I recently shared my experience of having a Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder (PMAD) following the birth of my son. In my case, the symptoms appeared while I was still in the hospital and continued, without appropriate treatment, for nearly a year. Upon receiving the intervention I needed, I began my journey to recovery. I now share my story in the hope that it will encourage other women to speak up, seek help, and know they are not alone. [Read my full story here].
Prior to my PMAD journey, I thought of myself as a fairly strong person. I was successful and respected in my career, I voiced my opinions, and I had survived some difficult circumstances. I was a perfectionist, which served me well at points but also caused me unnecessary worry. I could sometimes be inflexible and, although I’m embarrassed to admit this, I could also be judgmental.
Then I had a beautiful baby boy, and a PMAD kicked me right out of my socks. There I was, sprawled out on the floor, not knowing how to get back up. I was in pain and I felt paralyzed. I spent nearly a year laying there, hoping no one would notice. I was ashamed that I had lost my balance. I stayed that way until, one day, someone came along and taught me how to stand again.
For a long time, I felt that my fall was a sign of weakness, that my PMAD was a symptom of a larger character flaw. I believed that it was my fault and that it had broken me. Now that I am on my feet again, I realize that this could not be farther from the truth. I am a more balanced version of myself than ever before.
My postpartum experience did not break me. It changed me. I am now both stronger and softer. Contrary to popular belief, softness and weakness can be vastly different.
With softness comes an ability to be flexible. In the face of a storm, the tree that is able to bend does not break. Softness has allowed me to become less rigid and more dynamic, to more successfully weather the storms. Through treatment, I have learned the beauty of imperfection and surrender.
Softness has also allowed me to be a safe place for others to land. I am now better able to cushion another’s fall. Through my own pain, I have developed a deeper sense of empathy, and the helping hand I received has inspired me to extend my own.
Finally, this softness has provided me a sense of self-confidence when facing the future. A hard vase may shatter, but a cushion falls lightly, remaining in-tact. I now know that I am able to stumble and then rise again, even stronger. Falling becomes less frightening when you have learned how to stand back up.
Without a doubt, my PMAD journey was an excruciating one, the most painful fall I have experienced. And it has not left me unscathed; I still bear its imposed cracks and scars. The difference is that I now wear them with pride. Echoing the sentiments of Leonard Cohen, those cracks have allowed the light in.
My Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorder (PMAD) did not break me apart. It broke me open.
There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.
To my fellow PMAD mommies, I am not broken and neither are you. Sometimes we have to face monsters to learn that we are survivors.
For more information on PMADS, visit Postpartum Support International.
A special thanks to The Motherhood Center of New York for seeing me on the ground, and helping me back to my feet.
Written by Ashley Abeles