I’m Jen Schwartz, founder of MOTHERHOOD | UNDERSTOOD. I’m also a postpartum depression survivor, maternal mental health advocate, and a mom who wakes up every morning, pops her happy pills, and does the best she can. Some days that means I rock the heck out of motherhood and others it means I drop my kid off at school in the clothes I slept in, put him in front of a Paw Patrol marathon after pick-up, and hide in my room having a good cry and eating chocolate until my husband gets home. In both versions, I know I am enough.
Until motherhood, I had never been depressed, but looking back at my life, that’s not really true. I had just never been formally diagnosed by a professional. I can remember plenty of days where I felt sad and didn’t want to do anything but curl up in bed. I didn’t want to talk to anyone and had somehow misplaced my joy. I remember having panic attacks when I moved into my first apartment in New York City. Apparently, all that made me a higher risk case for postpartum depression when I decided to become a parent, but I don’t remember reading that in my copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting.
I never thought depression, anxiety, medication, therapy, feelings of guilt, failure and the belief I made a mistake becoming a mom would shape the welcome party ushering me into motherhood. I didn’t go in thinking I’d be coming out as a medicated mommy who could barely hold her shit together in those first six months. I couldn’t fathom being the girl who walked circles around my neighborhood in the clothes I slept in, ugly crying on the phone to my own mom, and refusing to believe that I would ever get out.
But that’s what happens when postpartum depression shows up to greet you when you bring your new baby home from the hospital. You feel more than overwhelmed and exhausted. You feel helpless and can’t see any light in the tunnel. Your own light goes out and you think you will be stuck in that darkness forever. And if you’re like me, you have no clue that you’re actually not alone in that darkness. That what is happening to you is extremely common and happens to hundreds of thousands of new moms each year.
So, in that dark tunnel I remained, feeling alone, feeling crazy, feeling ashamed that I felt nothing for the adorable baby boy in the next room, feeling suffocated by anxiety and the desire to want to sleep forever, and feeling like there was obviously something wrong with me because I stunk at motherhood while everyone else smiled for Facebook and Instagram with pictures of their new babies labeled with captions like “amazing,” “so in love,” “the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” or “life is complete.” And there I was, beating myself up with guilt and self-loathing because I couldn’t feel any of it. I remained in the dark for almost six months. Somehow, magically at six months, someone or something turned the light on in my tunnel. Maybe it was my therapist. Maybe it was the antidepressants. Maybe it was the patience and determination I begrudgingly held on to. Whatever it was, I found myself putting my baby in his stroller and walking to the park by ourselves. That was the first time I voluntarily left the house on my own and not out of obligation.
More firsts followed that one. The first smile I didn’t fake. The first bath I gave my son because I chose to. The first date night I truly enjoyed without anxiety. And day by day, those firsts turned into seconds and thirds, and six months turned into a year until I lost track of how many times I was able to do something with my baby. Until I started to feel like I wanted to and could handle being a mom. Until I started to notice love and connection replace the guilt and shame. I got better one day at a time. Postpartum depression recovery is a marathon, not a sprint. There were times when I would feel incredible for a whole week and then all of a sudden, the depression and anxiety would come back with a vengeance. And even though my therapist warned me that could happen, I would feel defeated and slide back into that dark place I thought I would never climb out of.
But I did climb out. I fought to find my light, and in the process, I discovered my incredible strength, self-confidence, voice, and passion to share my story and help others. And most importantly, I learned that mountains were not meant to be climbed alone, which led me to the creation of MOTHERHOOD | UNDERSTOOD, a social media platform and space dedicated to the 20% of new moms suffering from maternal mental health issues like postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety—because a mom’s emotional state is still a taboo topic that no one really talks about. We have so many resources for helping moms with what they DO and how they parent but we have very few places that help moms with how they FEEL. And that needs to change.