When you’re preparing for your first child, you hear lots of talk about love at first sight. You’re handed a laser gun and instructed to register for all the important “stuff,” and well-intentioned family and friends give you books on getting baby to sleep through the night and what to expect during the first year. Besides a generally quiet murmur about the perils of labor and childbirth, which seems to be an instinctual understanding anyhow, not a lot of talk surrounds the “bad stuff.” The pain during nursing, which often lasts for weeks; the delicate and often gross recovery of our womanly parts; and the awkward road back to intimacy with your partner. And while the baby blues may be covered briefly in a pre-labor class, we women aren’t often prepared for the worst: the amplified baby blues which is really the sad and often debilitating state of postpartum depression (PPD). In fact we have been pre-programmed with tales of the good stuff for so long that when our emotions and thoughts take a turn in the opposite direction after giving birth, we are thrown into a literal tailspin.
Looking back, I wish someone would have been straighter with me or at least more transparent. I wish I would’ve known that breastfeeding would be as difficult and painful as it was, so that I could at least know I wasn’t screwing it up. I wish I would’ve been prepared for that uncomfortable moment when, after I got the clear at my 6-week postpartum check-up, I told my husband that I still wasn’t ready. And I really, really wish I would have known more about postpartum depression, because then when I was diagnosed with it the first time, and again the second time, I wouldn’t have been so afraid or felt so defective. Because really, that’s how I felt. Like a defective failure of a mother because I was sad and lonely and didn’t know how to bond with my infant. I knew I loved my baby and would do anything to protect her, but I longed for that love-at-first-sight moment that didn’t seem to come all at once. Not like I had heard about, anyhow. Not like I had read about.
After experiencing postpartum depression with my first two children, my biggest fear in getting pregnant again was that my odds to get it again were not only increased, but according to my OB-GYN, almost guaranteed. Those haunting feelings of loneliness and deep sadness that I still remember so vividly all these years later were not something I thought I could get through a third time. But we had dreams of building a family, and I had faith and an amazing support system in my husband, so despite my all-consuming fears, I got pregnant again.
Because I had been so open with my struggles with postpartum depression the first two times, I felt a little more prepared and actively sought out other non-traditional alternatives for treating PPD, in case it reared its ugly head again. I had taken anti-depressants with both of my previous bouts with PPD, but was curious if there was another way. I took to Facebook and my blog and asked around, and within minutes an old friend from high school who I hadn’t spoken to in years messaged me about placenta encapsulation. For those unfamiliar with this, a certified midwife or doula takes your placenta after the baby is born and spends a few days dehydrating it and then grinding it up to distribute into regular old gel caps that you take orally just like a vitamin. While it may sound like something straight out of a horror flick, I assure you it’s a pretty mild process that, when all is said and done, isn’t the least bit “gross.” There is no chewing on the thing, no whipping it up in smoothies. It’s just a literal odorless pill you swallow a couple of times a day, like any supplement.
As it turns out, we humans are the only mammals who don’t instinctively consume the placenta. Cultures all over the world have been doing so and have adopted it as a normal part of the postpartum process for centuries. I’ll be honest and admit that there is no scientific evidence backing these benefits up simply because no studies have ever been conducted. But possible benefits of consuming your placenta after birth include restoration of energy, higher breast milk production, help with hormonal imbalances, reduction in post-nasal bleeding, and helping to ease the symptoms or prevention of postpartum depression. The basic idea is that after birth, women lose a tremendous amount of nutrients and experience a huge hormonal shift, and a lot of those nutrients were held in the placenta. By consuming the placenta, you help to replenish those nutrients. I did my own research, looked at the costs and any possible negative side-effects, for which there were none, and decided to go for it.
What did I have to lose?
When you’ve been through the storm and trauma of postpartum depression, you know that you’d do just about anything to prevent a repeat performance. I was more scared of being depressed during what was supposed to be the happiest time of my life than I was of taking a little pill.
Cut to the postpartum period, and I am thrilled to tell you that after struggling with two separate cases of postpartum depression with my first two kids, after the birth of my third child and encapsulating my placenta, I never experienced PPD again. In fact, that first year with my son was quite possibly the happiest time of my life. And what was more exciting, I was able to experience that love-at-first-sight feeling, which relieved me of a lot of personal guilt I had been holding on to about being a defective mother. Was it all because of the placenta? Who knows, really. But looking back, I don’t really care. I’m just eternally grateful to have had a different experience.
There’s a lot us women hold on to and don’t talk about, especially surrounding childbirth and parenting. After three pregnancies and mothering for 10 years, my two biggest pieces of unsolicited advice I give to new moms is first: talk, talk, talk! Don’t hold things in. Ask questions, talk to others about what you’re going through and experiencing, let others know what’s going on with you so that they can help, and lend advice or even just a compassionate ear. When I tell women about my experiences with PPD, so many women admit that they probably had PPD too, but they were too afraid to tell anyone! It blows my mind just how misunderstood this thing is, and how as a society we have stigmatized mental disorders like depression so badly that we are scared to tell someone we are in pain. So as scary as it is, please speak up. You may not only be helping yourself, but someone else who is just as scared as you.
Lastly, I tell new moms to be open to trying new things during their parenting journey. Don’t automatically scoff at things just because you may be a little uncomfortable with them at first. Do some research, ask around, and you may just be surprised how new ways of doing things you never thought you’d be open to may just improve your life.
Parenting is hard. Having babies is hard. Don’t let anyone convince you it’s supposed to be all sunshine and rainbows all the time. Try to be as prepared for the bad times as you are for the good times, and embrace them both as learning experiences that make your life that much richer. And make a secret pact with yourself to always be honest and upfront with other new moms about this wild and crazy ride of parenthood.
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