Lean in, you guys. This is important.
May has been declared National Postpartum Depression Awareness Month, and as someone who has suffered myself, I would like to tell you a story.
When my third baby was born, she came out ravenous. She sucked on anything and everything: the doctor’s stethoscope, her father’s finger, my necklace, air. It makes sense, if you knew her now, that she was this way then. She’s always been this way.
But I’m not here to tell you about her, not today. What I want to tell you today is how as she grew and continued to consume life in big ravenous gulps, the opposite happened to me. I became flatter and duller. I was tired all the time, sure, but this was that bone aching tired that sleep doesn’t come close to touching. I was anxious too, terrified that I was screwing her up or about to screw her up and thoughts started to creep in, uninvited, from the edges of the darkness: maybe they would be better off without me.
(Here’s what I know now, that I didn’t know then: this is a lie the sickness tells you. They will never, ever, EVER be better off without you.)
I asked my doctor at the time: “Could this be postpartum depression? After my third kid? Does that even happen?”
(Here’s what I know now, that I didn’t know then: it does happen.)
I said: “But it’s been months since she was born. Can you get PPD months later?”
(Here’s what I know now, that I didn’t know then: you can.)
He said, and I quote, “I’m not sure what you want me to do here. I’m not a psychologist.” This dismissal made me feel like I was being erratic. Hormonal. Self indulgent.
(Here’s what I know now, that I didn’t know then: I wasn’t.)
He sent me home with a prescription for antidepressants. I sat that night with this prescription in my hand, and I worried if taking them was a poor choice.
(Here’s what I know now, that I didn’t know then: It wasn’t. That medication saved my life.)
You see, right, what I am saying? I didn’t know. Nick didn’t know either. We had had two children already and we thought the third would be easy. I’d been pregnant three times, was raising three little kids. Advice, some solicited and most not, was heaped up around my feet by seemingly everyone we passed in the street, but this?
NO ONE TOLD ME.
No one said I could love my baby so much and still wonder if I had made a huge mistake.
No one told me I would spend my my evenings, after everyone else had gone to bed, lifting her sleeping form from her crib and just holding her against me, resting my weeping head in her nest of curls, whispering, “I’m so sorry, baby. I’m so sorry.”
No one told me you could feel broken and battered and bent under the weight of sadness and anxiety and yet seemingly still look normal enough that it would surprise people when you scared yourself enough to weakly raise your voice and ask for help.
And THAT is what this is. That’s why we get a month.
We need to raise our voices.
We need to tell our stories.
We need to #endthestigma.
And we need to keep talking, even when we don’t want to, even when it’s unsightly or embarrassing or uncomfortable. Even when our month is over.
Because one in nine women suffers from postpartum depression or anxiety following the birth of a child.
Because one in 10 men suffers from postpartum depression or anxiety following the birth of a child.
Because this is people we know. This is people we care about.
This was me.
Maybe, even, this is you. And if it is, please trust me when I tell you this one thing, if nothing else: speak up.
Because here’s what I know now, that I didn’t know then: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Not even close.
Hear that? That’s us. We’re here too.
Liz is a writer, blogger, teller of stories, believer in truth, and mama to four. She shares her stories on lizpetrone.com and all over the Internet, and recently finished a sloppy first draft of her first book. She can also be found on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HELLO to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.