Maybe A Little Brighter, Tomorrow
After my second son was born, I struggled with mild postpartum depression (PPD). It was bad enough to be struggling but not obvious enough for anyone to suggest I get help.
When I started to think about having my third child, I knew that the statistics were against me and I assumed I’d struggle with postpartum depression again after he was born. I figured it would be exactly like the last time – a few months of misery and struggle that would slowly get better after I returned to work and the baby started sleeping.
Instead, I was hit with something completely new and surprising before the baby even came: prenatal depression.
It took a while to even recognize it for what it was. I knew to watch for postpartum depression. I’d even warned my husband and a friend, “if you see symptoms, make me get help. Drag me there if you have to.” But during pregnancy? It didn’t even occur to me that the pain and hopelessness could possibly be related. Finally, after months of climbing into bed to cry almost every night after putting my kids to bed, I finally realized I needed help. With some pushing from the two friends I managed to tell and my husband, I made it to therapy. When that wasn’t enough, I got myself medication.
After some medication trial and error, I finally began to feel more like myself. Like my real self might still be there, buried deep inside. Like there might – MIGHT – be hope on the other side. But strangely, the thing that made me realize that I might pull through this was discovering something that I wanted to do for myself, as “me time” to invest in myself: learn to play the cello.
Playing cello was something I’d thought about for years but fell to the wayside under a huge pile of excuses. But then, after months of barely being able to talk myself into taking a shower, discovering that I truly wanted to learn to play and then making it happen (with help from an incredible friend)– I felt like I might finally make it to the other side of this.
Each time I set aside time to play my cello or go to a lesson, it felt like pulling through. That things might look a little brighter tomorrow. That maybe I don’t feel much hope now but maybe I will soon. I don’t know if I’ll play for a month, or a year, or a lifetime. But whatever happens, for right now, daring to do something hard and new in the face of depression is the biggest sign I can give myself that if I hold on just a little longer, things will get better.
I’d heard that for some, prenatal depression is a precursor to postpartum depression, and I was scared leading up to giving birth. It turned out even worse than I’d feared – postpartum depression hit hard, and then COVID-19 ripped away every support that I’d planned for myself just a month after my son was born.
But even without being in the midst of a pandemic, it’s a lonely battle. It’s hard to share about perinatal depression because there are so many expectations about pregnancy’s rosy glow. It’s hard to face the comments about enjoying pregnancy and what a joyful time it is when underneath, you’re drowning. And then the same follows after birth with postpartum depression – the joy of a new baby, his sweet beautiful face – what can you say? How can you explain that the pregnancy is fine, or that the baby is great, but you cry yourself to sleep each night out of hopelessness and desperation?
When we ask a woman how she’s doing, either before or after birth, let’s not stop at a casual “I’m fine.” Let’s ask ourselves if we can offer her an opening to share. Offer encouragement. Offer an admission that pregnancy can be beautiful but also really hard. I’ve learned that support isn’t just for after birth; sometimes, it’s needed before, too.
Even for women who seem like they’re doing okay.
Because to the outsider, I did look okay.
Who could have known that sometimes, I wasn’t sure how I could possibly make it through the day?
Depression can be a lonely, isolating secret. But it doesn’t have to be – if we open up and talk about it. If we share our stories with others. If we don’t silence them by telling them how they “should” feel or that it “should” be easier.
I can’t say I have all the wisdom or that I’ve made it to the “other side,” because postpartum depression is definitely still around. But my cello calms me when I can’t breathe. It has given me something to hold on to, something to push myself for and work on, even when everything else feels dark.
For those of you struggling right now, either with prenatal or postpartum depression: I see you. For right now: hold on. If you find something – anything – that gives you hope, grasp it with both hands. But even if you can’t yet, like I couldn’t for so many months: get support and hold on. We can make it, even if you can’t see that right now.
We can make it – together.
Atara currently works as a creative director, having previously worked in graphic design and web development. In her “spare” time, she enjoys sketching, painting, and learning to play cello. She lives in Cherry Hill, NJ with her husband and three sons.