Updated: Oct 15, 2019
“Without courage, we cannot tell our stories.”
It was hard not to notice the lack of noise as I sat in the exam room before the doctor came in. My children, five-month-old twins, were being tended to by a friend in the waiting room. At home, I was used to the clapping of little hands, the babbling of teething mouths, the cries of hungry bellies, and the inevitable banging of rattles thrown on our hardwood floor. But now, I was by myself. And it was quiet. The only noise I could hear was the buzz of the fluorescent lights.
I sat on the chair against the wall, staring blankly at the exam table across the room. Just below the pad was the brand name of the table. It read “Ritter by Midmark | 222,” which
denoted the type of exam table. Many times before, the numbers 222 had been a beacon of hope and comfort, even a tender mercy, as 222 held sentimental value for my husband and me. But this time, I didn’t even crack a smile. It just seemed to remind me of yet another time I was being asked to hold on, to have faith. This time, I was feeling beat down.
I sat still, stoically. Well, except for my quivering lower lip. I had realized I was finally alone. And I was relieved.
I was without my babies. And I was relieved. What kind of awful mother was I?! How could I feel this way? But I craved this time alone.
My twins had made it through the dreaded four-month sleep regression, but their sleep was still unpredictable, which meant that mine was, too. Around the same time, I had taken part in a social media fast and after just a few days, was shocked at my level of depression. In the months since giving birth to my boy/girl twins, I had experienced a range of emotions, but not once had I “felt depressed.” I always pictured a woman with postpartum depression as distant and sad, not looking at her baby, but off into the distance.
This is how the condition was often portrayed in pamphlets I had seen. When times had begun to get difficult, I had thrown myself into the work of mothering to cover up any low feelings. I stopped feeling and just acted. Perhaps I thought if I worked hard enough, mothered well enough, those feelings would go away.
The exhaustion, the feeling of failure—it all began to stack up. The social media fast helped me to slow down and be more present; but now I was aware of all of my emotions. Frustration, short tempers, and defeat had become part of my day and had been masking the depression underneath. It was quite shocking to me; these feelings surfaced so very quickly. I finally paused long enough to look into my heart and saw that it was hurting.
So I called my mom.
She was equally as worried as I told her of my feelings, and she urged me to call my doctor to get medication. I called and they scheduled me for an appointment the next week.
Still, my mom was concerned … that was too long to wait. But I was in no state to advocate for myself. She coached me on how to strongly ask for an earlier appointment. I took a deep breath and made the call. They had an opening the very next morning. Turns out my regular OB/GYN was all booked up, so I asked for the next available practitioner. So here I sat, waiting for the appointment to begin. I heard a knock on the exam room door and a plump, white-haired doctor I didn’t know walked in with a smile on his face. I straightened up, cleared my throat and tried not to look how I felt.
“What can we do for you today?” he asked, kindly.
“I think I have postpartum depression,” I said flatly. He asked for more details and I began to try to vocalize the feelings and worrisome symptoms that felt impossible to articulate.
While my goal in seeing a doctor was to start medication, I was also hoping to find some encouragement and solace as well. Just the day before, I started to realize that in my efforts to do everything that motherhood entails, I had forgotten to take care of myself. I now saw how depleted my physical and emotional stores had become. It had been easy to assume these sad feelings where just my insecurities; that I was just failing at motherhood. But the anger inside of me was frightening, and really scared me. It didn’t feel like normal depression. I had tried many things to banish those thoughts from my mind, with no real solution. I quickly realized how urgently I needed to share these feelings with someone before they consumed me.
My regular OB/GYN was always very empathetic and I hoped for a similar experience from this doctor. I was still terrified to tell my husband, and starting with this felt safer. This was all I had courage for.
After some questions and a few back-and-forths, he concluded, “It is probably regular, old, garden-variety, postpartum depression.”
Regular?! This is regular?!
I was screaming inside. But I was so desperate to feel better; I just sat there, waiting for his solution. He suggested I ask my husband to help more often (as if I hadn’t thought of that already), and then proceeded to write a prescription for the go-to antidepressant for mothers like me. His response was so routine.
Had I not been so hopelessly depressed, I would have demanded more respect than calling my aching heart “regular.” It may have been common for him to deal with, but it wasn’t for me. Nothing about this felt regular. It felt terrifying.
The nurse stayed behind, adding notes to my chart after the doctor left. I sat with my prescription in hand, still not ready to move from the baby-less room. Tears were running down my face and neck. I had come for a prescription and had received one, so why was I still crying? Honestly, I still felt alone in my struggle, and just as guilty for my feelings, despite consolation that those feelings were common. Even the doctor’s cursory pat on the shoulder had offered me no solace.
Through blurred vision, I could see the nurse was still there, a few feet to my right. She was still there, and I was still crying. My breathing started to become uneven. I felt I needed to get moving, so I tried to push it back down. My insides were screaming for help, but letting all those feelings out seemed impossible. Admitting to them would let all my walls down and show my broken heart. I just didn’t have the strength for it. I hoped she would see through my teary-eyed mask and offer a kind word. But she just sat with me. Perhaps that was all she could do.
I finally stood, gathered my things, and walked to the restroom across the hall. It was occupied, so I had to wait. I had to hold in my tears again. Once in the bathroom, I sat on the toilet seat, fully clothed, bent over, put my head on my knees and began to sob.
It was audible, and it was ugly. Tears, snot, shaking shoulders, and running makeup. I was glad to be away from my babies, completely alone, just for a few more minutes.
I blew my nose and checked my cheeks before leaving the room. The nurse was standing just outside. I guess the sobs I had tried to stifle weren’t very quiet. She walked over to give me a respectful side-hug and asked if I was alright.
I stammered through more tears, “It’s just so hard.” She squeezed me once more. Her small act of kindness lifted my burden, if even just a little.
As I walked away, I overheard her saying to her co-workers, “we should be able to comfort our patients.” I imagine those minutes we both sat in the exam room she had wished she could have done more for me, but was restricted by professional guidelines. It brought extra comfort to my heart knowing that she wished she could do more.
I had been scared and worried I would be brushed aside if I shared my feelings, that I’d be told to take a nap or enjoy a bubble bath, or worse, scolded for my feelings because they weren’t happy feelings. I was ashamed. I couldn’t bear the thought of finally confiding in someone, only to be rejected. Being called “garden-variety” wasn’t much better, but the nurse’s kindness was a bright spot in my day.
Once I began to see the drastic impact of the right medication, I felt silly for suffering in silence for as long as I did. I wish I could have had the courage to reach out for help sooner—even to speak to the doctor sooner. But there is something really hard about depression. Depression told me lies; it told me that I was broken and that I should be able to heal myself, and those lies made me feel ashamed. Brené Brown, shame researcher and author, speaks often about what shame can do to us. She teaches shame resilience, or the ability to recognize and move through shame while still being authentic. She has written a number of definitions for shame, but my favorite is this:
“Shame is the fear of disconnection. It is the feeling that we do not belong because of our flaws.”
I was so ashamed of my feelings, that sharing them with someone and being marked an outcast was not worth the risk. I chose to be alone in my struggle, rather than reach out for help. But as the medication lifted the weight of my depression, the safety of shame felt absurd. As my heart began to heal, I could finally see that I was not a bad mother; I was merely a mother having a hard time.
We had made it through the first twenty minutes of Sacrament meeting. Our now eight-month-old twins were on the verge of crawling and were, therefore, incredibly wiggly. The pews were not exactly the perfect set-up. After a few too many squeals, we ventured out to the foyer to give them space to play. My husband, Griffin, and I made our way to the two armchairs perpendicular to the north entrance. There was a couch to our left, where our friend Mary sat with her youngest child. Each of us had a baby and we were each tending to them while they played. Every now and then, we would look up from our children to talk to one another.
I was beginning to feel more comfortable in my mothering role, and especially now that medication was easing my daily struggles. I was more able to look up from my children, even metaphorically, and begin to engage more in adult friendships, especially at church. It felt like slow-going, but I did what made me comfortable. Griffin had always been better at making conversation than I was, and it was easy to bow out of a conversation when I had two children to tend to. I let him lead and perhaps used it as an excuse to not always participate.
I wanted to talk to Mary, just to reach out, but struggled with what to say. We were both in the trenches. I knew very well how difficult it could be, and guessed she had experienced hard days, too. But I hesitated and I wondered if I knew her well enough to connect with her in that way. I questioned myself. I didn’t want to assume she was struggling like I was.
As the meeting continued on the loudspeaker and our children played together, the conversation naturally died down. Every now and then, I would look up from my child, look towards Mary, and see a familiar sight.
Just as I had before, she had one hand under her chin, her head resting on it, the other holding her phone, scrolling. I recognized the glossed-over look on her face, a mix of exhaustion, defeat, and a glimmer of hope as she searched for relief in her phone; relief that never quite sufficed.
I saw myself in her. I was her just months ago. Going to church because that is what you do, all the while wishing church could be more about feeling refreshed than having to deal with wiggly children. It didn’t feel like it used to. Being a mother in church can be very isolating.
I recognized that I had felt the same way, and on some days, still do. But I still couldn’t speak up. We went our way and continued to the second meeting.
On the way home, I turned to Griffin, “I wonder if Mary is suffering from postpartum depression. She didn’t look like she was doing well.”
“Yeah, that’s a great point. She might be. You should reach out to her. I am sure she would appreciate that,” he encouraged.
But I didn’t. I still felt unsure and wondered if I was brave enough to ask her that hard question—or if I was well enough to help her navigate the answer. For months, I had been merely surviving, but now I was finally breathing more easily. I wasn’t sure I could start serving again. It felt like too much. I may have even assuaged my urge to talk with her by just telling Griffin.
I had felt prompted to bring it up while sitting with her in the foyer, but all I could think to say was to just ask her outright, and that felt too upfront, or not kind enough. I didn’t want to say the wrong thing.
“[Some] want to help but hesitate because their understanding and experience are limited. But really, in most cases, being helpful isn’t complex. Just being there can make all the difference in the world… No words of advice or interventions to fix the problem are as effective as simply offering love.”
I felt love and compassion for Mary, but lacked the confidence and courage to reach out. I still felt on shaky ground. Despite my progress, only a handful of people knew what I had been going through. And as much as I wanted to help her, I was still battling fear and shame. American Buddhist, Pema Chödrön, teaches that “only when we know our own darkness well can we be present in the darkness of others.” I had become more comfortable with my darkness, but not nearly enough to be present in hers. All I could do was protect myself. I have wished many times I could have gone back. The Spirit was pushing me to reach out, but I couldn’t.
“Shame unravels our connection to others. Shame keeps us from telling our own stories and prevents us from listening to others tell their stories.”
As time passed, I healed more, and God began working in me. I began to write about my experience. I spoke up about my struggles and that despite “handling twins,” I was not always handling motherhood perfectly.
As I continued to speak up, Mary came back to my mind. Having something written I could share with her was a perfect opportunity to broach the subject. So I set up a playdate!
We talked and our children played. With more time together, I found a more natural, comfortable way to ask her how she was doing. Turns out she had struggled, too.
I apologized for not reaching out sooner. She assuaged my fears, and we continued to talk as mothers and as friends. We lightened each other’s burdens. She shared her experience and offered me help. She reminded me that I don’t have to do it alone. Somehow it hadn’t occurred to me that she could have helped me, too.
“Women with high levels of shame resilience were both givers and receivers of empathy.”
The more I share, the less frightening it becomes. And when I remember my job is not to fix or heal but to extend love, it becomes easier.
“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It is a relationship between equals.”
Another Sunday, this one three years ago, wasn’t anything special until Tori came to talk to me. We stood waiting for our husbands in the foyer after church. She walked towards me, smiled genuinely and raised her arms and shoulders excitedly as she went in for a close hug. She enveloped me and gave me a quick peck on the cheek, sure to leave a lipstick mark there. Tori has the excitement and energy of a young adult and the warmth of a grandmother. Her actual age is somewhere in the middle. She often says “I love you” to friends and she means it.
She pulled away from our hug, squeezed my shoulders and greeted me warmly. She had a way of making me forget where I was, like it was just the two of us talking like there was no one else in the world.
She caught me up on what she was doing and commented on the lesson we had both just heard. I showed her a few pictures of the cakes I had been baking.
Then I felt a shift as she took out a small book from her bag. “Have you read this?”
I practically jumped for joy when I saw the cover. “Yes! I love that book! It has been a while, but I really enjoyed it!”
It was Patricia Holland’s Strength and Stillness: A Message for Women . Tori shared that what struck her the most was how powerful Sister Holland’s words were about prayer.
“So often we forget how powerful prayer can be,” Tori said with equal parts wonder and reverence. “She says that ‘prayer may be the hardest work we are ever engaged in!’ We should be praying for our soul’s sincerest desire.”
Then she looked at me with a love that pierced through my confident mask, and asked, “What is your greatest desire?”
For just a second, I contemplated what I would say, or what might be an acceptable answer, but instead, I let out a sigh of relief, and was just open and honest.
“I want a child.”
In the minutes after I confided in her, I shared with her my struggle to conceive, my recent miscarriages and the toll it had started to take. No one knew. But she knew to ask. And she reached out in love.
Tori later told me how prompted she felt to ask me what she did. The course of our friendship and the future service we would perform together changed both our lives. My faith was changed as well. She put me on the path I am on today.
She allowed me to share my story of heartache, and she shared hers with me. She didn’t ask me if I had a deep desire, she asked me what it was. She acknowledged that we all have missing pieces, and she wasn’t afraid to talk about it. She welcomed it. She was courageous that day. And she allowed me to be courageous, too.
“We typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. [But] in one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant, ‘to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’ [When we] speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences–good and bad–from our hearts, [that] is what I think of as ‘ordinary courage.’”
Tori had “ordinary courage” that day. And she showed me how to have it, too.
I don’t want to let shame get its hands on me again because when we can unravel shame’s hold on us, and courageously share our stories, our lives will change, and our friendships will change.
So, today, I am having courage and sharing my story. It still feels hard, but it also feels right. We need each other. Today, I am embracing my fears so that someone else might not feel so alone, and so I don’t feel so alone. I share my story because “when we tell our stories, we change the world.”
Melissa discovered her talent for writing in her freshman writing class at BYU. She graduated with a degree in Family Life and then attended Le Cordon Bleu to pursue her dream of baking wedding cakes. After three years of professional baking, she hung up her apron to be a stay at home mom. She lives in Las Vegas with her husband and twin toddlers. Motherhood has given her many new experiences that have inspired her to rekindle and pursue her writing talents. She finds time to write while caring for her children.
Melissa has a passion for sharing her knowledge and understanding of social and psychological research. “I believe being able to name, define and understand our feelings is so important for a healthy life. And it allows us to strengthen our relationships. When we can better understand the “what” and the “why” behind feelings and actions, we become more powerful agents in our own lives. Helping others better articulate their feelings is a huge part of why I write. When we can name hard feelings, we can deal with them constructively.”
Melissa has endured a number of life’s challenges but has found strength in them because of her faith in her Savior. She is grateful for trying times because she views them as opportunities to learn on Whom she can rely. She regularly relates gospel truths to everyday experiences and is adept at applying baking analogies when sharing the gospel. Melissa seeks to share her story and feelings of hope to encourage women to recognize their capacity for greatness and to empower them to be their best while still striving to rely on the Savior for strength.
If you are experiencing feelings of postpartum depression, please reach out to a loved one or a health professional. There are people who can help.
 Brown, Brené. I Thought It was Just Me (but it isn’t). Gotham Books, 2008. p. 44.
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