So many of us have heard the words postpartum depression without really knowing what it means. Or how it could be impacting someone you love, but not even know that she is suffering in silence. Why are so many of us unaware that people we know and love are suffering? I believe that what we don’t know scares us and what we should know also scares us. It’s the very line that can separate you from them.
What is postpartum depression? Many people associate postpartum depression to the more familiar characterization as “the baby blues;” however postpartum depression isn’t a temporary state that goes away on its own. According to the American Psychological Association, many women experience postpartum psychosis in which symptoms such as delusions and hallucinations occur that can severely impact the health and relationship between a mother and her baby. Why should this matter to you and I?
According to the Centers for Disease Control, 11-20% of women are reported to experience symptoms of postpartum depression. More women will suffer from postpartum depression and related illnesses in one year than the combined number of new cases for men and women of tuberculosis, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, lupus and epilepsy. Postpartum depression also impacts women who miscarry or deliver stillborn. Reports say that this number is likely to increase due to the progressive push for successfully identifying unreported cases in an effort to provide necessary intervention sooner.
So, this is why postpartum depression should matter to you.
Postpartum depression does not care if you are rich, poor, married, single, heterosexual, homosexual, 16 years old or 45 years old, Black, Asian, Italian, Polish, educated or employed. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate against anyone, including you. It could be your spouse, parent, sibling, cousin, relative, friend, co-worker, neighbor or even your child. Look around you and you’re likely to find someone suffering. The only factor between successfully identifying someone or not is if they’re in hiding waiting to be seen.
Why don’t people get help, you might ask? Well, I suppose it’s no different than the people who refuse to see their doctor when they have a peculiar ache. Or is it?
I believe that the millions of people impacted by mental illness are hiding behind the stigmatizing labels and shame associated with it. I can confidently say that with the dozens of individuals and families I have had the honor of working for and beside through the years are living in fear. They’re afraid to disclose the truth behind what they have convinced themselves is wrapped in acceptance, love, respect and success. Our fear of the unknown is what keeps us ignorant just as the fear of being known is what keeps us disconnected. For many individuals and families, the perceived consequence of accepting help can be deadly. Fortunately, there are many people who are courageously finding the light beneath their darkness and trusting that their voice may shine a necessary light for someone else.
Meet Lyn. She is a wife, woman, mother and survivor. Lyn is many things and like many of us, she is not all of what you see from the outside. However, I would argue that she is unlike many of us in that she is stepping outside on a platform of truth. Lyn is courageously sharing her story so that other women can trust that although the honesty might sting and evoke fear, it can also create strength and ignite hope.
Lyn describes September 27, 2010 as the “beginning of the end.” Where some people may mark the addition of their second child as a celebration, for Lyn it marked the beginning of a severe battle with postpartum depression and mania. At just three weeks postpartum, Lyn began to experience symptoms that were severely impacting her health and the baby’s safety. She also survived the loss of her son in between pregnancies which is believed to be a likely contributor to her symptoms. Lyn was able to identify that something was wrong and courageously sought the help of her sister who agreed to provide temporary care for her son while she got help.
Lyn did what most women do. She continued to pump breast milk hoping that her hormones would alleviate the symptoms, but consequentially it didn’t. Lyn began to notice that she wasn’t bonding with her son as she had with her daughter. She describes her world as becoming “darker” and “muddy.” After trying medication with the intent of finding stability again, her son returned home. It was a moment she describes as “feeling overjoyed” and “bursting with love.” For a brief moment, Lyn experienced motherhood to be what so many women take for granted. Like many people who experience symptoms, Lyn spent 14 months trying to manage the cycles while caring for her family. It wasn’t until her daughter was nearly 4 years old and her son turned 18 months old that she came to terms with the severity of their safety and her own wellness. Lyn made the painful decision to choose her children’s well-being over her own maternal desire to care for her children full-time. Lyn’s children are currently with her sister who she accredits to providing a path of wellness she may not have otherwise had. For many people, that decision is the difference between life and death for not just themselves, but for their children.
Lyn’s courageous and selfless decision is one that so many women and mothers are painfully forced to make. That decision is also where the shame, stigma and fear live. That the label of being a “bad mother” who doesn’t love their children can hold someone hostage from receiving the care they desperately need and deserve. Lyn shares how some nights are spent crying herself to sleep because her children are not under the same roof as her. It’s the fear that her children may not understand that her decision came out of a deeper love for them, than for herself. That the decision to ensure they were safe and well without her was the better alternative than not being able to ensure their safety and wellness at all.
Lyn attributes her wellness today to her amazingly supportive husband, selfless sister and nieces. Her children are safe, protected, loved and embraced. It may not be what many would see as the ideal package, but it’s a package every mother innately hopes and wants for their children. Lyn could have chosen fear, but she chose love instead. I would argue that she made the ultimate sacrifice to demonstrate her responsible, compassionate and genuine love for her children.
Postpartum depression is the most common complication of childbirth putting families at risk each and every year. It’s also an illness that is plagued by severe labeling, stigmas, shame and ridicule that leave women suffering silently. Lyn’s brave decision to share her story is because it’s one that more people need to hear about and be aware of. It could make the difference between health and wellness for so many individuals and families. I am also certain that Lyn’s truth is not separate from the truth so many of us hold tightly. We may wrap it, tuck it and hide it in different places, but it’s there. By sharing her truth, I believe she is giving people permission to live loudly knowing that stepping onto the platform is better than never stepping out onto it at all.
Today and every day I honor Lyn and the millions of women and mothers suffering from postpartum depression. By resurrecting your truth, you’re empowering other people to resurrect theirs. Please help me in honoring Lyn and letting her know that we’re proud to stand Resurrected Together.
To learn more about postpartum depression or if you suspect someone is suffering in silence, you can access the following resources. Offer an invitation to be seen.
Postpartum Depression Hotline (confidential 24/7 help): http://www.crisistextline.org or text “Go” to 741741
Postpartum Depression support: www.postpartumprogress.org
American Psychological Association: www.apa.org
National Alliance on Mental Illness: www.nami.org
In love & truth,