When my daughter was born I was obsessed with her. I don’t mean like all normal new mothers are. I mean, literally, OBSESSED. I didn’t want anyone else to feed her. I didn’t want anyone else to hold her, or rock her to sleep. I refused to even shower without her in the room. I’d place her in her little bassinet with wheels and any everywhere I went, she went. She slept through the night from the day we brought her home, yet I was still getting no sleep. Instead, I lay awake watching her. Holding her chest and sticking my finger under her nose; nudging her awake every time she made the slightest funny noise. I drove her and everyone else around me nuts. Little did I know, I was suffering hard from postpartum depression.
Almost every mother, new or experienced, will go through a bout of the baby blues: A brief period of depression caused by the sudden fluctuation in hormones. This is normal, and can be expected to last only a few days to a few weeks. Postpartum depression is a whole different ballgame. It overtakes your life, and makes day to day functioning nearly impossible.
Generally, when someone thinks post-partum depression, the worst of the worst comes to mind. You see these news stories where women have done terrible things to their children or themselves all because of this nasty demon that follows 20% of mothers. But, postpartum can rear its ugly head in many different forms. For me, it was a deep, resounding fear for my baby. I was absolutely terrified that something horrible was going to happen to her. Or, if I allowed someone else to change her, feed her or put her to sleep, that she wouldn’t bond with me the way that a child is supposed to bond with their mother. Because I didn’t understand what I was feeling, I just did what I felt I had to do. I stopped sleeping so I could watch her. I took her with me everywhere. I didn’t allow anyone else to care for her. That was my job.
Around a month later, my mom tried pointing out that I had a problem. She mentioned postpartum depression, and I nearly lost my mind. How could she say that?! I wasn’t afraid of my baby! I wasn’t trying to hurt her or myself! I was trying to be the very best mother that I could be. Couldn’t she see that? After her (and several other people) said it enough, I resolved to mention it to my OB at my 6 week check-up. For no other reason than to prove them wrong. When she looked at me and told me that I was, in fact, suffering from postpartum depression, I was floored. A flood of emotions washed over me. I was embarrassed because everyone around me was right. I was scared, wondering if this was going to grow into some sort of resentment for my child. And, I was angry; so very angry that my body and mind had turned on me at such a crucial time. How could this have happened? I was only trying to take care of her.
I argued with my doctor for a while. I wasn’t angry with my baby! I didn’t hate her, or hate myself. I was scared for her, and I was trying to ensure that nothing would ever happen to her. That was my job! I was like thousands of other mothers around the world. I was uneducated.
I read all the baby books during my pregnancy. I knew how to bathe her, change her, dress her and what to do if she cried. But, the most I ever learned about depression was the awful stories I’d read in the news. It was taboo. It was something that happened to those poor, unfortunate mothers that didn’t have enough help, resources or education. Not something that happened to mothers like me. It’s like any other disease or illness, you never think you’ll have it until you do.
I walked out of my OB’s office that day armed with pamphlets, a script for anti-depressants and a sinking sense of failure. I needed to be medicated in order to be a good mother. I’d never felt worse in my life. My mind was telling me that I didn’t need this. In order to take good care of my daughter I NEEDED to watch her, to keep her close to me and make sure nothing happened to her. I didn’t need that much sleep. I mean, what new mother slept that much anyway?
I stuffed the script in my purse and lied to my family. This illness convinced me that I was doing the right thing, and I was determined to do things “my” way. But, PPD is just like any other disease. If it’s not treated, it will only get worse. And, it got worse.
The lack of sleep was making me confused and angry. When someone offered to help me, I often took it as an insult. Did these people not think that I could care for my own child? Why did they think I needed help? If I needed help, I’d tell them myself. Then, the lack of sleep would overwhelm me, and I’d break down in tears wondering why I had to do everything by myself. This turned into a never-ending, vicious cycle. No one could satisfy me, and I could never satisfy myself. It felt as though every inch my body and mind was turning its back on me. I tried to do the things that my mind was telling me I should, and then I’d lose it because my body couldn’t keep up.
I wasn’t the only one suffering, either. My husband was stuck trying to make things easier for me, and felt like he was missing out on bonding with our daughter, because I refused to let him do anything. Then, he’d end up getting the blunt of my tantrums when I couldn’t take anymore. My mother was just as helpless; yearning to help me, but too afraid that she’d step on my toes and make whatever this was worse. Bless their hearts for sticking through it with me.
This went on for months, as I continued to deny my diagnosis. So long as I wasn’t sticking my baby in a microwave or slitting my own wrists, I was convinced that I didn’t fit the bill for postpartum depression. Until the night that I was sure I’d lost my mind.
My daughter was 3 months old and had RSV. I was convinced that I was going to lose her, so I went 72 straight hours without a wink of sleep. As I lay in bed, watching my daughter sleep, listening to her breathe, things took a turn for the worst. I started seeing things that weren’t there. Hearing voices when there was no one else around. I got up, turned on every light around me and sat in the middle of the bed looking in every direction as quickly as I could. I was shaking, sweaty and sick. When I continued to hallucinate with the lights on, I finally experienced my eureka moment. Something was wrong. I needed help.
The next day I went to the pharmacy and had my prescription filled. I confessed to my mother and my husband, and begged them not to tell anyone. While I’d finally accepted my fate, I was still ashamed of it. To me, it was admitting defeat. I packed a bag with tears in my eyes, and we went to stay at my mother’s for a while until I got myself lined out. She could finally help me.
The first few weeks on the medicine were a living hell. I’d become so accustomed to the way I was functioning that it was difficult to break free from that. But, I persevered and it got better. I slowly started sleeping a few extra hours. I wasn’t so upset when someone else held her for a while so I could shower. Instead of seeing others as a threat to my motherhood, I started seeing them as a loving force in my child’s life. I finally understood just how sick I was. And, I resolved to spread the word to other mothers.
Dealing with PPD is a work in progress. I had to stay on medication for a full year. I went through some therapy and leaned heavily on my husband and my family at certain points throughout my recovery. But, I finally realized that I was never a bad mother. This illness was convincing me otherwise, and seeking help did not make me weak or incapable. Getting help was merely part of being the best mother I could be.
Postpartum depression tends to fall under that umbrella of mental illness that no one wants to talk about. Parenting books and classes seem to skim over the topic, if you’re lucky. Therefore, a lot of parents are left widely uneducated. Everyone seems to focus on the health and well-being of the newest edition, and fail to mention that YOU matter TOO. Keeping yourself healthy is pertinent in keeping your child healthy. You cannot take care of someone else if you’re not taking care of yourself.
One of the biggest issues that I’ve encountered is the assumption of symptoms associated with PPD. Sure, many women experience anger with their baby, suicidal thoughts and ideations or even psychosis. I’m living, breathing proof that PPD has many different, ugly faces. It’s not always “textbook” symptoms. That’s why I encourage you to educate yourself. Encourage those around you to do the same. Don’t make the same mistakes I did. Arm yourself with knowledge and be ready and willing to admit that there’s a problem.
You are not defective. Seeking help when you need it does not make you weak or inadequate. It means you are doing the very best you can for yourself and your child. You are a wonderful mother. Do not let any illness tell you otherwise.
If you find yourself struggling with PPD, reach out to your OB, family doctor or one of the resources listed below. You are not alone.