One Mom's Journey Finding Support Through Postpartum Depression and Anxiety
Photo: Charlie Jane
Imagine that instead of experiencing every minute and milestone of motherhood with joy, you see happy moments through a fog of numbness and hopelessness. After giving birth to her daughter Nixie, Fashion Mamas Global member Charlie Jane didn't need to envision this scenario. The unfortunate fact is this: According to the National Institute of Mental Health, up to 20 percent of women suffer from postpartum depression (PPD). And while the British-bred creative advisor was told by her doctor that she was was at risk for PPD and anxiety, the anticipation didn't make living through those days and months any easier.
Also known as postnatal depression, the condition affects mothers across all walks of life. In addition to sadness, lack of energy, and loss of appetite or interest in sex, other symptoms can include feelings of "restlessness, anger, or irritability, worthlessness or guilt, fear of hurting your baby or yourself, trouble focusing," and more.
To help other women suffering from PPD seek support, Jane opens up about her mental health story along with her experience in finding strength within herself and seeking support from others. Read all about her challenges and advice to other mothers below, and visit Postpartum Support International for important resources and tools if you or a loved one is experiencing PPD.
When did you realize that you were experiencing more than just "baby blues"?
I actually always knew that postnatal depression and anxiety might be something I would deal with after having Nixie, my daughter. As a child, I experienced ongoing sexual abuse and have been challenged quite a lot by my mental health over the years, and I'm lucky to have become very in tune and aware of myself as a result. Doctors had explained to me that postnatal depression and postnatal anxiety might be something I would encounter, so the minute I knew something was up — which was almost instantly — I engaged with some support.
I felt so incredible when I was pregnant, so vibrant and full of life, and I fell in love my pregnancy body! I had a difficult last few months leading up to Nixie's birth — I had an abruption in my uterus and I was hospitalized, [and] at one point we almost lost her. It was at this point that a darkness started to creep over me.
I know a lot of women would feel incredibly happy about this but within 24 hours of giving birth so quickly, my weight was smaller than my pre-pregnancy weight. I felt a massive sinking empty feeling and I couldn't see the future. I sat with my feelings for a few weeks, often crying in a dark room or staring out of the window longing for some answers, but the feelings were so intense and I felt so enveloped with anxiety and panic that I knew this was more than just feeling blue.
What went through your mind as you realized you needed to seek support?
I was worried. I was worried that all the hard work I'd put into healing from my past experiences was undone; I was worried if I didn't help myself Nixie would feed off my energy and I put pressure on myself to stay vibrant and happy everyday, which was quite a burden to bear. Although a tiny baby, I didn't want her to see me as weak and I started to feel guilty as well as incapable of being a mother.
Nixie was also unplanned and although she is the best surprise of my life, at first I found it hard to fully bond with her and again felt guilty. It was here I realized I needed help to change my thought processes and after talking it through with a therapist, I saw it was the depression talking and understood that this initial part of my new journey as a new mother was going to take some time and I gave myself permission for that.
What's the most challenging part of your experience?
Nixie is now three and I still go through what I call PPD/anxiety waves that I have to ride out. Being away from the U.K. (home) and my family can be difficult at times but I'm lucky to have curated my own family U.S. side. We also didn't know until recently that my husband is on the spectrum, so it can be hard to not have the normal type of emotional support from him at these times. I don't want my challenges to take away my U.S. life and I fight hard at this everyday. Going through these experiences in my life though has taught me a lot spiritually and given me the understanding that everything we need is within, so during these moments I have to dig deeper!
What would you say to women who are also suffering from post-natal depression and anxiety but don't know how to reach out for help?
Allow how you feel to come to the surface and don't think you are weak or crazy or a bad mother — YOU ARE NOT! Talk to someone you feel comfortable with, particularly if you get to an extremely dark place and be as open as you can because whatever the root cause and however dark it gets, many mothers are experiencing this too.
I found that talking to a specialist is a great place to start in understanding my feelings and I've joined some great online networks of mothers who have been through the same thing. Pandas is a charity based in the U.K. that does some great work helping mothers with mental illness. I found it so helpful when I realized I was not alone in feeling like this, but I feel this is a conversation that needs to be discussed more.
Something that was personally helpful was the use of affirmation: Everyday I would say out loud, "I am a good mother" and "I release all the ways I dwell in guilt." I still use these now. PPD is a journey, so be patient with yourself, don't judge yourself, and trust it will get better with support!
What's your best advice to those who are unfamiliar with PPD and anxiety; how can they support loved ones who are experiencing it?
PPD is real and is not something you can simply snap out of; it isn't just a "bad day" — it is serious for both mother and child and can really take a hold and make it hard for you to get through your day and live your life. My best advice would be to help them engage with some professional help and to love them. Understand they are battling something internally that is complicated and that hurts them, and that they may not understand at first.
They may not be able to see the beautiful side of motherhood straight away, but they will. Remind them of all their good and that it's okay to feel as they do. A lot of people would say to me, "But you are so lucky to be a mother." It isn't about being ungrateful; I am grateful for Nixie every day and for the opportunity to be her mother, but PPD is about learning to cope with intense self doubt and crippling emotions.
Is there something that you've found particularly helpful when it comes to "balancing" everything — mental health, motherhood, and career?
I'm still learning, but I've learnt not to take on too much simply because I want to achieve so much right here and now, and only what's important and feels good. Over the last year I'm also more open about my challenges with PPD, not that I walk around holding a banner, but I believe that things only effect you as much as you allow them to and being open and having these conversations kind of takes the edge off. During my first year with Nixie I had to really make a lot of changes in my career as I had changed as a person and it took me a while to accept that, so balancing my career and motherhood is about being happy in what I'm doing and checking in with me.