Postpartum depression has been on my mind a whole lot lately. First there was the news a few months ago that the first fast acting treatment had been approved by the FDA (if you have $36,000 to pay for it and can take three days off life to hang out in the hospital. Thanks science, that's super helpful). Then early this spring I found out that after an almost five year gap, I am pregnant with kid #2.
When Emma was born, I did not recognize that what I was experiencing was postpartum depression. I felt like I had ruined my life.. like I had everything so good and I totally messed it up. Like I just wasn't cut out to be a mom. I need space. I need sleep. I didn't leave the house for months and I cried every night when the sun started to go down. Josh kept asking me to call my doctor and I would snap back that I wasn't feeling sad because of some chemical imbalance- I was feeling sad because I genuinely felt like I would never be a person again. I couldn't recognize in that moment that these were not actual facts.
I think a huge part of what made the transition into parenthood so hard for me was that no one told me about this stuff. Of course I knew that there would be sleep deprivation and some adjustments, but I did not expect to feel like my life was over. I lost a good six months of my life to those feelings and the thing that really sucks is I feel like, at least in part, it, was avoidable or treatable but once you are in it, it's impossible to see that.
That experience was largely what prompted us to open Cub Shrub. When I started to find brands and items that identified motherhood as something that was relatable to me.. something that fit in with my pre-baby life in terms of aesthetics and ethics, I began to find my identity as a parent who was a PERSON too. I'm incredibly affected by my surroundings and having gaudy baby stuff all around the house made me feel like I needed to be this new person that I didn't recognize as myself.
I am not at all suggesting that you can shop away postpartum depression. I do believe that having well-made, good looking things for my kid made me realize that I could do this parenting this my way and that was empowering to me. But that was just a small piece of the puzzle.
I'm doing some work ahead of time for baby #2 because I refuse to lose a chunk of my life again to this. Here is what I am working on so far:
This time around, I know that I might not recognize my baby right away. Or even love him immediately. I was shocked the first time I saw Emma that I didn't know her at all. I think I expected to feel about her then the way that I do now. But I didn't. And that's totally normal and okay and doesn't mean that those feelings won't come.
This time around, I know that I will not leave the hospital wearing my pre-pregnancy clothes. I will leave the hospital looking at least 7-8 months pregnant and wearing those huge mesh underwear that they provide. That's okay. It's temporary.
Hire a postpartum doula
In case you are unfamiliar with what a postpartum dula does, here's the definition from the American Pregnancy Association- " A postpartum doula provides evidenced based information on things such as infant feeding, emotional and physical recovery from birth, mother–baby bonding, infant soothing, and basic newborn care. A postpartum doula is there to help a new family in those first days and weeks after bringing home a new baby."
I had NO IDEA the first time around that this was something that would be useful. Honestly, I expected that my mom (who has 5 kids) and my OB would fill this role. I didn't realize that I wouldn't see my OB for over a month and a half after I left the hospital. I didn't realize that 20+ years makes your mom forget a lot of stuff about newborn care ("What do you mean you don't know??"). I love my mom and I have a great OB but I need someone checking in on me. I need a refresher on what sleep cues look like. I don't at all remember how often a baby should nap in the first couple of weeks and months of life, how many wet and dirty diapers they should have, ETC.
I will most likely be having a scheduled C-section (more on that some other time..) but if I was going to have another stab at a vaginal delivery I would definitely want to have a doula in the hospital with me this time as well.
This one is tough for me because I am not one to accept help ever, really. But I am already mentally preparing to say "Yes!" to any offer of help this time! People really WANT to help! I remember thinking that there was no way that someone actually wanted to come over and hold Emma so I could take a shower or something, but now that she is older and I see tiny babies coming into the shop all day and know that I would so love to hold them if their mom wanted to have a minute to herself I realize that people do really want baby snuggles. If you want to come over and hold this new kid or do my dishes or walk my dogs, shoot me a message! The answer is yes!
Say no to visitors
This might seem like a contradiction to the above.. but basically I would love to have people over to help with things, but I don't feel inclined to accept every offer from those who just want to come "meet the baby". As an introvert and a perfectionist, having every person that I ever met come over to my house during the most stressful months of my life was not helpful. I'm thinking of having an open house type of thing where there is an hour some day a few weeks in where you can just come and see the baby. You will be required to wash your hands at the door and I will kick everyone out at an appointed time. Is that crazy? Have any of you done this?
Listen to my own needs
For me, this is largely about breastfeeding. I think it's a miracle and a testament to how incredibly women's bodies are but, personally, the restrictions that it put on my ability to be my own person again where kind of stifling. I remember at Emma's 6 month check up, crying to her doctor about how much I wanted to quit and asking him how bad it would be for her if I just called it. He told that the most important thing a baby needs is a happy mom and if this was making me unhappy it would be best for everyone if I just quit. So I did. And guess what? NOTHING CHANGED AND EMMA WAS FINE! I am absolutely not anit-breastfeeding, but I am against putting expectations on moms that make them miserable needlessly. There is such a movement for self care now, but I feel like it's marketed to moms as being a bath bomb and a face mask. Those are not things that I need in my life to make me feel taken care of. I'm committed to ask myself more often in this period of my life what it is that I need to keep myself feeling human at the very least.
I'm just a shopkeep and this is in no way medical advice. There are certainly cases of postpartum depression that require medical intervention and I don't want to suggest that doing the above could just make those feelings go away. I'm just trying to make sure that I am approaching this delivery from the best emotional place that I can and hoping that makes a difference for me. I hope it will, but also its possible that it won't. That's why I'm also talking with my OB about having a plan in place beforehand for if I find myself crying every night at sunset. I am so hoping to avoid it but I will do whatever I need to to take care of myself this time and not just ignore it. I'm going to need to sell a whole lot of baby dresses and eat nothing but dry ramen for a year to pay for that 3 day hospital treatment.. but if it comes to it, I will, because the most important thing a baby can have is a happy mom.