When Postpartum Depression Leaves You Feeling Guilty
“I’m sorry,” I sobbed, as I rocked my tiny newborn to sleep for what seemed like the thousandth time that night.
“I’m so sorry.”
It had been a difficult day of “mom-ing,” as my husband went back to work and I embarked on weeks of maternity leave alone during the day at home with my daughter. I put on a brave face for him, but I was absolutely terrified. It wasn’t that I was at the end of my rope — I had no rope at all. Whatever internal resources I’d had at my disposal before I gave birth in December were inaccessible to me now. I went for days without showering, either ate constantly all day or kept forgetting to feed myself, spent the time binge-watching shows on Netflix instead of “sleeping when the baby sleeps,” as all well-meaning veteran moms had advised me to do. At the time, I thought all of these things were simply hallmarks of new motherhood. Now, I see them as early signs of postpartum depression.
I was officially diagnosed at my six-week follow-up appointment in February with my OB-GYN. He gave me medication and told me to call back in three weeks if I wasn’t better. I thought that would be the end of it — I have medicine now, I’ll get back on an even keel again and I’ll be fine.
Spoiler alert: I was not fine.
I continued throughout the next several weeks just waiting for the medicine to kick in. Meanwhile, I was fighting with my husband all the time, letting our house turn into a disaster because I couldn’t be bothered to do anything about it and snapping at the baby in anger. I would occasionally just stare at her in apathy while she was on her Boppy crying, unable to work up an emotional reaction to respond and comfort her. I remember several horrifying occasions when I had to put her in her crib and walk away because I was afraid I was going to smack her tiny little bottom for not listening to me. As awful as that feels writing it out, it is honest. I remember wondering why I wasn’t feeling as joyful as I thought I was supposed to feel. Wasn’t this supposed to be the happiest time of my life? We wanted and prayed for and planned for this child — why wasn’t I over the moon? Why did God allow this to happen to me? Had He abandoned me?
I was riddled with guilt and shame.
I was a bad wife.
I was a bad mom.
I was a bad Christian.
She and her dad both deserved better than me.
I’ve always wanted to be a mom, so I should be better at this.
I should be better at balancing everything.
I should be happier.
I should rely on Jesus.
I “should-ed” on myself constantly.
I managed to continue functioning until a week before I was supposed to return to work. I was dealing with my own grief and fear about this next transition, co-mingled with relief that we were finally going to get into our normal schedule. And then, when the baby was 10 weeks old, she got sick. She developed an all over body rash and a high fever, so we rushed her to the nearest emergency room, where she was subjected to countless needle pokes as they tried to start an IV without any specialized tiny equipment. She was transferred to the local children’s hospital where she was subjected to more needles, a lumbar puncture, and so many medicines. Thankfully, it ended up being a simple, albeit severe, case of hand-foot-mouth, and we were able to bring her home. But nothing could have prepared me for watching my 10-week-old baby being loaded into the back of an ambulance.
I went back to work a week after she was discharged.
After several weeks at work, I realized that I may need a little extra help managing the transition back into full-time work. I sought out a therapist and learned that the medicine the previous doctor had prescribed was doing nothing for me (surprise!). I was referred to a psychiatrist to tweak the medication, and worked my way up to a therapeutic level while continuing to see my therapist weekly.
If anything, going to my weekly therapy sessions is just one hour a week where I get to focus totally on myself. I am a social worker for the elderly, so I am constantly caring for everyone around me both at home and at work. This is one hour where I don’t have to care about anyone else, and I get to fill my own cup so that I can continue pouring out my heart and soul to my daughter, my husband and my clients.
I still have “down” days where getting out of bed and out the door with baby in tow is a victory. I don’t get much done at work on those days. I do sometimes wonder if I will always have postpartum depression, and it honestly makes me a little afraid to have another child someday. But there are things that help: a hot cup of earl grey tea, a phone call to someone supportive (usually my mom or husband), going to a used bookstore and just smelling the books, gratitude journaling, a favorite Disney movie, making my daughter laugh. These are things that have all worked for me, that make it possible to get through the day, or the hour, or the next 10 seconds. I have hope now on this journey, and am continuing to build strength to keep fighting the good fight. Because that’s what my daughter deserves — a mom who perseveres and overcomes.
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Unspalsh photo via Jenna Norman