Thursday, September 22, 2016

I Had a Baby and My Push Present Was Postpartum Depression.

(For a real-time feel for this piece, please go pace around the room you’re in, text GIFS about your emotional state to your significant other, and scour the internet for the idiot who came up with the term “Baby Blues,” who you know has to be a dude because no woman who has ever experienced the reeling post-partum months would describe them as something as patronizing as “Baby Blues.” For added good measure, day dream about kicking that person in the shins repeatedly.)

I haven’t even begun to write this post yet, and I already feel awkward and uncomfortable. That’s usually a healthy indicator that I probably should be talking about the thing that is making me feel so awkward and uncomfortable, but also who the heck cares about healthy indicators when I feel so AWKWARD AND UNCOMFORTABLE.

So far, I have managed to write 141 words without any of those words being the actual thing I’m supposed to be writing about.



This is so much easier. I can count words all day. All day, son! (I’ve also been watching a lot of New Girl reruns to avoid writing this post)

Okay, I’m done. Let’s get to it. The fun and exciting world of postpartum depression (PPD)! Or how I’ve been referring to it in my head for the past 3 months: “WHAT IS THIS ACTUAL LIVING HELL?”

While I was still pregnant with Teddy, I had really high hopes for what the days and weeks after his birth would look like. Dan and I have had serious discussions about this pregnancy being the final one, and I really wanted to soak in all that new baby goodness one last time. The transition from two to three kids had been as easy as it gets, so while I was slightly worried about taking care of four, I wasn’t expecting it to be so completely opposite of when Matty had been born. For one thing, Matty immediately began trying to destroy his replacement as baby of the family. Teddy had scratches on his face from Matty for two solid months. One scratch would heal, and Matty would replace it with another. It was like Toddler Hunger Games. And that slight worry I had while pregnant about taking care of four kids, turned into full blown anxiety as soon as we came home from the hospital.

Our first day home, I told Dan that it felt like we went from three kids to one hundred kids. Everything was louder and crazier and harder. So much harder. We kept saying, “This will get better. Everyone is adjusting now, but soon it will get better.” I was experiencing all the normal roller coaster feelings birth brings (the ones that make you sob uncontrollably when someone leaves a pen in their pocket and it ruins a few shirts in the laundry. A totally random and hypothetical example…). Weeks went by but instead of things getting better, or even just leveling out, I was feeling worse. I was overwhelmed all the time. I had serious doubts about my mothering abilities (the fact that I couldn’t stop one son from trying to beat up the other one did not help curb this feeling). I worried constantly. I cried a lot. When I wasn't feeling a crushing sense of self hate, I felt numb. I started having panic attacks. Like, actual chest tightening, can’t breathe properly, curl into the fetal position panic attacks. I didn’t even know that’s what was going on at first, I just thought I was losing my mind.

I felt so alone. I didn’t know how to talk about or describe what I was going through. People would ask how life was going and I’d say vague things like, “Oh, it’s a little bit crazy right now. But overall it’s fine.” I used humor to deflect how paralyzed with guilt and shame I felt (healthy coping mechanisms, y'all). The longer I went without verbalizing my brokenness, the more isolated I felt. I began to dread going to family get-togethers. There was more than one Saturday night spent trying to calm myself down because the thought of going to church the next morning sent waves of anxiety crashing against my heart. There, I was surrounded by some of the people I love most in the world, but because of my inability and unwillingness to speak about the state of my life, I felt completely unknown. It filled me with a deep, heavy grief.

I couldn’t describe the depths of what I was experiencing to my own husband. Before we had even put a name to it, postpartum depression stripped away the ease and confidence normally shared between us. I felt like a shell of myself, and was convinced that admitting how much a broken mess I was would change how he viewed me, how attractive he found me. One morning, Dan put his arms around me and said, “I love you. You are strong. You will get through this.” Instead of being comforted like he had intended, I lashed out. “I am not strong and OBVIOUSLY I am not getting through this!” He was confused and helpless. I was furious and heartbroken. PPD took the short hand talk of our marriage, and replaced it with two entirely new languages. We couldn’t understand each other.

That particular moment was a tipping point. It was now painfully obvious that what I was experiencing was more than adjustments to our new life, or the “Baby Blues” (again, mentally shin kicking the person who coined that term). The day after Dan and I fought about the strength of my spirit, I made an appointment to see a counselor. Three days after that, during our church picnic, I blurted out to two close friends that I thought I had PPD. It was one of the most uncomfortable and awkward conversations I’ve ever had, mainly because I have wonderful friends who don’t just let me off the hook when things are hard (even when I beg not to talk about it anymore, because I definitely did that). My village stepped in. I wasn’t immediately better, but I also wasn’t alone.

I would like to tell you that everything is back to normal; that I feel completely restored to my former glory (that was a joke. My “former glory” is just me, covered in baby drool and talking to Dan in Hamilton raps). I’m not. I’m part way there. I feel more like myself than I have since Teddy was born (and even before he was born, to be honest. I don’t know if postpartum depression can start before you’re actually postpartum, but looking back I can see whispers of it all over my last month of pregnancy). There are more good days than bad, and the really bad days are further and further apart. I see a counselor every other week and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. And even though it all makes me feel so awkward and uncomfortable, I am trying to commit to speaking PPD’s name, because it loses a little bit more of its scariness each time I do it. 

(If you are experiencing postpartum depression, please seek help. A doctor, a counselor, a pastor, a friend. Don't convince yourself it's not a big deal, don't force yourself to deal with it on your own. Let's be committed together to speaking out and disarming PPD of its power.)

Edited May 2017: If you'd like to hear more about my experience with postpartum depression and anxiety,
 I've included links to a 2 part series Dan and I did last year on our podcast,


  1. Fantastic post. I love that you are letting us into your life in this way. Let me know if you find the person whose shins need kicking..

  2. Thanks for sharing Emily. I am really touched, and impressed, with how you translate your feelings into words, and your vulnerability. Thanks!

  3. Emily, I commend you for posting with honesty and a courageous heart. I had these same symptoms after my second child was born in 1983. No one knew what was happening back then. It progressed to the panic attacks you describe, than to such exhaustion, and feelings that I was losing my mind. I would collapse after spending just 15 minutes in the morning getting my infant and toddler dressed. At that point I had help come in daily from a church we attended. Finally one morning when I physically collapsed, I lost my ability to move my extremities (arms, legs). The person with me called an ambulance and I was hospitalized for a month, getting test after test. I saw all kinds of specialists. I regained my ability to move after IV fluids. Tests all came back normal. Finally, a doctor walked in and told me I had a severe post partum depression, and if he was right I would get over it by myself. They sent me home. There was no known help or treatment at the time. About a year after I gave birth and after a lot of prayer, I started feeling normal again. But the experience frightened me so much I didn't want to have another baby, though I would have loved more children.