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What I Need My Kids to Know About Postpartum Depression

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“Where’s mama?” my two-year-old inquired sadly. His tear-streaked face and profoundly appropriate question broke my heart. We were standing there together, and yet he asked where I was.


A wave of shame and frustration rolled through my body. I had lost my temper and yelled at him again over nothing. We were both in sad, confused tears.

I knelt to wrap him in my arms, softly telling him I was so sorry. The anger had burst from within me out of nowhere and I felt powerless to stop it. I was as frightened as he was.

His question, “Where’s mama?” was a legitimate one. He didn’t recognize this angry version of me. He was asking where his real mama was. And I really didn’t know.

I’m on a path now to reconnecting with the real mama. But like 600,000 mothers each year in the U.S. my struggle with postpartum mental health disorders is also very real. And I want my children, when they’re old enough, to understand maternal mental health; what it is and what it’s taught me.

Mental illness is like a monster. It lurks in the mind and body waiting to reveal itself unexpectedly. Everyone’s monster is different. And the monster has many faces.

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Anxiety

Some level of worry after having a baby is completely expected and normal. But for many women anxiety dominates their thinking and begins to interfere with their ability to function and bond with their children. Anxiety presents itself as obsessively thinking about every possibility that may or may not become reality. Fears are often irrational and cannot be assuaged. 

Racing thoughts, rumination and inability to sleep take a physical and mental toll on the mother who simply wants the best for her child.

My monster’s “anxiety face” included extreme irritability, obsessive self doubt, racing thoughts about the “right” and “wrong” way to do everything and inability to focus and complete tasks.

As anxiety took over, my confidence and sense of self was shattered. Even simple decisions became monumental challenges. And as I struggled with perfectionism and inadequacy I took those frustrations out on my son. Every challenging behavior he presented felt like a reflection of myself as a mom who wasn’t good enough.

I want my kids to know my actions were never about not loving them. They were about my anxiety robbing me of my love for myself.

Depression

During the postpartum period, hormones are all over the place taking emotions in unexpected directions. The stress of taking care of a new baby combined with sleep deprivation and very little time out of the house leaves many women feeling down.

But postpartum depression lingers, can develop anytime during baby’s first year, and will not get better on its own. An article featured on the Postpartum Progress website, The 6 Stages of Postpartum Depression, expresses why the monster’s “depression face” can be a tricky one to identify. It explains how identifying and dealing with postpartum depression often involves denial and bargaining with oneself about the severity and root cause of the symptoms.

Once appropriately identified, the feelings of hopelessness, apathy, lack of motivation, and extreme fatigue can be treated with a combination of medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, and self-care practices.

I want my kids to know that I would have started treating my symptoms sooner if the illness hadn’t convinced me I wasn’t ill. If I could go back and have more time with them as my real self, I absolutely would.

Obsessive compulsive disorder

Anxiety can sometimes bring with it the monsters of obsession and compulsion. Burdened by worry, the mind is taken over by irrational, intrusive thoughts. Women experiencing obsessive, intrusive thinking replay fearful negative thought patterns over and over in their minds. These may include thoughts of harming themselves or their children and cannot be dismissed by logic. Intrusive, obsessive thinking leads women with obsessive compulsive disorder to engage in rituals or perform a task repeatedly.

In my own experience, obsessive thoughts about schedules, routines, and the “right” way to do things dominated my thinking and perpetuated the cycle of anxiety and depression.

I want my kids to know that the monster thoughts in my mind are what compelled me to continue picking up toys and sweeping the floor instead of sitting down and playing with them.

Fortunately, my boys will never experience maternal mental illness themselves. But they will most likely know someone who does, quite possibly the mother of their own children someday or someone else they love. The maternal mental illness monster can be a scary one. But male or female, people equipped with the right tools and awareness can win the battle against it.

Loved ones can be warriors for the mothers struggling with perinatal mood disorders. But they have to recognize what the mother is going through for what it is; a disorder. Unfortunately mental illness is often misunderstood and those afflicted with disorders are sometimes blamed for their symptoms as if overcoming it is simply mind over matter.

But, just as an epileptic shouldn’t be blamed for having seizures neither should people with mental illness be blamed for mood swings or irrational behavior. These are symptoms of the disease. And just like other illnesses, perinatal mood disorders affect the entire family, require treatment, and have no one-size-fits-all path through the recovery process.

So as I recover, I understand that it won’t happen overnight and am trying to be patient with myself in the process. And I hope if my kids find themselves helping someone they love through maternal mental illness they will understand that getting better takes time. It’s a difficult journey but slowly and surely the monster will retreat, revealing the familiar real mama once again.

My experience with postpartum mental illness often revealed itself through irritability and anger. There was yelling in a voice I didn’t even recognize as my own. An intimidating mama my child didn’t recognize slammed doors and walked away. But I’m working hard to leave that person behind and be the mother I know I really am.

When my children become adults, I hope the slammed doors and angry words are not the part of my experience that makes the biggest impact on them. Instead I hope their awareness of maternal mental health will allow them to see my illness as open doors to knowledge and acceptance. I hope other families will use the resources available to open more doors of advocacy for mothers struggling to find their real selves.

If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of a postpartum mood disorder please visit the following sites and seek local help.

Postpartum Progress

Postpartum Support International

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By: Justine LoMonaco


From the moment my daughter was born, I felt an innate need to care for her. The more I experienced motherhood, I realized that sometimes this was simple―after all, I was hardwired to respond to her cries and quickly came to know her better than anyone else ever could―but sometimes it came with mountains of self-doubt.

This was especially true when it came to feeding. Originally, I told myself we would breastfeed―exclusively. I had built up the idea in my mind that this was the correct way of feeding my child, and that anything else was somehow cheating. Plus, I love the connection it brought us, and so many of my favorite early memories are just my baby and me (at all hours of night), as close as two people can be as I fed her from my breast.

Over time, though, something started to shift. I realized I felt trapped by my daughter's feeding schedule. I felt isolated in the fact that she needed me―only me―and that I couldn't ask for help with this monumental task even if I truly needed it. While I was still so grateful that I was able to breastfeed without much difficulty, a growing part of me began fantasizing about the freedom and shared burden that would come if we bottle fed, even just on occasion.

I was unsure what to expect the first time we tried a bottle. I worried it would upset her stomach or cause uncomfortable gas. I worried she would reject the bottle entirely, meaning the freedom I hoped for would remain out of reach. But in just a few seconds, those worries disappeared as I watched her happily feed from the bottle.

What I really didn't expect? The guilt that came as I watched her do so. Was I robbing her of that original connection we'd had with breastfeeding? Was I setting her up for confusion if and when we did go back to nursing? Was I failing at something without even realizing it?

In discussing with my friends, I've learned this guilt is an all too common thing. But I've also learned there are so many reasons why it's time to let it go.

1) I'm letting go of guilt because...I shouldn't feel guilty about sharing the connection with my baby. It's true that now I'm no longer the only one who can feed and comfort her any time of day or night. But what that really means is that now the door is open for other people who love her (my partner, grandparents, older siblings) to take part in this incredible gift. The first time I watched my husband's eyes light up as he fed our baby, I knew that I had made the right choice.

2) I'm letting go of guilt because...the right bottle will prevent any discomfort. It took us a bit of trial and error to find the right bottle that worked for my baby, but once we did, we rarely dealt with gas or discomfort―and the convenience of being able to pack along a meal for my child meant she never had to wait to eat when she was hungry. Dr. Brown's became my partner in this process, offering a wide variety of bottles and nipples designed to mimic the flow of my own milk and reduce colic and excess spitting up. When we found the right one, it changed everything.

3) I'm letting go of guilt because...I've found my joy in motherhood again. That trapped feeling that had started to overwhelm me? It's completely gone. By removing the pressure on myself to feed my baby a certain way, I realized that it was possible to keep her nourished and healthy―while also letting myself thrive.

So now, sometimes we use the bottle. Sometimes we don't. But no matter how I keep my baby fed, I know we've found the right way―guilt free.


This article is sponsored by Dr. Browns. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


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If there's one item that people claim is *so* worth the price-tag, it's a Dyson vacuum. The cordless tools have become essentials in homes, cleaning up messes quickly, all without the hassle of a cord.

If you've avoided purchasing one because of the high cost, you're in luck! They're having a sale on Amazon right now. Some of the most popular vacuums and air purifiers are up to 40% off.

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Arguably the most popular of the Dyson family, and marked down 20%.

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Beyoncé's new Netflix documentary Homecoming hit the streaming service today and gives us an honest look at how difficult her twin pregnancy was.

"My body went through more than I knew it could," she says in the film, revealing that her pregnancy with Sir and Rumi was a shock right from the beginning, and the surprises kept coming.

In the film she reveals that her second pregnancy was unexpected, "And it ended up being twins which was even more of a surprise," she explains.

Homecoming: A Film By Beyoncé | Official Trailer | Netflix

The pregnancy was rough. Beyoncé developed preeclampsia, a condition that impacts about 5 to 8% of pregnancies and results in high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the mother's urine. Preeclampsia poses risks to both the mother and the baby. People who are pregnant with multiples, like Beyoncé was, are more at risk to develop preeclampsia, and the only real cure for the condition is to give birth, which proved to be another medical challenge for Beyoncé.

"In the womb, one of my babies' hearts paused a few times so I had to get an emergency C-section," she shares in the film.

Thankfully, Beyoncé made it through her extremely difficult pregnancy, but the physical challenges didn't end there. The road to rehabilitation for the performer was difficult because, as she explains, she was trying to learn new choreography while her body was repairing cut muscles and her mind just wanted to be home with her children.

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"There were days that I thought I'd never be the same. I'd never be the same physically, my strength and endurance would never be the same," Beyoncé recalls.

We know that becoming a mother changes us in so many ways, and in Homecoming, Beyoncé shows the world the strength that mothers possess, and rejects any ideas about "bouncing back."

Becoming a mother is hard, but it is so worth it, and Beyoncé isn't looking backward—she's looking at a mother in the mirror and loving who and what she sees. "I just feel like I'm just a new woman in a new chapter of my life and I'm not even trying to be who I was," Beyoncé said in the documentary. "It's so beautiful that children do that to you."

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Warmer weather is finally here, mama—and that means it's time to switch up the family's wardrobes. 🙌 If you love matching with your little, or are determined to *finally* get those family photos made this spring or summer, we're obsessed with these mommy and me matching sets.

Here are some of our favorite mommy and me matching outfits for spring. 😍

1. Ivy City Co Jumpsuits, $42.00-$62.00

mommy and me matching jumpsuits

This linen set is perfect for transitioning from hanging out at home to dressing up for days out. Plus, plenty of space for growth!

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2. Madewell x crewcuts Denim Set, $55.00 and up

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We're obsessed with the '90s vibes these sets give. Now to decide which to choose—denim jacket, shorts, or dress?

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3. Old Navy Floral Midi Dresses, $10.00-$22.50

Old navy mommy and me matching dresses

Nothing says spring quite like florals. The whimsical prints are dainty and the rayon fabric is breathable for those warmer days. Shop mama's version here.

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4. PatPat Matching Family Swimwear, $19.99 and up

matching family swimwear

Match with the entire family with this pinstripe set. We love the one shoulder look, too!

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5. Keds x Rifle Paper Co Sneakers, $44.95-$79.95

mommy and me matching shoes

Twin with your little in these embroidered canvas sneakers. Bonus points for a rubber outsole so no slipping. 👏Shop the version for mama here.

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6. Lily Pulitzer Shift Dresses, $58.00-$198.00

Lilly pulitzer matching dresses

Still not sure what to wear for Easter or that summer soirée? Pick up these matching shift dresses for the most beautiful family photos. Shop mama's version here.

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7. Maisonette x marysia Swimwear, $57.00 and up

Mommy and me matching swimwear

These are definitely splurge-worthy, but we can't get over how adorable they pair together.

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8. PatPat Gingham Dresses, $17.99-23.99

mommy and me matching gingham dresses

These will be your go-to pick for every outing this spring and summer.

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9. Old Navy Striped Oxford Shirts, $13.00-$22.00

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A relaxed oxford is a staple in everyone's closet. It's versatile enough to dress up or pair with denim for a more laid back look. Shop mama's version here.

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10. Pink Chicken Garden Dress, $72.00-$198.00

pink chicken matching garden dress

Whether you have a spring wedding to attend or want something flowy to wear for vacation, we adore these garden dresses. Bonus points for working for maternity wear, too.

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Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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Being a perfectionist has naturally been part of who I was since as long as I can remember. I could blame living in the continental U.S., where perfectionism is highly esteemed, or the family dynamics that come with growing up in a household of five women.

Deep down, though, I think it all really stems from a deep and instinctual longing to be loved, accepted and approved. Whatever the reason, it has never really been a part of me that I considered a problem.

That is, until, I became a mom.

When I had my first child, I did the best I could to keep it all together, to prevent people from seeing how my perfection was being pulled apart at the seams.

A nap schedule was, of course, essential. My son was easygoing and slept through the night like an angel baby. My house was still spotless and I managed to somehow work part-time and keep healthy meals on the table every night, but I did struggle tremendously with breastfeeding.

Since I took this failure as a great assault at my abilities to properly nurture my child, I let mom guilt run rampant over the issue. I decided I would just step up my perfect-parenting game in another way by pumping breastmilk around the clock until my son was around 18 months old.

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For anyone who has ever exclusively pumped, you know it can become total madness and take away the joy of feeding your child.

Managing a toddler was definitely wild, but with my background in pediatrics, I knew how to keep him busy while I kept things "under control." In other words, with just one child, I could still play the part of being perfect. All was fine until I became a mom of two children. It wasn't long after my daughter was born that I realized I needed to start letting go of perfection.

I was living alone in a new city with no help and my husband worked long hours. Managing a 2-year-old and a newborn, all while trying to keep a perfectly clean house and healthy dinners on the table every night, was, to my surprise, impossible in every way. My body was a wreck, not "bouncing back" as it did with my first. My daughter never slept for more than three hours until she was over a year old. She cried for hours on end most nights, as I tried relentlessly to calm her.

I remember bouncing her in her carrier for hours trying to get her to calm down and settle in for sleep. Meanwhile, I was a zombie and my son tore every square inch of the house into pieces. Keeping a naptime schedule was nearly impossible with another child to consider. Dinner was often takeout. There were days when I didn't look in the mirror or have proper clothing on until 5 pm.

The demands of motherhood laughed at my idea of picture-perfect motherhood. Every night I went to bed feeling like I had failed my children. I cried. Oh man, did I cry.

It wasn't long until I came to the realization that if I wanted to be a good mom, that is, to focus on things that are actually important, I had to stop sweating all the small stuff.

Even though I didn't really know how I was relieved that I didn't have to keep up with myself anymore. I had grown so weary of the high standards I had set for myself and those around me. I wanted a way out of the perfectionist trap and to loosen the reigns.

I realized that the most beautiful encounters with my children had been when I decided to say, "Oh, don't worry about it!" (i.e. the house, dinner, naptime schedules, etc). Love and joyful encounters with my children was incomparable to the latter. I knew my children needed me to look at them and not the 3-day- old stain on the dining room floor. The beauty in the moments, when I intentionally chose stillness and gratitude over productivity, was the reason I decided it was time to lay down a life-long pattern of perfectionism and control.

The problem was, I didn't really know where to start. I had been living this way for more than three decades. But I did know that I needed to start somewhere. So I started practicing being imperfect. Just like I had been teaching my 4-year old son. "The only way to get better at something is by practicing," I would tell him.

So, I did. And so I still am, practicing being imperfect.

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