The Mighty Logo

Nothing Good Happens at 3:30 A.M. When You Have Postpartum Depression

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

I’ve only seen 3:30 a.m. a handful of times. At the end of a long night of hair holding and tear wiping. On the first day of fishing season. When my father, brother and I would head out early to secure a prime spot along the Susquehanna, only after stopping at Dunkin Donuts for a large coffee and two strawberry-frosted donuts. In the early months of motherhood, which were defined by diaper changes, “baby burrito” breakouts and painful let-downs.

Fishing fun aside, nothing good happens at 3:30 a.m. It is a time of day when bad decisions are made, strange and unfortunate trips to the bathroom occur and impulsive words are spoken. It was the time of day I most frequently questioned my own life.

I didn’t know it at first. The early days of motherhood were a blur. I would fall asleep sitting up and stare at the ceiling, wide-awake and lying down. I would go hours without food, days without a shower and, in some cases, more than a week without stepping foot outside.

At first, I wrote it off. I thought short temper was the result of sleep deprivation. I thought my inability to “get it together” was just par for the “new parenting” course. I attributed my pathetic eating habits to breastfeeding. (If my daughter fell asleep at my breast, then I certainly couldn’t get up for a television dinner or piece of toast. I mean, I would wake her. I couldn’t wake her.)

I thought the guilt and confusion was normal. I thought the tears were normal. I thought I was just adjusting to my new mommy role.

I thought and rationalized, thought and rationalized, but before long I noticed a pattern. I was crying every day, sobbing and unable to catch my breath. My eyes were perpetually puffy, and when I did manage to take a sip of my coffee, I could taste the salinity in my mouth, like I stirred salt in instead of sugar. I realized I was angry and resentful. I realized I was miserable. I realized I wanted to die.

I had many chances, so many chances. In fact, the opportunity presented itself every day between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m., and the fact that I am still here is nothing short of a miracle. My daughter would wake for a feeding just as Jim Crammer came on. I never turned the television off. I was scared of the dark, scared of the silence and scared to be alone with her and with myself. After changing her diaper, I would pull her into bed, slip one of my swollen and already leaky breasts out of my top and into her mouth and nurse her, she lying on her left side and I on my right.

During our “Mad Money” hour, I could have slid my nipple from her mouth, after she fell asleep of course, and left our dark room, led only by the light of our 27-inch television screen. With Mr. Crammer’s face and crappy graphics still flashing before my eyes and thoughts of financial security (or in my case, insecurity) racing through my mind, I could have easily headed to our bathroom down the hall and attempted to kill myself.

I could have killed myself before the credits rolled, but I didn’t. Whether it was luck, perseverance or apathy that kept me in that bed, I cannot be sure. Somehow, I stayed put, somehow I survived.

Postpartum depression is, simply put, a type of depression which affects women after childbirth. While symptoms include anger, anxiety, sadness, low energy, changes in sleeping and eating habits and a reduced sex drive, symptoms alone cannot explain the gravity of PPD to you or those around you.

You see, depression is impossible to explain. It is an indiscriminate, isolating and numbing illness. While you may still scream and cry, attempting to find the cause of those tears is absurd. They are instinctual, like a cough or sneeze, and completely beyond your control. While you know what you “should” feel, you cannot do a damn thing to change your feelings. While you will still be alive and you physically have the ability to move, eat and breath, you may not have the desire.

You may lose control of your mind, your feelings and yourself. You may lose control of your life.

Day after day, I awoke that winter with no desire. Day after day, I woke that spring with no hope. Yet, hope comes in strange places. While I never was able to snap out of it (and Jim Crammer still dominates in the 3 a.m. time slot), I did begin to see a shift, first when my daughter slept until 4 a.m. and then when she slept until 5. I found hope in local programming and “Early Today.”

Make no mistake, I know it seems strange to put so much weight on morning television, to allow the likes of Lori Stokes, Ken Rosato and Al Roker to much influence my mood, because it is. It is silly to think they had anything to do with my recovery. Yet, they were there the morning I opened the blinds while feeding my daughter instead of lying in the dark. They were there when I felt her body next to mine for the first time, not lying there like a hairless cat or strange stuffed animal, but when I truly felt the weight of her, when I felt her little hands and paper fine nails clinging to my breast and tracing circles along my stomach, when I felt her life, when I felt my daughter.

They were there when I opened my eyes. They were there when I began to feel alive.

For more mental health stories, visit Sunshine Spoils Milk or follow Kimberly Zapata on Facebook.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

 Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: November 22, 2016
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home