A previous Pacific Post Partum Support Society client shares her story of postpartum anxiety and the grief of losing some of the people closest to her. She asks the important question: Where does postpartum depression and anxiety end and regular life stress begin. Her answer is insightful and so important.
Something I have struggled with, and am struggling with again with the birth of my second child, is knowing the difference between postpartum depression and anxiety versus regular life stress. I clearly remember when I first started thinking about leaving the support group at Pacific Post Partum Support Society. I had joined over a year before (mid 2012), and I had been given a list of questions to help me think it through, but it was not until winter break (late 2013) that I got to test how I was on my own and confirmed that I was ready. However, I never really understood how I knew and more importantly, how I learned to recognize life stress outside of the framework of being a mother.
The circumstances surrounding my second child and the following postpartum period were quite different. I lost my mother only a year before we got pregnant, and as excited I was about the baby, every day got harder and harder without my mother. Add to that medical complications that led to a planned C-section (how ironic they called it planned when my entire birth plan consisted of one line: please do not cut me open) and a slew of other events including the death of my eldest brother just a month after my daughter’s birth. It really is no wonder that I now find myself asking, “how much of this is PPD/A and how much of this is just really crummy circumstances compiling?” I mean, any person would be fairly rattled after so much grief.
So after some soul searching and listening to the wisdom of the strong women around me in my group with PPPSS, I think I am finally close to an answer. Life stress and PPD/A symptoms do not exist independently of one another. They are intertwined; they work in tandem in how they affect our mood. PPD/A is like giving the stress of life a megaphone: it amplifies the stressors of our lives and it is LOUD. This does not take away from just how real and serious PPD/A is. You could be living your ideal life and still suffer from PPD/A, but we all have things we worry about or things that bring us down. PPD/A intensifies those feelings so when things go wrong or life throws us curve balls, they feel that much bigger.
So here you are with the critical voice of PPD/A screaming at you, and you are suffering. What can you do? This is the time that it is the most important to practice compassion, kindness, and self-care. Sometimes PPD/A is so loud you cannot even remember what you used to enjoy. That’s alright. It is a starting point. Self-care can take a variety of forms and the first step can be as simple as taking a single intentional breath. The second step, in my experience, is to get help. Build your support network and make it vast and strong. There is no shame in needing other people. Every part of our lives is based on our ability to rely on other people. If you buy groceries, live in a home that you did not build with your own two hands, or use running water from pipes you did not connect yourself, you have already relied on others. We are taught to value independence at the cost of the support available. But we do not have to do this alone. By choosing people who can support us during difficult times, we can take that megaphone away from PPD/A. And even if we cannot completely take it away, the support of other people puts some distance between PPD/A and us. Making ourselves a priority for care and buffering ourselves with the support of others can make the screaming of PPD/A a little less loud. The more we practice this, the softer the screaming gets until it becomes the life stress we knew before PPD/A. So it is not really about getting rid of the stress, but learning to take its power away.