Monday, August 27, 2012

P.S. #6: Postpartum Depression: An Honest Account --by Jamie

I've never been crazy about kids. Am I evil? Nope. Is there something wrong with me or my hormones? Nope. Am I as much of a woman as you are? Yep. Am I a good person, following God's commandments as best as I can? Yep. I just have a different personality that I'm honest about. I never liked babysitting, and I never liked cooing over others' newborns. I love science, math, computers, languages, reading, and writing. Nevertheless, I kept riding the Mormon conveyor belt and fully expected to have three or four kids. I really didn't think about it; everybody told me that I was going to be a great mom someday. (And to be fair to them and myself, I am a great mother). I was a model to-be Mormon mommy in those days. I had the mission and a temple marriage all checked off my list. Next was a baby, as I was taught so very often. I stayed on this one-size-fits-all divinely appointed path until the birth of my son. I prepared for my son's birth, reading books, exercising, taking prenatal classes, the works. Despite my really wanting to, I felt none of the magical glow or good feelings that other women seem to express or have during pregnancy. I was surprised that none of these feelings came to me. My husband and I prayed and felt that what was right for me was to go for as long as possible "natural," but remain open to medication. I was humble, I was as ready as I'd ever be for this baby.

But I was blindsided by the pain. My son was 10 pounds 9 ounces and I have a very sensitive body. It was torture. My son tore me in two places coming out, even with a separate episiotomy, which I didn't want but had to have after 19 hours of labor. We don't talk about that part in Young Women's, do we? There were no angels and no rainbows present at my birth. An earlier writer on this blog stated that you can't go through childbirth and not believe in God. I beg to differ. We can't project blanket statements like that onto other women. There are so many different types of women in the world (which is a good thing, as President Faust said—"The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world"). All these generalizations and implicit expectations do is foster misunderstanding and confusion for those who didn't have that same experience, as well as strengthen harmful gender stereotypes. The heavens were very, very silent on that day for me, when I felt I needed heaven the most. I felt no rush of endorphins, no oxytoxin relief, no spiritual experience. I was simply relieved it was over and that on top of everything else, I didn't have to have a C-section. I wouldn't have been emotionally prepared for that after all that I been through. My doctor said that all that walking around earlier had probably got my son down far enough that I didn't have to have a C-section. I kept seeking reasons to justify why I had so much pain.

Right after the birth someone mentioned that next time it would be easier. Easier? I'm left broken and gasping and you're already talking about the next output? The next production? But wait, there was more fun in store: I then descended into the black hole of postpartum depression. I am normally a cheerful person—I laugh a lot, I'm not a gloomy gus, I enjoy life and try to roll with the punches. But after my son's birth, nothing could bring me joy, not even the fact that I had a new, breathing human being next to me. I blamed myself for lots of things. I cried when my baby cried, and even when he didn't cry. I wanted to hide in the house all day. I felt that the world would fall apart any minute. The anxiety, which I couldn't seem to ease with scriptures and prayer or anything else, was palpable, and yet it was so hard for me to see that I needed extra help. I was also in a great deal of pain recovering from having a baby explode out of my downward parts, so that didn't help things either. Additionally, I felt no bonding during breastfeeding, just additional extreme, constant pain. They don't talk about that either in Young Women's. Breastfeeding can be excruciatingly painful and at times impossible for some women, through no fault of their own. It was a very dark time for me, in what was "suppose to be" a very beautiful and holy time. I had been deceived by all those lessons about angels and rainbows, despite others' good intentions. Reality hit me hard.

A person I know once said that depression is a trick of the mind and you just have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps—get a hold of yourself, shake it off, and be more positive and righteous. This is nonsense. It's as bad as Republican Todd Akin saying that there are more legitimate and less legitimate rapes and that a woman's body can fend off evil sperm with her special liquids. It's just not looking at life as it really is. And I think that the gospel of Christ is all about searching for truth, even though the answers might be the opposite of what you want to hear. 

Postpartum depression is very common—CDC puts it anywhere from 11% to 20% of women—and they don't even count the unreported cases. Women, because of our culture, are ashamed to say that they had a less than transcendent experience with their babies. We're supposed to suck it up, talk about trials and sacrifice, and cry and scream in agony or terror alone or just with a close friend. In the LDS church, sometimes we are afraid to hear anything negative, and we try and hush up people "in case they drive the Spirit away." I wish I had more listeners and less judgers. I was fortunate enough to have my son's doctor say, during my son's two-week checkup, "Um, you shouldn't be a wreck like this. I'm positive that you have postpartum depression." I cried even harder when she mentioned anti-depressant medication. I was afraid of that stuff! There was a serious stigma attached! I tried for another full week to do all the other alternatives—made sure I ate right (although I was doing that already), exercised as best as I could, prayed a lot, and other things. Still, darkness. I am so glad that I "gave in" to my doctor, although we still associate "giving in" with weakness, not common sense. My doctor put me on a low dose of anti-depressant, which I was on for 8 months, and since sugar and lack of sleep seemed to exacerbate those dark feelings, I tried to regulate my eating and sleeping habits (which weren't at all abnormal in the first place). Sugar and lack of sleep still can send me spiraling down temporarily, but I'm happy to say that I have made a full physical recovery, something that in the moment I never felt was possible. The dark cloud slowly lifted with the medication, I slowly took less as less of it (as directed), and I felt that I could finally love my son. I know it sounds strange to say, but the chemicals in our bodies affect our outlook on life a lot more than we give them credit for sometimes. And that's okay. We need to be okay with the bodies that we were given.

Some people told me that how I had given birth was "wrong," and that's why I had suffered so much. I should have done and y. How could they say that? They're not me, they don't live in my body, they didn't have my circumstances, and I have a completely separate and different spirit than they do. I prayed just as much as they would have and weighed my options just as they would have. Sometimes it seems that when we don't fit someone's Angels and Rainbows paradigm, they seek justification for what went "wrong." We in the Church have a problem with seeking reasons. I submit that sometimes there isn't a reason for your suffering other than the fact that we live in a cruel, fallen, pain-filled, mortal world. Our bodies are less than perfect. Much less than perfect, and again, that's okay. The things that we suffer, by their oppositional nature, also teach us joy, but this world is really hard for some of us (and not because we're less worthy). I believe that many other women who live outside the Utah Bubble or even the American Bubble would agree with me. As my physics teacher used to say, "Life sucks and then you die." It's very comforting, in a way, to not expect angels and rainbows all the time. We can gain comfort from the fact that "all experiences shall be for our good" eventually, although that sure doesn't help in the meantime.

As women we also have an issue with the quantity of arrows in our quiver. We live by the reasoning that if a woman is a good mother, she should be a good mother to as many children as possible, sometimes regardless of whether she can emotionally, mentally, or physically handle them. Just because she can bear a child doesn't mean she should, and that is not a heretical statement. She reasons with herself that a child that she doesn't bear will end up with a horrible single mother in a slum in Detroit. Children become badges of righteousness instead of prayerfully considered stewardships. As a culture, women are expected to give up their desires, their hobbies, their passions, their talents (that don't have to do with children or home), and their sacrifice of themselves will be greatly rewarded. I have a problem with this type of sacrifice. To me, in many cases, it seems more like masochism. Our current concept of feminine sacrifice needs to be tempered by the Second Great Commandment: "Thou shalt love your neighbor as yourself." Women understand the first part but trip over the second part, particularly when it comes to children. I think there would be many happier older women if they didn't base their entire lives around their children, instead making a space to love themselves, to seek after their personal desires, to continue learning and growing in areas not related to children or homemaking at all. This is not selfish. It is written right there in Matthew 22:39. God wants us to be balanced! What that balance entails is up to that individual woman and God. We categorize happiness and say that a woman can have no greater joy than her children (I've heard it quite frequently over the years). Well, what if that isn't exactly true? What if that's oneof many joys, equally joyful, that God grants us? And those other joys are equally valuable to pursue in many cases?

Women who have had postpartum depression have a 50% likelihood of getting again; despite this, there still seems to be this frantic need to know if we can push our bodies to do that thing once again, despite what we know might happen. Women also have miscarriage after miscarriage after miscarriage, abusing their bodies in pursuit of what they think will make them the most happy for all eternity. Could we be a little off in this thinking? If you know what you want in life is children, then go for it; I fully support you. Just make sure that you really want those children, for the right reasons, and that it's not just the conveyor belt talking.

In any case, I would like to state politely and firmly that I am done talking about quantity. I can be happy and fully satisfied with what I have right now. Do you judge me for it? Consider me a liberal sinner, because what woman would not want as many children as possible? (I hope not.) Or are you happy that I have found peace and actual confirmation from God on the subject? (I hope so.) I am calling a cease-fire on the questions about the reproductive capacity of my womb. I can live in primipara peace. I can enjoy the beautiful son I now have. I can enjoy my other talents, seek my other desires beyond home and family. I respectfully add to President David O. McKay's quotation: No other success can compensate for failure in the home . . . and women, I'm not talking about you "failing" to produce more babies if you don't want to.Seek God's will for you, which may be separate from society's/church culture's conveyor belt for women. Seek to be happy, even if that means being different. Women are that they might have joy too, y'know.Postpartum depression is real. I have experienced it. It's hard. Postpartum psychosis is ever harder, I hear. It is good to have an understanding of these things so that we can help our sisters be honest and work through it. They need your understanding more than your pity.

Some PPD resources: 
Postpartum Progress: http://www.postpartumprogress.com/
Postpartum Living: http://www.postpartum-living.com/

2 comments:

  1. I had postpartum depression really bad for all my children and always felt broken that i never bonded with my daughter when she was a baby. sometimes i feel like I wanted my son to prove I could do it. difficult times.. no one does talk about the horrific pain of childbirth. its crazy! maybe some of them aren't having pain :-)

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  2. Thank you thank you thank you for this wonderfully written and thoughtful post! I don't think I experienced postpartum depression like that, but I have been wondering if having more children would be the right thing for me, given how hard it was to cope with new motherhood, and battling feelings of guilt for not being 100% willing to have as many children as I could have safely, as I feel we are so often taught to do in the church. It gives me peace to know that others have the same thoughts and conflicts with the church culture as I do. again, thank you!

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