We were in the car—the whole family—and I was talking about a friend I really love. K-Pants got mad. “When you love other people my heart gets smaller and smaller,” he said.
“But remember what we talked about? Love is something that grows and grows. And my love for you only gets bigger. If I love someone else, it doesn’t mean I have less love for you.”
“No,” he said. “It gets smaller and smaller.”
I’ve been suffering from postpartum depression. People talk about PPD. It’s not off-limits. I just figure I should share because I’m a normal, extroverted, sarcastic, fill-in-the-blank kinda girl. And I’m a great mom and an excellent writer and a kick-ass cook and a pretty bangin’ wife while we’re at it.
These things and postpartum depression are not mutually exclusive.
In a related scenario, there’s an adorable baby on one hand, and my sense of dread about getting through the day with her on the other. She likes to be held and played with all the time—you know, baby stuff.
I don’t like that she stole my sense of self and has yet to give it back.
This stuff can be awkward to write about, because even though it’s not taboo to talk about postpartum depression, it automatically shuts you out of the gold-star moms club. I mean who doesn’t love babies? But I need to talk about it because friends have been saying, “Do you really have postpartum depression? I thought you were okay,” in ways that make me feel like I need to go through the exhausting task of explaining postpartum depression and then checking off the boxes that apply to me. I’ve also been getting a lot of “But the nice thing is that it will pass,” and “Keep it up,” and “Have you tried letting the baby play with plastic spoons while you do the dishes?”
So let me try to explain how this postpartum depression thing works for me.
I’m like a cell phone.
I like to charge my cell phone every night no matter how much juice it has left. Because what if there’s an earthquake and it takes me a few days to find my solar-powered emergency radio with the USB connection in order to hand-crank my phone battery back to life? So my phone usually only gets down to 75% battery life before a charge. Maybe 40% if we’ve been out on adventure and I need to use GPS and Instagram and Snapchat all day.
Parenting my two boys through baby and toddlerhood as a mostly stay-at-home-mom was exhausting. My battery would hang out in the red zone most of the time. If I had time to recharge, it would take things up to maybe 21%, and then I’d be right back in the low-battery pop-up-screen zone again. But I had started to get out of the red zone. I got to hike or write every Saturday. I spent time in the garden. I exercised. I had regular chunks of time when the boys were in school when I could reliably schedule appointments. The boys started to play with each other more. Having play dates didn’t mean I had to be involved the whole time.
And then the baby came. [Read about her entry into our family here.]
She doesn’t let me do anything except care for her.
“Being with real people who warm us, who endorse and exalt our creativity, is essential to the flow of creative life,” writes Clarissa Pinkola Estes in Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype.
The baby smashed my flow of creative life.
I’m not looking for a way to entertain the baby so I can get the dishes done: I’m looking for a way to let my soul sing. Passion and creativity glow within me. The baby takes them away through a program of sleep-deprivation, diaper changes, and feedings.
My cell phone battery hangs out in the 3–5% range.
The phone works. But one extra Instagram post or group text message may just shut it down. Even with babysitting, a great therapist, and a supportive spouse, I can barely get to 10%.
As we pulled into the parking lot of MOD Pizza for my birthday lunch, I said to K-Pants, “It smells delicious.” “I don’t want pizza,” he said.
This kind of thing would have irritated me before, but I would have had the energy and the soul-fire to parent through it. K-Pants is not a kid who makes it easy to feel like a good parent. But now, a quick interaction like this, combined with the earlier admonition that I’m shrinking his heart, makes the phone shut down.
I decided to go to the grocery store while they ate lunch.
I wanted to walk around the aisles, shopping for sweet potatoes and avocados and frozen fruit and olive oil, acting like a person whose soul was on fire and who was going to cook some things that people might enjoy.
These days I most often describe postpartum depression as this condition that makes me very fragile. I’ve temporarily lost my resilience, which I find to be a personal trademark in normal circumstances.
These days I often don’t have the energy for normal interactions. I’m an extrovert, but not now. I’m too overstimulated by constant crying and whining and problem-solving. Often, I just need to be in the garden by myself.
I’m not open to suggestions on how to be a better parent and I avoid situations in which I may be judged for my parenting decisions. I’ll tell you if my feelings are hurt, and I have very thin skin right now, so I try to protect myself by being with people with whom I feel very safe.
Once the baby is older and I can get away on Saturdays again to hike and write, and the battery charge reliably stays above about 15%, then I’ll be able to access my normal self more often.
If you see me or talk to me I may tell you about my postpartum depression or I may say things are going well. It depends on the moment. I like to feel well, so I like to enjoy those moments.
In the meantime, I wanted to tell you what it’s like, and why sometimes I’m fine and sometimes that last Instagram post shuts the whole thing down.
If I need your help, you’re probably already giving it. I’m seeking joy and balance in a very active way with the help of my wonderful people (who include my husband, friends, family, therapist, naturopath, babysitter, acupuncturist… the list is long and you can find my individual postpartum depression toolkit here).
And to my friend who anonymously left chocolate on my doorstep a few weeks ago, I love you gloriously, and in a manner that doesn’t shrink anyone’s heart.