How Sorrow Set Me Free: My Victory Over Postpartum Depression
This is a slight departure from the tone of my previous posts related to business storytelling and copywriting. I’m sharing my personal narrative about my struggle with postpartum depression so you’ll understand led me to my career as a freelance copywriter. I encourage you to examine your own path and what personal factors have influenced you in your career; it can help make your business story all the more unique and can create another avenue for connection with your audience.
I’ve seen Lisa Endlich Heffernan’s confessional essay “9 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Became a Stay-at-Home Mom” posted in almost every online moms group I belong to. It’s a raw, frank look at the regrets many women experience as they come to terms with the shift from the focused life of an accomplished career woman to the undefined existence of the modern SAHM. Heffernan’s honest account of her bittersweet journey has hit close to home with millions of readers, including me.
One thought in particular caused a pang of recognition: “There is nothing quite as demoralizing as trying to convince your kid that you had once been something, done something. That you had once mattered in some very small way in the larger world.”
I read these words and see myself nine months ago: crumpled on the shower floor sobbing as a deadpan voice in my head repeated “you don’t matter, you don’t matter” like the world’s shittiest mantra. I read these words and feel a sense of sisterhood with this woman, not only because I’ve been in her shoes, but also because her desolate, rueful thoughts are those of someone who, like me, has suffered from a postpartum mood disorder.
The End of Me
My anxiety and depression had always lurked beneath the surface of my life. As the daughter of an alcoholic/bipolar father, I wasn’t surprised when the symptoms finally emerged after the birth of my first child, but I was in denial. At first, I dismissed my tearfulness and obsessive thoughts as mere side-effects of the sleep deprivation and hormonal rush that all new moms experience in the weeks immediately after giving birth.
I was a freaking mess: not only was I recovering from a traumatic birth experience that had ended in a C-section, I was also dealing with major breastfeeding issues. I felt cheated of that soft, glowing maternal bliss that I had been promised in all of the birth stories I read during my gestation.
One moment stands out to me from those first days. My best friend had flown in from Germany to meet my son and help out. She arrived at our house while I was upstairs trying to force myself to think happy, maternal thoughts. I carefully descended the stairs; my stitches tugged with every step and my empty breasts were sore from desperate, round-the-clock pumping sessions. I took one look at my BFF standing in the doorway and emitted a deep, mournful howl of sorrow. “Please save me!” I keened. “This sucks so much!”
My Sadness Was Physical
When my husband started work again, I was totally overwhelmed by the demands of my beautiful but spirited infant. Depression lived in my bones. It hurt to hold my child because my arms felt so heavy. Whenever I put him down, he would emit a shriek at such an irritating frequency that my skin felt as though it had been rubbed raw with a wire brush. This was not what I had bargained for.
The Old Me
Before I had my child, I was a colorful, free spirit who loved books, theatre, and all things geek.
Before I had my child, I was always cast as the quirky character role, which I played with exuberance, in experimental theatre pieces, improv comedy, and musicals.
Before I had my child, my husband and I went camping in places like Denali National Park and while we cuddled in our sleeping bags, I would pour words about our adventures into leather-bound journals.
Before I had my child, I had been a top sales rep for a book review service and had represented the company at prestigious events such as the annual American Library Association conference: the Oscars of the book world.
After I had my child, I found myself deeper and deeper in mourning for the death of the person I had been.
My Life as a Work-at-Home Mom, Part 1
The agreement with my office was after my maternity leave was done, I would telecommute for 90 days as part of a pilot program. As long as I met my goals, I would continue to work from home.
I lasted less than two weeks. Every time I picked up the phone to prospect, I froze. Even though he was in the same room, I felt like I was neglecting my baby. I was caught between the pressure of having to meet my numbers and the guilt I felt whenever I placed my son in his baby swing instead of holding him while I worked.
The Guilt Won
I called my boss and told her that I wanted to give my son my undivided attention in his first years. That I hadn’t realized just how all-encompassing being a mother would be. That I was sorry to have wasted company resources and that I didn’t want my experience to prevent anyone else from being able to work from home. She pleaded with me to stay on a part-time basis in a different role, but I refused her offer. With an amicable good-bye and a tap of the “End” button, my sales career was over.
I didn’t realize it then, but that was also when I had fallen deeper into my depression rabbit hole; when I cut off my career, I had also disconnected from my former self. I no longer had an anchor to my identity as the woman I wanted to be. I was fumbling around in the dark for some way to become the mother I thought I should be.
My Life as a Baby Slave
The quirky colorful adventurer had been replaced with a robot programmed to out-mother all of the mothers who had ever mothered. All in the name of giving my son the best start, of course. I hyper-focused upon motherhood as a kind of career and tried to disregard the undertow of the mood disorder that always threatened to pull me under. I was on a constant balancing act between trying to find joy in my son’s first years and feeling like I was deficient as a mother because I was so unhappy.
Eventually, I sought help from a support group for mothers with PPMD. Finding other mothers who were lost in their own ways was a comfort to me and I felt less alone, but I still wasn’t happy with who I was. While I was able to alleviate some of the symptoms through exercise and a better sleep schedule, I still felt powerless. I still felt like I didn’t matter.
My Second Chance
When I became pregnant with our second child, I put all my energy into finding ways to avoid having post-partum depression and anxiety symptoms again.
I planned for a VBAC (vaginal delivery after cesarean); that didn’t happen.
I joined La Leche League so I could prepare to successfully breastfeed; that didn’t happen.
I even encapsulated my placenta in the hopes that the hormones and nutrients would keep my mood elevated; that didn’t happen.
I slid deeper into the pit. This time the intrusive thoughts became so insidious (“you don’t matter, you don’t matter”) that I knew I needed to make a choice: I could give my children memories of their mother as a miserable, bitter woman who stuffed her soul away in the name of motherhood, or I could kill that bitch and bring back the old me.
The Old Me Won
No, I take that back: the new, improved me won.
After seeking the help of a therapist and getting on the right track with medication, I started wanting things for myself again. I realized that I would never be happy being just a stay-at-home mom, but I being a sales rep or an actress no longer defined who I was, either.
I needed to be something more. I was something more. I wanted to do something that mattered because I. Fucking. Mattered.
So I started freelance writing and helping businesses connect with their audiences through the power of words.
And I got a tattoo.
My Life as a Work-at-Home Mom, Redux
I now work from home without guilt while my silly, wonderful boys chase each other around the dining room table.
I now take on every writing assignment with the same exuberance I had for those quirky character roles I kept getting cast in.
I now look at my new life with the same sense of adventure I felt when I saw Denali’s peak towering over our campsite the first day of our honeymoon.
And that’s how you see me today: a refugee of stay-at-home motherhood who had to lose her way to find herself.
By the way, my tattoo says “Write Your Own Story.” I’m now doing that with every word I type and every choice I make.
What’s the story you want to write?
Leave a comment or send me a tweet: @WordWeaverFree