Editors Note: This article was originally published June 2016, so events, fundraisers and foundations mentioned are no longer active. However, Lesley continues to be a support for women suffering from postpartum depression. If you or someone you know is in need of help, please do not hesitate to reach out so that we can connect you with someone who can help.
This is the very first picture of me playing with Rebecca. She is 9 weeks old.
It is mid-April 2011, and the weather is warming up, finally. I think the windows are cracked open, and I've only just been able to stow away our winter coats, the insulated stroller muff for my hands, and the fleece BundleMe for my infant daughter. She is in my arms and I'm trying to get her to nap, a daily struggle for this tiny being who has already overcome colic, a struggle to nurse from her mom's (apparently flat) nipples, and a battle with acid reflux recently identified as a dairy sensitivity. I've somewhat figured out the nap cues by now as well as the tricks that get her to fall asleep more quickly- the key tools include my arms, an aggressive swaying/shaking movement and the agonizingly loud fan on our stovetop set to high. We're in the midst of this routine when without thinking I glance down to see her blue eyes looking up at me, smile, kiss the top of her head and whisper, "I love you" into her tiny ear.
I promptly burst into tears, as I realize it's the first time I've ever said those words aloud to her. And that I mean them. And that Rebecca is almost three months old.
The past three months are a blur of tears, endless hours of anxiety and despair and little sleep. They include a battle with Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy in my third trimester, an emergency induction, a spinal headache after three attempts to give me an epidural, a blood patch to rectify that error, and a painful and heartbreakingly short attempt at breastfeeding.
They include a tearful call to my OBGYN at my husband's urging when Rebecca was just three weeks old, asking for a referral to a therapist because I thought I had postpartum depression. A diagnosis of severe PPD and postpartum anxiety (which I didn't even know existed). Twice weekly cognitive behavioral therapy from that point on. Hour-long sessions where I say things that now break my heart to even think. Daily doses of Klonopin and Celexa. A rotation of three baby nurses, who could act as mom to my baby when I couldn't bear the thought or must the energy to care. A husband at his wit's end, juggling work and a newborn daughter, wondering why he was the only one of us who cared for our newborn daughter, and what had happened to his happy, fun wife. A family who rallies around me; parents, sister, in-laws, aunts and friends who surround me in love and support, coming for visits and answering countless phone calls where I can barely get the words out through my gulping sobs.
As I recovered, there were good days and bad days. Good hours and bad hours. It seemed that the weather mirrors my illness. February and March were agonizingly dark and cold, March less than the month prior, and April brought with it the sun, warmth and eventually...ME. I began to venture out with Rebecca. First to the new mom's group at the hospital, then to lunches with some moms afterwards and even to baby yoga and music classes where I met friends who became the village that have helped me raise her and her younger sister Lila, who came followed just over three years later.
And now, Rebecca is 5, Lila will be 2 in September, and I am a full fledged #hotmessmom who loves them with a ferocity I couldn't have even dreamed of then.
On June 18th, along with more than 3,000 people participating in almost 200 events around the world, I will lead TEAM HOBOKEN's Climb Out of the Darkness. An event meant to shine a light on perinatal mood and anxiety disorders like postpartum depression, anxiety, OCD and psychosis. We have raised more than $5,000 for Postpartum Progress, an organization that was instrumental in my recovery and which thousands of women credit with saving their lives. I now sit on their Board of Directors as PR Chair and serve the Northern NJ Warrior Mom Ambassador, connecting struggling new mothers with resources and giving them invaluable peer support.
If you are struggling now, struggled then, or are just realizing either of the two, I invite you to join us at Maxwell Place Park on Saturday June 18th at 11am for a brief ceremony, stroll along the waterfront and a picnic after. You will be surrounded by those who have also suffered, and people who love and support them. The healing that comes with meeting moms that have been there is immeasurable.
Visit my personal Climb Out of the Darkness Page to register for free, donate, or to get more information.
Lesley lives in Hoboken with her husband and two daughters. She is a freelance writer and PR consultant, as well as a peer advocate for women battling perinatal mood and anxiety disorders. She blogs (when she can find the time!) at Real Life, Real Laughter.