… that they probably do not love about themselves
I am privileged to be trusted by women who seek support during one of the most challenging times in their lives. I have come to know many very well and often, see aspects of them they can barely acknowledge while they are busy tending to the necessities and demands of daily life.
So I pause and think about who they are and wonder if, when they recover well, they will see what I see.
While I cannot say that there are many upsides to depression and distress, these are some of the attributes of a postpartum woman I see in therapy that I find most inspiring:
1. She is vulnerable.
Her heart is broken, which makes her feel excruciating pain. But when this happens to her heart, it simultaneously opens it a bit. What I can see, that she may not yet believe, is an acute sensitivity that will eventually enable her to heal and grow. Emotional vulnerability dares her to stand up against her symptoms and move forward despite the temptation to give up. This takes courage and staying power.
2. Her fear is intense.
This is hard to love because it’s so agitating for her, but it is matched by her fierce determination to feel better and reconnect with her family. She is extraordinarily compelled to restore her body, her mind, and her soul to good health. Even when she cannot see through the thick darkness, she believes, on some level, if she listens long enough, works hard enough, seeks the right support, and follows the right pathway, she will find her way back to herself and to her family.
3. She laughs seldom, but easily.
I love this most of all. You truly have to look for this one; it’s not always evident. I find it absolutely inspirational to witness a weary but hopeful smile in response to some delicate (or indelicate) attempt of mine to assess her ability to take on my quip and connect with me, despite her resistance. When she smiles or laughs or joins my effort to engage her in this way, I can see her true self for an instant. It’s magical.
4. She is hungry for joy.
I know that right beneath the surface of distress rests her desire for a return to her previous self as well as her frustration and mama rage that this awful depression is in her way. She is exhausted and depleted. She is also primed and poised for relief. When she can sense a hint of respite, a sprinkle of hope, or a clue of better days to come, she can breathe more easily.
5. She is painfully self-aware.
While she may currently view introspection as a guilty companion to her agonizing ruminations, it is also a reservoir of emotional access which, when she feels better, will illuminate her postpartum journey with desirable insight and perspective. It is this burden-blessing dichotomy that will spin things in a positive trajectory as she recovers.
6. She is an angry mama bear.
It is believed that most bears will not attack humans unless it is a mother bear who feels something is threatening her baby. Many women feel strongly that depression threatens their baby by impairing their relationship or their ability to mother. This enrages her. It also motivates her. When we can harness that arousal, we can guide her toward support resources that she is unable to utilize when distress is high.
7. She is ambivalent.
She does not want to feel this way for one minute longer. If we offer a glimpse into the option that she will not always feel this way, she is hopeful, she is grateful, she is desperately appreciative. She may be doubtful at the same time, but she so wants to believe. She so wants to just go home and be a mom. She doesn’t want help but she can’t stand the way she is feeling. She wants validation, reassurance and mostly, she wants relief from her symptoms. She is a beautiful paradox of defenselessness and power. Of nakedness and supreme focus. She is scared and she is determined. These contradictions can bewilder her at first, but can ultimately provide momentum toward healing.
What she perceives, through her lens of depression, as inadequacies, I recognize as incredible strengths.
If I can help her see what I see, she will feel just a little bit better. And I will have done my job well.