One Women’s Struggle to Conquer PPD on Two Wheels
Two big, scary words: postpartum depression (PPD). Just seeing it print may elicit fear, shame, anger, confusion or a myriad of other emotions. But how many of us actually know what postpartum depression is? How many mothers were aware that this disease is all-too-common when they became pregnant? Why are women who experience PPD still ashamed to talk about it? At Liv, we are just women who love to ride bikes… but we are all women. These issues affect us. Let’s talk about it.
What is PPD?
We talked to Debra Stanfield, a licensed marriage and family therapist in the state of California, to find out more about PPD. She specializes in working with the rehabilitation population and has had a generous amount of experience with all types of depression. Postpartum depression is a mood disorder, just like another type of depression, however the onset of PPD is the period of time after giving birth. Although it will usually occur within the first four weeks after childbirth, it will sometimes show up later, up to six months postpartum.
Debra notes that PPD is different from “the baby blues,” which is considered a normal adjustment period after bringing home baby. Within the first few days and weeks after giving birth, women may experience anxiety, sadness, irritability, mood swings, appetite issues and problems with sleeping. When these and other symptoms of depression listed below persist or show up in the months after pregnancy, then you likely experiencing postpartum depression.
“One of the most significant stages of grief is depression. And when you have a child, you are grieving. You lose some of yourself and your spare time. Athlete mothers who are used to devoting that time to themselves may be susceptible to depression after giving birth,” said Debra.
How is it Treated?
Unlike the baby blues, PPD does not go away on its own. Debra urges women who think they may be suffering from PPD to talk to their families, other women and ask for professional help. This can be difficult because postpartum depression is still stigmatized due to lack of education.
“Women have always gotten postpartum depression, but it was not always totally accepted. In a woman’s life, her body and chemistry change and this is just one of the times when depression can show up. Although it is spoken about more now, we still need to talk about it more. We need to externalize it, make it real and come up with ideas to cope,” said Debra.
Conquering Postpartum on Two Wheels
In our search to understand PPD and how it affects everyone, including cyclists, we reached out to our amazing group of ambassadors in the United States. These women come from all walks of life. They are mountain bikers, triathletes, roadies and commuters. They are moms, business owners and mechanics. They are brave.
We had one fearless woman share her two battles with PPD. As a bit of a background, this woman is a badass. She is a dirt jumper, a bike park maven, a speed junky, a coach, and a mother with one of the kindest souls we know. She will try anything, whether it is a cyclocross race or a new trick over that big jump. This is Meg Valliant’s story.
(photo: What's Up Over Me. Meg on her Liv Intrigue)
“People don’t want to talk about it. But the most important thing is talking.
I didn’t realize that I had postpartum at first. Everyone who has a baby gets the baby blues. You are stressed out. You are a new parent. You don’t even know what time of day it is… it is like you are in a time warp! So, I had the baby blues.
But, for some people, it continues after those first few weeks.
I had what is called late onset postpartum. Mine kicked in when my daughter was about 6 months old. She had a few health problems, so it seemed like we were at the hospital a lot. One of those problems was that she wouldn’t breast feed. Not being able to feed my daughter made me feel like a horrible mom. There were also a lot of other things going on that I wasn’t talking about. I was just feeling really down.
I kept going back to the doctors because I thought I was sick. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. But, in the back of my mind I kept thinking that, ‘Maybe it is just me and I don’t know how to handle motherhood. Maybe that’s why I’m down.’
It feels like you are the worst parent in the world. You can’t take care of your child the way you want to. It is a horrible feeling. It takes an outside person to notice what is really wrong.
My OBGYN started noticing something. I began taking depression medications, but it was still kind of lingering. When my daughter was about a year old, I decided to join a female baseball team. For years, I traveled and played fast pitch and I had always wanted to play baseball. I was having some fun, but it just wasn’t making me any happier.
At one of my doctor’s appointments, my doctor said that he remembered when I used to always talk about riding my bike and how happy it seemed to make me. So, I was prescribed to start riding again. It wasn’t until an old riding buddy from Germany suggested that I try racing again that I found that spark of passion. I met Kat Sweet and a couple other ladies and was suddenly heavily back into bikes. Along with riding, I started working more and pretty quickly I got off my meds. It was great!
Then, I was pregnant again. If you get postpartum the first time, you will get it the second time and it usually comes on faster and stronger. This time, I started being proactive when I became pregnant. The doctor told me to keep riding into the pregnancy. So, I was dirt jumping and trail riding until about six and a half months. My son seemed to like it when I rode. Every time I stopped riding he would kick and move around.
Still, I was dreading maternity leave. I knew I was going to have to stop riding and I would feel stuck again. But, this time my doctor suggested keeping a journal. I wrote down all the goals I wanted to achieve in my lifetime. I drew little stick figure cartoons of tricks I wanted to achieve. I wrote down immediate goals and goals I had for my daughter and how I could include her on my journey. One of those immediate goals was building a bike from the frame up.
I spent about five weeks building up a bike, the dirt jumper that I still ride today. I spent my time at the bike shop, with a baby strapped to my chest looking at gear. I geeked out on building that bike. It was the best thing I could do for me and my kids because it kept me occupied and focused toward a goal. Instead of asking for a bunch of baby stuff we didn’t need at my baby showers, I asked for stuff to get my bike up and running. After I was cleared to get back to riding, I went too hard too fast. I was riding and working too much, trying to stay busy to beat the depression and I overcompensated. I ended up losing 85 lbs. after the birth of my son, which was awesome, but I needed to find balance between my family, my work and my bike.
The second time around was easier in a lot of ways. I knew what I was up against. I knew how to beat it. The postpartum depression was there, but I had the tools I needed and I ended up not having to take any depression medications!
With my two bouts with postpartum, I developed some tricks that helped me cope.
- Keep a journal. Even though I am not much of a writer, this helped me organize my thoughts and plan my goals. I tend to draw and doodle or even write sporadic words.
- Find your passion. Find that thing that makes you feel the best. Find that happy balance. Whatever it is. Find something you can progress in.
- Be social. Find a group of people you can relate to. Moms groups didn’t really work for me. But, the women I met at the BMX track were people I could relate to. I had no idea how many women were out there doing the same things I wanted to do. Now, I have a huge group of women who want to get out and ride. More than that, I share my story with these women. You get so stuck, you believe that no one wants to hear about what you are going through. We are all going through something.”
The above text was transcribed from a phone conversation and edited for fluidity.
Want more self-care tips? Check out our other articles below!