Checking Boxes: How To Combat Postpartum Depression
By: Danielle Dunne
I am the type of person who loves to write lists. I started a registry before I was even pregnant because I knew it would go fast and I wanted to be prepared. I created an Excel spreadsheet of names, gifts, and amount of guests to invite to the shower and checked it off as I wrote thank you notes. I reviewed it each week as my belly got bigger. I looked over the hospital check in process and wrote lists of what to pack in my bag, ready and waiting at 30 weeks. I made a list of people I wanted my husband to text or call when the baby was born. I made a plan of where the dogs would go when the time came to go to the hospital. We talked about names and made lists on restaurant placemats, discussing pros and cons of every name in the English language to the point of craziness. We went to prenatal classes and breastfeeding classes and birthing classes and infant CPR classes. I went to each prenatal appointment and made more lists in my head of what I saw on the screen- his little hands, his little feet, his tiny profile.
Before my son was even a thought, my husband and I made lists of plans. Finish school-check. Get a dog-check. Buy a house-check. Get married-check. Get really good jobs with good adult benefits-check. Travel as a couple a lot-check. Get another dog-check. Turn 30 and watch my husband turn 30 a year later with really cool parties-check. Then suddenly, we looked at each other and knew that we had checked enough boxes and were “ready”.
More box checking in the process to conceive. Temperatures, methodical sex schedules, peeing on sticks, using every method we had read on the internet. Month one-no success. Month two-bingo!
We had done everything possible to prepare for this very loved baby, over ten years in the making. Then he arrived. A fairly uneventful labor followed by a whole swell of very unexpected emotions. I figured my career as a counselor would save me from this silly postpartum depression thing I had heard about, but not written a list for. But unfortunately, no amount of planning could prepare me for it.
I was anxious about leaving him with anyone for even a minute. I read articles online at three o’clock in the morning while trying to breastfeed my newborn about all of the ways he could stop breathing overnight. I lashed out at my husband. I felt like the world was judging me and that despite all my planning, I was a terrible mother. I cried more in his first two weeks than I had in the last two years. My husband held my son up to me, stroked his full head of hair and moved his tiny mouth to say “I love you Mommy”. And I said nothing back.
My husband worried about leaving us to go back to work. My family members told me that I just needed to sleep more. My son, unable to express himself with anything other than crying, much like myself, would look up at me like I had no idea what I was doing. In my head, I figured that I didn’t and that he deserved better.
I waited six long weeks to go to my follow up appointment. My pride kept me from going any sooner, but also I felt as though I didn’t want to “need” an appointment before it was time. I felt embarrassed, lost, tearful, changed and exhausted. The plus side was that I was able to talk openly to my doctor and get the help I needed to start working towards my new normal. The mistake was waiting so long to do so.
It’s crazy to me how prenatal appointments are such a priority. Monthly, then bimonthly, then weekly. Check ins of vitals and how you’re feeling and any concerning symptoms. But then you become a mother and suddenly, they send you out of the hospital with some feminine supplies and a reminder to see the doctor again in six weeks. At that point, it seemed like an eternity.
What can we do to change this? I’ll make a list and it starts with you:
-Take care of yourself before, during and after birth.
-Establish a support system and utilize it.
-Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
-Support other mothers. Drop off food. Offer to hold her baby. Ask her how she is feeling.
-Push for better policies regarding postnatal visits.
-Break the stigma of mental health in our country that stops those who need it most from reaching out.
-Love your babies