Sandra Sutherland: On Not Bottling Up Postpartum Depression

postpartum depression, mental healthDear Mama,

Motherhood sure isn’t what you thought it would be is it?  Sure, the logistics aren’t all that surprising. You knew you’d have a long stint of sleepless nights and never-ending days. The constant diaper changes and mountains of laundry are seemingly endless but you’d been warned of such things.  You’d gone into this with your eyes open and you were as prepared as you could possibly be.

But somehow, you just don’t feel….right.  Something is off.  You feed and change and smile and rock your little one but your heart just isn’t in it.

You wonder if this feeling will ever go away. You’re pretty sure that normal moms don’t feel like this but part of you wonders if they do. You want to find out if others feel the same way but the idea of saying any of your feelings out loud is petrifying.

My biggest words of wisdom for you, new mama, is to reach out. Find someone and talk about it.  Tell a good friend. Confide in a neighbor.  Cry on the shoulder of another mother at the nearest mommy and me.

I know this will not be easy, especially when all you really want to do is curl into a tiny ball and make it all just go away. I know, because that’s what I tried to do.

My baby ate and slept well, which meant any time I mentioned my routine amongst a group of moms, I was met with sighs of “you’re so lucky” and “you must be enjoying every minute of it.” The truth was, I wasn’t enjoying any of it.  I found most of it incredibly exhausting and absolutely boring.  Time didn’t just disappear as I stared down at her little face. I had even tried smelling her head once to see if I could stimulate some sort of primal emotions and frankly, all I smelled was ‘No More Tears.‘

I thought of my friends who had feeding difficulties or little ones that hardly slept at all and I felt tremendously guilty for not feeling as lucky as everyone told me I was. I swallowed my words and faked my smiles. Once, at a playgroup, one mother asked me if my night had been as rough as hers had been.  Not wanting to lie, but desperately wanting to connect with someone, I said that I too hadn’t slept a wink. It was true but it had nothing to do with my baby’s demands. I didn’t tell the moms that, as my daughter slept soundly for eight hours, I had laid in bed, wide awake and anxious, worrying that she might die if I fell asleep.

Then I locked away my feelings until I hit desperation point.  I needed to know whether anyone else had ever felt like this and if they had, what they had done to fix it.

I wanted to reach out but I was scared out of my mind of the reaction.

What if they tell me I feel this way because I’m not cut out to be a mom?

I tested the waters with a few close friends.  I told each of them separately, over the course of a several days. I admitted just the smallest tidbit of how I had been feeling; my daughter was eight weeks old and I was yet to enjoy anything about being a mom.

I will never ever forget the look of horror each one of them gave me as I told them just a tidbit of how I was feeling.  Three very different women, three different conversations, and yet that look was almost identical as it flickered across their faces.

Those looks of horror stunned me silent.  A silence I have come to regret.

I’m not sure what spurred me to try again but I am thankful that I did.  Not able to brave another face to face encounter, I sent an email to another good friend.

“I just can’t seem to shake the baby blues.”

Her response was exactly what I needed and, in hindsight, exactly what I had been looking for. “If it’s lasted this long, it’s not baby blues.  You need to get yourself help.  In the meantime, call me.  If you can’t, I’ll come to visit you.” She’d included a list of local organizations that may be able to help with postpartum depression.  I read the email through tears.  Someone understood and she hadn’t run away.

When I finally plucked up the courage to get professional help, my doctor and health visitor worked together to provide an amazing amount of support. The relief I felt after the first session with my counselor, herself a postpartum depression survivor, is still completely indescribable.  To have someone look at me and say “I get it” when I said I just felt nothing was like someone had lifted a giant boulder off my shoulders.

I continued to tell friends and family that I had postpartum depression and the honest conversations we have had has brought me closer to many of them. I also found out that a few had battled it themselves.  Instead of suffering alone, we now support each other.

Mama, reaching out isn’t always easy.  The misconceptions and preconceived notions still exist so the reception isn’t always ideal. If this happens, don’t change your story, find a different audience instead.

Don’t bottle it up.

If telling someone face to face seems too daunting, write it down. If you’re scared to see a health professional on your own, find someone to sit beside you when you do.

Motherhood can be tremendously lonely and postpartum depression will make you feel like no one else in the world could possibly understand.

But there are thousands of us that do.  You might even have a friend of yours who is suffering in silence too.

Take a deep breath and share your story mama.

You are not alone.

~ Sandra

Sandy grew up a Vermonter, though spent enough years in Boston to consider that home too. She now lives in Bristol, England with her husband and spunky little miss. She shares her story of PPD recovery at www.Notjusttheblues.blogspot.com. Sandy is also on Twitter as @SandyS125, a proud member of the #PPDArmy and regular participant of #PPDChat.

The 4th Annual Mother’s Day Rally for Moms’ Mental Health is presented by Postpartum Progress, a national nonprofit 501c3 that raises awareness & advocates for more and better services for women who have postpartum depression and all other mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth. Please consider making a donation today, on Mother’s Day, to help us continue to spread the word and support the mental health of new mothers.

 

About Katherine Stone

is the creator of this blog, and the founder and executive director of Postpartum Progress. She has been named a WebMD Health Hero, one of the fiercest women in America by More magazine, and one of the 15 most influential patient advocates to follow. She is a survivor of postpartum OCD.

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  1. Oh my God yes keep trying…this goes for doctors too who may fluff off you symptoms as just being the blues or lack of sleep. You know yourself more than anyone. If you feel “off” keep speaking and reaching out. Someone is going to listen and don’t be afraid to.
    Such a powerful message. Glad that you wrote about this and that you had the determination to be heard. xoxo

  2. Oh, yes. This:

    “My baby ate and slept well, which meant any time I mentioned my routine amongst a group of moms, I was met with sighs of “you’re so lucky” and “you must be enjoying every minute of it.” The truth was, I wasn’t enjoying any of it. ”

    Man. I felt GUILTY for feeling anything other than extremely blessed because both boys slept and ate very well. Minus a tongue tie issue with my youngest, we just never struggled with anything in those regards. But that doesn’t mean *I* didn’t struggle.

    Lovely letter.

  3. Oh this…yes. I too felt like I SHOULD feel so happy and lucky…but I didn’t. I just didn’t like motherhood AT ALL with my first and was too afraid to tell anyone. It took me nine months…NINE MONTHS…before I got help.

    Your message is SO important…DO NOT KEEP IT INSIDE!

  4. I love your friend who listened and sent lists of organizations.

    And I also love that your bio lists that you are a proud member of the #PPDArmy & #PPDChat. You absolutely are.
    SO much love to you for not bottling it up anymore but instead letting it spill out through open floodgates. You rock.

  5. “Motherhood can be tremendously lonely and postpartum depression will make you feel like no one else in the world could possibly understand.

    But there are thousands of us that do.”

    YES! Yes to that!! You are never alone.

  6. Oh mama! I’m in tears reading your letter. It makes me so sad that three friends were not able to see your hurt, were not able to wrap their arms around you with love and support. But the one friend who did ~ she is the person we all need to be in this situation. So thankful that you were able to keep reaching out until you found the help you needed and deserved. Thank you so much for sharing your message!!! Hugs and Happy Mother’s Day! xoxo

  7. Imagine you feel this after you’ve struggled to have a baby for 3 years and it’s what your whole life has been focused on as you go through IVF. For me, as an IVF mama the pressure to feel elated and blissed-out was even higher.

    I had wanted, I had craved, I had cried, I had endured huge needles, and thousands of dollars, to help create the amazing life I cradled in my arms, and I felt awful. I didn’t even know how to express what I was feeling for the longest time, until it literally paralyzed me. Then, when I did speak up, I was dismissed and, not being terribly resilient, I didn’t speak up again.

    Education of pregnant women, their partners, and their caregivers is so, so important so they know before it’s all too much.

  8. Sandy, this was stunning. It was so hard for me to reach out. Some just didn’t get it. Then I found two lifelines, the godmothers of both of my girls. They understood.

  9. Thank you so much for this story. To read your story caused tears to inexplicably begin streaming down my face. The way that you expressed your struggles and triumphs of reaching out closely reflected my current struggles, and was just what I needed to read.

    Thank you.