A feeling of deep sadness, anxiety, etc., that a woman feels after giving birth to a child
This is the Merriam-Webster definition of postpartum depression. They acknowledge the sadness. They acknowledge the anxiety. But what about the “etc.”? My experience of postpartum depression (PPD) involved a lot of etc., which left me feeling even more isolated, scared, and confused.
My goal is to provide other moms who are suffering the etc. of PPD some comfort in the fact that they are not alone, and that it really will get better. I struggled with those two facts in the midst of PPD. Even though I had heard those phrases a thousand times, I somehow had convinced myself that I was defective, and those truths did not apply to me.
The day my son was born was one of the best days of my life. It was the first cool day of fall, the clouds disappeared and made way for bright, clear sunshine, and I was having my first baby. My labor and delivery were relatively unremarkable, and I ended up with a 9 pound 4 ounce, 20 ¾ inch long baby boy. The moment they put him on my chest I knew my life would never be the same. I couldn’t believe he was here. I had carried my baby for nine long months, felt him move, watched him kick, and saw him in the sonograms. But despite all the tangible evidence, I couldn’t believe I was finally holding him and seeing his perfect little scrunched-up face with my very own eyes.
That was the last day I felt okay.
That afternoon and evening, the realities of childbirth and parenting a newborn came to light. The epidural wore off, and my body descended into the pain of being hit by 100 trucks. They rarely talk about the pain you endure after giving birth, so I was surprised and distressed by the intensity of it all. My stitches were excruciating, the postpartum cramps were debilitating at times, and breastfeeding was surprisingly painful. I couldn’t get comfortable, but my baby was hours old and needed his mom. Unfortunately, his mom didn’t know the who, what, when, where, and why of mothering. After endless struggles attempting to comfort a crying baby, unsuccessfully breastfeeding, and learning how to move my beat-up body in order to get up and care for my newborn, the hospital sent us home at nine o’ clock the next night.
The drive home felt like I was in a vacuum. All the supportive, encouraging, smiling, well-rested faces were suddenly gone. The hospital staff sent two inexperienced, sleep-deprived young adults home in the dark with a brand new and infinitely complex human being, who is constantly either lightly asleep or extremely, loudly, angry. The fear and dread I felt as my husband and I stared at our newborn baby still asleep in his car seat on our bed at home was crippling.
And it didn’t get better. Not that night.
Sleep was the one thing I needed most, physically, mentally, and emotionally. But sleep was the one thing I could not get.
This is when the lies of depression took root.
I am alone.
It will never get better.
The lies I myself perpetuated about my new life as a mom consumed me. The sleeplessness, the enduring physical pain, and my inexperience as a new mom turned into a deep depression. As the days went by, I would walk into my bedroom and weep. All I wanted to do was go lie down in bed and sleep for forever. And yet, I wasn’t even guaranteed a five-minute nap. I bitterly mourned the loss of my “normal” life. I could no longer simply leave the house and go run errands. I could no longer veg on the couch for an hour and watch Netflix. I could no longer be free to do as I pleased. This reality made me want to give up. And that’s not how most moms feel.
I spent the first several nights bouncing my screaming baby in my arms, pacing the living room floor, and crying out to God to make things better. I was more desperate than I had ever been. I didn’t know why my baby was crying and I didn’t know how to make him stop.
I remember thinking about the logistics of giving my son up for adoption. My depression and despair were so deep that I literally wanted a practical step to get out of motherhood. I thought about the shame I would endure if I made that choice, but justified it by thinking, “It’s okay. We could move.”
I never wanted to harm my son. Ever. I wanted him to enter into a family who would love him and not just want their “normal” lives back like I did. I wanted the best for my son, and it hurt me to think about him motherless and alone. However, I no longer wanted to be a part of that picture, and that frightened me.
How could I think this? How could any mother think this? This doesn’t feel like depression, this feels like an urgent fight-or-flight need to escape this mess I’ve found myself in. What kind of monster am I?
I spent the first six weeks of my son’s life at home, with him, on maternity leave. My husband suggested I keep the TV on just so I could have a bit of “normalcy” throughout the day. I frequented The Office, and when Jim and Pam had their first baby, I studied them. Pam was on maternity leave, and Jim called her and asked if she wanted to join the office group in an outing. She sounded so happy on the phone. That moment simultaneously killed me and gave me hope. I was broken by the fact that this (fictional) character was flourishing in new motherhood. She was excited about something and she was enjoying being alive. Why did I feel like dying? What is so off in my personality that I can’t handle being a mom? On the flip side, I was given a hint of hope: if this (again, fictional) character can be happy, maybe I can too. Maybe it’s supposed to really get better. Maybe I just have a particularly fussy baby. Maybe I just need to give it a little time. My depression made me so illogical and disoriented that I was desperately searching for any semblance of a normal human woman’s response to becoming a new mom, and thus how I was supposed to respond. I never saw PPD in the sitcoms, only the mentally healthy moms who loved life and didn’t experience the heartbreak of not wanting to do this anymore.
I thought what I was feeling was abnormal psychology. I genuinely thought I was no different than the mothers you see on the news who abandon their children (or worse). I thought I was legitimately, to the core, a bad person.
The weeks went by and I knew in my mind what I was experiencing was in fact not normal of any human. Having struggled with clinical depression before as a teenager and young adult, I recognized some of the symptoms I was experiencing, and thought with hope maybe that’s the answer to everything I was going through. I made an appointment with my OBGYN. The nurses and medical assistants all showered my baby with attention and adoration. I looked at them and envied their normal workday. They would check me in, get my blood pressure, and send me on my way. I so desperately wanted a normal workday again.
It took every ounce of my waning energy to not burst into tears at the sight of my OB. I knew that when she walked through the door, I would have to come face to face with the PPD I knew I had. The last time she saw me was on one of the best days of my life. And now, weeks later, with the product of almost nine months of her care and eventual delivery snoozing in his car seat of the floor beside me, I’m struggling to find the will to live. She asked the typical questions, sympathized with me, and prescribed me a medication I hadn’t taken since I was 21: Zoloft.
My OB advised me to give it a couple of weeks to start working, and once it did, I began to feel better. My outlook was sunnier, and my family noticed. I was stilled sleep-deprived, but I finally felt like this whole mothering thing could actually work for me. I finally felt like I could enjoy my baby and love him to my fullest extent. We went on to experience quite a few daycare-acquired illnesses, sleep issues, and general complications from a family with two working parents, but life was no longer a burden. I was lifted up out of the deepest depression of my life into a life of abundant love for my child.
I know that my decision to seek help and my OB’s decision to put me on medication got me through my PPD. My experience with PPD was, however, very different from what I would have expected it to be. The feeling of wanting out took me by surprise. I didn’t realize that was a symptom from the lack of bonding that can occur when mothers have PPD. The typical sadness, anxiety, and general depression symptoms occurred, but so did so much more. The etc. of PPD raged so violently in me and took my mind and emotions captive. I thank God that we live in a society today where mental illness is on the forefront of research and social awareness. It kills me to think of the mothers in the past who dealt with this very common disorder and received no help, no treatment, and no recognition. Suffering in silence is not an option.
If you have ever suffered, or are currently suffering with PPD, please know you are not alone. You are normal and you are a good mom, your brain chemistry is just very, very off. Some women are more prone to PPD, especially women who have dealt with clinical depression in the past. Some women don’t experience it at all.
It is so worth it to reach out and receive help. Call your OB, this is part of their job! They are trained in recognizing and treating PPD, and they are there to help you. Along with professional help, seek help in the form of fellowship and community. Many women have suffered this exact same thing and would love nothing more than to lend a listening ear and some practical advice. I am one of those women. Please reach out, I would be honored to hear your story! Comment below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for visiting and take control to live your sweetest life. There is joy and abundant love in this world, and no one is excluded from that.