Written by: by Julie Anne Waterfield
Allison was a beautiful ray of sunshine in my life. The life of an Army wife can get lonely at times – moving around so much, searching for new friends, and trying to make a strange house and new town feel like home. A mil-spouse herself, Allison knew the struggle, and reached out to my husband the very first weekend we moved a few houses down from her in Montgomery, Alabama. She invited us on a blind friend date with her and her husband, Justin. It wasn’t long into our first dinner together that I knew we hit the friend and neighbor jackpot. It was easy to be drawn to Allison. She was incredibly witty and had an amazing ability to make everyone around her feel welcome, included, and loved. I knew we would be lifelong friends.
With both of us expecting our first child, Allison due a few months before me, we had a lot of similar experiences that year in Montgomery. We shared pregnancy together, eating cupcakes regularly, waddling around the neighborhood, and alternating as the designated driver so our husbands could enjoy drinking for two on the weekends. Allison’s career as an early childhood educator, coupled with adoration for her niece and nephews, portrayed her love and experience with little ones. I trusted her baby sense, and copied everything she did. I chose the same OB group, the same stroller and car seat, even the same nursing tanks and nipple shields. I wanted to be just like her. She was adorable, healthy, smart, funny, loyal, supportive, and oh so sweet. Every time she greeted me with my giant belly, she said, “You look beautiful!” Of course I didn’t think so when I looked in the mirror, but she made me feel so good. Allison was a great friend. She handled pregnancy and motherhood beautifully…on the outside.
On the inside, less than 200 feet away from me every day, Allison was silently struggling with Postpartum Depression. I had NO idea. I inquired about her postpartum hormones after baby Ainslee was born. I bluntly asked her, “Do you feel crazy? Do you cry a lot?” I wanted to know for myself and prepare for what I would soon be experiencing with the birth of our baby. She responded that she cries some, but mostly happy tears about Ainslee gaining weight and the appearance of little chunky baby rolls, about how precious she is to her, and what a good father Justin is. Why didn’t I dig further? I regret every day that I accepted her answer.
My beautiful would-be life-long friend lost her hidden battle with Postpartum depression on June 28th, 2016. She left behind a loving husband, a precious 4.5 month-old baby girl, and countless family and friends who adored her. I miss her every day, and I’m not even her family. The depth of their pain…I cannot fathom. Her family’s hope, as well as mine, is that PPD is de-stigmatized, and that other struggling mothers may hear her story and seek help. The truth can be so hard to speak, especially when you feel your truth is shameful. There is nothing shameful about PPD. The adjustment to a new way of life as a mother, added to the raging hormones, can be a brutal weight to bear. It is a weight that never should be carried alone.
Not every new mother’s journey is happy and bright. Sometimes it is dark, lonely, scary, miserable, and uncertain. And the guilt! The guilt that we self-impose and that society imposes on us is overwhelming. If our journey as a mother isn’t daisies and butterflies, we feel alienated and ashamed. There is a rainbow at the end of the PPD storm that is raging for these struggling mamas. Help is out there in many forms if we just seek it: loving friends, supportive husbands, counselors, support groups, and medication.
To all those mothers out there experiencing some of these same feelings: you are not alone, and you are not a bad mother! PPD is lying to you. It is twisting your memories, feelings, and beliefs and reshaping them into an overwhelming falsehood. You will not be judged, only loved, as you seek help. To those breast-feeding mothers taking Reglan (metoclopramide) to increase milk supply: stop and do research. Reglan has detrimental side effects such as new or worsening depression, suicidal ideation and suicide. Supplement with formula if needed. Your baby will be just as perfect and healthy with or without the breast milk. Having more breast milk is not worth sacrificing your mental health or possibly your life.
Please share Allison’s message with everyone you know, and reach out to those new mamas. Love them through their struggles. Pray for them. Open up about your own tough experiences as a new mother to make them feel more comfortable and less alienated. Ask them tough questions over and over again. I wish I had.
Editor’s Note: Postpartum anxiety and depression can be debilitating for any new mother. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in seven women experience symptoms of depression after childbirth. Approximately 20% of mothers who experienced depression also had suicidal thoughts.
Both postpartum anxiety and postpartum depression are completely treatable. For help finding resources in your area, click here.
Resources and information for PPD: