or justify my behavior or my thoughts any longer. I finally sought help. My OB prescribed medication and it had a near immediate impact. I began to heal from this time lost. I went on to have three more children and had no signs of postpartum depression with any of them. Surely, I was in the clear.
I gave birth to my fifth child. It feels like an understatement to say that his birth was traumatic, I nearly lost my life. When I came home, I cried. I cried a lot. Like, every day. My husband will be the first to tell you, I am not a crier. But it was all I could do.
All I could feel was the heaviness. I feared nothing would be okay ever again. I lost myself during that birth experience. I was changed. I had a lot of follow-up after his birth, everyone was keeping a close watch, and they all assured me that what I was feeling was normal. After a traumatic birth, this response seemed reasonably appropriate.
So I cried and I tried to heal. It’s still going.
But I knew something else was also going on. The sadness I felt was different and again unbearable. I wouldn’t return phone calls or texts to my closest friends. I avoided seeing my midwife, one of my most beloved human beings in the entire world. I wasn’t just suffering from the trauma of his birth, I couldn’t face life. All the doubts and fears returned. Then, the shame. A failure. I did this. I did something wrong.
I could barely get out of bed, let alone care for my children. Shame. My husband had to take a month off work. Shame. My mom basically lived with us. Shame. I felt helpless. Why couldn’t I do better? Shame. Why was I failing as a mother? Shame.
It’s still going. I don’t know what people see from the outside. Those closest to me may have known something was different. I did and at times continue to do my best to hide it. I have trouble talking about it. Nobody talks about this! And certainly not a mother of 5 and absolutely not an experienced doula.
I’ve attended and supported over 300 births! Yet, I was simply unable to tell myself the words I could so easily give to many women in life whom I have supported over the years. I do birth for a living! And yet this is how things were turning out. The shame was a lot to bear. It was a heavy load to carry. It’s still going.
At times, life settled. Things felt like they were changing. Then it would return. It’s hard to put into words the loneliness, the shame, the guilt. Feeling so detached from my life, my baby, myself. Feeling completely numb, on autopilot. I could reasonably run a household, take care of my kids, run a business. But I couldn’t feel anything. I felt so disconnected from my life. I couldn’t fix it. Shame. I couldn’t talk about it. Shame. I blamed myself. Shame. I told myself I could have prevented it. Shame.
That silence, that shame I believe is what kills us as mothers. It has robbed me of being the mother, partner, and friend I once was.
It’s still going. I really thought I was on top of it this time. I was taking care of myself. I was watching my diet. I tried medication. I have seen my therapist. I have been doing acupuncture and seeking out other helpful practitioners. At some points, some of these things have helped and at some points nothing has helped.
It’s still going. My shame still mocks me. Sometimes I can let you go. Sometimes this moment will pass. Sometimes it just doesn’t. The healing is a process, a journey, not a single event.
A simple message to my shame – I’m shining my light on you.
My message to all the women who are walking this journey –
You are not alone. You are enough. You are an amazing mother. You can choose not to let the silence and shame rob you of yourself. There is hope. There is healing. There is help.
His PPD Story
Full disclosure. I’m a licensed counselor. I have seen and worked with clients experiencing postpartum depression. I’m supposed to know something about this and what to do about it.
In witnessing my wife going through PPD, I can think of few times in my life that I have felt more alone. More powerless. More hopeless.
Let me set the stage… Like many households I know, my wife is the leader, the house manager, if you will. Not a lot of things happen around here without her knowing about it and having a hand in it. We have pretty delineated and agreed upon roles. We’ve generally always been okay with this. And for most of our relationship and marriage this has worked.
Selfishly, I’ve come to depend on this. And if I’m really honest, I sometimes take this for granted.
My wife has generally seen me as an emotional anchor in her life. I tend to be more sensitive and more emotional, but typically I am calm, steady, caring, and supportive (except when I’m not). She has depended on this through many uncertain times in our relationship.
I confess, she brings so much more to this relationship than I do (Holy shit, I put that in print!). She’s the logistics, I’m the human resources, so to speak. It’s a partnership that works for us. Flaws and all.
When my partner experiences postpartum depression, my reality crumbles. She’s my rock – yet, she’s not there. I think I’ve blocked out many of the experiences from our first child. But I do remember some of those phone calls and certainly coming home to a dark house and immediately being handed the baby as I walk through the door. No “Hello,” no “How was your day?” Just “Here, take him.” And then she would disappear somewhere in the house. Her loneliness became mine. I really had no idea what we were dealing with.
As one may expect, PPD with one child is something. PPD with five children is something else entirely. The imbalance in our relationship is absolutely indescribable. I don’t know what to say when she is in tears and really unable to function. Sometimes I would selfishly get frustrated or angry. I don’t know what to do when she says that she is overwhelmed. I feel incompetent (and sometimes just unwilling) to pick up the slack when she says she needs help.
Postpartum depression renders our partnership as we know it impossible.
It makes me feel like the enemy.
It makes me feel like whatever I try to do or say, it’s always wrong.
It makes me feel disconnected in such a way that I begin to question everything that we have built together.
It makes me feel angry and frustrated.
It makes me feel unappreciated.
It makes me feel like I don’t matter.
It makes me feel like I’m not loved.
See, but here’s the kicker, I’m writing this with perspective. The reality is that when she’s in the middle of postpartum depression, I tell myself a different story. Go back and reread those last 7 lines again but replace the word “It” with “My wife.”
I could add any number of additional unflattering statements. I’m not proud of this. I feel ashamed to admit this. I only share this in hopes that other men may read this and take a step back and consider the insidious nature of PPD. All I do with these stories is compound my wife’s shame.
I would think that having been through this before, I would be better at it. It was different this time with the added trauma of the birth. And it was hard to tell what was trauma, what was depression, what was anxiety. You might think these symptoms would be right in my face. The misery for me is that they are and they are not.
My wife is one of the strongest and most amazing people I have ever known but one of the ways that she “stays strong” and “holds it all together” sometimes is by closing down and protecting herself. I can’t blame her, given the energy I’m giving off (read those statements again for reference) at times. Again, she’s there but absolutely not. But when she is distant, hiding the struggle from me I feel like I’m going crazy.
My wife deserves better. And I’m happy to say that there are days when I can be there for her. When I can pick up the slack. When I can painstakingly complete some of the tasks that she does with (what looks like) so little effort. There are some days when I can step back from myself for just long enough to make it safe enough for her to share what’s really going on inside of her. And then she can share the shame. The torment. The fear.
And maybe I can stop myself from turning away.
Maybe I can resist the urge to make some unwanted recommendation on how she should solve this problem.
Maybe I can hold back from trying to fix that which I am unequipped to fix.
And maybe I can open my eyes. And open my heart. And open my arms. And look on my wife in the same way I looked at her on the day we were married. And maybe I can do these things and I can be man enough to step into that fear and shame with her.
And maybe, just maybe, I can share some of that unbearable burden that she carries.
And let her know that she is not alone. That she is more than enough.
I can only hope that I am enough.