The week of May 4-9 is Maternal Mental Health Week and is a really important topic, dear to my heart. This photo was taken recently, since Covid started and we’ve been quarantined but, I feel it accurately represents that dark place that I’ve been in many times since first having Postpartum Depression. And by the way, I didn’t mean to spill yogurt all over the floor, but I did stop to take a photo of it after it happened cuz it was just one of those messed up moments during that time.
When this whole quarantine started, I wasn’t sure how I’d react or if my depression would flare up, but I can say that despite being under a lot of stress, I haven’t experienced that sense of depression for a while. For me, therapy, medication and a lot of self growth and self care are what helped me go from a place of depressed, helpless and hopeless to a place of possibility, empowerment and courage.
I’m not sure where to begin my story because I believe there are many layers to it and each day, month, year I uncover more and more about myself. My first experience with Maternal health, though, was after my oldest was born. I recently read my journal of her birth story and it’s exactly as I remember it, plus one thing, which gave me pause. I wrote about how difficult and yet empowering my birth with her was. It was a home birth. Intimate, peaceful, supported. And what surprised me was that I wrote how immediately in love with her I was. How I thought she was beautiful and how amazing it was that my husband and I created this perfect human from our love together.
The reason this surprised me was that I don’t remember my postpartum experience like that at all. I remember a lot of darkness, confusion, anger, resentment, loneliness, depression and sadness. I also felt very disconnected with my daughter for years. And not only my daughter, but with all of my kids. Like I was their mother but only in a perfunctory kind of way, not emotionally or deeply.
I specifically remember talking with two other mom friends of mine who expressed that the birth was the hardest part and having their baby was so much easier and I was thinking, “That’s not MY experience! What are they talking about?!” When I hinted to it in our conversation, I received blank stares.
I think (although I can’t be sure) that my darkness started once I started welcoming visitors and family members to see me. For me, that meant I was inviting opinions I wasn’t ready to sift through, ideas I hadn’t developed for myself yet, and questions I had no answers for.
The spiral effect of needing to respond to all these things, sleep deprivation and feeling insecure about my own mothering capabilities, feeling alone so much of the time, both because I’m an only child, because I didn’t live near family, and because I was waking up constantly at night to nurse, led me down a very dark and suffocating road. Plus, I was trying to just seem okay on the outside. No one else looked like they were having issues with being a new mother and i was around a lot of new mothers, having lived in an orthodox jewish community where large families were the norm, not the exception.
Finally, around 8-10 months postpartum (I don’t remember when), I called my husband home from work because I couldn’t take it anymore. I remember sitting in my bedroom, feeling like I was in a dungeon and asking him to go for a walk. Before he came home, I remember feeling like I was a danger to myself and my baby. I didn’t have any plans to do anything to either of us, but I just felt that I was out of control and wanted to throw my baby every time she started crying. I don’t remember what we talked about on that walk but it was the first time I felt listened to in a really long time. Or maybe it was the first time I was really being honest with how I was feeling.
At some point, I went to my doctor, getting prescribed Zoloft, but then feeling nervous about taking it so I didn’t take it consistently and didn’t get any benefit from it, either. Eventually I found a clinic that offered therapy and started going to weekly therapy sessions. That was my first experience with a mental health therapist and I am so grateful for those sessions and the experience that opened me up to my real feelings, my dreams and my very empty toolkit for adult living that has been getting more and more robust over the past ten years.
There is so much more to my story, but in sharing this bit, I hope to let other moms out there know that they aren’t alone. Social media has been a great way for perinatal mood disorders to get more publicity, but the shitty thing is that when you’re in the middle of it, it’s hard to believe that anyone else out there has been through what you’re experiencing or even can relate to you. I was drawn to working as a postpartum doula because I know how isolating and confusing that time of life can be and I want to be there for moms to help them through their journey with love and support.
If you or someone you know is struggling with postpartum depression, anxiety or any other form of mental illness, you can get help!! Reach out to me or a loved one and share what’s going on so you can get supported and no longer live in that place of darkness.
You can email or call me: firstname.lastname@example.org or 310-309-1244. I also respond frequently to my Instagram account DM’s @rivkahleah.births .
In addition, some amazing online resources for seeking professional help include:
You deserve to feel better!!