Paint. That’s what was on my mind as I raced around my disaster-zone of a house, rounding up blankets, pre-portioned bottles of breast milk, plastic toy dinosaurs, hot wheels, books, two sizes of diapers, oh and finally, my water bottle. Because I hadn’t drank any yet that day and I knew my milk supply would plummet if I let myself become dehydrated for yet another day. Paint. Not the thick acrylics or deep pigmented watercolors that filled the shelves in my studio downstairs- I knew I wouldn’t have the energy to devote to a canvas for a while. The paint that filled my mind was the tempera paint that comes in big plastic jugs, claims to be washable, and which up until yesterday I had in every single color for crafts with my toddlers.
Yesterday morning, I was woken up at the crack of dawn yet again, by my 4-year-old, Big T, begging for breakfast. Loudly begging, which woke up my 1 ½-year-old, Little T, who joined in by screeching (a delightful phase that he’s going through as opposed to talking). I snatched Little T up and ran out of my bedroom with Big T trailing behind us, repeating “Mommy want breakfast. Mommy I want breakfast.” “oh my god dude I GET IT JUST A SECOND!” I growled. I had been up 5 times with 6-week-old Baby T and I was EXHAUSTED-and I’m not a morning person to begin with. I laid out a banana and a protein bar at each of their spots at the table and walked a few steps to the couch next to my sleeping husband. “Mommy’s just gonna have a little sleep while you guys eat okay?” Neither of them paying me any attention now that bananas were involved, Big T sing-songed “okay!” Keep in mind, our kitchen, dining, and living room are all in one area, and the couch is mere feet away from them. I’m not a terrible mother. Had I opened my eyes, I could’ve watched them eat breakfast. But I was out the second my head hit the couch.
The next thing I knew, I was being pulled out of my sleep by a whining. I knew it was Little T. He was coming up the stairs. Wait-when did they go downstairs? I open my eyes and I see him, standing wide eyed with alarm at me with thick globs of blood on his white-blonde hair and his left eye. I screamed, my husband jolted up in alarm, then my voice cut off mid-scream. I squinted at him. Paint. “Oooooh my god it’s not blood…it’s paint. Oh thank God…oh my God.….oh my God….it’s PAINT. What the ****!?!?” I followed the distinct footprints through the kitchen…down the stairs. Husband goes down, gets Big T and comes back to the kitchen.
“How bad is it?” I ask in a defeated voice.
“You don’t wanna know.”
“Awesome. Well boys, looks like we’re having a bath!” I was talking in my overly-peppy, deranged voice. Husband turned out to be right about the basement. The wood-grain foam flooring that I had just finished installing was about 50% completely ruined, covered in 11 jugs of paint. Washable my ass. Not on foam floor, as it turns out. Good fucking morning.
Fast forward to today, after I finally, single-handedly get everyone out the door (10 minutes late, so basically on time), we sort of tumble into the waiting room, and I’m sitting in the doctor’s office with 2 toddlers emptying the diaper bag while I fill out the standard 6 week “mood check” form. And I know what it’s going to say. I know that they’re going to tell me I am showing all the signs of Post-Partum Depression. So what now? Am I having a hard time? Yep. My doctor asks if I’m getting at least 4 consecutive hours of sleep every night. I laugh “Absolutely not even close!” She knows I have no help. That husband from the story works 16 hour days 6 days a week and 10 hours on the 7th. Even if we slept in the same bed, he wouldn’t get up. He probably wouldn’t even hear our infant son. My doctor (bless her) suggests I get an “overnight nanny”. Now I had no idea this was even a thing. Some trained woman literally comes and gets up with your baby in the night so you can sleep. Overnight nanny? More like a freaking Angel! However, I can’t afford to pay for said Angel. So again, I say, now what? I have this shameful diagnosis hanging over my head and no end in sight. The thing about PPD is that even in these modern times, where PPD is a conversation, I’ve noticed it’s always discussed in the past tense. It’s sympathized with and I’d say even socially acceptable to admit you had postpartum depression. Had. Past tense. What about when you are currently really struggling? Who’s going to look at you like you’re not a monster who doesn’t love your baby? Who’s going to listen and not patronize you or dismiss it as “oh that’s just being a mom, get used to it.”?
Postpartum depression is such a misunderstood thing. I always thought it was a woman who gives birth and was depressed to the point of catatonic and/or couldn’t bond with their baby. I’m sure it manifests different from person to person, much like any mental condition, but I can only speak for myself. I’m not sad. I’m just so unbearably overwhelmed. My oldest is only 4 and extremely sensitive and emotional. My 1 ½-year-old is loud, wild, and rough. They’re two hugely different personalities that require different kinds of attention and I have this tiny little baby now who is completely dependent. That’s a lot of needs for one woman to fulfill. Oh, and I’m under 2 weeks away from the deadline for my 3rdindependently published children’s book. I don’t feel sad-I feel immense pressure from every single aspect of my life. I keep having the urge like I want to clock out. Every other job has an end to the shift. You get some sort of reprise. When you’re a parent doing it on your own, there is no. end. To someone who hasn’t been there, that might sound mean. Let me say that I am 1000% devoted to my kids. Every day I try and be their everything-create engaging activities for them, healthy meals, make sure they are mentally and emotionally taken care of. We don’t own a television, we have a bunch of trendy Montessori toys and I homeschool my 4 year old. When I finally get them all down to sleep, I know I will be up multiple times in the night with at least one, if not all of them. The adjustment period to adding another child to the family is still upon us and that affects their sleep patterns. I am overwhelmed with the huge responsibility of caring for these young boys. I feel guilt every day that I snapped too much, I wasn’t patient enough, I didn’t give ___ enough attention, I should have played on the floor with them more. I should have already started working out again, but when am I going to find time for that? My milk supply is down-is it stress? Dehydration? Is providing breast-milk just not going to work? I want to do what any working adult does and “clock out” so I can step away from the pressure and responsibility for a few hours and come back ready and rejuvenated. I know it’s not going to happen. That’s where the “depression” part comes in. I really think it should be called “Postpartum Hooooly Shit” because, well, yeah that about sums it up.
The positive side to this is that I’m too tired to try and hide it, so I’ve been finding a small amount of comfort in that honesty. I’m not broadcasting it from the rooftops, but when people ask (as people often do of mothers of infants) “how’s it going?” I don’t lie to save face. I straight up say “He’s wonderful, I’m having a hard time adjusting. It’s really hard.” Because it is. In a world where anything you say can be twisted and turned into a status update or a tweet, it can be hard to be honest when the truth isn’t pretty. And on the other hand, when you just saw a story about someone’s house burning down or losing the love of their life to a fatal illness, it can feel almost ridiculous to admit that you can’t handle your three amazing, adorable kids because it’s “too hard”. On paper, I have everything I’ve always wanted. So why does it feel like this? I am mad at myself for struggling. How stupid is that? Why is it so easy to show someone else’s struggle grace and understanding but not your own? I feel like my best option to feeling better in this moment, in this stage is to send out the “bat signal” (so to speak) to other moms out there struggling. There are 3 million cases in the United States alone every year. That translates to 1 in 8 women. You’re not alone. It’s going to be okay, go get medication if you think it will help, or talk therapy, or heck, go to your local animal shelter and be one of those people who plays and snuggles all the animals (yep that’s a real thing). There’s a handy-dandy hotline you can call, Maybe nobody in your life understands what you’re going through. Everyone else you turn to may judge you, but I won’t. I see you. I am you.
Hey, other PPD Moms: here are a few FREE resources you may find helpful:
1-800-662-4357 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (English and Spanish)
They provide a referral to a counselor or support group, and they’re available 24/7, 365 Days a Year. This is for if you want to see someone, but you may not feel comfortable talking to your OBGYN or Primary Care Physician about it. Some insurance companies require a referral if you want to talk to a professional, but support groups are free!
Youtube “I PPD So Hard” by #imomsohard (Jen and Kirstin)
This is for those of you who just need a laugh because maybe you still don’t believe me and feel alone, or you feel like your emotions are broken and need a little joy. These ladies are hilarious, and seriously cool both in real life and online. (Not to brag, but I met them once, adjusted my Spanx in front of them, and Jen bought me a drink. True story!)
1-800-PPD-MOMS The National Postpartum Depression “Warmline”
For if you need to talk to someone NOW, but it doesn’t feel like a level 10 emergency. The name says it all, they specialize in talking to women exactly like you.
1-800-273-8255 The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
For if you need to talk to someone NOW, or if you are thinking of hurting yourself. Don't. Call them or call me. Yep, I'm a stranger, but YOU MATTER and if you need to hear that, seriously: 608-397-5793.
*You can also go into your local Emergency Room. You can bring your kids, even. If you feel like you’re going to do something drastic, hurt someone, or hurt yourself, they will help you. And they aren’t going to take your kids away. It doesn’t feel like it, but this is common. That doesn’t men it’s not important, it means that the nurse you talk to, the receptionist, your Aunt, Grandma, or the grocery clerk has potentially been in your shoes. 1 in 8 women. You’re not alone.
*If none of these resources sound exactly right to you, but you still feel like you need help, you can visit www.postpartumstress.com for a list of additional resources.