When I was pregnant, I dreamed about becoming a certain kind of mother. She gave birth the old-fashioned way and brought her beautiful baby boy home where she magically transformed, Cinderella-style, into a domestic goddess, skilled Pinterest crafter, and champion breastfeeder.
She constantly cooed at her baby, lied on the floor next to him during tummy time, happily carted him everywhere, and effortlessly floated from place to place. She had a smile practically tattooed on her face, and told all of her friends how amazing it was to be a mother.
Here’s what really happened.
I went into labor on a Monday night at 7 p.m. My son arrived the next evening at 6:10 p.m. after almost 24 hours of labor. After pushing for two hours, I ended up having a C-section.
The day after my husband and I brought our son home, I started fantasizing about ways I could get sick or hurt so I could be readmitted to the hospital where I wouldn’t have to care for a baby. I thought I had made the biggest mistake of my life.
I waited nine months to become a mom, and instead, I wanted to run for the hills.
More than just sleepless nights
I cried frequently, felt paralyzed by anxiety, and never wanted to leave my bed. I had no interest in the adorable baby boy in the next room.
I hated breastfeeding. My son struggled to latch. It was hard to keep up with pumping every three hours because all I wanted to do was sleep. I stopped after five days because I needed to start taking anti-anxiety medication, and a few weeks later, antidepressants. I barely left the house with my son or by myself except for weekly therapy appointments.
I share all these scary, messy details about becoming a mom because I wish I knew about them when I was pregnant. I wish someone had told me about all the ways new moms might struggle when they bring their babies home from the hospital.
It’s common for new moms to feel overwhelmed and have many sleepless nights. But for some, there’s so much more. No one told me I might experience anxiety and sad and scary feelings, followed by guilt and shame about feeling them.
Two months before I delivered my son, I waited for over an hour at the obstetrician’s office for the results of my gestational diabetes test. This would’ve been the perfect opportunity for a nurse to take me into a room to discuss postpartum depression and anxiety.
I could’ve learned the risk factors, the symptoms, how common it is, and where to get proper treatment. This would’ve been a perfect opportunity to create awareness of these conditions, but to also emphasize the necessity of taking care of my maternal mental health.
It takes time to get better
It’s been more than five years since I won my battle with postpartum depression and fell in love with my son and being his mom.
At my son’s first birthday party, I looked around a room filled with family and friends. Finally, I thought to myself, “Wow, I’ve got this. I’m confident. I’m healthy. I’m happy. I love my son. I’m a mom and I take antidepressants and that’s OK.”
Since then, I’ve made it my mission in life to spread awareness about postpartum depression. I share my story so it doesn’t have to be your story. I openly talk about finding a therapist who specializes in postpartum depression and taking the right antidepressants because that’s how I got better.
Had I known to do that sooner, I might have missed less of my son’s first year. Postpartum depression recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires both faith and patience in your treatment plan.
The first therapist I met with and antidepressant I took were not the right fit, so I had to start the process all over again. I quit breastfeeding so I could take medicine. I made a choice to take care of my mental health so I could eventually take care of my son, and I don’t feel guilty for that.
You’re never alone
Postpartum depression affects 1 in 7 new moms, and only a small percentage receive treatment. There are way too many moms who suffer in silence when they could be getting the professional help they need to get better. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, guilt, and shame, you do not need to prolong your suffering and you do not need to remain silent.
You are not alone. You are not weak. You are not a bad mom and you did not fail. Postpartum mood disorders are temporary and treatable.
You’re in the incredible company of thousands of moms, and we are warriors. We fought hard to become who we are today. We still fight.
If you’re struggling, find a therapist who specializes in postpartum mood disorders. Be open to medication. Learn about ways to change how you think and reduce those negative self-messages. Learn to share your sadness in a journal or a support group.
Actively plan your self-care. Treat yourself with kindness. Let yourself feel the feelings. Be gentle with yourself and get enough sleep. Ask for help. When help is offered, always answer yes.
The bottom line
If you know seven other women, chances are high you know someone affected by maternal mental health issues.
If you recognize something “off” in another woman you know, speak up. Ask her how she is really feeling, and probe deeper if she responds with what seems like a fake smile and a vague answer.
Listen to her when she opens up, even if you don’t fully understand her struggle. Show her compassion and ask how you can help her. Find support and other resources at places like Postpartum Support International.
I am here for you. I fight for you and I fight with you. I am right by your side.
Jen Schwartz is the creator of The Medicated Mommy Blog and founder of MOTHERHOOD | UNDERSTOOD, a social media platform that specifically talks to moms affected by maternal mental health issues — scary stuff like postpartum depression, postpartum anxiety, and a ton of other brain chemistry issues that hinder women from feeling like successful moms. Jen is a published author, speaker, thought-leader, and contributor at the TODAY Parenting Team, PopSugar Moms, Motherlucker, The Mighty, Thrive Global, Suburban Misfit Mom, and Mogul. Her writing and commentary has been featured all over the mommy blogosphere at top websites such as Scary Mommy, CafeMom, HuffPost Parents, Hello Giggles, and more. Always a New Yorker first, she lives in Charlotte, NC, with her husband Jason, tiny human Mason, and dog Harry Potter.