If being gay has taught me anything, it’s to come out. And especially as a person for whom silent and isolated suffering was nearly deadly. So I’m doing it. With equal parts trepidation and confidence, I’m acknowledging that I’m one of the 3 million women a year to experience a postpartum mood disorder.
My experience doesn’t feel as clinical as that sounds, but that’s what it’s called. For me, it’s anxiety. Horrific little vignettes of terror that play in my mind awake and asleep. I drive through an intersection and picture that car not stopping at the light, but instead plowing into mine, where my 4-month-old baby is sleeping behind me. Or I worry that my wife and I miscommunicated about who was taking Harvey to school and accidentally left him in his car seat in the driveway. I see violence, natural disasters that separate us, sexual assault (which certainly might be compounded by this presidential election), suffocation, dislocation, isolation, devastation.
Despite my years of practicing stress reduction and the art of optimism, and even being fully aware that we’re not in danger, I can’t rationalize my way out of these mental flashes of hell. Scientists say it’s an overabundance of oxytocin, the love hormone. That makes sense to me, because I’ve always had this idea that we can only be as happy or sad as we are able to experience the opposite. I think of it as a sort of experiential pendulum theory. Because would bliss feel good if it was the status quo?
Never before have I known joy like my little slobbering monster provides. I feel every molecule of that oxytocin pumping through my brain’s synapses when he smiles or I catch a whiff of his baby perfume. But like a Newton’s Cradle, I wonder if the widening of my pendulum’s swing to the side of near ecstasy consequently elongates the backswing allowing for hitherto unimaginable anxiety and pain.
Why do I want to come out? A couple reasons.
First, I don’t know, had it not been for my sister’s astute characterization of her own postpartum experience (she had a babe a couple months before Harv was born ― cousins!) that I would have been able to identify, name and seek support for what I was going through. These feelings don’t come with labels. They just invade our sense of safety, self and even sanity without permission or warning. Mental weights placed on the hearts and heads of mamas, as if we didn’t have enough to lift already.
I also wanted to say something because even for those of us who can give it a name, it’s, well, scary. We’re parents; we should be brave. We’ve produced life; we should be happy. We’re responsible; we should have our proverbial shit together. Add to that the societal stigma of mental disorders, the fact that our bodies have transformed, that we’re responsible for keeping something alive when historically we’ve even killed hearty houseplants, and the reality we sleep a fraction of the amount we used to. Not to mention the lack of paid paternity leave and the cost of quality childcare.
So, you can have the most beautiful and smiley baby on the planet (and we might!) and it’s still an exercise of superhuman strength to part with your kid every day and let the happy feelings take up more space in your psyche. But I am determined to do it.
So I speak up to honor where I am, to heal, to connect and maybe even help a fellow mama.
Because when you have it all, you’ve got everything to lose. And both of those things are what make life an extraordinary experience.