There’s a small pink flower sticker on my kitchen clock. It’s stuck down on the number nine which signals 5:45 p.m., the time when my husband used to come home from work each day.
This cheery and colorful little sticker has a darker meaning. It’s still there as a small reminder of the postpartum depression that stole the color and joy from my life as a new mama.
How It All Began
I stuck that little sticker on my clock a few weeks after my second baby was born. It was of a pretty pink flower from my 2-year-old’s craft kit that I put on the number nine to mark the time when I could stop pretending I was OK and hand over all of my mama duties to my husband.
Over the weeks since giving birth I had started to feel tearful and anxious. Even little things started to become difficult to do. When my baby was crying and my toddler was shouting for me all at the same time, I felt like I was being pulled in two directions. Small tasks felt insurmountable. I started to feel like I was drowning.
It got to the point where I used to sit and watch the minutes tick by with an ever-growing knot of anxiety in my chest, waiting for my husband to come home and rescue me. If the hands ticked past the sticker I began to worry and pace and shake. I could feel the breath in my chest get shallower.
I could hold it all together until 5:45 p.m. each day. But not a minute longer. As the clock ticked, my nerves frayed and I started to unravel.
The Mask I Wore
If you had met me then at the playgroup gates, at a mother and baby group or in the corner shop, you might have smiled at my cute toddler with rainbow clothes and corkscrew-curled hair and my tiny baby in a sling on my chest. You might have made eye contact or passed a few words with me. And I would have smiled and chatted back.
If you had flicked through my Instagram photos you would have seen countless snaps of my two #littlemunchkins and got a glimpse of the happy life I was leading filled with joy to be blessed as a mama of two.
The public persona, the mask I wore and the photos I shared on social media covered up the truth. I was struggling with postpartum depression (PPD), which stole the color from my days just as much as the filters I put on added to them.
It’s hard to describe my feelings as PPD cast its shadow over me. I used to swing between feeling too much – like an overwhelming anxiety that made me feel shaky and panicky – to feeling nothing. Like the brightness and joy had been sucked out of my life.
I did all of the things I needed to do for my two gorgeous girls. I fed them, clothed them, read to them and took them for walks in the park. But I felt numb.
I felt like a cardboard cutout mama doing all of the things moms do, but with no feeling. All of the little things that used to make me smile didn’t anymore.
I no longer stopped to feel the sun on my face or to hear my children giggle.
I no longer sang in the shower or hummed as I loaded the laundry. I did everything that each day and my children asked of me. But I couldn’t feel it.
The only way I could cope was to meter out the time and hold it all in until 5:45 p.m., the time when my husband came home. That was where I set my limit of coping each day.
Looking back it seems entirely irrational to believe I could no longer cope at 5:46, 5:47 or even 6 p.m. But I truly believed if the clock ticked past that flower sticker, I would fall apart.
It was horrible feeling like this. Not feeling like me. Not being the mama I wanted to be. I hoped I would wake up one day and be back to “normal.” But the stress of hiding it, the weight of trying to wade through the days and hold it all together began to take its toll. My mask started slipping more and more.
Asking for Help Isn’t Easy
One day I was trying to wheel the stroller past some traffic cones put up for roadwork and struggled to get it up the curb. My toddler was whining because she wanted to press the green man button (that was out of action), and my baby was screaming and screaming at the top of her lungs.
Anxiety prickled up, making me sweaty, scratchy and twitchy. And I swore at the workers who were just doing their job fixing the road. I sat on the pavement and broke down. I sobbed and sobbed.
My toddler was stunned into silence. My baby cried even louder. Then my little girl sat down, stroked my hand and said, “It’s OK Mummy.”
A lovely passerby stopped and helped me get up and gather myself together. She gave my toddler a box of raisins from her bag and cuddled my baby until she stopped crying.
She didn’t ask me what was wrong. She didn’t judge. She was just kind and helpful and gentle. She made sure I was OK to make my way home and left with a pat on my arm and a smile. I wish I knew who she was so I could thank her for what she did that day.
That night I sobbed in my husband’s arms and told him I was not OK, and I needed some help. He held me and told me it would be alright and that he loved me. And I know I am lucky to be brave enough to ask for help and to get it swiftly.
I reached out to one of my medical providers, and she gave me the number of a local PPD counseling service and luckily – oh so luckily – I could see a therapist the next week. I know now for many finding help, even when you ask for it, is not always so easy and not always so swift.
On a Brighter Path
Therapy helped me recover. It seems almost strange somehow that talking can help. But it does.
It helped hugely to know that whenever I struggled or was overwhelmed by my feelings, I knew I could shore them up, and I just had to get to my next appointment to get support and talk them through.
Like the sticker on the clock, my weekly appointment became a coping mechanism – but in a much healthier way.
This time as each week ticked by I was one step closer to recovering from the postpartum depression that had clouded my first few months of being a mother of two.
Slowly I began to feel more like me. Slowly the color came back to my life. One morning, I suddenly realized I was singing in the shower.
I suppose the real test was when my husband came home three or seven or 15 minutes past the flower sticker to find I hadn’t even noticed. He would find me and the children snuggled on the sofa reading a book or giggling together as we played, waiting for daddy to come home.
I hid my PPD from the world. I didn’t even tell my own mother. I was ashamed about not coping and not feeling OK, because it didn’t seem right.
Here I was with two happy and healthy babies and a supportive husband. What right did I have to be anything but happy?
And so I hid my feelings and tried to carry on, pretending everything was fine. I didn’t ask for help or admit I was struggling. Instead I put on my brightest smile and tried to show the world I was the happy mother I was supposed to be.
It was so hard pretending, that each evening I unraveled and hid from the world, weeping in my bed while listening to the sounds of my husband bathing the kids, singing to them and putting them to bed.
I wish I had gotten help earlier so I hadn’t missed out on so many of those times.
And I’m glad I’m speaking about it now, because we need to talk about it more.
Looking Back on My PPD
That flower sticker on my clock is still there. It’s there to remind me not only of what happened, but also how far I’ve come.
I could have chosen any sticker, but I love that it’s a flower symbolizing how much I blossomed as a mother.
From a plant hiding beneath the soil, shielding myself from the sunlight, I grew and opened up towards the sun.
Like a plant, the change wasn’t visible right away. But one day there was a tiny green shoot, the next a bud and finally petals waiting to unfurl.
If you’re in the dark right now, please know you can get help too. It’s OK to not be OK.
It’s OK to admit it, and with help you too can make a full recovery and go back to feeling like you again.