Lessons Learned: From Postpartum Depression to Power

Today's Lessons Learned essay comes via Susan Petcher, a mom, music teacher, blogger (at Learned Happiness), and advocate for women's mental health:

My five-year-old daughter bounded into my bed this morning, dashing my hopes of a few more winks of sleep with her Tigger-like enthusiasm. And as I returned her hugs and kisses, I cherished the small moment of happiness between us. Because there was a time when I could not return her love, when the gift of bonding was stolen from us both.

You see, from the moment she bellowed out her first cry, my world fell to pieces. She was very much wanted (and planned for meticulously) but her arrival heralded the onset of a frightening case of postpartum anxiety with side servings of OCD and depression. I suffered from a menagerie of symptoms, ranging from panic attacks to rage, and eventually a numbing depression.

I spent my first six months as a mother afraid of my baby and terrified of motherhood. Every interaction with her was an opportunity to confirm what I felt inside so deeply: that I was a failure and that I would never be the mom she deserved.

One in seven mothers experience this same struggle, yet I felt alone and isolated. Even after I began treatment, in the form of therapy and medication, and started to feel the depression lift, the stigma and shame weighed me down. Though I was working furiously to heal, the PPD had taken my confidence and my power.

When I stumbled upon Postpartum Progress, it was as if a hand was reaching into the dark, pulling me back up into myself. I marveled at each of the amazing women who wrote about their postpartum mood and anxiety disorders, admiring them for their strength and courage, never once thinking less of them for their struggles. And then one day, without warning, it hit me: how can I admire their courage yet fail to see it in myself?

This community of survivors -- of Warriors -- gave me their stories and their hope. Through their support and understanding, their emails and their tweets, I found a new identity. Instead of a sufferer, I became a survivor. I reclaimed my power. And with it, I found the strength to bond with my daughter and to love her despite my anxieties. Now, as an advocate, I speak for those who have lost their hope. And in a weird way, I find myself grateful for the postpartum anxiety and depression that led me to the Warrior Mom community. Though I would not wish my experiences on anyone, I wouldn't change a moment of my journey.

This June, I get an opportunity to give back while celebrating my recovery. I'm climbing a mountain with a team of survivors and their support networks as a part of Postpartum Progress's Climb Out of the Darkness awareness and fundraising campaign. On June 21, I'll be climbing Mt. Washington and while I anticipate it to be a challenge, it'll be nothing compared to what I faced back in those early days of motherhood.

Bring it on. I'm a Warrior now. And you can be too.

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Editor's Note: Local moms can join or donate to Susan's Mt. Washington team or Candice Brothers' Walden Pond team. To find a climb near you, visit the Postpartum Progress's Climb Out of the Darkness page.

For more in the Lessons Learned series, see The Practice of Kindness, Sibling Acceptance. Do you want to submit a Lessons Learned essay? See submission guidelines here.

Image credits: 1) Postpartum Progress; 2) Susan Petcher