Is it Postpartum Depression…or Postpartum Drowning? (How to Know, and What to Do)

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New babies can bring the biggest thrills and blessings of our lives…as well as the most stressful periods we’ve ever faced. Here are my biggest blessings: Sam (2 1/2) and Seth (6 months)

Last February I gave birth twice: I delivered my second son, Seth, and I published a memoir on “overcoming depression.” This double blessing felt awesome…until four months later when I found myself drowning—in babies, book messages, babysitting jobs, and ministry engagements—hiding from the kids in my bedroom and texting my husband, “I can’t do it anymore! It’s just too much! I need to escape from life!”

Do I have postpartum depression? I wondered, aghast at the thought. What would my readers say? I didn’t really think it was depression, because unlike in my former, suicidal state, I didn’t want to escape life itself as much as I just wanted to escape my messy house. But if it wasn’t PPD, what was I to make of my regular exhaustion, tears, and adult tantrums? For the sake of myself, my family, and my readers (who wanted to know overcoming depression was possible), I knew I had better figure out what was going on, and fast.

When We Can’t See What’s in Front of Us…We Might Be Drowning

I didn’t figure it out right away.

My good intentions to pray into my problems got buried in a busy summer of business trips with the hubby and daycare for four kids—my baby and toddler, plus a 7- and 11-year-old from our church. Added to these disruptions in sleep schedules and household routines, I was fielding new questions and calls from sincere book readers who deserved sincere responses, as well as returning to the time-intensive prayer ministry I’d facilitated pre babies.

I didn’t realize it, but little by little, the demands of my beautiful life, lively kids (plus two), and lovely readers had been drowning me. To the point where I was tired all the time. Drinking too much coffee. Unable to get literal rest, or the spiritual rest of prayer and Bible study that had once brought healing from my decade of pre-partum depression.

After a few too many blowups at my husband, one July night I took said hubby’s advice and made a thorough inventory of my bursting life—and I finally realized my problem. It wasn’t postpartum depression. It was postpartum drowning. (“I could’ve told you that,” Hubby said. “I did tell you that.” Oops.)

So now I knew what my problem was. And I was on the road to fixing it. But if you’re not sure, maybe you can do what I did to figure out if you’re depressed…or drowning.

 Do You Have Postpartum Depression…or Postpartum Drowning?

First, I took a hard look at what was going on in my life, and what moods or emotions I was experiencing. Next, I did some research on the symptoms of PPD. Finally, I asked myself: Is what I’m experiencing in the realm of normal for a new mom, or is it in the extreme? Once I’d asked and answered these questions, I knew how to proceed, and you can too.

According to mayoclinic.com, if you have PPD, you have a depressed mood or severe mood swings, excessive crying, fatigue, energy loss, intense irritability, and anger. You also find it difficult to bond with your baby, you withdraw from family and friends, and you eat too little (or too much). You aren’t interested in, or don’t enjoy, activities you used to enjoy; you have severe anxiety or panic attacks; and you have recurring thoughts of harming your baby or yourself.

If I had looked at these symptoms in isolation, I might have falsely concluded I had PPD, because some of them described what I was going through. But because I looked at these symptoms along with my situation, it seemed pretty clear that my problems were tied to normal mom stuff, not necessarily PPD.

While my fatigue, irritability, and anger were common to PPD, they were also natural results of being a mom of littles: namely, I had choppy sleep due to baby wakings, and I had poor nutrition because I didn’t have time to cook very good meals, or helping hands to allow me to eat what I cooked.

In contrast to the various “losses” the medical description gave (loss of appetite, loss of interest, loss of friends), I realized I just wanted to be able to enjoy those things I already enjoyed even more. Instead of losing my appetite, I wanted to find time to eat. Instead of inability to sleep or sleeping too much, I just wanted to sleep a normal 8 hours, for crying out loud. Instead of difficulty bonding with my baby, I wished I had some extra hands around so that I could bond (instead of hurtling like a crazy woman between my toddler and my baby). Instead of reduced interest in activities I used to enjoy, I just wished—for the love of God—that I could get away and do my pleasurable activities (visit a coffee shop, write, exercise).

As for the more severe symptoms, I didn’t want to kill myself or my kids, I wanted to live my best life and help them lives theirs. Admittedly, I wanted to live life a little more the way I remembered it before babies, but the important thing here is that I had desire for life, a passion for my kids, and a passionate desire to live my life and raise my kids well.

So I concluded I did not suffer from postpartum depression, but rather postpartum drowning. I wasn’t depressed in the giving up sense; I was simply unhappy because taking care of my baby, toddler, and two more kids—plus the handful of women I was mentoring through prayer ministry—left no room or energy on my plate to do those things that had previously saved me and made life enjoyable. (It’s worth noting that I felt the negative feelings dissipate whenever I could get a babysitter for an hour or two to write, bathe, or eat a full meal.)

The crux of my postpartum problem, then, was this: I didn’t have enough hands. I didn’t have enough hands to both carry (care for) my kids and also tread the waters of my own (perfectly normal) postpartum emotions. At this point, it was obvious that I was drowning, and it finally became obvious what I needed to do.

What to Do if You’re Drowning (or Depressed)

Whether you are a depressed or drowning postpartum mom, first and foremost you need to Get Help. And I don’t mean mental help. I mean physical help. You need someone who can hold and feed your babies for a few hours, or clean your house, or cook, or do whatever, so you can do what you need to do to get healthy.

For me, getting healthy entails writing. As I learned during my pre-mom depression recovery, writing not only helped me cope with life, but it also gave me deeper life satisfaction, because I was good at it…and I realized God was calling me to bless others with it. And I bet you have something you do that helps you cope, brings deep satisfaction, and possibly helps others, too. But if we don’t have time to write, or do whatever it is that gets us “healthy” (as we usually don’t during the crazy postpartum period), then it’s no use.

First, we must get help.

So, as my summer babysitting job wound to a close, I searched for a part-time nanny to hold down the fort so I could go write for a few hours a week. And (cringe), while I’m being honest, I also hired a cleaning lady twice a month.

Before you slam down your computer in disgust—because who can afford to hire a cleaning lady? much less a part-time nanny?—hear me out.

First, I know. I know I am extremely lucky to be able to afford this. Many moms can’t. Which is where I say use the resources you have. Some of us have family nearby who can babysit, or friends with whom we can trade services for babysitting. I don’t. My closest family members are 500 odd miles away, and I’m still new to this area and meeting other moms.

What I do have is a husband with a good career, a little mad money from babysitting, and some modest earnings from a book. So I have chosen to use my resources to get the help I need. And I’m trying not to feel bad about it. (Despite that friend on Facebook who pooh-poohed my “need” for help because I am a stay-at-home-mom.)

Second, if you face naysayers who say hiring help as a SAHM is too indulgent, or too much “pampering” of oneself (or if you feel that way, yourself), consider two things:

One: Are you sure you really can’t afford it? As my new nanny, Paula (how I love her), says, “A lot of people who think they can’t afford this actually could afford it…if they made it a priority. The question is: what else are you willing to give up?” A good point.

And two: Is hiring help actually spoiling yourself, or is it just helping you take care of yourself in a necessary way? After deferring my mental and emotional needs in my pre-mom life…to the point of attempted suicide and bulimia, I’m choosing to take myself, and my self-care, pretty seriously. If you have a history of depression, are depression prone, or more sensitive than the average woman, you should too.

If you identify more with the depressed version of myself I just relayed, I can certainly give you the advice that helped me in my pre-partum depression days, and which I wrote about in my memoir:

  • Form new and better habits.
  • Read and memorize Scripture.
  • Pray to Jesus, who understands everything we’ve gone through.
  • Spend quiet time in prayer and ask God to show you his blessings—then ask him what your barriers are.*

But if you are depressed and also a postpartum mom—which I was not when I took all that good advice—then you still need to get help…because no matter whether we have depression or not, all postpartum moms are drowning—drowning in armloads of babies, dishes, and laundry (and other stuff) that we need someone to take care of before we can take care of ourselves.

Which brings me to my final point…

If You Only Read One Section in this Article, Read This:

If hiring help is what it takes to get you the relief you need—to keep you sane and functional—It’s not indulgent. It’s necessary.

So, go forth, Gentle Mom…

(Drowning Mom),

(Depressed Mom),

(Angry…Weepy…Raging Mom):

Be kind to yourself.

Take my advice.

And Get Help!!!

 

*Read my memoir Ending the Pain: A True Story of Overcoming Depression for more details.

 

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Why All New Moms Need a New Wardrobe (and It’s Not Because We’re Fat)

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from theguardian.com’s Money Blog

When I signed on for motherhood, I expected a litany of new challenges; I just didn’t expect my wardrobe to be at the top of the list. Yes, as silly (and vain) as it sounds, for these nine months of Sam’s life, dressing myself has been nothing short of traumatic.

Please don’t get the wrong idea. I am not a slave to fashion by any stretch. In fact, I pride myself on not getting sucked into materialism, either by my clothes or anything else I own. After all, as one of my favorite Bible passages says, the Heavenly Father already knows what I need, so I shouldn’t worry about what I’ll eat or what I’ll wear (Matt. 6:25). It’s a really lovely, warm and fuzzy thought…when you have a full tummy and are comfortably outfitted. But when you are either starving or staring at a closetful of clothes that you’d love to wear but, darn it, they just don’t fit, this aphorism becomes kinda mocking .

So what’s a new mom with nothing to wear to do?

In the beginning of Sam’s life when I could only fit into maternity clothes, I felt depressed, but unwilling to invest in new duds. Later, when I got so depressed I decided to go shopping, I became frustrated both at the challenge of clothes shopping with a baby, and also thinking about the money I was wasting because I planned to fit into my old clothes again (it was just taking much longer than I thought).

I also began taking stock of my wardrobe and having somewhat of an identity crisis. I looked at the rack of teaching clothes–slacks, blouses, and skirts that didn’t fit–and wondered if it was time to just throw those out and usher in a new wardrobe. After all, I wasn’t teaching anymore, and I wasn’t sure when I would again. And what if, by that time, these clothes just didn’t “fit” me anymore–as in, didn’t fit my personality and style as an older woman?

As I’ve descended the scale over nine months to within ten pounds of my goal, I’ve figured out that my clothing dilemma is not  vain or materialistic. My need to fit into my old clothes, and my hand-wringing over whether or not to throw out the old and usher in the new is about figuring out who I am, now that I’m a mother.

But some have told me not to worry about getting to my original size. It’s okay if I don’t, they say, because “I’m a mom now.”

For me, who has always been a sporty girl, likes to exercise, and is health conscious, I wonder if motherhood means I can no longer be fit or healthy? Is it to give up the joy of exercise and feeling good and being a healthy weight?

For awhile, as I struggled to find time and energy to exercise, and as the weight lingered and lingered, I thought so.

Some have told me not to worry about fitting into my old clothes again; just get new ones, because “I am a mom now.”

Does this mean I pitch, along with my slacks and blouses and skirts, the professional identity that helped me grow up so much and that I’m so proud of? During my first teaching years, when I felt small and unsure of myself and my authority, I found strength in dressing the part of organized, got-it-together teacher. Maybe my classroom discipline was a mess, but at least I dressed the part. Looking good helped me feel good.

But does becoming a mom mean I should drop all expectations of looking put-together and just flash my “mom” card? Is motherhood a license to be frumpy until my kids leave the nest?

I felt like this is the message I received from at least a few older mothers. Mothers who, by the way, had a little junk in the trunk or, sorry ladies, looked kinda frumpy.

I think some women confuse motherhood and self-sacrifice with sacrificing their own health and/or their looks. It is virtuous, to them, to give all time to their families, and as little time and thought as possible to their looks–including their body as well as what covers it. Once you become a mother, it is selfish to take time to exercise and shop for well-fitting, flattering clothes.

But this is a terrible mistake. I think rooted below a frumpy and/or flabby exterior, are issues of low self-esteem, or perhaps an undeveloped identity that wants to hide behind the identity of a child.

One reason I waited for eight years to have Sam, besides the fact that I was emotionally unstable and emotionally unable to imagine having kids for most of my twenties, was I wanted to have a clear sense of who I was before bringing a child into the world. I’d seen numerous mothers relinquish the work of developing their own personalities, skills, and minds to the task of mothering. Their lives became their children. Without children, I’m not sure they’d know who they were.

I didn’t want to be one of those women.

I am a person, separate from Sam. And much as I love our growing attachment, it’s important for me to remember the parts of myself that existed before Sam, and that go on when he’s not in the room.

Losing weight and deciding on a post-baby wardrobe have not just been vain endeavors. They have been important steps to remembering who I am and who I was before Sam.

So what is the current state of my wardrobe?

Thankfully, I’d swim in maternity clothes at this point. Thankfully, most of my old shirts fit again. Regrettably, most of my jeans don’t. But for now, I am loving the reinstatement of my (mostly) daily workouts and our daily strolls, and to celebrate feeling comfortable in my own stretched-out skin, I have bought more stretchy pants–that is, I’ve invested in new workout clothes. I will make a determination on my teaching and church clothes when I can again fit into all of them, but for this season of life, I am getting skinny again, and I enjoy my “sporty,” not “frumpy,” clothes.

Now, I proudly wear spandex not of necessity, but of choice. I am embracing my new identity as “Sporty Mom.” This is an identity that combines my past and present lives, and anytime the best of those two worlds combine is a beautiful thing. As long as my hair doesn’t get three-days-greasy and I can slap on a little eyeliner, I can rock sneakers and ponytails.

A post-baby wardrobe, then, might not, for all women, be about getting back to their original size, depending on their values and lifestyles (either sporty or sedentary). Whether or not all moms care about blasting those last ten pounds, I think we owe it to ourselves to take stock of our wardrobes and, when needed, make updates. We are playing the biggest, most important role of  our lives as we enter motherhood, and when mama looks and feels good, everyone feels good.

So there you go, new moms. If you’re stressing over clothes you can no longer wear, stop it! If the decision to keep or to cut those clothes is too traumatic now, put them aside until you are in a position (and at a weight) to decide what to do with them. And until then, take this argument to the bank (or to your hubbies), use it to buy a new wardrobe for the new you (Goodwill counts), and feel great about yourself, no matter what the scale says.