Happiness exuberated from his tiny soul as our crowded kitchen full of loved ones belted out a very off-key “Happy Birthday.” He looked so grown up in a plaid shirt that he had chosen all by himself, sitting in a “big boy” chair at the table. I couldn’t believe it. I held tears in the back of my throat as he excitedly waited for his cue then he blew out the candles.
Everyone cheered and my husband gripped my shoulders reassuringly.
“Are you okay?” He whispered in my ear, “I’m so proud of you today.”
I closed my eyes at that very moment and remembered.
For 40 weeks we had impatiently waited for that special day when our child would be born. We guessed, made bets, and then waited, and waited. On the exact due date, I went into labor.
As I lay in the hospital bed, I envisioned that August 14th would be forever ingrained as a day of full of happiness. It would mark the day that our lives had changed and how our dreams had finally came true. It would be full of balloons, decorations, candles, cake, ice cream, smiles, and love, lots of love, as we watched our growing child embark in a new year in life.
August 14th would always be a day of celebration of our child’s birth.
Yet, for me, it would also represent the beginning of my journey with postpartum depression.
The first year of my son’s life was extremely hard and it was mostly, sometimes thankfully, a blur. However, when his first birthday approached, my mind started recalling snippets of events. Memories I hoped to never remember flooded my mind.
I became overwhelmed with sadness.
Anxiety slowly crept its way in after.
I did my best to focus on the celebration of my son’s first year of life and to fight the onslaught of memories that triggered these intense emotions. Even things such as the way the sun sat in the sky, the way the once smoldering summer breezes started to cool, the smell of my house with the windows open, nighttime, the anticipation of the date itself, and so on all triggered them.
I began reliving August 14th and the weeks that followed it just like it was a year ago. It terrified me because I couldn’t escape.
I started to see my psychiatrist more regularly when the memories and the emotions became too much to handle alone. My husband and family took on the birthday party planning while I took time to rest and heal my aching soul.
I felt horrible for not being a big part in his first birthday like I had wanted to be, so I vowed that subsequent birthdays would be different.
You may also experience the same conflicting sadness and joy upon your baby’s birthday.
Tips to Make the Birthdays Easier When Dealing with Postpartum Depression Memories
If you’re planning a party, keep it simple. Your children won’t remember that you had the house decorated like it should be photographed for a magazine. And buying a cake from a grocery store as opposed to baking it yourself is PERFECTLY OKAY.
Ask for help. You’d be surprised that our spouses are pretty awesome at party planning. And don’t forget very willing Aunts and Grandmas!
If you see a doctor/therapist, ask to see them more frequently during this time.
Take time for yourself and do things that make your heart happy.
Know that it’s okay to feel sad. We miss out on a lot of things when we are in recovery and it’s okay to mourn that loss. But don’t dwell on it for too long. I find that writing out my emotions in a journal helps me to let them go.
Have a good cry. I find that when I fight my emotions such as sadness I only feel worse. Sometimes taking a time out in the bathroom or in the bedroom and letting them in and then having a good cry afterwards helps me to move forward.
Know that this does get better. It truly does.
As I opened my eyes, I saw my son’s smile from ear to ear. We were all surrounded by loved ones who have not only witnessed our son grow these last few years, but have supported and held us along this journey.
On August 14th 2011, our beautiful son turned three years old.
And I; we became three-year survivors of postpartum depression.
A day for celebration indeed.
Do you have a hard time around birthdays/anniversaries/dates?
What are some of the things that you do to help you cope during this time?
What are some of your triggers for painful memories and emotions?