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…
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.