Several of my friends and family are aware that I’ve been dealing with Postpartum Depression (PPD) for a few months now, and the support has been kindhearted and thoughtful. People want to help. They want me to know they are here for me, and that I can always talk to them about anything. Just hearing that, and having that support, means so much and makes a big difference. Their kindness and words are not in vain.
But when you ask me how I’m doing, I will always, always say “I’m doing OK… I’m hanging in there, I’m fighting through it, I’m getting help.” These are all the things I say to appear strong and in control. And some days, it’s the truth.
But not always.
Some days I’m not OK. I’m far from OK. But you will never hear me say that. Do you know why? Fear.
I’m not a fool. I’ve seen how moms who are suffering are portrayed by the media and society. I hear how people talk about moms who are struggling. People question their competency as a mom. People call social services. People take away their children.
Now, I don’t suffer from severe postpartum depression. Let me be clear. I’m not suicidal, and I do not think about harming my family in any way. Perhaps my need for help would outweigh my worries of judgement if that were the case, but I don’t know. And I can only pray it never gets to that point.
I remember calling my OB-GYN when I felt PPD coming on with my firstborn. “Are you so overwhelmed, you feel hopeless? Do you feel like you’re falling apart? If so, you need to call the psychiatric ward immediately.” Look, I may have been struggling with depression, maybe it was even moderate depression, but never in a million years was I going to risk calling the psychiatric ward so they could test my competency to care for my baby. They would have to pry my baby from my cold, dead hands in that case.
And seriously, what new mom doesn’t feel hopeless on and off during the journey? When the baby won’t stop crying. When you’ve gone days and weeks without more than a few hours sleep. Feeling like you’re falling apart on occasion goes with the territory, no?
“No, no…” I responded to my OB. “It’s nothing like that. It’s just some baby blues.” And just like that, I downplayed my depression and essentially shot down other chances at support and help my OB could have provided. Fear of judgement, and concern she would question my ability to parent far outweighed my hope for medical help.
Looking back, I am angry with the way my doctor handled the situation. By suggesting severe depression, and not trying to learn more, she immediately put me on the defensive to the point where I didn’t want to tell her my symptoms. I didn’t want to talk about it at all anymore. I just wanted to go hang up the phone.
I managed to work with another doctor who did ask me less threatening questions and who prescribed me antidepressants, which served as a key tool in my recovery. I also found a therapist who did not judge me or manipulate my words. She listened and gave me the support I needed to beat PPD.
Now, I feel the postpartum depression returning with my second child. And I feel the fear start to creep in. I worry that telling people the truth will lead to judgement, criticism, and even condemnation. And I’m damn certain that despite battling PPD again, I am still the best mother in the world for them. I can still do and be everything they need for happy, thriving lives. But do you think I’m going to try to explain that to everyone who asks me how I’m doing? Hell no. I’m going to say I’m doing OK and change the conversation.
You read stories on the news about moms suffering from depression, sometimes hiding it for far too long, before seeking help or finally letting it consume them. The families say they had no idea, and the mother seemed happy and thriving. Everyone is shocked and surprised. I’m not surprised. I understand why they hide the truth, because I’ve done it too.
Because until our society gives mothers a voice to speak truthfully, frankly and without judgement, my personal struggles with anxiety and depression must remain hidden and only for my therapist’s ears. So the next time you see me and ask me how I’m doing, just know I’m going to say “OK” and we can leave it at that. You’re not letting me down, and I’m not trying to be misleading. I’m just protecting myself and my family in the only way I know how.
I know I’ll beat this depression eventually, but it’s going to have to be on my terms and on my time. I’ll work with a doctor I’m comfortable with and get the medication I need to fight back. I’ll see my therapist, and bare my soul every week or so. But I’m not going to share my journey with you, and I hope you understand. The risks are too extreme, and the fear is too powerful.
And if you are suffering from Postpartum Depression, call your doctor and find someone who is supportive and willing to help treat you. The first doctor you call might not be the right fit. Try again. Don’t let anyone dismiss your symptoms or overplay your feelings. Help is out there, and you can find it without feeling judged or fearful. I promise.