I first met Nicole in a children’s literature course. She was not the loudest in class; we had plenty of loud personalities. Nicole was not the tallest, nor was she the shortest; however, I do remember her as the sweetest.
Case in point would include the fact that when we did a trust-fall activity, I trust-fell straight into her mouth, causing her to bleed. She blurted no obscenities or curses; rather, she shrugged it off and seemed to comfort me more than she sought after comfort herself.
Within a few years following our shared course, Nicole gave birth to a son. During this first pregnancy, her difficulties developed. Nicole had a minor eating disorder during the last five months of her pregnancy, which followed her into the first six months of her son’s life.
Nicole noted that her PPD truly kicked in once she had her son.
“After I gave birth, the PPD really kicked in. I felt like I needed to be perfect. The perfect wife and mother and I blamed myself for everything that wasn’t perfect. I found myself crying several times a day. Most of the time, I would go in a room alone and cry. Sometimes I would also have trouble breathing and would feel myself start to hyperventilate.”
It is not abnormal for anxiety to hinder day-to-day activity. Nicole noted that this was the case for her with her second pregnancy, but not with her first, proving that every pregnancy can provide a different experience.
During her toughest days with PPD, Nicole noted that her symptoms were overwhelmingly intense. These hardest days occurred following her second pregnancy.
“I woke up with feelings of anxiety and inadequacy. I felt that everyone around me was waiting for me to mess up, and anytime something didn’t go the way I planned or something just went wrong. I would get very frustrated and angry with myself. I had anxiety attacks multiple times a day and sometimes would also have thoughts that I was a terrible mother and my children would be better off if I just disappeared.”
Familial support has been proven to decrease factors in postpartum depression (1). Unfortunately, familial support has not always been available to Nicole. She stated that she did not feel supported by her in-laws, whom she lived within close proximity to during her second pregnancy. She stated that she felt judged by her family, stating that she felt that they were waiting for her to “explode,” which only increased her anxiety further. So despite being in a new place, Nicole sought after a different support system, which is where new friends stepped in, thus providing her care because she felt “less judged by them.”
These feelings are not abnormal. Everyone needs a support system, and sometimes reaching outside of the family is necessary for a healthy recovery.
Nicole’s diagnosis varied between pregnancies. With her first pregnancy, her husband suggested that she had PPD and scheduled a therapist appointment for her. With the second pregnancy, Nicole recognized the PPD for herself and was keenly aware of it during her pregnancy and after.
Seeing a therapist wasn’t initially easy for Nicole. The first therapist she felt was never a help; however, with the second pregnancy, she tried a second therapist and also saw a medical doctor, as well, which she felt was beneficial.
Of this, she stated: “[I] felt relieved to finally have someone to talk about how I was feeling and to be listened to. For the first time I didn’t feel like I was imagining things.”
Nicole’s treatment included writing positive affirmations on her mirror, practicing mindfulness, and finding activities to channel her emotions, such as exercise and writing. Further, Nicole also practiced hugging her children whenever she began feeling sad, frustrated, or anxious, which described as a way to help her “focus on what matters in life.” Additionally, she made small goals for herself that were attainable, so that she could feel that each day was fulfilled and worthwhile.
What Nicole refreshingly understands better than most women, is that each individual needs to understand self worth and implement self-care, and even the imperative concept of self-mercy.
When asked when looking back what she would want to tell her husband and herself, Nicole said, “I would tell my husband I’m sorry that you lost your wife in a way for a few months, but I will be back. I know you miss the woman you married, and I miss her, too. To myself, I would say, you’re worth it, you matter to someone, and you deserve to be happy. You can’t control what other people think of you; you can only control yourself, so just do your best, and do what is best for you and your family, and forget what other people think.”
Nicole is right. Every woman is worth the effort of fighting back, receiving help, and getting better.
As for the best advice Nicole has for someone going through PPD/PPA?
“The best advice I could give to a friend going through PPD/PPA would be to ask for help. Depression is a very lonely experience, and you need a strong support system around you to help you get through it. I would tell her to let her family and friends know what is going on and if she needed it, to go talk to a medical professional for further help. Asking for help is not weakness. It takes courage and strength to admit you’re struggling and to start to heal. I would also tell her that she is important. I think it would also be important to help her feel like this is real. That she isn’t just emotional.”
A special thanks to Nicole Epperson, whose name was not changed for the purpose of this article.