This blog went live at midnight on September 23/24 2010, the eve of my 39th birthday. This is how this journey began. For more general info about me click here
In a few minutes I will be 10 years older than my mother was when she lost her fight with Postpartum Depression.
It is 8 minutes before my 39th birthday. One kid has a rash, the other has a runny nose. DH is asleep. I should be in bed too, the toddler will probably wake me up in less than 5 hours. I’m tired, but not sleepy. I am on fire.
When the clock strikes midnight, I will publish this website.
For my mother Mina,
my mother Mati,
my grandma Esther,
and for all mothers everywhere:
I am dedicating my work to healing the pain caused by postpartum depression.
I’ve been there too.
The first time was with my birth mother, Mina.
The second time was when I had my first child.
The third was 5 years later, after my second son was born.
My mother Mina was very beautiful.
And very sad.
Her pain was all-consuming.
It affected all of us.
She killed herself when I was six.
(No, she didn’t kill herself on my birthday, that would have been terribly cruel. My mother wasn’t cruel, and she loved me.)
But this is no sob story. My dad remarried a year later to the best stepmother ever (I asked Mati to marry him before he did!). And I grew up in a loving, healthy family environment. Seriously, if all stepmothers were like Mati, kids would be telling their moms to leave them alone so they could get a stepmother already. She is just that good. Still, you can imagine that the scars from losing my birth mother are forever with me.
My second encounter with PPD was six years ago. When my first son was about 7 months old. The combination of sleep deprivation, difficulty breastfeeding (I spent about 5 hours a day pumping. Looking back it seems insane, at the time it felt like the only way to prove to myself I was a “good mother”). Add a hefty dose of genetic predisposition, and it’s no surprise what happened next.
Well, you know how sometimes you need to hit rock bottom to give it a good kick that will propel you all the way back up? My rock bottom (*see the confession below) was a long hard night with my green suede belt wrapped around my neck, crying and praying for the strength to pull it tighter.
More than anything, I longed to free my loved ones from the burden of having such a broken person as their wife and mother.
In my tortured mind, I was obsessed with going up to heaven to do what I believe my mother had done 33 years ago: search from above for the best stepmother out there, and rush her to my family. I “knew” that since I’m so messed up that I can’t take good care of them, it is my “duty” to get out of the way and find someone else who can do the job so much better than me. Would you believe it? Finally, I understood my birth mother.
Something deep inside me recoiled at these thoughts, and ignited a spark. I found strength I didn’t know I had, and started seeking help. I spoke up: to my husband, my parents, my friends. I got a lot of support. I got professional help. I got better.
By the way, I am wearing that green belt as I type. I wear it often. I talk to it sometimes.
Besides sharing this pain with the people who loved me, what helped most was learning every mental-fitness method I could find. I read books, went to depression support groups (I couldn’t find one dedicated to PPD so went to “general” depression meetings). I worked with therapists, took courses, you name it, if it could help, I tried it.
I found many different modalities, with some overlap and varying degrees of accessibility during crisis.
Some of them were totally useless for me: “Breathe deeply, meditate, relax…”. Yeah, right.
Some methods are pretty darn good when applied consistently: Cognitive Therapy, The Work of Byron Katie, and the teachings of Abraham Low.
But none of those methods had everything I needed. And much was explained in technical terms that are far from user friendly.
It took about a year to get “myself” back. But it was a better self, far more equipped to handle emotional challenges than ever before, and much more present to joy. I am now able to mother happily: it is never easy, but it is soul-satisfying.
The third time I lived through postpartum depression was 2 years ago. My first son was almost 4 years old by the time my husband and I mustered the courage to have another child. This time around, when the fatigue and hormones took their toll, I recognized the early symptoms and worked with my family and my doctor to minimize the depth and the duration of the pain. And just as important: this time I knew enough to recognize it wasn’t my fault. I had only to deal with the actual hardship, without compounding it with the extra suffering brought on by guilt and shame. That made all the difference in the world.
I have made it my life’s calling to find a way to replicate my success in overcoming postpartum depression. I am at the very early stages of creating classes that combine the best aspects of the many methods I have studied, and presents the information in a digestible, compassionate, guilt-dissolving way.
My goal is to create programs that are emotionally accessible even to women in the depth of the abyss. I envision customizable treasure maps and paths, to be followed in baby steps and a leap of faith (faith in you, not necessarily in god). I am planning units directed at partners, parents and in-laws (enough with the “you just need to relax” the “snap out of it” the “pull yourself together”), as well as tools for addressing self-talk, body image, relationship issues, self-expression, and compassionate self-care. Yep, that’s a tall order, and it’s all in the works.
(An update: It’s now May 2011, and the first of the classes I’m working on, called the UnGuilt Trip is taking it’s first run here in Ithaca, NY. I am hard at work to turn it into an online course I plan to offer in the fall of 2011.)
For the past few years I volunteered as a counselor at a suicide prevention center. There, I found that my ideas and the tools I was using and especially the language in which they were presented, successfully cut through the thick cloud of pain to show callers a glimmer of hope. When the judgment is removed, callers (of all genders and ages) could see a reason to go on living. And seek help.
(This sort of work is heart-wrenching, but oh, so worth the effort.)
Last week, my toddler started going to nursery school.
After years of being “just” a stay-at-home mom, I can now begin doing my life’s work.
I am currently leading recovery groups in my community of Ithaca, New York, and offer a free a monthly support phone chat: The PPD SpeakEasy, accessible from anywhere. I’m an ambitious gal: I feel compelled to get this life-saving information into the hands of mothers everywhere.
My mission: to remove guilt and shame from the parenting experience. I want to show struggling mothers that what seems like a dead-end cave is actually a tunnel, one that can be crossed safely with the support of a loving community throughout the journey.
So if you need this sort of help, please keep in touch. If you know a mother in pain, please spread the word. Let’s help the suffering mothers of the world step out of the dark clouds of shame and guilt, and begin to shine.
Confession time. This page was created in September 2010. It is now April 2011. I’ve been pouring my soul on this website, but all this time I’ve been holding something back:
The night with the belt around my neck, was how I bottomed after the birth of my second son. With the first one, rock-bottom was an overdose of sleep/anxiety medication.
Yes. Like my mother before me, I attempted to end my life. I choose to believe she had something to do with the fact I survived.
Until about a couple of weeks ago, I kinda thought the night with the belt around my neck was bad enough; I couldn’t bring myself to share my suicide attempt here. Too much, too exposed. I was working up my courage to write about this, and in the last few weeks I had gotten the courage I needed from someone I adore despite never having met her in person: Kimberly from http://www.makemommygosomethingsomething.com/
She is so brave and honest in her journey, that she inspired me to “fess up”. I still need to write a lot more about this. It’s in the works, but it’s taking me forever, writing through my tears.
The first blog post I mentioned this in is this one: http://www.ppdtojoy.com/blog/absence-of-love/