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Trisha on feeling alone and isolated during postpartum depression

mom holding two babies - essay on feeling alone and isolated with postpartum depression

Content warning: Discussion of postpartum depression, birth trauma, domestic abuse or other tough topics ahead. If you or someone you know is struggling with a postpartum mental health challenge, including postpartum depression or anxiety, call 1-833-9-HELP4MOMS (tel:18009435746)—The National Maternal Mental Health Hotline This free, confidential service provides access to trained counselors and resources 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in English, Spanish, and more than 60 other languages. They can offer support and information related to before, during, and after pregnancy.

I spent many evenings lying on the couch crying, wondering what was wrong with me. Becoming a mother was physically taxing and very difficult emotionally.

I knew motherhood would be hard, but I couldn’t prepare for the extreme endurance I would need and the isolation I would experience. The feelings had started with my son. I wasn’t fulfilled by my role in motherhood. I didn’t want to embrace the martyrdom motherhood required. I wanted me.

I thought it meant I was defective and not really cut out to be a mom. I had entire weeks where the only person I spoke to outside my home was the grocery store cashier. I was often alone as a new mom and later when I became a stay-at-home mom.

Related: No one told me how lonely motherhood can be—and I was unprepared for the seclusion

I didn’t feel the love from my second pregnancy until my daughter joined us via c-section. I felt lightyears better after her birth than my son’s. But everything shifted when I started back at my job when she was around three months old.

Returning from maternity leave with my daughter, I experienced postpartum depression. I had been crying most days after dropping the kids off at daycare. I worked from home and spent the first several minutes of my day crying on the couch.

One day I parked in front of my house and walked around to see a toy car that I’d inadvertently run over. It was a cheap piece of plastic that had no sentimental value to anyone. I dropped my bag, picked up the broken plastic, and started to bawl in my front yard. I didn’t make it to the couch that day.

Related: Postpartum depression and anxiety are more common than you may think—here are the resources you need

I had googled, “Am I depressed?” several times already, but this moment pushed me to call my OB and schedule an appointment to talk about medication.

I have wondered since then, was I actually depressed or just really sad? I don’t know. I do know that I was more able to function with the antidepressants for postpartum depression and I know I was sad. That sadness returned cyclically as I noticed my isolation as a stay-at-home mom. 

In addition to noticing my isolation, people reacted differently to me when they learned I was on medication for postpartum depression. The mood shifted to an uncomfortable, awkward place of deep concern and fear.

“Oh. Are you OK?”

“Do you need a meal train?”

“Oh my goodness, I had no idea!”

“You’re so brave to admit that.”

And when I spoke about being off of them, “So, are you like all better now?”

Related: What to say (and what not to say) to the mama who’s struggling with PPD or PPA

This always confused me. I don’t know what I wanted to hear, but I didn’t want to be treated differently. I was being honest with where I was. I wasn’t in a crisis. The feeling that I was broken crept into my mind. It was never clear if my reality was the problem or that I dare to share it. I did not understand that I was experiencing stigma weaved into compassion.

The comments that were the most helpful to me?

“Good for you recognizing that you needed help!”

“Yeah, it is hard!”

“I’m so glad to hear you’re taking care of yourself.”

“Thank you for sharing that with me; I feel honored.”

“Me too.”

Related: To the mama battling depression: You are not alone

I felt I needed to get over my grief, but also lived in a state of cyclical grief. How could I find comfort and peace? I have since learned that this is unrealistic. There is no shame in what women experience postpartum nor in grief. It is not a sign of weakness or inadequacy. Our culture makes this difficult time even more difficult. The stigma is unnecessary and not helpful.

To me, going on antidepressants was not a question of shame, but was an obvious way to improve a rough situation. Postpartum and all of parenting are hard. That’s common and you are normal. But our culture is not normal.

I was not broken, but was living in a dysfunctional world. Many of us cannot currently achieve the ideal conditions of parenthood, but we can support each other. I see you. It’s OK to hurt. It’s okay to laugh. Both are all okay. Let’s say, “This is hard.” and “I need human connection.”

We need to feel seen and heard. We need to feel held. Let’s hold each other and let ourselves be held and watch the world change.