05 September 2012

People, things happen!

Once upon a time, a very pregnant woman (40 weeks pregnant to be exact) was sitting at her dining room table at 2:00am with a cup of herbal (non-caffeinated) tea and playing "spa music" on her laptop to try to help herself unwind and fall asleep. She decided to "wander" over to the Facebook page for her favorite PPD blog, PostPartum Progress, to do some reading and enjoy the community there. She came upon a thread with a link to a blog post titled "Grieving over an unnatural childbirth". The intro to the post said:
"Today’s guest Warrior Mom is Sierra R., who blogs at Everything Is Coming Up Roses. She’s sharing her frustration and disappointment with not having the natural childbirth she hoped for, and it’s contribution to her postpartum depression."
She was fascinated and continued reading...

Ok ok, dropping the third person narration, this was a post that really struck a cord with me. My first childbirth wasn't the exact same scenario but it was definitely similar and was a traumatic experience for me. I didn't really understand until later HOW traumatic it had been but it was. My PPD wasn't caused solely by my awful experience (my pregnancy-induced hypothyroidism was discovered later to be the main culprit) but I feel very strongly that it contributed to my PPD.

I read the post and then went back and finished reading the comments on the Facebook thread. Most of them I was nodding along with but I came to one response that made me narrow my eyes.
"People, things happen! Just be thankful the baby is healthy in every way. It's like people do this same thing when they don't have the "perfect" wedding. NOTHING is perfect and dwelling on it isn't going to help anything. Get counseling and move on."

One of the main reasons I'm so vocal and open about my experiences and why I blog is to combat harmful stigmas and stereotypes. There are some attitudes, though, that get me seeing red and steam coming out my ears particularly fast and this comment contains several of them. Instead of just stewing about it though, I thought I'd take it and use it to explain exactly what it is that's so frustrating and harmful about responses like this. I'll break it down, piece by piece, and try to give you some insight to my thought process and reactions.

"People, things happen"Why yes, yes they do, thank you for that deep revelation. I really had no idea, I appreciate you informing me of this.

"Just be thankful the baby is healthy in every way."Obviously I can't speak to the mindset of all moms everywhere but I don't personally know/know of any moms, with or without PPD, who AREN'T thankful when their baby is healthy. Heaven knows I was extremely thankful my daughter was healthy. Unfortunately, the baby being healthy doesn't make it any easier to cope with PPD and being thankful doesn't make PPD go away.

"It's like people do this same thing when they don't have the 'perfect' wedding."
Because, of course, having a traumatic childbirth and PPD is the same as having hitches in your wedding. Maybe it's just me but this seems kind of insulting. For the record, I speak as someone whose wedding had some hitches (although I think they added character and made the wedding more memorable) AND who, as already established, had a traumatic childbirth and PPD. Maybe there are people who have dealt with both and found them to be comparable, but I don't understand why they even have to be compared at all. Why not let them be their own experiences and entities?

"NOTHING is perfect and dwelling on it isn't going to help anything."
Number 1: I don't think that Sierra, or any of the other women who were commenting about their experiences, were complaining about the fact that childbirth did not go exactly as planned and wasn't 100% perfect. A lack of "perfection" wasn't my complaint. It seems to me that what all of us who have had these traumatic experiences have in common is that there was a LOT that happened that was to us traumatic. I'm not traumatized by imperfections but the perfect(ly hellacious) storm of events that I experienced was well beyond just "not perfect". I can handle a little thing here or there. Realizing that I was lied to, manipulated, and pushed into an unnecessary induction by the DOCTOR who was supposed to be looking out for my best interests and those of my baby, and who chose instead to try to do what he thought would be most convenient for him and the rest of the L&D staff, that went beyond a little "not perfect". 32 hours of labor? 3 hours of pushing? Back labor contractions that never ended (literally)? A number of other interventions? Having to be put on oxygen because I was told my baby's heart rate was concerning? VERY bad tearing in not just my perineum but also my labia? Being so constipated that I literally couldn't even stand up straight and had to go back to the hospital a few days later? That, and a number of other issues and results, all went past "just" being "not quite perfect" and well into flat out traumatic, physically and emotionally. The more I tried to stuff it and ignore my feelings, the more it upset me. Talking it through was what actually helped. This brings me to...

Number 2: How in the heck do you know what does or doesn't help someone? Besides the fact that writing a blog post about it to try to help other people doesn't even necessarily constitute "dwelling on it", how do you know what a person needs to do to heal and be able to cope with their experience? Unless you are that person's medical professional, you probably don't, and acting like you do just makes you look like a jerk. Talking and writing about a traumatic and painful experience, whether it's a difficult childbirth, a break-up, the death of a loved one, a car wreck, or anything else, can be (and for many people is) very cathartic and therapeutic. Expressing those feelings and thoughts can be very freeing. It can also help other people to know that they aren't alone if they're experiencing something similar, and can help people know what questions to ask and what to be prepared for should they find themselves dealing with a similar situation. It can create a sense of community, and when you're dealing with PPD or any other issue that has such potential to make you feel isolated and alone, that can be a very good and very helpful thing.

"Get counseling and move on."
How do you know that person isn't getting counseling and moving on? How do you know that talking about it, writing about it, etc., isn't part of what that person's doctor/therapist/whoever has recommended to help them be able to cope and to heal? 

The whole attitude of "Just move on", "Stop dwelling on it already", "Just get counseling" can be so incredibly hurtful and frustrating. I was told this by a "friend" when I was still upset about my Memmaw's death a week after she passed away and was again the recipient of this lovely advice from too many people when I was dealing with my PPD. I've seen it expressed to other people, or to the world at large on general discussions of PPD or other mental health topics. Sometimes it's put the way it is here, sometimes it's phrased in Christianese as "Just pray more", "Just have more faith", "Just thank God and stop wallowing", etc. No matter how you phrase it, it hurts. 

If it were that easy, do you really think I would have had to be on antidepressants for months and months? Do you think women would choose to suffer from PPD if it were so simple as JUST being thankful for a healthy baby and JUST getting counseling and JUST moving on already? If you know women who are capable of JUST changing their mindset and being over their PPD with a snap of the fingers, send them my way so I can learn their techniques and share them with the world, but none of the women I know have figured out that method yet despite trying and trying and trying. It's insulting and demeaning to be told that, essentially, your health doesn't matter as much as the baby's health, and to be told things like this that reek of lofty, high-and-mighty insinuations that you're actually CHOOSING to be miserable, or are too dumb to figure out for yourself that beating PPD is as simple as making up your mind to be happy. 

Not only are these attitudes hurtful and insulting, they're dangerous. They can cause women to feel even more unnecessary shame and guilt than they already do, and to want to pull away and isolate themselves, to not talk about it. That's far from being a healthy and good thing for someone who's already battling the negative emotions and thoughts, the feelings of aloneness, that so often accompany PPD.

I wish to high heaven that it were as simple as just being thankful that my baby were healthy, or as easy as just getting counseling and moving on, that it were as easy to laugh about and shrug off as the fact that vultures circled over my lovely wedding ceremony as I walked down the aisle with my dad and the fact that the tapers for the unity candle blew out and the lighter wouldn't work and my veil almost caught on fire trying to light said unity candle. If I could make it all that easy and lighthearted, if I could simplify the process of kicking PPD, I would do it in a heartbeat and publish my methods and knowledge (and wouldn't even charge the reasonable price of 199.00...) so that everyone could do the same and end the suffering. I wish it were that easy. Everyone I know who has struggled with it wishes it were that simple but it's not.

So please, do yourself and everyone else a favor and next time you feel like saying something along these lines, stop and think about how absolutely UNhelpful that attitude is and, if you must say anything, go with something like "I'm so sorry for what you're going through. I hope you're able to find healing and peace soon.".


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