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The Biggest Reason I Survived Postpartum Depression

Photograph by Twenty20

As many mothers do with their first pregnancy, I over-prepared for everything.

At nine weeks I already had our baby registries set up. Long before my daughter Alyssa was born last June, our closets were full of diapers. I enrolled in every pregnancy/birth/childcare class provided by our local hospital. I was warned several times during these baby preparation courses about something called postpartum depression. I was cautioned to take it seriously and to let my partner know he needed to watch for symptoms of severity. I vowed to do so, of course, but no book or night class could prepare me for my own battle with PPD.

I’ve had depression and anxiety before and sought counseling, but I had been symptom-free for so long I’d forgotten how it felt. Depression isn’t sadness. Depression is bone-crushing numbness, a feeling that if someone punched you in the chest, you’d crack apart. I felt like my internal organs had disappeared, and only the vastness of outer space filled me inside. What makes PPD different from regular depression is that everyone around you assumes that once the baby is born, mothers sink into some kind of Hallmark-card bliss, a happily ever after. The real situation is more like raging hormones, sleep deprivation and what seems like a total loss of identity.

My identity, my individuality had not recovered though the tears below had healed.

I was not an autonomous individual anymore. I was tethered to breastfeeding and diapers, and even with support from my family, this coupled dangerously with my PPD. I had the sensation that my old self, my personality, the essential elements that made me who I am, had evaporated. I tried to exercise, eat right, get more sleep and lean on my partner for support. I was able to function, and the sharper symptoms eased into a dull ache. Still, my identity, my individuality had not recovered though the tears below had healed. In the end, it was travel that awoke my self-hood and allowed me to emerge on the other side of PPD’s dark tunnel.

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When my daughter was 4 months old, a couple of weeks before the end of my time off from work, my husband came to me with what sounded like a crazy idea. “I found a really cheap flight to New Orleans,” he said. “It’d just be a weekend, but I’m going to buy it for you. I want you to get away for a couple of days.”

I had so many objections. How could I leave Alyssa? What about pumping? Could I really go there by myself?

My husband wouldn’t take no for an answer, and, after some convincing, I decided to go. I packed a backpack and my breast pump, and flew down to the Big Easy by myself.

I’ve been to New Orleans several times before. I adore the food, the architecture, the culture and the electric vibe that infuses the Crescent City. As I walked the French Quarter, visiting all my favorite haunts, memories of my previous visits flooded back. I remembered being young and carefree with my husband, staying at the Lafitte Guest House with my parents and family friends, and the one crazy Christmas we’d had in the City that Care Forgot. Being immersed in the vivid sights, sounds, and smells of New Orleans dug my former self free of depression’s grip and brought my pre-mommy self back to life.

For a place known for its elaborate Cities of the Dead, I felt vibrant and alive again.

I got to sleep through the night in a big hotel bed, take ghost and Voodoo tours and pursue my own interests again, even if it was just for a weekend. I met kind strangers and was even flirted with by one of them. My desiccated body confidence came flooding back. When I returned, I felt reborn. I realized that I still am who I am, and that difficult infancy wouldn’t last forever. For a place known for its elaborate Cities of the Dead, I felt vibrant and alive again.

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There are proven benefits to traveling alone. It increases confidence and makes you present in the moment, appreciating yourself and your surroundings in a new way. Without distractions, it’s easier to access your identity and what makes you a unique human being, not just a milk-bag. This is essential when recovering from PPD.

When preparing for your first or next pregnancy, consider booking your trip in advance at a time when you’ll be recovered physically from your birth experience and are comfortable leaving your baby for a few days. New Orleans might not be your destination of choice, as the Crescent City isn’t for everyone, but the destination doesn’t matter. You could simply book a hotel a couple of hours away and treat yourself to a few days at the spa. Wherever you decide to go, put yourself first and book your sabbatical today.

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