The Hardest Part of Postpartum Depression (Losing Yourself)

Dear Readers,

I am honored today to invite a guest blogger, Dr Christina Hibbert, PsyD, author of the Amazon best seller This Is How We Grow.  Christi is a friend and colleague at Postpartum Support International.

What is the hardest thing about postpartum depression and anxiety? As a psychologist specializing in treating PPD, I could give many answers—coping with sleep deprivation; deciding whether or not to get help and if so, how; keeping relationships strong and healthy when we are not. But as a mother of six kids who has been through PPD four times, my answer is simple: The hardest thing about PPD, for me, has been the loss of my self—wondering “Who am I now?” “Where have I gone?” and even harder, “Will I ever return?”

It’s cliché, I know, but I certainly wasn’t expecting postpartum depression. Newly graduated from college and recently married, I couldn’t wait to start a family, to finally become a mother. It was something I’d wanted my entire life.

Fast-forward nine months, I didn’t expect to be induced and deliver my baby boy breach. He came out bottom first and had the most perfectly round, golden head. I didn’t expect sleep deprivation to make me feel so crazy, and I certainly didn’t expect a colicky newborn. My husband and I moved in and slept on the floor of my mom and dad’s living room for weeks while I just tried to feel normal again. I felt like a complete failure. What kind of mother can’t even handle caring for her child on her own? I was lost. I had no idea who I had become. It took months to work through my feelings, but eventually, “I” returned—changed, but somehow better. I was a true mother now. I knew I was stronger. I knew I could handle anything.

Fast forward 2 ½ years and I didn’t expect to feel depressed again, after the birth of my second little boy. I had a plan this time: let others help me so I could sleep more and feel better, and at first I thought I was better. But my dear husband kindly let me know that wasn’t the case, pointing out the words I’d written in my journal just two months in, “I wish I could run away. Not forever. Just long enough to feel like myself again.” Again, I was lost, and five months later, as I started graduate school in clinical psychology, again, I was found. This time, it took lots of sleep and getting myself involved in work I loved while reminding myself I was still a great mother. I learned to stop and change the negative self-talk, and that brought “me” back again.

Fast forward four years, and I had just graduated with my doctorate in psychology. It was 7 days after I graduated, in fact, that I delivered our first baby girl. We moved from California to Arizona just 5 days later. Now I was a true “expert” on PPD. I had resources, connections. I was a volunteer for Postpartum Support International . I knew the leaders in the field, for goodness sake! But PPD doesn’t care about that, and it hit me again, this time adding an extra dose of anxiety. I not only lost my sense of who I was as a person, I lost my sense of who I was professionally. “Some ‘PPD’ expert,” I thought. “You can’t even help yourself.” It took months of support from friends, family, and my postpartum connections to remind me this was just part of PPD and to bring back who I was, once again.

But my fourth fast-forward was the hardest. Four years after my third postpartum experience, and just three weeks before giving birth, my sister died suddenly and traumatically. My brother-in-law had died just 2 months prior of cancer, and we suddenly inherited our two nephews, our new sons. I gave birth to our fourth baby—another girl—four weeks to the day that my sister died. We went from three to six kids, just like that. Talk about postpartum depression! This time it was a true mixture of grief, pain, despair, and a sense that I would never be “me” again. “I am a mother of six now.” “Forget your dreams.” “You’ve got so much to do to heal the whole family, you will never have a career again.” I was okay with that. I accepted my place and made mothering my whole focus, but each tiny mistake rang loudly in my head, making “me” disappear all the more.

This time it took everything I had to get well again—counseling, nutrition, exercise, talking, crying, praying, and yes, eventually, an antidepressant. It took nearly three years to truly find myself again, but I eventually did, and I learned so much along the way. Not only did “I” come back better than before; I accomplished my dreams. I’m happy to say I just published my memoir of these experiences, This Is How We Grow  and it’s already an Amazon Bestseller. I guess I had it in me after all.

So, what have I learned about Postpartum Loss of Self?

1)   I learned that, once lost, we will always be found again—if we are patient and trust the process.

2)   I learned that losing ourselves is crucial to finding our true strength, wisdom, and light. We become brighter each time we discover ourselves again.

3)   I learned that we are given these hard times because they help us grow into something even more amazing than we could have dreamed. As I write in This is How We Grow, “When hard times come our way, we can go through them, or we can choose to grow through them. I choose to grow.”

Yes, the toughest part of postpartum depression, for me, has been losing myself, but trust me when I say that I am found. I am better than ever, and trust me when I say that you will some day be, too.

Author Bio: Christina G. Hibbert, Psy.D. is the author of the Amazon Bestseller, This Is How We Grow, a clinical psychologist, writer, speaker, non-profit founder, and blogger. A wife and full-time mother of six, Christina enjoys songwriting and naps, andkeeps her heart and home in Flagstaff, Arizona. Visit her popular website and blog, “The Psychologist, The Mom, & Me,” (www.DrChristinaHibbert.com) to learn more.

Connect with Dr. Hibbert:

Website/Blog: www.DrChristinaHibbert.com

Facebook Pages:

Dr. Christina Hibbert (www.facebook.com/drchibbert)

This Is How We Grow (www.facebook.com/thisishowwegrow)

Twitter: @DrCHibbert

Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/drchibbert

And be sure to go check out her new book, This is How We Grow, available now on Amazon.com! (link: http://amzn.to/1eVTEen).

Join Dr. Hibbert’s This Is How We Grow Personal Growth Group! FREE. Online. Growth. What more could you ask for? (link: http://bit.ly/1iYm6K3)

Check out Dr. Hibbert’s series, Postpartum Depression Treatment: http://www.drchristinahibbert.com/postpartum-depression-treatment/