Recently I completed an online health screening for my insurance company. In addition to questions about my diet and my exercise habits, the screening asked about my mental health. My answers (and my eventual results) were notably different from when I had completed the screening early last summer and had selected the box: "I have had a baby in the last three months."
The year before, I had to answer "some of the time" to categories such as "I have been anxious or worried for no good reason," "I have felt scared or panicky for no good reason," and "Things have been getting on top of me," "I have felt sad or miserable," and "I have been so unhappy that I have been crying."
The year before, I had been met with a pop-up message in enlarged red font advising me to discuss the signs, symptoms, and treatments of postpartum depression with a medical practitioner.
I already had. During my six-week post-delivery check-up, I had taken a different screening test while waiting for the doctor. Both the nurse and doctor talked me through my results, which were borderline for treatment. Given that I had a great support network in place, an understanding husband, and prior experience with the ups and downs associated with bringing a new baby home, I had known that I was going to make it through alright -- which was something that I desperately had needed to know when I came home from the hospital with my firstborn, simultaneously in love, overjoyed, and blindsided by sudden surges of tears and waves of emotions.
I've written about this before, but it bears repeating:
Whatever its degree and whatever you call it -- baby blues, postpartum depression, loss of hormonal equilibrium, temporarily losing your emotional fortitude -- those early weeks home with a baby aren't always easy. You're recovering. You give all that you have during the days, and you still face long nights awake with the baby. You're deprived of sleep. You're hormones are surging. And the most beautiful, precious little life you've ever seen has been entrusted into your care as you're in the midst of it all.
Admitting that the transition into motherhood (or the transition into mothering more children) is difficult does not make you less of a mother. It does not suggest that you don't love your child. It's doesn't mean that you're a pessimist. It is not a sign of weakness, a lack of faith, or an indication of being unfit to parent.
Last year, my online insurance screening was followed up with bi-weekly emails with the phrase "Managing Your Depression" in the subject line. I had cringed a little each time one of these emails arrived in my inbox. I had wanted to react, "But don't you know how ridiculously positive I am? Don't you realize that my default facial expression tends to be a smile?"
Despite this, I knew that I'd benefit from these emails. I reminded myself there was no shame in seeking help or admitting that you're not entirely alright, even if you're often smiling on the outside. Perhaps, especially if you're often smiling on the outside.
So, I read each email. I talked with loved ones, journaled, prayed, and worshiped -- all of which help me to process emotions and tap into my relationship with God. I aimed to make good decision with the food that I was eating, the exercise that I was engaging in, and the rest that I was getting. And it got easier. I found sure footing again.
This issue is dear to my heart. I want to reach out to new mothers, wrap them in my arms, and remind them, "You're going to get through this. It's a wonderful time of your life, yes, but it's also hard. Know that it won't always be this hard."
New mothers, not just new babies, often need to be swaddled, too. Not in blankets, but in support, through awareness, and with love.
If you're a new mom, know that it's not always going to be this hard. Take this to heart. Then please go take a nap. That'll do wonders, too.
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