[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Pauline Campos, a Latina mama who isn’t sure if she belongs in the Warrior Mom Community. Spoiler Alert: She does. -Jenna]
I don’t know if I belong here, in this sacred place for women who have climbed out of a darkness that has been named and called out for what it was—what it still is for so many. I’ve spent far too long watching, lurking, and listening to the growing community of women bravely and openly seeking the help they need, all the while nodding my head in understanding more often that I was previously ready to admit.
I remember falling in love for the first time. The feeling was so tangible that it did take the very breath out of me and shook me to my core. My daughter was six weeks old and I was holding her, sitting in her nursery recovering from my last of three week-long hospital stays for severe mastitis. Until that moment, I hadn’t even realized that I had been functioning on instinct, that I might not love the little being I had grown inside of me. But there it was: A love so new and so powerful that I could only marvel at its very existence.
Don’t get me wrong: I did all the things I was supposed to do. I fed and clothed and held and sang to my baby. I read to and kissed and and checked on while she slept. I smiled and wondered at the marvel of this perfect little being. But I didn’t truly love, or maybe I did and just hadn’t been able to feel it. Feelings, like lights switches and door handles, tend to get easily lost in the darkness.
I don’t have an official diagnosis. Looking back, it’s clear to me that what I experienced was not “normal baby blues.” It’s also clear that even though I verbalized my concerns to my providers, I still managed to fall through the cracks.
The year was 2007 and the topic of postpartum depression and related conditions was still taboo in mainstream conversations, and even more so in the Latino culture in which I was raised. A friend of mine shared how her sisters, mother, and friends took shifts in her home to make she she was not left alone for a single moment for the first four weeks after having her baby, but no one ever discussed why. You work around the problem without addressing the problem. It’s just what you do. So she did.
And so did I.
It’s standard operating procedure for many Latinas, raised with the cultural ideal of “Marianismo,” in which a woman puts the needs of her family ahead of her own. Research studies have determined that Latinas are 37% more likely to suffer from Postpartum Depression than other groups, with factors such as socio-economic status, acculturation, and the knowledge that seeking help is often frowned upon by family members, all falling into play.
It’s important to note that while I managed to get up the nerve to ask for help during one of my postpartum checkups with my midwife, it did me no good. I remember nodding my head and holding in the tears as my midwife told me that I was fine. Everybody gets the baby blues, she said. This is normal, she told me.
But it wasn’t.
Having used up all of my bravery in that single, stammering moment just a few weeks after giving birth, I didn’t reach out again. I would survive, it turns out, by smiling through the all-encompassing fog while the sun shone. My tears, hot and plentiful, would wait until for night to fall and the world to sleep.
This is how most of our midnight feedings went. At least, the feedings I was able to do when we were both home together. I didn’t cry during each of my hospital stays for severe mastitis during the first six weeks as a new mother. I checked enough of the boxes that would flag me today for being at risk, even before the new guidelines calling for screening for women during pregnancy and after giving birth were announced.
I have a history of mental illness issues that include anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and a suicide-attempt. I suffered through severe hyperemis-gravidarum (HG), an extreme form of morning sickness that, in my case, lasted the entire pregnancy and required medication commonly used to combat nausea in chemo patients. I visited the emergency room three times, one visit per trimester, for fluid via IVs when my insurance company refused to approve my medication refills. It took my admission papers and a confirmation of diagnosis each time to get them to sign off.
It wasn’t until only recently discussing my history with a friend that I learned my pregnancy and birth experience—from my pre-eclampsia and emergency-induction at 37 weeks to the frequent hospital stays after having my daughter—fit the descriptors for birth trauma, and that my irrational fear of subsequent pregnancies are an indicator for PTSD, according to the UK-based Birth Trauma Association.
I also learned I have ADHD—which can in and of itself, create its own set of challenges for new mothers—when my daughter was almost four years old. I struggle to focus daily, task by task, and become easily overstimulated when my senses are bombarded with anything new and different and shiny. I can’t even imagine having had this knowledge, alongside a medical support team, and how much more positive my experience could have been.
I don’t know if I belong here, but I’m eight years into this journey, and I’m still climbing. For that, I have to thank all those warrior moms who’ve shown us all that there is no shame in getting lost in the dark.