Head Vs. Heart: Why Postpartum Feelings Matter

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frostMy (baby) cousin gave birth to a beautiful baby girl this week. The night before her delivery, I got a text from her:

“Is it normal not to be excited?”

My heart sank a little. Just a smidge. She was having a scheduled c-section for breech presentation and it wasn’t the birth she’d had in mind or the one for which she had planned. I knew what she was feeling because of my own experience with a c-section 5 years ago.

“Yes,” I replied. “You get to feel however you feel. No one can tell you to feel any differently.”

As I drove up to the hospital the following morning to be there for her, I thought of what I wanted to say here this week on Postpartum Progress. Then I realized I’d already said it.

You get to feel however you feel. No one can tell you to feel any differently.

I mean, they CAN tell you. They undoubtedly WILL tell you. You don’t have to listen to them.

When you’re in the thick of postpartum depression and anxiety and you open up about your feelings, you’re likely to hear any number of well-meaning (but usually completely off-base) responses.

“But you have this healthy baby! Why are you depressed!?”

“You had the exact delivery you wanted! What is there to be depressed about!?”

“Your baby sleeps all the time and never seems to cry! Why are you sad!?!”

If you’re like me, you’re probably able to see all of the reasons why you SHOULD feel differently than you do. Knowing that you should feel differently doesn’t mean you will. In fact, being able to see all the reasons why you should feel differently will likely make you feel worse because you don’t.

You may not be able to explain it. You don’t have to. It just is. The very fact that you’re acknowledging that something isn’t right, that your head and heart are colliding, is enough.

As Gustave Flaubert once wrote, “one can be the master of what one does, but never of what one feels.”

Because here’s the thing about feelings, especially postpartum feelings.

They’re rarely rational, frequently inconvenient, and almost always uncomfortable, for us and for those with whom we share them. But giving voice to them anyway is important for healing.

Take a look at this:

The most important things are the hardest things to say. They are the things you get ashamed of because words diminish your feelings – words shrink things that seem timeless when they are in your head to no more than living size when they are brought out.”–Stephen King

Read that again. Really read it.

Owning your feelings, speaking them, bringing them to life, that’s what makes them manageable, defeats them when they need to be defeated.

It’s okay to feel your feelings. They are yours. It’s okay to acknowledge them and process and then decide what you accept and what you toss out. That’s your starting point on your way through it and through it is the best way out of it.

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Authenticity Instead of Perfection

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decoy momAuthenticity is defined as real, not false or imitation. Original. Genuine. This is what we should strive for as women, as mothers, as people. To be that which we are deep down instead of cookie cutter copies of those around us. It’s only when we dare to step out of our comfort zone that we will boldly begin to live our lives. Strive for authenticity instead of perfection. Dare to be you, even if that means walking around with spit up on your shoulder and gummy bears stuck to your shirt. Motherhood isn’t glamourous but it’s one of the best jobs in the whole world.

Colorful jars sit atop a shelf in a misty and humid room. Running water slides down her skin as she lathers up with the latest in moisturizing body wash which promises to make her skin glow with youth. She washes her hair with shampoo and conditioner to make it thick, silky, and soft.

As she exits the shower, the drying process begins – softly – so as not to leave any red marks or heaven forbid, pull skin in the wrong direction. Pat the face dry then move down to her toes. She folds the towel in thirds and places it neatly back on the rod before she wraps her hair in a smaller towel.

Grabbing a toothbrush, she measures out the whitening toothpaste and gets to work. Rinses, then gargles with mouthwash to ensure bad breath stays at bay. Then, moisturizer. While that soaks in, she puts on her undergarments. A bra with an underwire and underwear that promises to hold in her stomach which has nurtured the lives of her children close for the past few years. She frowns. Back to the bathroom.

She reaches for the first layer of glow, then dots on concealer. Waits for it to dry before applying an overall foundation and gently blending it together to hide the exhaustion and stress marching across her face. Next up, eye liner and eye shadow. They make the eyes more open and energetic. Mascara goes on next, gently, the kind that lengthens the lashes because again, more awake and conscious. Less tired.

Then she puts on blush to cheer her cheeks up, smiling as she carefully brushes up, not down – happy, not sad, she whispers to herself.

She takes down her hair and gives it a tousle. Plugs in the hair dryer and gives her hair a once over, then pulls it into a messy bun and pokes a pretty bobby pin with a gorgeous flower on it into the base of the bun. Walks into the closet and chooses whatever isn’t wrinkled or covered in baby food stains. Grabs a pretty pair of heels then over to the jewelry box to select accessories.

A small hand tugs on her silk skirt and she looks down.

“Mama? You look beee-yooo-tea-fahllll. Hug?” her middle daughter asks, covered in chocolate from whatever snack she just finished devouring.

So the mother leans down and gives the child a hug, knowing she will have to change her clothes. She sends her daughter on her way, and walks back into the closet, stripping as she goes. A new outfit selected, she makes it to the car with no child-induced stains on her pretty clothes.

She turns the key, unlocks the door, and slides into the driver’s seat, throwing her miniature purse on the passenger seat beside her. Exhaling, she checks her makeup one last time to be sure she looks human and not like some exhausted creature just waking up from hibernation. She doesn’t. She turns the key, starts the music, and backs out of the driveway.

Transformation into Decoy Mom complete.

Decoy Mom is a mom who goes through great lengths to hide how her life is really going, to hide the authenticity of her fight. Every stitch must be perfect, every thing in it’s place, nothing negative to be found anywhere. And yet, inside, everything is falling apart. Her heart, her life, her soul – it’s all cracked and crumbling.

I’m not saying that a Mom who has it all pulled together is definitively falling apart. Nor am I saying that a Mom who doesn’t have it all pulled together is authentically herself. What I am saying is that we are all “covers” when we are with people and some of us are even “covers” when we are alone. As the previous post by Katherine pointed out, you can’t tell when a mom has a Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorder just by looking. We are good at hiding it.

We choose what pieces of ourselves to share and what pieces of ourselves to hide. We are not expected to be fully authentic with anyone unless WE choose to do so. But we should absolutely be at least fully sharing ourselves with ourselves. In order to be authentic with anyone at all, you have to first be authentic with yourself. Being authentic with yourself is a difficult practice but a necessary one. As Brene Brown says,

“Authenticity is a daily practice.”

Stop hiding behind a mask, telling yourself lies about who or what you are inside and outside. Take a hard look inside. Explore. Make a list of everything that is there whether it is good or bad. Work to improve or re-frame the bad (sometimes, negative traits can be utilized for positive things – are you firm & harsh? Figure out how to rein that in by using compassion and understanding). Expand the good, let go of the negative. Focus on flipping the script.

Figure out what you want out of life this year, make a list, then break it down into smaller goals. Don’t let the big things overwhelm you and don’t let yourself become Decoy Mom.

Be the authentic Mom, wife, sister, cousin, aunt, and YOU that you were meant to be. Stop hiding her under layers of crap. You might find that you have more time (and energy) to BE you if you give up all the hiding.

(photo sourced from: https://flic.kr/p/dy8tQr)

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You Can’t Tell A Mom Has Postpartum Depression By Looking

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You can’t tell when a mother has postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD or PTSD just by looking at her. People assume it should be fairly obvious, except it isn’t. We can get pretty good at hiding how we are feeling and what we are thinking. So to all the people who say, “But you look great!” and to all the physicians who say, “I don’t need to screen. I just know when my patients need help,” I say look at these faces. Look at them closely and then read their words. This is what maternal mental illness looks like. THIS.

adrienne postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering through severe postpartum depression. You can’t tell by looking, but just hours before this picture was taken, I tried to kill myself. I had been sobbing for two weeks. An hour after this picture was taken, I got up on stage and performed for a church talent show like everything was fine.” ~ Adrienne Feldmann

Morgan postpartum anxiety

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. You can’t tell by looking, but I was going through crippling self-loathing, constant systemic panic attacks that ravaged my digestive system, and a lack of desire to live.” ~ Morgan Shanahan

addye postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from postpartum depression and severe anxiety. You can’t tell by looking, but I felt like a horrible mother. I had been suicidal a few months prior. I was having racing & intrusive thoughts, experiencing moments of rage I couldn’t explain  or understand, constantly sweating from anxiety, having at least one panic attack daily, and found myself stuck in gravity wells of sadness every few days that made just getting out of bed painful and exhausting.” ~ A’Driane Nieves

kim postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering postpartum depression and anxiety. Not long after this I made a suicide plan that I was too scared to follow through with. I experienced rage, loss of interest in everything, extremely low self esteem, panic attacks, and a complete inability to make basic decisions (like what to eat, or how to get two kids in the car).” ~ Kim LaPrairie

robin postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from postpartum depression rage. You can’t tell by looking, but I was extremely irritable and every little thing set me off. I yelled constantly and threw things (like laundry baskets) against the wall to keep myself from hitting my kids. It was like I was watching myself react badly to every day situations, without the ability to stop myself.” ~ Robin Macfarlane

lindsay postpartum depression

“When this photo was taken at my brother’s college graduation, I still hadn’t been diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety, but I had already been shamed by a doctor who told me what was wrong with me was my fault. I wasn’t sleeping, wasn’t connecting with my husband, would have moments of rage, and had constant headaches and tingling in my extremities (a rare symptom.) You can’t tell by looking, but the only thing I felt like I could do right was breastfeed my son; not my job, not being a wife, a coworker, daughter, sister, or friend … nothing.” ~ Lindsay Maloan

alena1

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from PPD. You can’t tell by looking, but I was self harming and trying to manage deep depression and intense rage.” ~ Alena Chandler

raivon postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from postpartum depression. You can’t tell by looking, but I felt like my life was spiraling out of control. I was trying my best to smile and hide my pain from the world. I thought If I just tried hard enough maybe I could convince myself that I wasn’t sad — that the pain was all in my head.” ~ Raivon Lee

megan postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering with postpartum anxiety and depression. You can’t tell by looking, but I was struggling through every day with scary, intrusive thoughts, anxiety about keeping my children safe, and was feeling depressed and inadequate as a mother.” ~ Megan Daley

darcie postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken, I was suffering from severe postpartum anxiety, OCD and PTSD. My first was 18 months and my youngest was 2 months old. You can’t tell by looking, but I was suffering from multiple panic attacks daily, thoughts of harming myself, severe physical symptoms such as heart racing, nausea, tremors, and all over body aches. My husband was deploying and I was trying my best to keep it together, to remain strong for the both of us and our two young boys.” ~ Darcie Jones

hannah postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD and PTSD. You can’t tell by looking, but I was going through hell.  I wished that I was dead so that I didn’t have to live like this anymore. I thought my girls would be better off without me. I cried all the time. I had horrible thoughts about hurting my baby so I didn’t like to be around her, and my family took care of her for about six weeks. It was awful. I WAS MISERABLE.  I wouldn’t wish this illness on ANYONE.” ~ Hannah Stearley

alicia childbirth trauma

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from postpartum PTSD from childbirth trauma. You can’t tell by looking but I was having vivid flashbacks of my labor and delivery, crying every time I was alone and struggling with guilt of feeling like I didn’t love my baby as much as her older sister. I thought I was going crazy.” ~ Alicia Glascock

grace postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was struggling with postpartum depression. You can’t tell but I was struggling with deep despair, suicidal thoughts and a constant sense of overwhelm.” ~ Grace Biskie

jenna postpartum depression

“When this photo was taken, I was suffering from the worst depression and anxiety I’d ever known, over 8 months postpartum. You can’t tell by looking, but I felt like I was drowning. I was never happy, worried about everything all the time, and wanted nothing more than to just disappear and never return.” ~ Jenna Rosener

robin postpartum depression

“This is me on my oldest child’s first birthday. When this picture was taken I was suffering postpartum depression. You can’t tell by looking, but I was overwhelmed and exhausted, and, because I was refusing to accept what I was going through, thought it was just me and that I just wasn’t cut out for motherhood.” ~ Robin Farr

candice postpartum anxiety

“This picture was taken during my second round of PPD and 3 weeks before I entered the hospital for postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety and chronic and acute PTSD. I had not left the apartment in months, and this was the day my husband dragged me and my boys outside to be in the sun. I was dealing with flashbacks of my postpartum hemorrhage, high suicidal ideation, and extremely intrusive thoughts.” ~ Candice Brothers

chelsey postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering postpartum depression. You can’t tell by looking, but I was lost, tired and crying every day. I felt like I would never get the hang of this motherhood thing.” ~ Chelsey Andrews

jennifer postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering postpartum depression. You can’t tell by looking, but I felt like I had made the worst decision of my life, I wanted to run away but got even more angry with myself for not being able to think where I could go. My son had colic and the constant crying pushed me closer to the edge.  I cried all of the time, I felt lost, alone, and that everyone had abandoned me.  I lashed out unfairly at my husband who was doing his best to try to help me hold it together.  I didn’t feel that there was light at the end of the tunnel or that things were ever going to get better.” ~ Jennifer Picinich

jessica postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering severely from postpartum psychosis. You can’t tell by looking, but I felt like I was going through hell. That everyone hated me and that everyone was judging me for the baby weight that I gained. I felt so alone and so depressed. I remember one time hiding in my room for 15 minutes crying because I was convinced they all thought I was ‘crazy’.” ~ Jessica Torres

mariah postpartum anxiety

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from severe postpartum anxiety and depression. You can’t tell by looking, but I wanted to run away and leave my family behind.  I felt a nameless dread almost every second, and that I did not want my baby. I thought my sister would be a better mother for him and should have taken over.  In a word, it was hell.” ~ Mariah Warren

samantha postpartum anxiety

“When this pictures was taken I was in the midst of postpartum anxiety.  I had actually just had a panic attack in this picture and asked to hold my son to calm me down.” ~ Samantha Dowd

jodi postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from postpartum depression for more than six months untreated. You can’t tell by looking, but I felt hopeless in this picture. I felt like a failure as a wife, mother, business owner and as a member of the human race. I didn’t want to have these pictures taken–I didn’t even want to leave my house. It took more energy than I felt I had to do my hair and put makeup on, and I was exhausted from forcing myself to look happy, and in panic mode by the time we left, though no one could tell. I wanted to run away from my life and never look back.” ~ Jodi Serrano

Becky postpartum anxiety

“When this picture was taken, I was suffering from postpartum anxiety and depression. You can’t tell by looking, but I felt nauseous, emotionally distant, physically weak and shaky and unable to feel the joy of this special day.” ~ Becky Schroeder

Kendra postpartum depression

“You wouldn’t know by looking, but I was suffering from postpartum anxiety, OCD and PTSD.  This was the week after I got out of an inpatient facility, and while I was attending an outpatient program.  I was suffering from constant panic attacks, inability to sleep, eat or even sit still, and my mind was running a mile a minute with severe and persistent intrusive thoughts, including suicidal ideation.” ~ Kendra Slater

wendy postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering postpartum anxiety. You can’t tell by looking, but I felt life was out of control.  I was angry, terrified, and sure that I would fail in everything I did.  I thought it would be more merciful to my family if I took my own life so they could function normally without me screwing it up.” ~ Wendy Fanucchi

Jen postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety.  You can’t tell by looking, but I felt panic, rage, irritability, and hopelessness every day.  It was a struggle to make it through each day.” ~ Jen Gaskell

dee postpartum depression

“Savannah was six months old in this picture while I was battling my PPD demons I suffered from rage – but this picture says I am a happy put together mom loving motherhood. Truth be told I hated being a mom and felt I never should have had a child.”  ~ Dee Gemme

lisa postpartum OCD

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from postpartum anxiety and OCD. You can’t tell by looking, but I was always anxious. Always afraid the babies would die in their sleep. I couldn’t drive over bridges for fear of the actual irrational thought of wanting to drive off the bridge actually ‘winning’.  I suffered from relentless insomnia. I told no one. And all everyone said was how great I looked.” ~ Lisa Madden

jess postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from postpartum depression. You can’t tell by looking, but I was going through depression, anxiety, and feeling so overwhelmed with the thoughts that my life was literally over because of my baby.” ~ Jess Craig

jessica postpartum anxiety

“When this picture was taken I was suffering severe depression. You can’t tell by looking, but I had to force myself to leave the house, was crying all the time, and hated being a mom.” ~ Jessica Durkee

courtenay postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from postpartum depression. You can’t tell by looking, but I felt lonely, scared, angry, resentful and lacked any confidence to be a parent of this amazing child. I didn’t want to be a Mother.” ~ Courtenay Petracca

sarah postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from severe PPD.  You can’t tell by looking but I was suffering with suicidal thoughts and felt that I could never be whole again.” ~ Sarah Kotranza

amber posptartum anxiety

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from severe postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD, and PTSD. You can’t always tell by looking, but I felt/was going through HELL.  I repeatedly said I wished that my precious son, with whom I am now completely in love and bonded with, was my nephew, not my son, in the first few months of his life.” ~ Amber Koter-Puline

samantha postpartum OCD

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from postpartum OCD. You can’t tell by looking, but I was going through horrific intrusive thoughts, loss of appetite and numbing fear.” ~ Samantha Nenninger

amy postpartum OCD

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from postpartum depression, anxiety and OCD. You can’t tell by looking, but I felt/was going through intrusive thoughts, depression, exhaustion, fear of leaving my home, massive panic attacks and feeling like I was a complete failure as a mom. People looking at me had no idea.” ~ Amy Brannan

ashley postpartum anxiety

“When this photo was taken, I was suffering from the worst depression and anxiety I’d ever known, over 8 months postpartum. You can’t tell by looking, but I felt like I was drowning. I was never happy, worried about everything all the time, and wanted nothing more than to just disappear and never return.” ~ Ashley Riser

jennifer s postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from Postpartum depression and Anxiety. You can’t tell by looking, but I felt so guilty that I was not being the mother I should have been.” ~ Jennifer Seagraves

kristin postpartum anxiety

“When this picture was taken, I was suffering severe postpartum depression and anxiety. You can’t tell by looking, but I was quick to rage and scared to cook with knives or drive a car. I felt like I was drowning.” ~ Kristin Novotny

cristi postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering postpartum depression and anxiety. You can’t tell by looking, but I felt out of control and didn’t like leaving the house. See that necklace I’m wearing, I had just started making jewelry to distract myself from the intense feelings of anxiety and sadness. Distraction really does help.” ~ Cristi Comes

alyssa postpartum depression

“When this picture was taken I was suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety. You can’t tell by looking, but I had severe anxiety, intrusive thoughts, irrational fears, and depression.” ~ Alyssa Sanders

 

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When You Are Thinking About Suicide

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suicideSuicide is a terrible thing. The loss of actor and comedian Robin Williams is a somber reminder to all of us that depression is a horrible disease and it can drag anyone down. That is why we try to be ever so vigilant here at Postpartum Progress in encouraging you nonstop to take care of yourself and your emotional health and seek help when you need it. Suicide is never the best answer, even though we know and understand why and how someone could get to the point she believes it is the only answer.

In 2010, 38,314 Americans died from suicide. By way of comparison, there were 16,238 homicides in the US in 2011. I’m willing to bet most people have no idea that suicide happens more than twice as often as homicide. We have to talk about it. HAVE TO. I received a post today from a friend, a single mom who is a social media professional and PPD survivor, about her recent thoughts about suicide.  I think her words are important and I’m glad she’s allowing me to share them anonymously with you today:

In the past weeks I’ve wanted to speak up, speak out, shout to the world that I am not okay. That I am most definitely and certainly not okay. But, aside from a trustworthy few in whom I’ve confided, I’ve stayed silent. Why? Why is someone who wants to be helped so afraid to be helped?

We live in a self-help society. There are books and shows and podcasts and platforms of every magnitude telling us how we can help ourselves and that we should, in fact, help ourselves. But we can’t always do that. I can’t always do that. I have spent weeks trying. Staying silent while switching medications. Telling only a select few even though staying quiet to so many others felt so wrong.  I have spent more than 4 years being an outspoken advocate for maternal mental health as a postpartum depression survivor. But this? This general depression and anxiety that was swallowing me up in darkness? I couldn’t shout out about it. Why?

In the last 7 months I have been told things like, “You have so much to be grateful for.” And, “You have the life you wanted.” And, “Things are good in your life – what do you have to be anxious about? You have a good job. Your kids are healthy. You have friends. You should be more grateful for those things!” I am sure if you’re reading this and you’ve been in a dark place you have heard similar phrases and they always feel like a punch in the gut. They smother me with guilt and just intensify everything that feels wrong. Why couldn’t I just be happy with what I had? Why was I sad? What was wrong with me? Why would anyone want such a self-loathing unappreciative jerk in their life?

The darkness came suddenly and swallowed me. I haven’t been well in months but when the blinding darkness came it came quickly without warning. I was completely lost and could visualize taking my life.  That was the first time I’d ever found myself in such a dark place. I was familiar with self-harm thanks to the time I lost to postpartum depression. But the idea of suicide was new, and I always imagined I’d be scared by it and yet instead I found peace in it. A sliver of peace in this hell I was living in, this hell in my own head. The idea that suicide is an easy way out, a permanent solution to a temporary problem, or selfish (all things I have seen people refer to suicide as over the last 24 hours regarding Robin Williams)? Not one of those things felt applicable to that moment when I stood in my bathroom and tried to grasp at anything to pull me away from ending my pain. From a pain I realized I’d likely feel again even if I got out of it this time, a pain that it seemed no one understood, a pain that was so sharp, real, and intense that even the most horrible ways to end it seemed like they would be a relief. [Read more...]

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