The Letter to My Daughter I Couldn't Write While I Was Depressed
It took me a while to warm up to the idea of having kids. Deep down I knew that becoming a mother one day was something I longed for, but given my long running history of depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), I was plagued with doubts about my capabilities of handling motherhood. I worried about raising a child that would grow up to be just like me, because in my clouded mind that was a terrible thing to be. I also worried I wasn’t strong enough to be a mother. I didn’t deserve it. I would never be enough. For so long my depression tricked me into thinking all of these terrible thoughts about myself, and I believed every word.
Following a period of great personal growth, I was finally open up about my mental illness and started seeing a therapist. The clouds began to clear and I was finally ready to start a family with my husband. Much to our delight, we found out that we were pregnant with our first child in March of 2016. We were beyond excited to begin this new chapter in our lives. However, depression reared its ugly head soon after we found out the news, and the joys of pregnancy were stripped away from me. I struggled with depression, anxiety and panic attacks throughout most of my pregnancy. I lacked a connection to the tiny miracle growing inside of me, and I spent every day feeling guilty I couldn’t tell people I felt excited and joyful about being pregnant.
I felt like I was already a failure as a mother and I had a really hard time acknowledging what I was going through. I was irritable and angry most of the time, and my poor husband experienced the brunt of my outbursts on a daily basis. I knew I was miserable to be around, and I feared I could never be enough for my little girl, that she deserved better. Because of this, and my mental health history, my midwife told me I was at high risk for postpartum depression (PPD). I started going to therapy again in hopes of addressing what I was currently going through and establishing a support system for after I gave birth. I wanted to remain optimistic about not getting PPD, but the concern always lingered in the back of my mind.
Then came you.
On December 2nd, at 12:30 a.m. Ella Mae Klonowski entered the world, and our lives were forever changed. My water broke at work, and upon finding out that she was breeched at 11:00 p.m. that night, I had to have an emergency C-section. It was the most terrifying and magnificent moment of my life. With my view (luckily) blocked by a blue screen, I remember just focusing on my husband the entire time, while trembling uncontrollably, and wishing to see her tiny face. I needed to see her face and know that everything will be OK. I couldn’t believe she was finally here, that we created her. It was the most incredible and surreal feeling.
I had a really rough time physically recovering from the C-section. The amazing support I received from my husband and our family members made the early weeks of parenthood bearable. However, it didn’t take long for the “baby blues” to take over. When the feelings of intense hopelessness, regret about becoming a mother and not being able to bond with Ella continued for over two weeks, I knew I had PPD. I was completely devastated that such an amazing moment in my life, a moment I had been dreaming of for so long, was tainted with a misery and hopelessness so deep I thought Ella would be better off without me. I felt guilty that I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that I loved her. It’s painful to even type now because my love for her runs so deep. I can’t imagine my life without her. But during that time, I felt completely isolated, even though I knew that logically many women go through PPD and there was nothing to be ashamed of. Yet there I was, day in and day out, wondering how I was going to survive this.
Luckily, a small part of myself was able to come up for air once in a while and understood that I needed to seek treatment, even though I could barely muster up the desire or energy to pick up the phone and schedule an appointment. I don’t have a great track record of taking the best care of my mental health over the years. I always had the grin and bear it mentality. But this time I had a great support system that encouraged me to seek help as soon as possible. I needed to do this for Ella, she needed her mom. I also knew I needed to do it for myself. I deserved to experience the joy in life again. To smile and laugh without inhibition. To know I was capable of love and peace within myself.
For the first time ever I started taking an antidepressant. It scared me and disappointed me that I needed to rely on medication to live a normal life again and to have a connection with my daughter. But with the support and reassurance of some amazing people in my life, I realized that PPD is a medical condition, and similar to other medical conditions that require medication, taking an antidepressant was OK. There was no reason for me to feel shame for something that was out of my control. The most important thing was that I started taking care of myself again so that I could be healthy and present for my family. (I should add I know there are many other methods of treatment that people choose to treat depression or PPD, and I am not endorsing one over the other. What ever route a person chooses is between them, their family and their doctor.)
Ella turned 3 months old last week. I am so thankful to be on the road to recovery from PPD and finally enjoying motherhood. Since starting the antidepressant I feel an excitement and joy I haven’t felt in a long time. I am able to laugh and joke around with my husband in a way I haven’t done in years. I am able to look Ella in her beautiful eyes and tell her that I love her with all of my being. I am immensely grateful for her and every moment I get to spend with her. That is one thing this entire experience has taught me — to appreciate every moment. And to be patient with myself. I am still going to have bad days, but I have a new sense of hope inside of my heart that reminds me that everything is going to be OK. I am going to be a great mother. I am a great mother.
To all of the parents out there that are struggling with PPD (yes, men can get it too), you deserve to know that you are a warrior and you are doing a great job. I know it’s difficult and becoming a new parent can be so overwhelming, but please reach out for support. Open up about what you are going through and know you don’t have to struggle in silence. PPD is treatable, and you deserve to see the best in yourself and enjoy the wild adventure of parenthood. Don’t be ashamed of what you are going through. I truly believe that taking the steps to seek treatment or being open about how you are feeling is the most courageous thing you can do. I believe in you.
And finally, to my little girl. You are too young to understand this now, but during my entire pregnancy I kept telling myself I wanted to write you a letter that you could read when you are older. Yet I was never able to bring myself to do it because I was shrouded in such darkness. Now that I’m finally in a good place, I have something I want you to know:
My dearest Ella,
You are the greatest gift. Your dad and I love and adore you with an intensity we have never experienced before. Your entrance into this world was unlike anything I have ever experienced. I look back on it now and am filled with gratitude for everything I have experienced in my life because it led me to you. Every hardship, every triumph and every new beginning served as preparation to be the best woman I can be for you and your dad.
I will be honest with you though, I still have a lot to learn. I am not always going to have all of the answers, say the right thing or be the best mother at times. There may be days where you might not like me or agree with me. I have my flaws. But I can promise you I will love you with my whole heart for my whole life. I promise I will not let a day go by where you don’t feel that love.
My wish for you is that your days are never dark and that you never doubt yourself. But for the moments you do, I will be there to remind you of how special you are. I will support you through all of life’s journeys and cheer you on as you grow into your own. I will teach you to be kind, courageous, compassionate, accepting and loving. Loving to yourself and to others. I will teach you to appreciate the simple things in life, and that sometimes laughter truly is the best medicine. I will teach you the importance of embracing the beauty of who you are.
I hope you go to bed each night with a grateful heart, and wake each morning knowing that you are remarkable in every way. That you spend your days being fearlessly and authentically you. There is going to be nothing that you can’t endure because you will never have to go through it alone. Your dad and I will be here for you always. Shine bright my love, you are going to be unstoppable.
Love always and forever,
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Lead photo via contributor