I always try to write as honestly as I can about motherhood. When I’m on top of the world and in love with motherhood, I don’t hold back. I feel it’s only right to be equally transparent about the parts that are hard. Transitioning to a family of four has been really hard - not so much for Daisy or Nick, but for me. I feel a bit like I’ve been dropped out of a plane without a parachute - which is not how I expected to feel given how much I wanted this pregnancy and how much I prepared for Ella’s arrival.
That’s the thing about postpartum depression: there’s no real rhyme or reason to it. It isn’t necessarily rooted in specific cause. For some people it is, for others it is purely chemical or hormonal - or a mix of both. For me, it is the latter. I am completely happy with where my life is - I love my job, my husband, my home, my family. I am healthy. I have the next 3 weeks off from work to enjoy a gorgeous pool surrounded by gardens and time to myself and with my baby. Our nanny is here to help take care of Daisy and Ella so I can rest and recover and take care of me as needed. I have an incredible support system of friends and family. Still, I feel complete darkness, despair and loneliness. I find myself unable to hold back tears many times a day, feeling hopeless and worthless.
The hardest part - and it’s one I’m a bit ashamed to share - has been connecting with Ella. The first few days after her birth were euphoric and I never wanted to let her go. When we got home, however, I felt a heartwrenching conflict between spending time with Ella and giving all my love and attention to Daisy. I sometimes feel resentful towards Ella for taking me from Daisy while I breastfeed or pump - or for crying and needing me when Daisy wants to be in my lap. I also struggle to feel like she is the baby I carried in my belly for nine months, who I talked to every day and sang to every night. It’s as if I don’t really recognize her as my own.
I remember my mom asking me “how will you ever love another child as much as Daisy?” and while I don’t think she was being fully serious, I find myself now asking that very question. The asking of such questions is immediately followed, of course, by tremendous guilt. How could I bring another child into this world and not love them completely? What kind of mother can’t love two children at the same time? How awful would it be to come into this world and not have the unbridled love of your mother? What kind of awful person am I?
And so, here we are. For now, I am going through the motions. I am pumping every three hours, neatly labeling extra breastmilk in bags in the freezer, organizing bottles in the fridge, breastfeeding when Ella is awake. I change her diaper gently and ease her into the soft, beautiful clothes I bought and folded into her drawers months ago. I rest her on my chest so she can hear my heartbeat as she did in the womb. I massage her back after feedings to help urge out the burps. I sing my favorite songs from her namesake, Ella Fitzgerald, and sometimes she picks her head up for “Paper Moon.” I am doing all the things I wished I could’ve done with Daisy when she was in the NICU and I pray every day that the joy I found in those things when Daisy came home will return.
One thing that helps is knowing I’m not alone. Many mothers in my life are experiencing or have experienced PPD. 1 in 7 American mothers is affected by PPD. For those unfamiliar, the American Psychological Association suggests warning signs - though different for everyone - may include:
A loss of pleasure or interest in things you used to enjoy
Eating much more, or much less, than you usually do
Anxiety—all or most of the time—or panic attacks
Racing, scary thoughts
Feeling guilty or worthless—blaming yourself
Excessive irritability, anger or agitation—mood swings
Sadness, crying uncontrollably for very long periods of time
Fear of not being a good mother
Fear of being left alone with the baby
Inability to sleep, sleeping too much, difficulty falling or staying asleep
Disinterest in the baby, family, and friends
Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, or making decisions
Thoughts of hurting yourself or the baby
Fortunately, my symptoms have never included thoughts of hurting myself or Ella - for me the prominent feeling is one of profound sadness, loneliness and feeling guilty and worthless. In the past two weeks I’ve had to force myself to eat - something that has only happened maybe one or two other times in my life. I am ALWAYS interested in food, so, when I have no appetite for a long stretch, I know something isn’t right. I also know that if symptoms persist, action is required.
What I’m Doing to Cope with PPD
Talking openly with my partner, my family and my friends is an important part of my plan. Sharing what I am going through here and elsewhere allows me to engage with others who have experienced PPD who can express their solidarity and share their stories. Building a community around this common experience is key.
Continuing my current SSRI medication for depression - and evaluating on an ongoing basis whether it makes sense to increase the dosage. Right now my dose is low so I can breastfeed but down the line I may have to weigh whether it makes sense to stop breastfeeding to prioritize mental health.
I found a counselor in my area who specializes in PPD via a Philly-based mothers’ group on Facebook.
I am prioritizing sleep and self-care. When our nanny is here and I can nap between feedings for Ella, I am trying to rest.
I am forcing myself to eat regular and nutritious meals. Food is fuel and medicine.
I am spending as much time as I can outside. Vitamin D helps, being in nature helps.
If you are experiencing PPD too, you are in good company and you can recover. Here are some resources that may be helpful - and know you can always reach out to me for support. There is great strength in numbers ♥
Postpartum Health Alliance
Coping with Postpartum Depression from Parents.com
Postpartum Depression: What Causes It and How to Treat It Holistically from Mind Body Green
For Dads: What to Do & What Not to Do when Your Wife Has PPD from Psychology Today
The Best Alternative Treatment Options for Postpartum Depression from Postpartum Progress
10 Ways to Treat Postpartum Depression Naturally from Modern Alternative Pregnancy
Moms Talk About Postpartum on Birth Without Fear Blog