It was really difficult for me to look through photos of Grace's first Christmas, to choose one to put into this post, without getting sad. When I look at this photo I see a young, first-time mom who is trying to pretend that she's okay (but who is really crying and screaming for help on the inside). I was just barely holding things together when this photo was taken...
Grace was seven weeks old in this photo and I had been struggling with postpartum depression for weeks when it was taken. I had failed at breastfeeding, Grace had persistent problems with weight gain and reflux, and I felt extraordinarily isolated from my family and friends. I remember having a continuous loop of thoughts in my head about being a bad mother, what a failure I was, and how Grace deserved to have a better mom. Within a few days of this photo being taken I became suicidal, was diagnosed with postpartum depression, and started on Zoloft. PPD robbed me of the joy of being a new mom and of celebrating my newborn baby's first Christmas. If my depression had not been recognized, and/or gotten worse, this could have been my last Christmas with Grace. Thinking about this gives me the chills.
I did not know at the time that at least 15% of new moms develop PPD (and that this is probably an underestimation). I did not know that I had multiple risk factors for PPD (including feeling isolated, not being able to breastfeed, and having a baby with health problems). I did not know that it's common for new moms to hide PPD and be ashamed about it. And I never in a million years anticipated that it would happen to me when I was pregnant and preparing for Grace's arrival.
But it did...
If you are reading this and any part of this resonates with you, please seek help and get evaluated for PPD.
If you are reading this and are worried that one of your friends or family members who is a new parent might be struggling with PPD, please reach out and say something to her.
If it goes through your mind to check in on a friend who is a new mom, to see if she needs help, please do.
By doing these things you might be saving a life and preventing a newborn from the tragic loss of his or her mother. Without even knowing it you might be giving a mother-child dyad the gift of decades of future Christmases together. Please, please, please reach out to a new mother if you are worried she might have postpartum mental health issues!
Postpartum Support International - excellent website and also has a emergency hotline to call for help - 1 (800) 944-4473.