I wish someone told me this before. It’s natural for new mothers to feel sad once in awhile.
I didn’t know much about postpartum depression even after I had a baby. I think they handed me a brochure listing its common symptoms at the hospital but I threw it away thinking it’s not something I ever have to read. I thought only crazy, weird and miserable people get postpartum depression and that it will never happen to someone like me.
Today I look back and wonder why something so normal and common can be seen as taboo. No one talks about it and no one wants to share their experiences. Perhaps its due to the pressure to always appear as a mom who has everything together. Perhaps its due to lack of honest dialogue between mothers. Whatever the reason, the truth is rarely shared.
I think the term postpartum depression is misleading because it makes it seem like a rare “disorder” that one must avoid. To me, postpartum depression defines many feelings mother can experience after the birth of a baby. It’s a normal human emotion that occurs when one is sleep deprived, overworked and recovering from childbirth. It’s not a disorder that defines who we are.
Accept, Cope & Move Forward
I was hit hard with postpartum depression when my second daughter was about two months old. I don’t remember the exact time, as those early months are a blur. One day I was okay, and the next day I felt miserable. Or at least, that’s what it felt like. There were no warning signs or ways to prevent my unpleasant feelings. Visualization and meditation didn’t work. One day, I found myself feeling unhappy for no apparent reason, then feeling guilty and hiding away in a closet and crying for hours.
Looking back, I crashed because I wasn’t taking care of my needs. No one told me at the time that the first year was about me as well as the baby. Don’t let your mother, husband or anyone tell you otherwise. It’s not all about the baby. It’s about you too.
It’s not all about the baby. It’s about you too.
During that time I felt a wave of intense mixed emotions. I loved my child, then wanted to run away from her cries. I loved holding her, then wished someone else would come and rock her to sleep. I loved being next to her, then wished I can spend a few hours alone in silence. Then I felt guilty for feeling this way. It was a vicious cycle.
When I couldn’t get myself out of the fog, I sought professional help and was prescribed anti-depressants. I felt weak and guilty for acquiescing to medication but felt I had no other choice because my baby needed me. At the time, I thought it was better to operate daily duties on medication than be unable to get out of bed. It worked for about three months. Then it made me feel worse.
Looking back, I wish I had other options.
1. Keep a gratitude journal
For mothers feeling hopeless or depressed, I’d recommend keeping a gratitude journal. This really worked for me. Every morning when you wake up, make a list of all the things that you are grateful for. Even if it’s something simple and dumb like “I’m glad I have two arms and two legs,” write it down. Because really, missing important body parts is probably a lot more difficult than taking care of a baby. I’m not saying taking care of a baby is easy- God knows it’s not- but get in the daily habit of positive thinking. Be grateful for everything, even simple things like breathing, walking, and being able to have a child.
2. Replace should with I get to.
This was a powerful lesson for me. I was using the word “should” way too much. There were too many things I should be doing like cleaning, making healthy solids, doing laundry and cooking. Instead of should, use the words I get to. Tell yourself “I get to watch my child all day,” “I get to do dishes,” “I get to make baby food,” “I get to cook for my family.”
Repeat this over and over again. Rewire your brain. Be mindful of your word choices. Know that things can be a lot worse.
3. Be kind to yourself
Being a mother means always feeling guilty. One is never truly free from this even as the child gets older. A full time working mother feels guilty that she is leaving her child at a daycare or with a nanny, while a stay-at-home-mother feels guilty for wanting to return to work or leave the house without the baby. A busy mom feels guilty for not being able to cook healthy meals for her children, while a bored mom feels guilty for spending way too much time on Instagram.
It’s okay not to be perfect. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to not feel happy all the time. It’s okay to have a meltdown once in awhile. It’s okay to cry in the shower. It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay. You’re trying your best and you love your baby. That is all that matters. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
4. Don’t lose yourself
This is very important. Don’t ever lose yourself in motherhood. I know how easy it is to become so immersed that you lose sight of who you are, where you came from and where you want to go. You are temporarily putting your life on hold to raise your baby because she/he needs you, but you will have time to live your life again. I know sometimes it feels like that day will never come- but take a deep breath, repeat the above practices and take it day by day. Take care of yourself and your emotions first and foremost.
Loving yourself is not vanity so I’ve learned, it’s a prerequisite to loving others selflessly.
In emergency situations on a plane, it is recommended that mothers put on their oxygen mask before putting it on her child. It’s the same thing. If you feel like your plane is crashing, think about why. Most likely, you are forgetting to take care of your needs first.
Motherhood is a long-winded job, one that is filled with both good and bad days. It’s okay. You are doing an amazing job.