I begged my mom to hand the following letter to Brené Brown at a conference she attended last month in Washington, D.C. Before the lecture started, my mom handed Brené my letter, who passed it on to her assistant. I’m sure she did this to make sure it didn’t get lost and because let’s be honest, everyone wants a piece of the amazing Brené Brown. While I was hoping for a response to my letter, I never expected one. I’ve decided to share my letter here with all of you because I want everyone to know just grateful I am for Brené Brown and her teachings.
Please don’t be mad at my mother for passing this letter along to you. I begged her to do it for me when I found out she would be attending your workshop. I wanted you to know how much your research and your words have inspired me and put the last four years of my life into perspective. And it’s all because of my mom in the first place.
About six months ago, my mom sent me an email with a link to your talk about critics. As I watched it, I felt as if you were talking directly to me. I quickly replied to her, “Tell me more about this incredible woman and why didn’t I know about her until now?” She sent me a link to your talk about shame and vulnerability. It was exactly what I needed to hear at the time I needed to hear it. I wanted more. So, I binge-read all your books. Moderation isn’t exactly my biggest strength.
Let me back up a bit. Four years ago, I brought my newborn son home from the hospital. Two days later, all I could think about was getting sick or injured so I could go back to the hospital where everyone could take care of me and I didn’t have to take care of a baby. Three weeks later, I was diagnosed with postpartum depression. Six months after that, I turned a corner. At one year, I won the battle. Also, because of my mom. She quickly recognized something was wrong. She took me to the doctors and therapists. She held my hand the whole time. She even got certified to treat other moms with PPD in her own practice. She’s amazing, isn’t she?
At first I couldn’t fathom how someone like me could get postpartum depression. I had a loving and supportive husband and family. I had a night nurse ready to go. I’m intelligent and financially comfortable. I was so excited to become a mother and meet my son during my pregnancy. I was going to fall in love with him immediately upon his arrival. I would breastfeed him with ease and savor the closeness it brought us. When he moved to solids, I would puree my own baby food because I would be a stay at home mom. I would lay on the floor with him, cooing and laughing. I would take photos of him with those month-themed stickers I pinned on my Pinterest board and post these perfectly adorable photos on Facebook and Instagram. I would take him everywhere with me. We would be inseparable. I would always be smiling. Motherhood would be magical because that’s what it was supposed to be. Right?
You are now probably laughing, shaking your head, and rolling your eyes at this fairy-tale version of motherhood I sold myself before I actually became a mother, but I didn’t know any better. It turns out, lots of moms are pretenders falsely advertising their happiness and perfect lives, but you already knew that. I know that now. I was clueless then because no one ever talked about any of the messy parts of motherhood. And they certainly did not speak of postpartum depression. All I knew was what I saw, mostly on social media, and when that didn’t match up with my experience, my body went into shock. My body physically rejected that fake world and I got sick.
The abridged version is that when I finally got better I decided that I would always be real and never make apologies for being my authentic self, one whose introduction into motherhood wasn’t met with feelings of euphoria, but with severe depression and crippling anxiety. I would admit that I quit breastfeeding after five days because I hated it and needed to take care of my own health. I would tell friends and family about the weekly therapy sessions I attended (and still attend) and the medication I had to take to get better. I would talk about my struggle to bond with my son in those first few months, how I could barely get out of bed, get dressed, and leave the house, and the feeling that I didn’t find motherhood all that amazing. I would fully own my decision to only have one child—that giving him a healthy, happy mommy who takes care of herself and lives with purpose and passion, was the best thing I could do for him. I wouldn’t pretend Pinterest was anything other than a place where I pinned crafts I would always have to pay someone else to make for me and recipes I most likely would never cook myself. And finally, I wouldn’t suffer in silence or be ashamed about having postpartum depression, an illness that I learned affects hundreds of thousands of women each year.
I became grateful for my postpartum depression experience and the lessons I learned, the strength and purpose I found, and the bold, honest voice I discovered. A year ago, I launched a blog called The Medicated Mommy so I could share the raw, intimate details of my battle with postpartum depression and help other moms realize they are not alone and find the courage to use their voices too. Soon after, I began contributing to many other sites such as HuffPost and The Mighty.
When I watched your talks and read your books, I felt as if your words echoed everything I had been through. Your research and insights about perfection, shame, and courage could be applied to every part of my journey from diagnosis to the happy, healthy, mommy of an amazing four-year old who is writing this letter to you. Attached to this letter you will find a blog post I wrote where I comment on my postpartum depression journey using quotes from your books. I hope you like it. It is my way of thanking you for the extraordinary work you do and the encouragement it’s provided me as I continue to share my story to help give other moms the courage to do the same so together we can destroy the stigma and shame surrounding maternal mental health once and for all.
Jen Schwartz (The Medicated Mommy)