I think, in looking back, I’m thankful I went through postpartum depression.
It’s a strange thing to say, I know. And if you are currently going through it, please don’t hate me. But as someone who survived postpartum depression (PPD) and came out on the other side, I can honestly say that—on some level—I’m glad that chapter of my life occurred.
Today, I cherish my children in a way that I would have never thought possible in my darkest hours of PPD, when I literally wished that my now 5-year old daughter did not exist. When I would gaze longingly at my front door and fantasize that someone, anyone, would come and take her away and make this nightmare of motherhood end. When my husband would have to gently take my arm and pull me out of bed every morning before leaving for work, because I was paralyzed with dread and sadness about the day ahead.
These are the kinds of toxic and intrusive thoughts that plague your mind when you experience a perinatal mood disorder (PMD), which can include depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive tendencies, rage, and posttraumatic stress, among other symptoms. And while I often tell people that I would not wish this illness on my worst enemy, at the same time—I have come to a point in my journey where I can say I am in good company of other warrior mamas who have made it through the storm like me.
To be clear: every single mom I know is amazing in their own way and loves their child unconditionally. I do not mean to imply that mothers who have experienced a PMD are somehow better or more loving than those who don’t. But we have had to fight for our love, in a way, and I think that means something.
When my daughter, Hannah, passed away from a congenital heart defect five years ago, I thought my own life was over. Not because I had any intention of hurting myself, but because I was broken inside and didn’t know how I would be able to move forward and function on a daily basis.
I all but stopped eating, because I had no appetite. I would vomit out of sheer panic and anxiety. I had to muster every ounce of energy I possessed to brush my teeth each day. Sometimes, I didn’t even get that far.
You would think I would have latched on to Hannah’s surviving twin sister, Elizabeth, but the opposite happened. I felt a complete disconnect from my daughter, and while I managed to meet her basic everyday needs—providing food via nursing, changing diapers, etc.—I loathed every second of being a mother and deeply resented my new life.
Through private therapy, medication, the support of family and friends, and my faith, I eventually got better. After enduring many months of overwhelming sadness, lethargy, and self-doubt in my role as a new mom, things started to click, and I finally fell in love with my daughter. Not quite two years later, I was blessed enough to have another child, my daughter Maggie.
Today, I am a co-founder and coordinator of a support group for women experiencing perinatal mood disorders in the Cleveland, Ohio area. We are part of a larger statewide organization called POEM, which stands for Perinatal Outreach and Encouragement for Moms. We have had tremendously positive feedback from the community.
On more than one occasion, women have told us that this group saved their life. I have witnessed incredible bonds and friendships form. A woman once shared that she cried tears of joy the entire drive home after her first meeting, because of the immense relief she felt from realizing that she wasn’t alone and that there was hope for her to come out the other side of this illness.
And so, in a way, I am glad I experienced postpartum depression. Because otherwise, I would not have had the opportunity to help lead this group of brave women. I would not have had the honor and privilege of meeting the strong, amazing women who continually come to us week after week and allow us to accompany them on their journey in becoming the mom they want to be.
Without postpartum depression, I would not know to ask new moms how they are really doing after childbirth. To not just assume that motherhood is all rainbows and unicorns.
I would not be cognizant of the fact that, so often, especially in those early days and months of sleep deprivation and hormonal fluctuations (and the general upheaval of your life) that mark the arrival of a newborn—a mom is at her lowest and frailest, both mentally and physically speaking.
Without postpartum depression, I would not have the passion and empathy I have now to serve other mothers who also experience this debilitating nightmare that is perinatal mood disorders. To raise awareness by raising my voice in order to destigmatize these illnesses. To better understand mental health in general and recognize the painful struggles and challenges faced by those courageous individuals who deal with mental illness every day.
Lastly, without postpartum depression, I would not be the mom I am today.
I would not have discovered the strength, resilience and inner warrior I had hiding within myself—ready to battle.
I would love my daughters no matter what; they are my entire world and represent a source of pure and never ending joy in my life. But without postpartum depression, I would not know what it means to have to work for that love. To claw your way out of the blackest of holes and emerge victorious, ready to give everything you have to your child.
I am a proud survivor of postpartum depression, and I have a message for any woman who is going through this illness: You are not alone. You are not crazy. You are not a bad mom. You are stronger than you think, and I promise things will get better. You will not feel this way forever. I promise.
I know it can be hard to admit you need help, but please consider reaching out to a trusted healthcare provider to start a treatment plan, whether that be counseling, medication, a support group, or a combination of all these tools.
You deserve it, and so does your family.