Post-Postpartum Depression and the Inner-Strength It Took to Get There
The night I found out I was pregnant with my second, I began to cry. The tears were tears of happiness, excitement, but most of all, relief. I imagine that usually when people cry tears of relief at a pregnancy test, it’s often a reflection of a struggle with infertility. My struggle was something different though. As I shared very publicly in this platform last year around this time, I “experienced,” “was diagnosed with,” or perhaps more accurately, “survived” postpartum depression with my first child, my beautiful sweet daughter. I was told very explicitly throughout the years of therapy that followed, that while I would never get a “do-over” with my daughter, one day I would be healthier, I could be back to myself, and feeling ready to bring another soul into the world, for its own merits and journey. That day of readiness had come, and it moved me to tears.
After about a week of joyful crying, followed by a whole lot of nausea and vomiting, I began to feel a more familiar feeling than relief: terror. Suddenly my confidence that I was better, healed, and healthy seemed a little high-stakes considering that I was growing a new life in my body. My therapist, my psychiatrist, my best friends, not to mention my husband, were all confident that I was in a totally different place, in great hands, and that this time it would be different. “Confident” that something will be totally different when you’ve gone through the severe postpartum depression that I went through, though, doesn’t feel quite good enough. “You’re ‘confident’ that this time will be totally different?” Huh. “But what if you’re, I don’t know, wrong?!?”
The decision was made to keep me on medication for depression even during my pregnancy. The risks of doing so with my particular medication, I learned, are very low, while the risks of getting postpartum depression again after having had it once are very, and may I say cruelly, high. But not if you’re already taking the medication. As a total non-doctor here, what I understand about this is that, if you’re already taking medication to treat depression, you’re already treating what you’re afraid you might get when the baby comes. So basically, if Superman had an oral kryptonite-blocker, you’d want to keep him on that stuff full force when you knew he was likely to be entering kryptonite land. That’s what my doctors decided for me, and spoilers, it, at least in part I assume, changed my life.
Fast forward to a lot of waiting and throwing up later, I was an adorable little walking planet — no really, Purim came and I dressed up my belly as a globe because I felt so large. I knew the day was going to come soon when I’d meet my precious son. When I found out it was a boy – my first was a girl – part of me was terrified, as my husband and I come from families of only sisters, but there was a small part of me, deep down, that had a feeling Hashem was telling me he was ready to deal me a different set of cards. This would be my new journey, like my therapist has told me what felt like lifetimes ago. My baby wouldn’t be my first baby, but he would be my first something – my first boy. “I’ll take it,” I thought.
And when my turn finally came, as I cried and contracted and pushed on that March day, I wasn’t getting my hopes up for all that warm gushy love. Or maybe I was. I don’t know… What I do know is that this time, it actually came.
It’s hard for me to type this without crying. It’s hard for me, after all I’ve been through with my daughter and now son, to accept and hold how beautiful and filling and awesome it can be to love your children. On a very deep level that seeps into the core of my being, I mean it so wholeheartedly and don’t know a better way to word it. Loving my children is the best thing I’ve ever felt in my life.
Sometimes you don’t realize how dark something was until your eyes adjust to the light. The darkness I experienced for so many days after my daughter was born felt horrible but seemed so normal at times. With every day of light, I see how not normal and dark it really was where I’ve been before.
We decided to name our son after my Grandpa George; we chose the name Gavriel Zecharia. Zecharia means Hashem remembers, and Lord knows that if I will never forget what I went through to be a great mother for these kiddos, Hashem won’t forget either. But Gavriel – that means the Lord is my strength. They say it refers not to physical strength but more to that inner-strength that can get you through anything; in that place, we can find G-d. Gavriel, in that place I found G-d, I found myself, I found your sister, and now I have found you. And I will never stop loving how much I love you.
Melody Coven is a wife, mother, and empowered Jewish woman living in Skokie, IL, just outside of Chicago. A public relations professional by trade, she is the founder of Questions For My Jewish Friend, a site designed to educate American millennials about Orthodox Judaism, and recently published The Pioneer Project, an anthology of essays about motherhood written by Jewish women around the world. She loves baking, Starbucks, and cult documentaries. Her husband Avi and daughter Dita are the lights of her life.