Navigating life with depression is hard enough. Keeping a newborn alive while struggling with postpartum depression (PPD) can feel like a nightmare.
PPD can often present itself as the baby blues. But the baby blues only last for a short while. PPD, however, likes to stick around for a long time. It will often bring along its best friend, postpartum anxiety (PPA), and sometimes its distant cousin, postpartum psychosis (PPP), will poke its head in. Unfortunately for me, two of those three misfits came along, and PPD was the ringleader. I remember exactly when they invaded my mind.
When my son was only a few days old, I was sitting in a hospital room alone with my child. My husband left to check on the fur babies. My mom came in for a little while, but visiting hours were over. And, I was alone with my newborn. I recall sitting on that uncomfortable hospital bed staring at him. Smiling and thinking to myself, “Wow! He is so beautiful.” He was swaddled in a blanket and was lying in a see-through bassinet.
Then, out of the blue, a heaviness came over me.
I felt my smile slowly disappearing as I started to stare off into the distance. And what felt like a few short seconds was actually an hour. I snapped back into reality when someone walked into the room. Was it a nurse? Or my husband? My son was still sleeping. I stared at him again and realized that my cheeks were damp. That’s when realization hit me.
I was asked to fill out a mental health evaluation form provided by the hospital, and I absentmindedly filled it out, scoring alarmingly high on the evaluation. A social worker passed by later to talk to me about finding help, but the message came off as “we might have to take your child away from you.”
I instantly put on a mask. No one would see me feel that heaviness again. Not even my child. I wouldn’t let a stranger take him. I kept it all inside. I had to be strong for my baby, for my husband, who was handling paternal PPD, and for myself.
It was fine for the most part. My son was happy and healthy. We hit our milestones. I was there for my husband and helped me get through his PPD. I had to as he almost lost both of us the day our son was born, and helping others helps me. But, when I was alone, the heaviness crept back in, and I felt the walls closing in.
The first thing I did was make regular video calls to my family. The pandemic had not completed its first year yet, and we were still social-distancing. This isolation was especially hard while my husband was at work. So, I would call often and be on the phone for hours with my family to help with my loneliness.
I love my son and enjoy him, but there is something about adult conversation after having a child that helps to keep your sanity, especially when dealing with sleepless nights. Most of the time, I would position the camera on my son so that his grandparents and great grandparents could watch him play, learn, and grow. It was therapeutic for everyone.
To be honest, it was great, too. Video calls helped my son form relationships with family members he wouldn’t have seen otherwise until much later. He got to learn their voices, see their faces, and interact with them. Video calls also helped me not feel so alone. I felt safe from the voices in my head by having some sort of presence nearby.
I was desperate to find a connection with someone. Talking to my family was helpful, but all of their children were grown, and their parenting styles were different from my husband and mine. I tried mom apps to find a friend, but I did not fully feel like talking to strangers about my struggles. I gave it a try, and I see the value in these apps and websites. They are great for others, though.
So, what I did was go to Facebook and see which of my Facebook friends had recently had babies, and it turns out that a lot of my Facebook friends had. These were all people I knew and had met, so I was comfortable seeing how life was going for them and talking to them. I ended up rekindling a friendship I had with a work friend who had a baby a few months before me. We connected and have been each other’s mom-best friends since.
She has been my saving grace as I can talk to her about anything. Also, she can talk to me about anything. Best of all, our children get along and have fun together.
Our babies tend to thrive on routine. I found that having my son and myself on a routine helped out alot. Everyday, I would do the same, or similar, things. Take care of him. Make sure I ate and showered (because smelling like breast milk all the time was nauseating after a while). Set up baby safe stations in each room. Try to read. Make my calls. Take my vitamins. Nap.
Okay, a lot of these things I rolled my eyes at in the beginning. But, once I started implementing them, they started to actually work!
In addition to taking care of my son, I made time to do things that helped me function. I learned that I am the type of person who thrives in a clutter-free and tidy environment. I had to wash dishes. I had to make sure the floors were clean… Because when you do tummy time, you see all the dirt on the floor. So, that is where some appropriate improvements to my zombie routine and zombie mom mindset came in to help.
I had set up a place in my kitchen, bathroom, living room, and bedroom—the main rooms I used—for my son to sit, sleep, and/or play. Then I would set a timer and do my tidying and cleaning. Getting him involved, even if he couldn’t do anything yet, helped. I would talk to him and explain what I was doing. Talking about it kept my PPD away. Talking also kept my son calm yet alert to my presence when he couldn’t see me for more than 5 seconds.
Of course, PPA would creep in and tell me that my immobile child would bounce out of wherever I had him lying or strapped to at any moment.That is where my son would come in.
Prioritizing my health and sanity was something I did not do in the beginning. I think the longest I went without a shower was a week. Gross! I had to change this because I felt PPD and PPA sitting on my shoulders and pointing out all the things I was doing wrong. I wasn’t even following mom influencers! PPD and PPA still told me I was messing up and hurting myself.
I had to sit down with my husband and talk to him about it. It was hard, but I did it. I talked to him about it, got my emotions and concerns out, and asked for help in any way from him. It was the best thing I could do as it helped the both of us.
In addition to asking for help from my spouse, I helped myself. It took time, but I did. I took vitamins. I was lacking in nutrition from not eating enough and not eating a well-balanced diet. It’s amazing what a lack of proper nutrition can do to your health.
I tried to take at least one nap with my child, who was napping a lot.
I read. I love reading, and I found escaping into a book while my child napped helped. Of course, sitting down to read a book eats at you. Mom’s guilt. So I decided to listen to audiobooks. It stimulates your mind in the same way that reading does, and I was able to get things done around the house!
I also tried to workout. I couldn’t always workout seven times a week. Sometimes I would only workout once a week, and that “workout” was mopping the floors. Hey, it’s a movement!
Okay, this one was hard for me. I am already an introvert. So, leaving my house to go check the mail was a daunting task. I would just let the dog out through the garage when he had to go and wouldn’t even step into the backyard. PPA kept whispering in my ear that something horrible would happen to my child if I went outside or to me if I went to check the mail. Some of these thoughts would involve a person in a van kidnapping me while I went to check the mail and my child was napping inside. Another was that an eagle would swoop down and take my son out of my arms. Some of these were obviously exaggerations, but the fact that the chances were never zero would paralyze me with fear.
So what did I do?
Well, at first, I did nothing. I hated the outside world. The pandemic did not help. But, we still need sunshine. So, I took baby steps. I started by opening the blinds and curtains to let light in. Then, I slowly worked my way to the backyard with the dog. I would stand at the doorway with my son, step out on the patio, and eventually find my way to the yard with my son and show him how the dog plays.Eventually, I was able to check the mail. I would take my son to keep my fears away.
Getting outside, even for a few minutes, helped. Cabin fever is a real issue, but a little fresh air… even “fresh” city air… can help.
PPD and PPA are serious mental health issues. I do not recommend anyone not finding help. I let my fears and anxieties cloud my mind. Knowing what I know now, I would have found help somewhere else. I would have reached out to a professional and gotten better help without having to struggle on my own for the most part. I would play off my emotions whenever my son’s pediatrician would ask, but I was wrong to do that. Pediatricians do focus on your child’s health, and a good number of them show concern for the parent or guardian’s mental health as well. They are able to guide you to the right professionals for help.
I also wish I had reached out to my mom more. She did her best to come by as often as she could to help me with the baby, and she would have come by more if I had asked.
Also, following realistic and positive influencers on social media can be helpful. It is amazing the wealth of information that is now shared that can help us new parents who feel lost have an idea of what to do, what we aren’t doing, and how to help our little ones grow. And, there is such a wide variety out there, too.
Had I been open about my fears and struggles earlier on, I would not have felt the internal stress and pain I felt throughout the first year of parenthood.
It really takes a village to raise a child.
Parenting can be like riding a bike. Parenting on your own is like riding a bike on a tightrope. Parenting with PPD and PPA is like riding a bike on a tightrope with wild animals below waiting for you to fall.
It does not have to be that way.
Instead of struggling to cross to the other side like the ringleaders of PPD and PPA want you to, all you have to do is get off that bike, grab your little one, and go live your life. It is easier said than done, but it is possible.
We are moms. We are parents. We are strong. We can do this.