It has been almost three weeks since Wilson joined us. Since I waited in my kitchen through contractions so we could “save a night” at the hospital (oh, the irony). Since I entered the most bizarre postpartum period of my entire mamahood. Since I bothered to put on a single bit of makeup (because, honestly, why?).
I mean, who really cares what my face looks like and why try to hide the fact that 1) I am tired, and 2) we have been under big stress, and 3) I am in what is regularly a weepy time which, as you might imagine, has been greatly intensified by our NICU experience; there’s just not enough concealer in the world to cover all that.
With that said, I’m still trying to make sure I end up in pictures during this time because documentation matters, and although I hesitated and questioned how to write this particular post, I know it is a story that matters, too, and therefore needs to be part of the documentation. So on Saturday, before I hit the road home for 24 hours, I snapped this selfie and contrary to my body dysmorphic ways, my first reaction to it was pleasant. To quote the good old ANTM fangirl days, it struck me as fierce and beautiful, even though (because) it is also rather harsh.
This is the face of a mama of five (who has yet to have all five babies in the same room even though the aforementioned almost three weeks have transpired). This is the face of a mama who has been working, working, working to understand how entirely different newborn life is in the NICU while also doing her best to keep calm and breastfeed on with her “gut” baby.
This is also the face of a mama who was flagged by a sheet of paper containing 10 simplistic questions regarding her mental health as being someone who might have postpartum depression.
Now. I share this with you because I share a lot with you on the blog, including the fact that I have been the beneficiary of professional therapy for four years now. My therapist and I have covered and uncovered a lot in that time, including the fact that I was indeed a MISSED case of PPD after RL’s birth, but neither one of us thinks that is the case this time.
This time is circumstantial, and silly me, I answered those 10 questions based on our NICU circumstance even though the questionnaire clearly did NOT.
Before I continue, please let me be clear that I do believe in screening for such things and very much believe that PPD is not only real but also needs real attention and care. I get that they needed to check in with me and I also realize how privileged and fortunate I am to already have a mental health professional at the ready to help me. But I have never been a fan of these questions (usually they come at the six-week post-delivery OB appt), nor have I ever thought they were worded in such a way that people who need help would actually feel like it was OK to ask for it. Because, honestly, what came flooding over me when I read those questions (and even more so when they came back in to tell me that I had borderline “failed” – my word, not theirs – and this is without marking any of the extremes on their sliding scale answers) was shame. Pure and simple. SHAME (which was accompanied by the tears that seem to concern folks so much which also felt instantly shameful).
You are crying. You aren’t handling things well enough. You aren’t strong enough. You’re depressed. Shame.
Now, again…no one said any of this to me. When the social worker came back in to talk to me about my results she was kind and supportive and encouraging. And that’s great. I’m glad to know they are here for folks who do not have a support system outside of this bubble. But I also made it clear in our conversation that I don’t like how much weight 10 questions get to wield nor the fact that none of them took into account the utter lack of normalcy a NICU experience has. I mean – who DOES pass that screening in this situation?! And isn’t a lack of emotion a stronger indicator of something being off than having some occasional hot mess moments? (which I will argue happens for any woman postpartum, much less here).
And really, that’s it. I don’t have any grand answers or insight from this, but I wanted to give voice to the normalcy that is being emotional after a baby’s birth as well to express support for seeking out help if you do feel off after delivery because both are real. Both are valid. And there might be circumstances that are extenuating and that’s OK, too. Someday I hope to be able to devote more time and attention to this by asking more questions about what we can do to support women after birth without shame, but for now I’m going to keep doing my thing here with my Lady Baby, knowing that happy, sad, crying, laughing, dark circles, or concealer (when it someday comes back into my life), this IS my experience and there is no shame in sharing that.