Head Vs. Heart: Why Postpartum Feelings Matter

Share Button

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.

Share Button

Katie Sluiter: On Depression in Retrospect

Share Button

postpartum depression, mental health, maternal mental healthDear you,

So you found your way to the Postpartum Progress Mother’s Day Rally, huh? Maybe it’s your first time here, maybe (like me) you come back year after year to read the stories. No matter how you got here, you’re probably reading this because either you are struggling, you struggled at one time, or someone you loves is/was struggling.

I fall under all of those categories.

This spring marks four years since my diagnosis of postpartum depression and anxiety. This fall will mark four years of being in therapy for depression and anxiety that was probably with me since my first miscarriage seven years ago (and maybe even before that). After my first son, Eddie, was born in 2009, I developed PPD, PPA, and PTSD. During my pregnancy with my second son, Charlie, I developed antenatal depression and after his birth, another round of PPD. I also developed OCD after Charlie.

I’m in a good place now. One where I can see the pitfalls coming, prepare for them, brace myself when they hit, and heal with a lot more speed. I can write about the darkness and the suffocating loneliness that sweeps in blankets my mind, heart, and soul. I can articulate the rage that bubbles below the surface just before I throw up my hands and seek out my bed to crawl into to try to escape the world.

I can look at depression in retrospect.

This is not a comfort everyone has. In fact, as I work to strengthen myself, I have noticed that my eyes have been opened to others who struggle. As my scars fade, I can see the fresh wounds in others.

And I can listen.

My suffering and the destruction of my mind, heart, and soul have left me with an acute sense of empathy for others who struggle. My experience in finding light after every single fall into darkness has helped me see that there are others in the darkness too.

I am never alone.

They are never alone.

YOU are never alone.

If you are in the darkness, there are others there too. Chance are you can’t see them because the pit of depression is so dark, it’s thick. It’s like a black velvet blanket. The darkness should be comforting, but it’s not; it suffocates, it terrifies.

But you are not alone.

Reach out your hand. There is someone there who desperately wants to hold it.

Reach up. Someone in the light wants to pull you out, or at least offer you a connection to life. To remind you that you have not left. That you are there.

Walk forward.

The darkness is not endless. Those holding your hands will walk with you. They will emerge with you or, if they are already in the light, they will rejoice when you join them.

Know your strength.

When you can’t go anymore, take one more step. And then another. Grab at hands. Reach farther for the light.

The light is always out there somewhere. If it wasn’t, you would be dead. But you’re alive, so keep being alive.

Depression stole moments, days, even years from my life. But those stolen moments that were lived in the dark were replaced by experiences in the light so radiant, sometimes I have just had to close my eyes and feel it, rather than see it.

I want that for you too.

I want you to feel the light on your face.

Keep living.

Someday too, you (or the one you love) will look at depression in retrospect.

You will be the hand that someone else grasps.

~ Katie

Katie Sluiter is just a small town girl…wait no, that is a Journey song. Although she does live in a small town. She is a wife, a mother, a teacher, and a writer. She and her family have joys and they have struggles. Just like you. Follow her on Twitter @ksluiter.


Postpartum Progress, the world’s most widely-read blog on all things related to emotional health around pregnancy & childbirth, is a service of Postpartum Progress Inc., a 501c3 nonprofit devoted to raising awareness of postpartum depression and similar illnesses. Please consider making a donation today, Mother’s Day, so we can continue and expand our work supporting maternal mental health. Thank you!


Share Button

Susan Petcher: On Getting Back to Yourself After Postpartum Anxiety

Share Button

postpartum depression, mental health, maternal mental healthDear New Moms,

I’m sitting in my kitchen with the windows open.  The springs here are cool and wet, and the breeze fills the house with a much-needed freshness. From my kitchen table, I can see my 2-year-old as she plays on the back deck with her water table and a paint brush. Her older sister is at school, which means it is quiet enough for me to hear the birds calling to one another and the sound of the toddler’s feet scampering across the wood planks. I am struck by the peace and contentment in this moment and how starkly it contrasts how motherhood began for me.

My anxiety began during my pregnancy with E. I assumed all expectant mothers experienced the same panic, mood swings, and fret that were my daily companions beginning from the moment the pregnancy test turned blue. The anxiety continued during and after a long and frightening labor, and manifested as OCD and eventually depression. Because I wasn’t “sad” like in all those antidepressant commercials, it never crossed my mind that I might be suffering from a mental illness. I had read about PPD, of course, in my pregnancy books, but denial was the most malicious of my symptoms and kept me from seeking help.

My days weren’t filled with crying, like the illustrations in my books. Instead, I spent every waking hour consumed with a kind of nervous energy that buzzed relentlessly under the surface. When the anxiety built up a critical mass, I would explode into a rage. No one was safe from my wrath. I screamed at my husband, my parents, my mother-in-law… and my 3-day-old infant. I found solace in a perfectly-packed diaper bag and symmetrically-folded burp rags. When the bottle tops and bottoms matched color, a bit of the anxiety lifted. But the smallest discrepancy or disruption in my day—a missed nap, a late snack, an unfinished bottle—triggered a time bomb.

It didn’t take long for the unending anxiety to bring about a deep depression. The love I knew I felt for my child and my husband vanished, leaving a cold apathy in its place. I walked through my day a shadow of myself, and I lost sight of any hope.

I tell you all of this because I want you to know that I believed I would never be happy again. I began to internalize the story the depression told me – that I was a horrible mother who just needed to “try a little harder.”  The vision of motherhood I had held onto for so long faded into what I thought was my new life.

What I didn’t know, and what Postpartum Progress showed me, was that maternal mood and anxiety disorders are 100% treatable – that my depression and anxiety did not have to define who I was. My road to recovery was a long one but, with therapy and medication, I found my hope again, and am more resilient than ever.

If your hope has been stolen from you, read on. Let the words of each mother in the Rally sink into your soul… let us lend you some of our hope. Though I know it feels impossible, you will be YOU one day and your days of darkness will be a memory.

With so much love,


Susan is an elementary teacher-turned stay-at-home-mom who has her hands in a little bit of everything. When she’s not parenting or teaching piano lessons, you can find her blogging about mental health or crocheting her anxiety away. She writes at http://learned-happiness.com, pimps her wares for yarn money at http://etsy.com/shop/learnedhappiness, and tweets @learndhappiness.


The 6th 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.

Share Button

It Is Okay To Not Be Okay During Pregnancy

Share Button

pregnancy depression, antenatal depression, depression during pregnancyDear mama,

I wanted to word vomit all over our Facebook group when I saw how quickly you backpedaled about not enjoying pregnancy.  I wanted so badly to share my story, but I knew it was not the time or place.  I am writing this open letter to you and all other mamas who do not like pregnancy.  It is okay to not be okay during pregnancy.  I struggled physically and emotionally with my second pregnancy.  In hindsight I clearly had undiagnosed antenatal depression and anxiety, a revelation that my therapist and I discussed.  I had so many warning signs.

I worried about everything constantly.  I was irritable, and it wasn’t just the hormones.  My irritability was a precursor to my postpartum rage.  I lost weight initially, partly due to the restrictive meal plan for my gestational diabetes.  I could not sit still at all which was also a precursor to my severe postpartum anxiety.  I was making lists of all the tasks that had to be done and completed by the time the baby was born.  List-making made me feel like I was in control.

Society does pregnant women a disservice by showing us these photos of airbrushed women who blissfully smile down at their baby bumps.  I rarely smiled or laughed when I was pregnant.  Besides the gestational diabetes, I suffered from sciatica and an umbilical hernia.  I had to wear a postpartum support girdle which alleviated some of the strain on my back.  I have had friends valiantly struggle with sciatica, symphysis pubic dysfunction, pre-eclampsia, irritable uterus and days and weeks of contractions.  Until we change the conversation about how demanding physically, mentally and emotionally pregnancy can be, we will continue to feel like we have to put on the mask.  I very much wanted and planned for my darling baby girl, but I would tell anyone and everyone who would listen that this was my last pregnancy.

People used to laugh like I was a hormonal pregnant woman who should be pitied.  I felt like people thought I was exaggerating my level of stress and discomfort with my last pregnancy.  Those feelings made my rage and irritability even greater.  Do not condescend to pregnant women.  We are adult women who are growing another human(s).  We deserve care that recognizes our entire selves, not just as an incubator for the baby that we are carrying.  My feelings, my emotions, and my health were just as vital and important as that of my unborn child.  I struggled with undiagnosed antenatal depression and anxiety even though I had a supportive medical team that included my ob/gyn, my certified diabetes educator, and my endocrinologist.

Mama, I wish I could learn more about your story.  I have so many questions for you.  Did you struggle too?  Would you like to know more about my story?  Can we get together for coffee and really talk about how difficult pregnancy can be?  Can we stop trying to pretend that it is all sunshine and rainbows?  It is okay to not be okay.  It is okay to admit that you hate pregnancy and that you are miserable.  This does not mean that you do not love your child.  You are brave for reaching out and asking for help.  If you are struggling, please know that you are NOT alone.  Many mamas, including myself, have been in your shoes.  Talk to your therapist, to your partner, and to your doctor.  Check out the resources available here along with testimonies from other Warrior Moms who have struggled with antenatal depression and made it through to the other side.  It does get better, I promise you.


Jen Gaskell

Share Button