Motherhood Made Me Brave
I expected motherhood to make me brave for my child, that I would put myself on the line for her, be stronger about maintaining boundaries for her sake. Motherhood, and postpartum depression, made me brave in ways I never expected.
I am introverted and quiet, naturally more prone to sit and listen than strike up conversation unprovoked. I have never enjoyed being the center of attention and shun the spotlight, finding it harsh and anxiety-inducing. I vividly remember piano recitals where my leg would shake on the pedal through the whole performance due to nerves. I had to stop taking solo performances to my high school Solo & Ensemble competitions because I nearly passed out from anxiety before my turn one year. I abhorred class presentations, and was horrified to discover that Speech was a required class to graduate from college. I even convinced one professor to let me write essays for my participation grade instead of having to raise my hand and speak in class. I died a little inside when a phone appeared on my desk at work, felt a familiar anxious swooping in my stomach whenever it rang. I remind just about everyone that I write better than I speak, and please just let me be in the background, where I can observe in peace.
I even surprised myself when I signed up to be a Climb Leader for the Climb Out of the Darkness, which is Postpartum Support International’s largest event raising funds and awareness for the mental health of families impacted by perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. I saw a Facebook Live about it and knew it could be a good fit for me; I was on the planning committee for the Indianapolis Walk to End Alzheimer’s for 5 years until I got pregnant with my daughter, and I have helped plan fundraisers and events for my chapter of Epsilon Sigma Alpha, Eta Pi.
Planning the Climb with my co-leader, Megan, already began to push me out of my comfort zone. Since it was just the two of us, we were the ones who had to solicit businesses for sponsorships and donations, ask for publicity requests, and share the event across social media and local websites. Fear of putting myself out there and asking for sponsorships or prizes melted away when the local businesses and perinatal resources we spoke to told us this was a cause worth talking about.
One of the hardest parts of suffering from a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder is feeling that you shouldn’t admit that you’re depressed when you’re in what should be one of the happiest times of your life. I was afraid to share my postpartum depression diagnosis, even though I’m used to talking about my mental health. There is still a heavy weight of shame and silence that comes with perinatal mental health, and that makes it hard to talk about.
When it came time to open our Climb Out of the Darkness and share my story and why this event was important, I wasn’t that afraid to step into that spotlight, because this mattered deeply to me, and it mattered that people heard what it was like to experience a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder.
So many of the Climb attendees, sponsors, and perinatal resources that we invited to attend thanked my co-leader and I for sharing our stories, and that we were brave to get up in front of so many people and talk about what we went through. Little did I know that that moment at the Climb was the spark for something much bigger.
Shortly after the Climb, I was invited by Postpartum Support International’s training coordinator to speak at the Survivor Panel for their pre-conference training. It was virtual, so I figured that would help with my anxiety that I couldn’t actually see anyone, just the other hosts and panelists on-screen. I agreed to do it, and over 400 participants, many of them healthcare providers and mental health professionals, heard my story about surviving postpartum depression during the pandemic.
I’ve since spoken at two more Postpartum Support International training Survivor Panels, one where there were over 600 attendees. I had found my voice and my passion, and a spark had been lit that wasn’t easy to extinguish.
Not only was I compelled to share my story because I believe deeply that we shouldn’t have to hide our experiences with perinatal mental health, I am also raising a little girl who I want to see that her voice matters. If I’m going to teach her to use her voice, then I’d better find mine. My daughter is already more fierce and fearless than I could ever hope to be, and doesn’t have much trouble voicing her opinion, but I want to be a role model for her and show her the power of using our stories to effect change.
I still get little twinges of nerves, still stumble over my words every now and then, and I do better writing things out and reading than I do going off-script. Planning the Climb Out of the Darkness and speaking at Postpartum Support International trainings, has led here, to Beyond Postpartum Depression, and putting myself and my story out there on the Internet and to the world. I can imagine the little girl whose leg shook on the pedal during piano recitals and the college student who would have rather written essays than speak in class would be a little shocked at how she grew after becoming a mom.
I’m putting myself and my story out there, because this is bigger than any anxiety I could feel over talking to other people. Moms and perinatal mental health deserve more, but we won’t get there unless we talk about what it is like to live with a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder, and what would have helped us when everything was too dark to see. My story matters, and so does yours.