Melissa Young is a 31-year-old mom of two girls (currently 4 and 2 years old). Having been surrounded by nieces and nephews (18 total) most of her adult life, Melissa was very familiar with caring for babies and assumed that parenthood would be a piece of cake.
But the experience of becoming a mother was not at all what Melissa had expected.
After the birth of her first child, Melissa suffered from postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety, but it wasn't until long after the fact that she acknowledged it. The second time around, in the weeks after her second daughter was born, Melissa reached new lows. At the urging of her husband, she checked her midwife's website and discovered The Postpartum Stress Center in Bryn Mawr. Following a mix of in-person and telehealth therapy sessions, Melissa felt as if the dust had finally settled, but her perspective on maternal mental health was forever changed.
In her career as a registered nurse, Melissa had worked with orthopedic patients in the immediate post-operative period and observed care providers equip their patients with extensive education, both prior to surgery and throughout their hospital stay. During recovery, patients received follow-up care from both a hospital nurse and a nurse from the surgeon's office, as well as a follow-up appointment between two and four weeks.
Why, Melissa wondered, did patients having elective orthopedic surgery receive so many more resources than new mothers?
Nobody ever broached the possibility of perinatal mood disorders of PPD with Melissa until it was too late. She doesn't want new moms to suffer the way she did.
By sharing her story, Melissa hopes to change the way our society approaches mental health and help lift the taboo.
I have wanted to write about postpartum mood disorders for a long time, but there was always part of me that was afraid to bring up the topic. However, I truly believe that we are doing a huge disservice to our mothers by NOT talking about what so many women go through after bringing home a baby.
I came across this photo taken by my sister two years ago. I was 13 days postpartum after my second child. I was in the throes of postpartum depression, sleep deprivation, and crashing hormones. It was the lowest low I’ve ever hit.
Yet, if you looked at my Facebook or Instagram, you wouldn’t see this face - the face of a new mom-zombie who wondered how she was going to make it through another night. Instead, you’d see cute baby photos and my two girls lying together on the play mat and some jokes about life as a mom, because that's easier to share than talking about how bad you feel. Two years ago, I wrote this email to myself while going through this period because I wanted to journal my feelings and hoped that one day I’d have the courage to share them…
August 19, 2018
It’s been a week.
Between a two week old who likes to stay up all night, a two year old who was sick and on the verge of hospitalization for IV fluids, and the stress and exhaustion of postpartum life, I think I almost reached my breaking point.
I thought this time around - my second time bringing home a newborn - I would be better prepared. I won’t lie and say that I didn’t feel anxious about bringing home a baby. I clearly remembered those first few weeks and months with Lacey. I remembered the tears, the panic, the exhaustion that you feel in your bones...but I thought, “I know what to expect” and figured it would be easier.
For the first week, it was easier. I was amazed at how great I felt at first. I felt relatively normal. Aside from being tired and a bit overwhelmed at times, I felt like myself and like a functional person. Then, day 10 or so rolled around.
Suddenly, I was crying again. I was feeling overwhelmed even when things were calm. I didn’t want to leave the house. I didn’t want to leave the couch. I thought of all the things I “should” do....empty the dishwasher, throw in laundry, vacuum...and I felt a debilitating sense of not being able to do anything.
One night - night 15 of the postpartum period - I hit my low. It was following a night of almost zero sleep, running Lily around to the doctor's office and then the hospital for bloodwork, and dealing with Lacey not feeling well. I truly felt like I couldn’t do it for one more minute. I thought about the upcoming night with a newborn and I just thought, "I can’t do this."
I sobbed. I had stopped breastfeeding that morning. I felt like maybe if I stopped nursing, the physical pain would be gone and some of the mental and emotional stress would be lifted. But I was filled with guilt. I thought, this is my ONE job as a woman: feed my baby. And I just can’t.
Any reason or logical sense I had couldn’t fight the feelings my brain was making me feel. I sobbed in my living room as Scott fed Lily the last bottle of pumped milk. I sobbed in the glider chair as I looked at the breast pump I would no longer need. I sobbed while I talked to my mom and selfishly talked about how having two kids was a mistake. I looked down at my newborn baby and felt the worst kind of guilt possible...How could I love someone so much but feel like I made a terrible mistake?
As the next few days went on, things got a little better. The guilt from not breastfeeding got a little better as I realized that my baby would only be as healthy as her mom, and that included mental health. I contacted a postpartum center for help with my feelings. I relied on my mom coming over to help me, and I vented to close friends.
I trusted Scott when he told me things would get better and we would get through it. I talked to him and questioned... Why does no one talk about postpartum depression? Why doesn’t anyone talk about how hard those first few weeks can be?
I tried so hard to convince myself that I didn’t fall under the category of depressed, but in those moments that night, I knew what I was feeling was past the point of hormones. I knew plenty of moms who could handle breastfeeding, who could handle 2,3,4 kids without losing their minds, moms who could get on with their lives after having a baby...So what was wrong with me? Then I wondered, are they secretly suffering too? Maybe, maybe not.
But I think the fact still remains: We do almost nothing to prepare moms for this possibility. We “ooh and ah” over the new baby, but we neglect the mother. We shower moms-to-be with baby gifts and cute cards, but do we ever really sit down and make sure they’re okay in those first few days, weeks, or months after having a baby? Do we provide support for the mom who is breastfeeding and wants to quit? Do we try to help the mom who is pumping and totally exhausted from the cycle of pump, feed, wash, repeat? Do we assure the mom who feels shamed by formula feeding that her baby is just fine and she is still a great mom? Do we tell a mom that it’s okay to cry and assure her that we are there to help and that life will indeed feel normal one day?
Why don’t we talk about these things BEFORE she’s in that position? Why don’t we look for the signs of depression or anxiety? Why do we label postpartum depression as the mom who drowns her kids in the tub? Postpartum depression doesn’t always look like that. Sometimes it just means feeling like you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.
I know this was a long rant but I needed to get these thoughts out. I think society fails mothers and sometimes we fail each other. I am so extremely grateful for family and friends who reached out to to help me. My sanity some days has come from my mother-in-law taking Lacey for the day so I can just focus on feeding, cuddling, and napping with my newborn. My mom saved me on multiple occasions by taking my long, emotional phone calls and coming over at the drop of a hat when I needed her.
What do women do who go through this without any help or support? My point of this whole thing is that we should not be afraid to talk about this. Women should not feel shamed or feel like something is wrong with them. Women should not have to lie and pretend things are okay when they’re not. So please - if you feel like I felt - don’t hide behind a facade. Reach out for help. It will get better, and one day you will be amazed at how great things really are.
Now, looking back two years later, I am no longer in the darkness, but those memories are still so vivid. I always try to be honest and transparent. Motherhood is a roller coaster no matter what stage you are in; yet mothers are shamed if they complain or vent about the struggles with a newborn. My goal is to let mothers in the postpartum stage know that it’s okay to not love every minute.
It’s courageous to ask for help if you’re struggling. And most importantly, you are strong, and things will indeed get better.
Melissa with her babies today