Once upon a time, I had a terrible secret. I didn’t want anyone to know.
Not even myself.
I did my best to ensure that no one would find out, lest I then face judgment. So I did my hair, I did my nails. I made sure what I put on to wear looked nice. I did my make-up and plastered on a smile. Once at the doctor’s office, I was standing in line with another new mom. We stood there and held our babies and the receptionist looked at me and then looked at her. “Honey, for someone who just had a baby, you look awfully put together!” I smiled and then turned to the other new mom who looked much more how I actually felt. Hair disheveled, her shirt had spit up on it, her pants wrinkled. “It’s all a façade. Trust me.” I said to her.
Friends and neighbors would comment and compliment me. “You look great for someone who just had a baby!” or, “Wow, I love your new hair!” Little did they know my new, shorter haircut was a product of hating what I looked like so much, I needed a drastic change. I was also pulling my hair out. I needed it short enough to make it harder for me to sit there and go through the strands, picking out hairs that ‘didn’t belong’ and yanking them out. I camouflaged that by donating 15 inches to a charity. That was why I cut my hair off. Not because I was trying to look chic.
To look at me would mean you’d never know how much I was suffering. How badly I felt about myself and my abilities as a mother. You’d never even for one second think that the most horrible, intrusive scary images and thoughts daily invaded my head, making me feel as if I were the lowest of the low. How could a good mother think those things, anyhow? For me, the answer was simple. A good mother would and could not and therefore, I was not a good mother. That was my secret.
You would never know by looking at me or talking to me that I was suffering from horrible PPD and OCD. You would never know how hard it was for me to leave my own house, to walk out that front door was positively terrifying. You would never know to look at me that I would just sit there and cry. You would never know the horrible things I thought. You’d never know I felt sad, alone and horribly depressed. You’d never know how irritable I felt, the rage that boiled or that I screamed into my pillow to relieve the stress until I was hoarse. You’d never know the crushing anxiety or the extreme numbness I could feel.
So what does postpartum anxiety look like? It looks like your friends, your neighbors, the perfectly put together mom at play group and the moms that runs into the dentist office 15 minutes late with a baby on her hip and a toddler in her grip. It looks like my friend who could not leave her house and it looks like the lady who whispered to me once that she knew how I felt. It looks like me, right there in the mirror, on my best days and my worst days. It looks like the new mom who quit her job to be home alone with her baby and it looks like the mom who just handed her 6 week old infant to strangers while she goes to work. We have a misnomer that a postpartum mother doesn’t dress well, doesn’t put on any make up, forgot how to do her hair and sits in a dark room and cries. Postpartum depression can look like just about anyone. That’s what makes it so dangerous and that’s why it goes untreated and undiagnosed too often.
I had the misunderstanding that admitting I had an illness was to admit I was weak. That I had failed at taking care of myself and therefore, my baby. By admitting my secret, by getting out how horrible I felt, that was when I opened the door to getting well.
photo credit: Vanessa Vander Eeckt