I had postpartum depression after Gwen was born. It took me a while to come to terms with how bad it was. Eventually Dan convinced me that not sleeping and crying every night and not being able to stop my body from writhing were abnormal behaviors. I really wanted to be able to take charge of my emotions without medication, but it just wasn't working. Things were getting worse. And admitting to needing drugs made me feel even more helpless and like less of a person. I cried in the doctor's office. I was on medication for about 6 months or so, I honestly can't remember. The pills helped to dull what was happening to me, but I still felt like a failure and I didn't feel creative at all. I kept doing the things I was supposed to be doing, trying to enjoy life. Sometimes I was fine, but I was never normal. One day, about a year after I had Gwen and I had been off the pills for a while my husband said "You did something the other day... I can't remember what it was, but I thought 'she used to do that.'" Like, yay- it has been a year and I'm finally sort of kind of coming back to normal. Things got better. And that experience brought me wisdom and empathy for people who suffer from mental maladies. Also, after this experience we weren't sure about having a bunch of kids- because going through that was the worst, for me and for my family.
But after a few years we decided to try for a third. I was feeling good about being pregnant with this one. I was. I thought "Ok, it looks like I'll be having this baby in early December, if not November! My body is getting so ready... and Gwen was two weeks early after all." So when the baby didn't come and didn't come and people were always asking me about it, I felt a loss of control. Like I am supposed to have this baby and I'm not accomplishing the one thing I'm supposed to do. And it was getting harder and harder to move. I hurt more and more. I mean, who walks around at a 4 (a 5 now) for weeks and doesn't feel uncomfortable? I was doing less: not cleaning. Not cooking much. Not doing anything except walking around and waiting for this baby to come out. I was sure it would be any day. People predicted the 4th. That day came and went. No big deal. But as my due date approached, I felt it coming. That old relentless monster: Depression. I prayed and prayed and recruited other people to pray and prayed that the baby would come out so that I could stave off that Beast. But it didn't work. My due date was terrible. I stayed in my room all day crying on and off. I cried in the bathroom, I cried in my closet. I cried in bed and I cried in the shower. I sobbed all day, but that didn't start contractions.
Let me be clear, I've tried everything there is to try when it comes to naturally triggering labor. I've done acupressure, essential oils, induction massage, all the textbook physical stuff, taking evening primrose oil, eating the stuff people swear puts you into labor... I even had my membranes stripped. Twice. I've been doing these things for weeks. When I was given the induction date of December 17, I cried. I made it out of the Doctor's office, but I got into my car and sobbed. This is not what I wanted.
And now, I've been trying to maintain some sort of positive outlook. It works and then it doesn't. I haven't gone to church in two weeks because I don't want to see or talk to anyone. I'm usually good at putting on my happy mask (who says you don't use a theater degree?)-- but I can't right now. Dan has taken over drop-off and pick-up responsibilities with our kids. The thing I hate most of all is how I feel towards this baby. (Please keep in mind that I am trying to cling on to sanity here.) I hate this baby. I don't want it. I could give it up for adoption and never see it and that would be totally fine with me. Before my due date, I loved this baby. I was excited. Now I just think of it as a burden and a thing that is putting me through a lot of unnecessary pain and anguish. I see it as the reason for my loss of control. I cannot imagine a good birth experience at this point. The aftermath of birth is painful and disgusting. Also, I know that once the baby is born it will rob me of sleep, sanity, all of my time, and it will make me fat for a year at the very least. I have enough of a rational mind left that I feel shame at these thoughts. I know I love my children and that I prayed for this baby. I know these dark thoughts are not acceptable. But I cannot imagine feeling good when they place it in my arms. I don't even want to hold it. How am I going to make it through labor if I don't even care about what I get at the end?
And I am most certainly depressed right now. Just in case that wasn't clear. I've been wearing the same ugly ill-fitting clothes for two and a half days. I've been crying. Depression is something you cannot control through force of will. I cannot "just think happy thoughts" or "chin up" or "put on a happy face." So if you tell me these things, please know you are contributing to my depression. When I am depressed it also makes me feel incredibly guilty. And during the holidays? Triple the guilt. This is December, for goodness sake. I'm having a baby right before Christmas, isn't that the best present ever?!?! I should feel excited and all Christmas Cheer-y. I don't. I hate it. I didn't want to have a baby right before Christmas, and being pregnant and overdue has kept our family from participating in all kinds of holiday activities. Not to mention this kid is going to HATE having his birthday right before Christmas. This has been the unhappiest December of my life.
So now that we have established that I am depressed, I am going to attempt to explain things that are helpful and not so helpful. Firstly, when I was going through PPD a few years ago I had a birthday brunch with some family members. They asked how my depression was going (like it was a project I was working on or something) and asked what they could do to help. It was hard to admit, but I finally told them that they could take my kids away from me for a few hours here and there. Any time convenient would be helpful. None of them ever did it. Now, I'm not blaming them for anything... but it is not helpful to ask how you can help and then not follow through. If you want to help and you get an answer of how to help, make sure you DO it.
Here is a list of things that are helpful to me:
-Taking my kids away to play. I'm an introvert. Having time to recharge on my own is super helpful.
-Cleaning my house. But seriously, only the parts I want you to clean. If I am embarrassed by the state of my craft room, don't go in there. If you do it anyway it will cause me to feel shame and distress, which contributes to my depression. Also, do NOT organize anything. More on that later.
-Making a meal or food of any kind.
-Dropping off a treat, a gift, or a kind note. Even if I don't want to see you or come to the door, it is still appreciated, I promise.
-Communicating with my husband instead of with me. I'm not usually a fan of talking on the phone anyway, but when I am depressed it is the absolute last thing I want to do. If you coordinate a meal or something with my husband, I will appreciate you. And it will be even better if I don't have to talk to anyone about how I am doing and how much help I need.
-You CAN write me an email or text me. Most of the things people say aren't super helpful, but sometimes it is nice not to feel like an outcast. I don't have many friends as it is, which is kind of by choice and honestly fine, but to never hear from anyone can contribute to depression.
Here is a list of NOT HELPFUL things:
-Telling me that "happiness is a choice" or something along those lines. Sure, sometimes it is. But sometimes it is not. And I promise you will be contributing to my depression if you write or utter anything like that.
-Asking me if I've had my baby yet. Some people do this in the sweetest way, and my close friends can actually get away with it. But everyone else is running the risk of getting punched in the face.
-Seeing pictures of babies in the hospital with their smiling beautiful skinny mommies- especially if your due date was around mine or after mine.
-Telling me how to induce labor, or giving me opinions of any kind on labor and delivery. There was a time when this was interesting to me... now it just upsets me.
-Doing my laundry. There are a few things that I am super particular about. Laundry is one of those things. Sometimes I get really behind or someone pees on something and my husband puts a load in. Usually it is fine, but there have been a few things ruined because they weren't supposed to be laundered or put in the drier or whatever. Some stains have been permanently set in, etc. Usually it is the "favorites" that get ruined, which makes me sad. Also, laundry is something I don't mind. If you take that chore away from me I feel like I am literally good for nothing. Like I'm not even capable of keeping on top of the ONE chore I don't mind.
-Organizing my things. Listen, I know I am a chaotic person. I'm trying to get better at organizing. But there are some things in my house that are just always messy. Or maybe things look different than the way you would do it. Or maybe you are trying to put things away and you don't know where they go. Seriously, if you are at my house, do not move anything without asking me. You might think you are doing me the most amazing favor by moving my stuff around, but that is one of the very worst things you could do. If I can't find things in my own house, it makes me feel a greater loss of control. It sets off my depression big time. Just over the course of today I went to look for two things and I couldn't find them because someone else had moved them out of love and a desire for rooms to be cleaner. I cried. I cried and cried. Something about other people organizing my stuff makes me incredibly sad. First of all, it feels very personal to have someone sort through your things without you, even if it is something as impersonal as dishes. And there is a difference by the way in throwing toys in a toy box or straightening up a book shelf or putting papers in a pile and deciding where things should live. I don't care if you put things away... if there are groceries on the counter and you see where the cereal boxes live, knock yourself out. Even if there are a pile of papers all over the place and you find an empty cardboard box and put the stuff in there for me to sort later, that is just fine. But if you start thinking to yourself "Hmm. I could sort these things for her." or "The way she has the clothes in the closet just doesn't make sense. Let me rearrange things so that everything is easier to see." Just stop right there. You will cause me a crazy amount of stress and distress if you organize things for me. I promise. Not helpful. (Sorry about the novel, but this has been done for me many times and it makes me cry every time.)
-Telling me to try harder with my appearance. This is for down the road when I am a sweaty and fat nursing mom, but sometimes people tell me that it would make me feel better to get a haircut or buy a really cute pair of jeans in my larger size instead of waiting to lose weight to fit back into my clothes. First of all, this is annoying because it implies that I don't look good and that is somehow a terrible thing. Secondly, we all have different priorities and maybe I don't want to waste money on something like that right now. Also, I am one of those weirdos that thinks women shouldn't be killing themselves over their appearances all the time. Thirdly, do I want to look like I'm trying to look cute when I don't feel cute at all? Do I want to be that girl wearing the outfit that would look great on a skinny runway model but it looks atrocious on the sweaty fat nursing mom? No. I'll stick to sweat pants and oily hair most of the time, thanks. At least that way I just am what I am and I don't have to depress myself about trying to look cute when it is impossible.
That is pretty much it. I'm sure the lists are not complete, and it is hard to write constructively about depression while you are depressed. The one thing I am concentrating on most of all right now is feeling love towards this baby. If I could change one thought in my head, it would be that. My induction is tomorrow. I am able to climb out of the depression every once in a while, and I'm hoping I can make it tomorrow somehow. It feels better just to put this out there, although it feels worse at the same time because anyone who hasn't experienced this sort of thing may be judgmental about it. Oh well. I can't control what you think. I can barely control myself. But at least now you have a chance to understand me, and if you want to be helpful, you have a rough guideline.