How My Postpartum Depression Changed What Motherhood Was 'Supposed' to Be
Author’s note: I’m a survivor of three perinatal mood disorders — prenatal depression, postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety — which I’ve experienced to varying degrees both during and after three out of four of my pregnancies. This is the story of my worst experience with postpartum depression, after the birth of my second baby. If you’re struggling with postpartum depression, please know that hope and healing are possible.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a mom.
I was certain I’d be in love with my babies from day one, and that the happiness of motherhood would far outweigh any struggles I might encounter.
But darkness? Despair? Guilt and shame and the overwhelming desire to run away?
This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
As I stared at the face of my stunningly beautiful baby girl, I knew her dark eyes and bright smile should have made my heart explode with joy.
I had been thrilled the morning I saw the little plus sign on my pregnancy test, and I loved watching my one-year-old’s face light up with excitement whenever we talked about “the baby in mama’s tummy.”
But then, about halfway through those long 40 weeks, something began to change. I began having early contractions, and was put on bed rest for the remainder of the pregnancy in order to avoid early labor. At the same time, I was no longer as happy as I had been, and I began to lose interest in my normal activities.
Sometimes I felt all the emotions at once. Other times, I felt dull and flat. At first, I thought this change in my personality was because I was bored being on bed rest.
But, deep down, I knew something just wasn’t right. What was going on? I needed to find out. I went to visit a close friend, who is also a psychologist, and was diagnosed with depression.
When sweet Sofia was born at 39 weeks, I was certain that now, I would begin to feel well. But 10 days later — in the throes of night-feedings, a colicky newborn who refused to be put down and postpartum hormonal chaos — I hit rock bottom.
One horrible night is etched in my memory forever. Sofia had been screaming inconsolably off and on from midnight to past 3 a.m., refusing to be put down and refusing to sleep. At less than two weeks old, she already had terrible acid reflux, which only exacerbated her colic. I dreaded most nights with her, but this night seemed worse than normal. My body ached, my head pounded, my breasts were sore and painful from her newborn latch. My tired mama heart was desperate to comfort my baby, and nothing I could do would stop the crying. All I wanted in the world was sleep. Sweet, uninterrupted sleep. I began to beg God for it. Was that too much to ask? Sofia was not cooperating, and with every wail, I became more frantic. The tears began to stream down my face and my heart began to sink into despair. That night, even in the loving arms of my husband, I felt utterly alone.
And the nights continued like this for many weeks. I would go from tears of desperation to tears of anger in the same minute. I wanted to scream at my precious daughter, and a few times, I did. Afterwards, I was always full of intense shame and remorse. Sometimes, I felt like I was going “crazy.” I would see shadows out of the corner of my eye, or feel like I was not really present in the room I was standing in. I hated those feelings, and often, I hated myself.
My heart was in a dark place. I began to think I should never have become a mother, and that my children and husband would be much better off without me. Although I never contemplated suicide, I had fantasies of running away somewhere to hide in a hole and sleep for the rest of my life.
I convinced myself my children wouldn’t miss me, wouldn’t even remember me, and that my husband could find someone better to take my place. I just wanted relief from motherhood, which felt so totally overwhelming to me.
It took four months of this torture before I became brave enough to listen to the concern of my friends and family, and ask my ObGyn for help. He prescribed medication to me, and within two weeks, I noticed a cloud began to lift from my head. A few more weeks passed, and I felt the spark of a range of emotions coming back to my heart.
Although the medication wasn’t a magical “cure-all,” I began to look for hope again. I clung to my faith — faith without feeling — and slowly the weeks passed and I was coming out of the darkness. I was finally beginning to feel a deep love for my beautiful baby, who before had seemed like such a difficult burden.
There is no way to sugarcoat it. Postpartum depression was the worst experience of my life. There were days and nights that I was certain I would die of lack of sleep, or despair. There were times I wanted to run away from it all and never come back. But now, on the other side, I can see how strong I really was.
I stayed in the fight. And you can, too. If you’re struggling with postpartum depression, I want you to hear this loud and clear: No matter how hard it is now, keep fighting. I promise you, it will get better. It will take hard work. You will want to give up. But if you persevere, you can be well again. You will be yourself again, and you will be better than you were before.
And I promise, no matter what your demons whisper to you in the darkness, you are needed, you are loved, you are worth it.
If you or a loved one is affected by postpartum depression or other postpartum disorders and need help, you can call Postpartum Support International’s hotline at 1-800-944-4773.
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Unsplash photo via Joe Gardner.