The Oxygen Mask | Momspiration Blogging | Pekin IL Baby-Child-Family Photographer

Mothers are often told that in order to care for their babies they must take care of themselves first, just as we are told on a plane prior to takeoff that we must put our oxygen mask on first before we put one on our child.  

When it comes to awareness and services for mothers with postpartum depression, though, there are very few oxygen masks.  When the overhead compartment drops open, they need something more to reach for. When I needed it, I found my oxygen mask. So today I am in a good place, a really good place. Since my son was four months old, I have struggled with both postpartum depression and circumstantial depression surrounding events in my life. And it's hard. It's desperately hard, it's desperately lonely. When you are struggling for the first time, you have no idea where to reach or who to reach for. 

Here's a dose of science for you. 

Only 15% of women with postpartum depression ever receive professional treatment. This means about 850,000 women each year are not getting the help they need.  Part of the reason for lack of treatment is the fact that many physicians, including obstetricians and pediatricians, do not screen. Another part of the reason is the stigma that exists that either prevents mothers for asking for help or in following through on treatments like therapy or psychiatric medication.

I was fortunate enough to have a pediatrician who did screen. Moms, when they hand that little paper to you with the questions on it, answer it truthfully. Answer it even if you don't want to admit you are struggling. Answer it even if you don't want to be medicated. Answer it even if your husband or your boyfriend or your mom thinks you're fine. If you feel like you are struggling, you are struggling. 

Postpartum depression is NOT

A sign of weakness
A measure of your success as a parent
A statement of how much you love your baby

Postpartum depression is that overwhelming feeling of not being able to cope. It's that anxiety of being around all those people with your little one. It's fearing that you are not doing enough for your child to the point you are telling yourself you are not a good enough when you have a healthy baby in your arms. Postpartum depression is that thing that has you staring at a wall for an hour and your not sure how it happened. It's the hopelessness you feel. It's the lack of laughter in your life. All of those things are REAL. And you do not deserve to feel this way, to function this way, to live this way. 

When I sought treatment for postpartum depression, I was terrified. 

Yet I have no idea now what I was so nervous about. I think a small part of me truly believed a doctor or nurse was going to tell me that all of those things I was feeling were not PPD and actually just evidence I was a bad mom. What really happened... the nurse practitioner walked into the room, greeted my obnoxiously chubby toddler and said, "We need to talk about your Edinburgh Scale." And my heart dropped because I was pretty sure I was about to be told how crazy I was. 

She hugged me. She asked how long I had been feeling this way and I really couldn't put it into words. So you know, I cried and then she almost cried. She did not lecture me. She did not tell me I needed medication or needed a counselor. She only said, "Brittney, this isn't right and Clark deserves to have the very best version of his mom. You'll never get this time back." She was right. Who cares what kind of stigma there was about taking a stupid little pill to make "happy" or whatever. My child deserved to have a mom who wasn't struggling with depression. 

My child's nurse practitioner simply faxed my paper to my OBGYN office. They called me when they received it and asked for me to come in for an appointment. I filled out the same paper again. The midwife entered and said this was fairly common and counseling was my best option, but I scored high and I should consider medication. Woooooooa there, Bessy. I'm a breastfeeding mom. I can't be just doping up my kid with antidepressants through my boob juice. And I know I am not alone in that sentiment.  

Whatever the reason, when women are not treated for PPD, research shows they are less able to bond with their children or care for them properly. They are more likely to medicate themselves with alcohol or drugs. And they may end up with lifelong chronic depression or anxiety.
  We know postpartum depression affects children’s development and puts them at a higher risk of future psychiatric illness.  In fact, maternal depression during infancy has a bigger impact on a child’s development than later exposure to maternal mental illness (Essex 2001, Moehler 2006).

There are worse things than a little Zoloft making it's way into my child's tummy. There are much worse things. After a bit of back and forth, I put on my oxygen mask. I made the choice to put myself before my baby for once, because in a way, this choice was also putting him first. And it took a few tries and a few adjustments and a few good cries... But at some point I started laughing again. I just went to work and everything seemed so funny. I hadn't realized how little I had laughed. I smiled. People told me I looked well. 

Choose to be healthy. Choose to be happy. 

Make your goal this year to be the healthiest version of you emotionally. Forget all of the things people are telling you because they do not understand. If they haven't been there, they don't get it. And just because they HAVE been there, doesn't mean they understand what is going on with you and your body. You could have a hormone imbalance after childbirth and just need a little progesterone (a naturally occurring hormone in your body that our little babies like to deplete as if they were little progesterone vampires). You could just need a little more of that serotonin moved from Point A to Point B in your brain. You could need to learn new coping techniques for your crazy life or the art of meditation to release the tension that takes over your body when things get tough. There are OPTIONS. And if you don't feel comfortable talking to your OBGYN about those options, just about every doctor on Earth can talk to you about depression. Call your PCP, talk to the nurse at the health department during your WIC visit, talk to a friend who's had PPD. Talk to anyone. 

It takes more courage to ask for help than fight alone.

Especially when we're talking about motherhood. You do not have to do this alone. So if you are a mom on the fence about PPD, reach out to someone today. If you're a friend of a mom with little ones (infants, babies, toddlers), reach out to her today. Ask how's she's doing. How she's really doing. It's okay to need help. It takes a village, right?

I'm going to end with an excerpt from Postpartum Promise. It's all the words I have to say and more. 

Every new mom is tired. Every new mom is worried and stressed. If you feel exhausted, overwhelmed and upset every now and then, that’s okay. It’s perfectly normal. However, if you have sadness or irritability or negative symptoms that seem to continue on and on without letting up, or that continually worsen, and  are affecting your ability to function on a daily basis, that’s when it’s time to reach out for help.  You do not have to accept that this is what it’s like to be a mom, because it isn’t. You might not believe it, but you can and will get back to the old you with help. The most important thing is to get that help now. Don’t wait hoping that some day these symptoms will just go away on their own. The longer you wait, your symptoms may become more severe, and it may take you longer to recover. It can also affect the health of your family, so the greatest gift you can give to them all is to get the help you need and deserve.