My beautiful babies —
There are few sort of “side note” letters about various topics I’m hoping to write for you as I have time, and now seems like a good occasion for one of them. Today, Alex & Charlie ran their first race with me. I chose this particular race not only because it was super kid-friendly (pumpkin decorating! cookies! face painting! moon bounce! rock climbing wall! LOL), but also because it was put on for a cause that has become very near & dear to my heart since I became a mother… postpartum mental illness. The beautiful mother who this race is in honor of tragically lost her battle with this illness, leaving behind her husband and three young children. I was especially touched by her story because, frankly, that could have easily been me.
Postpartum depression, anxiety, and/or psychosis (for the sake of my typing fingers I’m going to say PPD from this point out) affects 1 in 5 new mothers as of when I’m writing this letter (I hope & pray the statistics are better by the time you read this). There are a number of factors involved in how & why this happens (physical as well as environmental), but I believe that the extraordinary pressure women of my generation, especially mothers, put on themselves to “have it all” and do everything Pinterest-perfectly by the book is a huge factor. The ridiculous lack of postpartum support in this country has a lot to do with it too. But the fact is that PPD can happen to any new mother within the first few years of their child’s life, no matter what their circumstances are. I think I’m a pretty good example of that.
PPD nearly broke me. Well, the truth is that is DID break me– several times really, starting from when Alex was a newborn. It began as mood swings and anxiety, which I chalked up to hormones and exhaustion. Over time it became more severe. I was crying all day and awake with anxious thoughts all night. I kept telling myself that I needed to “snap out of it,” that this is how parenthood was and I was being weak. Those thoughts eventually lead to me thinking that I wasn’t fit to be a mother. That you three deserved better. That you would be better off without me. You can probably imagine where those sorts of thoughts lead to. 😦
I am blessed to have Dad, who saw what was happening & helped me put the pieces back together every time I fell apart. He is the one who dealt with me in my darkest days and weakest moments, even when that meant that I treated him poorly, or I was too broken to function through normal daily life. He is the one who wrestled the phone from my hands so that he could call the suicide prevention hotline while I sobbed and begged him not to because “I’m NOT crazy!” and I was convinced that such a phone call would brand me with that label, get me “drugged up,” separated from my babies or worse. He is the one who was eventually able to push me into seeking help from my doctors, friends and family. And of course, he is the one who has been an amazing partner and father to you three from the moment I showed him our first positive pregnancy test. And with each new baby he’s gotten more & more awesome at it.
I am blessed to have your grandparents, who did not hesitate to help when I finally started to ask for it. It took me awhile to get to that point because the anxiety made me feel like I needed to do everything myself, even though that mentality was drowning me. We’ve since set up a system of regular support in the form of your monthly grandparent visits– raising you three without any family or close friends to rely on nearby makes dealing with PPD that much more difficult, and frankly those regular stretches of time alone to “recharge” have become key to my sanity.
I am blessed with a multitude of “mom friends,” both online and locally, who understand my situation and are always available for words of advice, support, and empathy… when I have the courage to reach out to them. I didn’t for a long time, you see, because I didn’t want to look weak. I didn’t want to appear “abnormal” or “less-than” and ESPECIALLY not “crazy.” So for a long time, only a few people knew I had PPD, and even fewer knew the full depths of what exactly I was going through. With time and many conversations with these friends I’ve come to learn, as I mentioned before, that PPD is a lot more common than most realize. I’m not alone in this fight, and that knowledge in & of itself has put me in a much better place.
I am blessed to have access to medical care, although it did take a great deal of phone calls and independent research to figure out what I needed and where to go to get it, which is unfortunate to say the least. And I didn’t even get to the point of admitting that I needed that kind of help until Charlie was over 6 months old, so by the time I finally started receiving medical care for my PPD it had gone untreated for almost 2 years. Nevertheless, I still consider myself more fortunate than many others in my situation.
Even with all that, I broke time & time again. It’s still a very precarious balance, a fight against the darkness that even now is always in the forefront of my mind. And even when I’m past this “baby stage,” past the hardest part as far as PPD goes, I think it will always be at least a small part of who I am.
So why am I telling you all this? Why did I want to write you a separate letter about it? Well, above all else it’s because these letters are part of our family’s story. I promised in the beginning to share with you how raising you was from my perspective, and this is a big part of it… even though it’s not sunshine & rainbows & cute baby pictures. I also wanted to tell you about my PPD experience because if you ever become parents yourselves someday, I want you to know that this is something that can happen, and it’s not such a crazy, weird thing. It doesn’t make you a bad parent. And should this happen to you or someone you love some day, I hope this letter can help you recognize it for what it is, and seek help accordingly.
I also wanted to use this letter as an opportunity to let you guys know that it had nothing to do with you and everything to do with me, my body, and my particular set of circumstances. And above all else, I have no regrets as far as becoming a parent goes. I’d go through it all again in a heartbeat to have you three. I know I say this in my letters a lot, but you guys truly are the lights of my life. Despite its challenges, I have no doubt that I was put on this planet to be your mother. And I thank God everyday for it.
All my love,