The Importance of Sharing Your Postpartum Story

The Importance of Sharing Your Postpartum Story -postpartumprogress.com

As a contributing writer to the Postpartum Progress blog, I can tell you that I often find it overwhelming, the amount of people I am reaching. I remember when I was in the depths of postpartum depression, and I would find myself up at three o’clock in the morning with a screaming baby, scouring the internet for stories of other women who went through what I was going through and, most importantly, survived it.

I marveled at their bravery, their openness, their boldness to share and to let all the mess come out in an articulated and helpful manner.

They seemed like secret super heroes, hiding underground helping a silent group of suffering women.

I remember the day that I looked at my laptop, went to WordPress.com, and started writing my own stories.

They were innocent enough—merely relaying what my pregnancy and labor had been. I didn’t go into too much grotesque detail, because I was raised in a family where we do not share the bad. We acknowledge that we are battling something and then we swallow it, deal with it quietly, and then move on.

I was ashamed to push myself, my story any further.

I still recall the first post I made on my personal blog about postpartum depression. It went something along these lines:

So. Does anyone want to talk about postpartum depression? No? Just me? Alright.

 

 

 

 

Actually, no. I am not ready for this either. I get it now. 

That was it. That was my post. I would stare at that page for hours, trying to organize the right words to portray my pain, my despair, my loneliness.

It took about two more years for me to really start getting into the meat of my struggles. I opened up about my postpartum depression. I spoke about being a mother with bipolar disorder. I cut open the wounds that I was so afraid to touch—and I know I am not alone in this.

I know out there are people who are aching to tell their story, to get it off their chest, out of their head, banished from their heart.

You must forget what other people will think; your family, your friends, strangers on the internet. There will always be silent people when you talk about something that should also be silent but you find yourself giving a voice to.

My own father has admitted he is afraid to read my pieces on my personal blog and here. My mother reads occasionally and will usually call me in tears feeling guilt over not having known I was hurting so very bad.

But there are also friends who will read what you write, relate to it, share it, and suddenly you have created a web of understanding.

I find that when talking about the real scary stuff, the stuff that no one wants to touch with a ten foot pole, start by free writing fragmented sentences describing how you felt. What did you do? What didn’t you do? What did it feel like?

Do not simply say, “I was sad for months.”

Do not be afraid to paint the screen with tragic but encouraging stories of each and every little thing that has happened to you up until this point.

I find that writing about my mental disorders is the equivalent as screaming into a pillow. Instead of centering myself calmly, or taking a pill, or having a quiet little cry in the bathroom, I release the bigger emotions. The emotions that latch onto our backs and have us carry them around until you shout, loudly and publicly, “THAT IS ENOUGH.”

My father used to tell me that people are only afraid of things they do not understand. Tell your story. Read other people’s stories. Ask questions. Answer questions. None of us are experts or doctors. All we have are our stories and the more we talk about it, the more we understand, and the less afraid we become.

If you have the strength to walk around every day, afraid to let your story out because of what might happen, imagine the kind of strength you will garner by sharing it. You will no longer be alone. You will be a member of our tribe. You will become a warrior.

If you’re interested in submitting a guest post to Postpartum Progress, please email editor Jenna Hatfield at editor@postpartumprogress.org with “Submission” in the subject.

Thank You, Warrior Moms

Thank You, Warrior Moms -postpartumprogress.com

I’ve spent the week in San Jose at the NTEN Non-Profit Technology Conference learning all sorts of ways to utilize technology to help mamas in need. I’ve learned so much in these three days, let me tell you. My brain is full of new forms of technology or new ways we can use our existing platforms to reach, help, and serve more moms around the world.

Of course, we’ll tell you more about what to expect after I meet with the team and tell them all of my fancy ideas. Some might be immediate while others will take awhile to roll out. But you should know that we at Postpartum Progress are always working and learning to figure out how to best serve you.

But… that’s not really what this post is about.

During the course of the week, I’ve had lots of time to talk with other hard-working non-profit employees about their work, their missions, their passions, their hangups, their challenges, and their lives. It’s been interesting getting to know lots of different people from lots of different people. If you ever want to pop out of your own local bubble, attend a non-profit conference. The world is big and there are so many unique, driven individuals working so hard to change this world in which we all live. It’s inspiring.

I attended one very helpful session which will definitely benefit our mamas. (More later, I promise!) Later that evening, I ran into two of the women who presented this super beneficial information. One of the women had her back to me, so I thanked the other woman for the presentation.

And then I introduced myself and stated I work for Postpartum Progress.

Her eyes got wide. “Does my coworker know that?”

“I don’t think so.”

This woman then grabbed the other woman’s sleeve, turned her around, and pointed at me. “This is Jenna. She works for Postpartum Progress.”

The other woman’s face changed and she said, “You guys saved my life.”

We work as hard as we do as a small team in a maternal mental health non-profit for little moments like these. I’ve never had someone say it to my face, but I finally heard it on a rooftop patio at a conference for non-profits to learn about technology. Katherine has experienced this time and time again in email and in person, most recently one shared on our Instagram feed.

I don’t share this to toot our horn. I share this to toot YOUR horn.

Somewhere out there, another Warrior Mom shared our information at her local mom’s group. That’s how the woman I met last night found out about us. If it wasn’t for that Warrior Mom, the mom’s group wouldn’t have known to share that information with any moms who might be struggling with postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. The mom I met last night might not have gotten the care she needed in a timely manner—or at all.

Somewhere out there is a Warrior Mom who saved a life. I don’t know who she is. I don’t know her story. But I do know that we have hundreds and thousands of Warrior Moms just like her who regularly share the mission of Postpartum Progress with their mom groups, on Facebook and other social media platforms, with doctors, with family members, with new and expectant moms, with just about everyone they meet. These Warrior Moms don’t give a rip about stigma; they’re breaking it down and rebuilding their own community of support and survivorship in its place.

And we are SO proud of each and every one of you.

Thank you to all who have taken the time to share a post, to pass out hug cards, to sit in your mom’s group and say, “Hey, have your heard of Postpartum Progress?” You are not only helping us to make a difference for moms, babies, and families; YOU are making a difference for moms, babies, and families.

Thank you, Warrior Moms.

Knowing When You Need Help

Knowing When You Need Help -postpartumprogress.com

I read an article on Facebook this week about a mother who was holding her newborn child and burst into tears. She was horrified. She didn’t want to open up to anyone about it. When she finally did reach out she was told that “it’s normal” and “all mothers go through this.”

Now, she very well may have been suffering from a hormonal swing that does occur with most mothers, her feelings may be very normal.

I just wonder how many women are silenced and who suffer because they are told that possible PPD is just something that moms have to deal with when they give birth.

It’s certainly more appealing than digging deeper into yourself and admitting that you need help. That realization can be painful for women; they may feel that they are alone in this, that they are weak, that they are less than a mother, or that they are defeated by something inside of their head.

Do you know what we are, friend? Do you know what we all become once we admit to ourselves that we need specific and scary kind of help? We do not become victims, slaves, or failures.

We become warriors.

Once you admit that you need help, you are handed a sword; you are assigned an enemy. You will soon find out that you are not alone in this; that it is okay to be verbal about your struggle. It is okay to be sick. You will find other people—men and women—flocking to your banner to help you in your battle.

Internalizing your true feelings and fears will only make you fold into yourself. You will start blaming yourself or your baby. You may be scared to be alone with your child. You may entertain suicidal thoughts for reasons you cannot verbalize. You are fighting an enemy blindfolded and with no weapons. It is that moment that you do become weak, victimized, defeated. Do not let this monster gain any ground on you.

You must have courage against any kind of monster—postpartum depression included. You must admit that there is something going on in your brain that is foreign and unwanted. You must expose yourself to a doctor who you have never met before. You may have to take medication that you have never taken before.

There is no shame in this, warrior mother. This is what true bravery looks like.

So, before you swallow the passive “it’s normal” pill that some people may serve you, make sure that you admit to yourself what is truly going on. You have the power to say “No, this isn’t normal and I need help.”

A Letter to My Daughter: I’m Sorry, but Not Sorry

[Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post requires a Tissue Warning. Leslie Froelich writes beautifully about the birth of her twins, the loss of one daughter, and the subsequent battle with postpartum depression. -Jenna]

A Letter to My Daughter: I'm Sorry, but I'm Not Sorry -postpartumprogress.com

Dear Elizabeth:

I can’t believe you are three years old, full of life and energy and—truth be told—a whole lot of piss and vinegar most of the time. But I love you more than ever, even if I didn’t when you were first born.

I mean, obviously I loved you; every mother, since the dawn of time, has loved her child in some mysterious, intrinsic, complex way that can’t be explained. But I wasn’t in love with you.

It wasn’t your fault. You, a tiny, pink hued, sweet little nugget of innocence and joy, did nothing wrong. You couldn’t help that your twin sister, Hannah, passed away at just three weeks of age. If anything, the doctors said you kept her alive longer just by your presence in the womb. [Read: 13 Things You Should Know About Grief After Miscarriage or Baby Loss.]

It wasn’t your fault that you and your sister were the rarest kind of twins possible, sharing one sac and one placenta and being at constant risk of cord entanglement and death. 

It wasn’t your fault that my pregnancy with you and Hannah was, to this day, the darkest time of my life, one in which I lived in constant fear that I would lose one or both of you. 

It wasn’t your fault that I had to be put on bed rest in the hospital for two months, scared and isolated from your father and our pets and away from anything normal, like my own bed or the food I liked. 

It wasn’t your fault that I had to have a painful, horrifying c section at 33.5 weeks gestation and that I didn’t get to see you but for five brief minutes before the doctors whisked you away from me, and I didn’t get to hold you or your sister for hours after the fact.

It wasn’t your fault that you had to stay in the NICU for the first month of your life, hooked up to every tube and wire imaginable and looking just so tiny and pathetic I was convinced I was going to hurt you somehow.

But this is what I really want to tell you, even though the mere words pain me: It’s not your fault that I wanted nothing to do with you after you came home from the hospital.

Everyone kept telling me how much better and easier things would be once you came home, but they were wrong. When Hannah passed away, something inside of me just broke and became damaged and irreparable for a long time. 

I’m sorry that I didn’t want to change you, hold you or feed you. I did all these things, of course, because the mom in me stepped up to duty, but I found no joy in any of it. All I felt was constant anxiety, the kind that starts in your stomach and courses through your veins like poison. 

I’m sorry that I regretted having you. Now that I am better, I can say with absolute certainty that you are the love of my life and I can’t imagine this journey any other way. But back then, all I did was fantasize about how much better life was before you came along, and I truly believed your father and I had made a monumental mistake. We had a good life before parenthood and we had messed it up, and the thought of taking care of you for the next 18 years literally made me vomit. No, really, ask your grandma. She held my hair back for me. 

I’m sorry I was so depressed that I almost couldn’t nurse you because my milk supply was getting so low. I fought like hell to do it, and I did, but I hated every minute of breastfeeding. I would just sit there and cry the whole time because it hurt and I was so miserable.

I’m sorry I cried all the time and had such a hard time getting out of bed. I was so sad about losing your sister and I just didn’t know how to face the day ahead.

I’m sorry that you were robbed of your twin. I know she is your guardian angel and looking after you and protecting you at all times, but not a day goes by that I don’t imagine what life would be like if you had Hannah to play with, to laugh with, and to sing songs with. It’s the ultimate injustice, and I will never get over it.

I’m sorry that for a long time, I was a shell of my former self, devoid of laughter or happiness. Even I didn’t recognize myself at that moment in my life. 

I’m sorry that if you look at pictures of when you were first born, those in the know can probably tell how forced my smile was. It was the best I could do. 

But what I’m not sorry about, nor will I ever be ashamed to admit or talk about, is the fact that all of this stemmed from postpartum depression

I’m not sorry that I had to go on medication and drag you with me, carrier in hand, to see a counselor twice a week for the first year of your life. That woman—she knows who she is—brought me back to life and helped me become the mother I am today.

I’m not sorry that I’ve been so open with people about my battle with PPD, because I was fortunate to get the help I so desperately needed and come out on the other side of that long, dark, lonely tunnel. I believe it’s my calling to help as many women as possible by telling my story and working to destigmatize this terrible illness.

I’m not sorry that we decided to have another baby; your beautiful, sweet sister Maggie. She does not replace Hannah; nothing and nobody ever will. But she has brought us a happiness we never thought we would get to experience again after everything that happened with you and your sister. 

I’m not sorry that with Maggie, I experienced the kind of normal, uncomplicated pregnancy that every first time mother should get to have, and all the joys that come after: snuggling and bathing and giggles and so many other wonderful firsts.

I’m not sorry because, at the end of the day, this is my journey and I can’t change or edit it. What I can do is learn from the adversity that I have faced and choose to be stronger. I believe I am a better mom because of it. 

I love you so, so much, and I hope that you never, ever have to experience even a shred of what I have gone through. But please know that if you do, sweet daughter, I will never judge you. I will hold you and cry with you and love you unconditionally.

Because that’s what mothers do.

 

Leslie Froelich is a freelance writer and co-facilitator of a postpartum depression support group in the Cleveland, Ohio area, run through the organization POEM (Perinatal Outreach and Encouragement for Moms). She is a stay at home mama to two daughters, Elizabeth and Maggie, two fur babies (in the form of cats) and has been married to her spouse, Nick, since 2007.