Last month, a North Charleston woman drove her children into the Atlantic Ocean in an apparent attempt to kill them. While being questioned, the mother said she had been trying to send her kids "to a better place." Almost immediately after the story broke, those searching for answers pointed the finger at postpartum depression. As it stands now that doesn't appear to be the case, but it does help illustrate a problem with how PPD is portrayed in the media and how it is perceived by the public at large.
While we seldom talk about postpartum depression, when we do, it's often only in extreme cases when a mother suffering from PPD either hurts or attempts to hurt her own children. But by focusing on the sensational, again and again, we're ignoring the hundreds, the thousands, of women who struggle with postpartum depression every day. Oftentimes, their stories are, luckily, not tragic enough to make the news. They muscle their way through the sad thoughts and the scary ideas. And maybe they come out stronger on the other side, but their fight is silent. When it comes to PPD, we need to shed a light on these cases and remind new mothers that no matter what, if you're struggling, help is available. The folks at Postpartum Support Charleston are a great resource.
My own experiences with postpartum depression began in May 2008 with the birth of the most gorgeous baby girl in the history of baby girls (forgive me, I'm biased), and it encompassed the most trying 18 months of my life so far.
I was so ready for my daughter to be born. Years of babysitting had prepared me for whatever would lie ahead. My husband was my partner, my best friend. We had the nursery prepared months before her arrival, and we had all the latest gadgets and gizmos to help us along the way. But then she was born, and my life turned upside down.
Because my baby was breached, my doctor had to perform a C-section. And no matter how many times other moms have told you that a caesarean is no big deal, let me tell you, it's a big deal. It's major abdominal surgery. Your gut is ripped open in a seven-inch incision, and your child is pulled out through organ and muscle tissue. You're held together by staples, stitches, and bloody bandages. Very little can prepare you for the first view of your newly eviscerated abdomen.
I cried the first time I saw my incision — sobbed. It was so red, so angry, so big. It was hard not to resent the pain, the blood, the gore. And no one ever told me it was okay to cry about that. After all, I'd just had a baby, a perfect little peanut with fluffy hair and big blue-gray eyes. Whatever I went through, it had to be worth it.
Except for when it wasn't, at least in my own exhausted, fucked up head.
The baby didn't nurse well, so I began pumping breast milk. Our feeding routine in the early days went something like this: I fed her a bottle and held her until she was asleep, and then I pumped. I was a cow, and my life centered around production of the only food my child could eat.
This went on every two or three hours, 24-hours a day, for the first two months. My child wasn't a good sleeper, either, eschewing daytime naps for long fussy periods, necessitating hours spent with me pacing the living room floor, trying to soothe her. All the while, I was falling apart.
But the thing is, I'm a good actress. Most people didn't know I was falling apart. On the outside, all seemed fine. My husband was wonderful and supportive. Our moms were offering help all the time. And I could see all that, but all I felt was ... tired. Exhausted. Angry.
It was the anger that was the problem. I was angry at everyone — especially that wonderful, supportive husband. I was angry at myself, too, for turning my own life upside, for turning myself into a dairy cow.
And even though I knew PPD was a thing, even though I knew it was real, I kept telling myself, at least I'm not like those women who're so crazy they kill their kids. At least I'm not hurting anyone. At least I'm under control — never mind the fact that I'd just punched a wall, leaving my hand swollen and bloodied. I hadn't hurt the baby, after all. Just myself.
No one ever told me that I shouldn't hurt myself, either. All that mattered was that I wasn't hurting my child.
You see? If the only stories we share are the extreme ones, then we're doing a disservice to the women like me, the women who are hurting but aren't quite hurting enough to see that they need help. These women do need help, and help is available, if they're willing to ask. I did eventually seek help, but it took me a long time to pull myself out of the hole I'd dug.
We need to take care of new mothers who are hurting and not just the ones who are hurting other people. We need to check on our sisters, our friends, our daughters. We need to make sure they're getting the care they need, if indeed they need it. Because if they're waiting for that event that makes their postpartum depression feel real — that event that changes things — they shouldn't. That event might be the next one to make the news, and wouldn't that just be another tragic story?
So let's share our stories. Let's take care of each other. And let's tell each other that no matter how small we think our pain is, in those early days of motherhood, it's never too small to reach out for help.