Do you remember the children’s book, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt? It’s a rhythmically lilting story about a family who goes on an adventure looking for a bear. On their travels, they meet up with a variety of obstacles.
After attempting to avoid their challenges along the way, the family realizes time and again, the only way to conquer their fears is to move directly through them. What a fitting metaphor for life and its inevitable struggles.
Two years ago, I often found myself chanting lyrics from this book. I was teaching primary school music and this was my students’ favourite story. They insisted I read it every day for what felt like months. I was enormously pregnant at the time, so I was grateful for the chance to sit with them and just read. Little did I realize the significance this book and its message would have on my life.
On my last day teaching before leaving for maternity leave, my students changed the words to the story and sang:
She’s going to have a baby!
She’s going to have a big one!
What a beautiful day!
She’s not scared!
I laughed, but they were wrong. I wasn’t scared; I was terrified.
I gave birth to my baby on May 27, 2013 via unplanned C-section. We had a beautiful, healthy boy and named him Gabriel. There was joy and excitement all around me, but I was overcome with an unmanageable sadness. I felt trapped in my new role as a mother—unable to navigate or make the simplest decisions. It was as though I was suffocating. I couldn’t get enough air, sleep, space or perspective. This marked the beginning of my journey through postpartum depression.
Besides the anxiety and depression, I was overwhelmed with guilt. I hated myself for feeling this way. My baby boy was everything I’d ever wanted in life and here I was feeling miserable. I told myself to snap out of it, get over myself, pull it together, but nothing worked.
I became a master of denial. When people visited, I acted like nothing was wrong. I smiled, joked and made eye contact. I did all the things I thought happy new moms would do, but it was a cover-up. I coached myself to do it. I told myself to “be normal” just until they left and then I could dissolve again.
My husband probed me suggesting perhaps I was suffering from postpartum depression. I snapped at him and pooh-poohed his notion. I carried on like this for months denying the obvious, but the spiral keep spinning and the depression got worse.
One evening, when I was stuffing books back into the shelf, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt fell out onto the floor. I sat down and opened it up. A smile cracked my face as I reminisced about my students chanting the lyrics:
We’re going on a bear hunt.
We’re going to catch a big one.
What a beautiful day!
We’re not scared.
Uh-oh! A cave!
A narrow gloomy cave.
We can’t go over it.
We can’t go under it.
We’ve got to go through it!
As I chanted the words quietly under my breath, hot tears dripped on the page. I had what Oprah calls an “Ah-ha!” moment. By refusing to admit I was depressed, I was making it worse. I was struggling and I needed help. I could no longer cling to denial; nor could I hold out hope it was going to get better on its own. I couldn’t go over my depression; I couldn’t go under it.
If I wanted to get better, I had to go through it.
I went to my doctor the next day and started an aggressive combination of medication and counseling. The medication helped, but it was the therapy that dragged me to the base of the issue. As I opened up, little by little, I healed.
I’m not all better, but I’m getting better. It hasn’t been a linear journey, but I no longer ignore my depression or fear it. Some days, I have the stamina to sit in my uncomfortable emotions long enough to examine what they’re trying to tell me. Other days, I don’t.
And that’s the best part about We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. On the last page of the book, after facing all the obstacles along their way, the family runs home and climbs into bed instead of facing the bear. Because when it comes to postpartum depression, even though “we’ve got to go through it” to get better, sometimes we just need a big warm blanket and some snuggles in bed.
Lisa lives in PEI, Canada with her husband and two boys. She blogs about the pathos of parenting at Momologues and is a regular contributor to G! Magazine. Her stories have been featured on Blunt Moms, Mommikin, Mom Babble, What the Flicka?, and Mamalode. Lisa is also thrilled to be part of two recent anthologies: Motherhood May Cause Drowsiness and Martinis and Motherhood. When she’s not writing, she teaches music at a local public school.
Find her on Facebook and Twitter.
We want to hear your uplifting, inspiring, funny, or touching story about your experience as a mother. Please visit our Storytellers page for more information on how to be published on the Good Mother Project blog.