My postpartum depression (PPD) totally caught me by surprise. At first I didn't even recognize that I was depressed. I mean, of course I wasn't depressed, right? I had a beautiful baby so happiness is the only thing I can possibly feel, right? Wrong. Eventually I was forced to admit that I was depressed, regardless of my baby's existence, and sought help from family, friends, and professionals. I confronted my postpartum depression, I just had no idea how intense that confrontation would be.
My postpartum depression started with feelings of exhaustion. I remember thinking, "Is it normal to feel this tired?" Then came the difficulty breastfeeding and feeling like I had failed as a mom because I wasn't able to exclusively breastfeed. My (then) husband was not supportive at all and, as a result, I felt so alone. I was sad and anxious all of the time and unable to sleep a significant amount and even when the kids were asleep. I would cry for hours, worrying about my kids, while I simultaneously convinced myself that I was a bad mom for feeling the way I did. I finally got up the nerve to talk about it. I told a friend and then, with her support, told my midwife. They told me that I was not alone and that medication or therapy could help.
It was so weird to confront my depression. I had never admitted to anyone that I was less than perfect, and I certainly never wanted to admit that I was not a "perfect mom." It felt so bizarre to take anti-depressants for the first time in my life and to prioritize self care and sleep, recognizing that I needed to recover from postpartum depression just like I needed to recover from childbirth in general. Eventually, I started to feel like the fog that had surrounded me was lifting, and I was finally able to find joy in new motherhood. To get there, however, I had to go through some pretty intense things, including the following:
Admitting That I Wasn't Perfect
I grew up in a small town in the Midwest where everyone seemed perfect on the outside and no one ever talked about anything unpleasant, especially mental illness. So, when I first realized I was depressed, I was really embarrassed and thought this was something to hide and be ashamed of. To look in the mirror and admit I wasn't perfect and that my imperfections were OK, was one of the hardest things I've ever done.
Being Afraid To Tell Anyone
Even though I realized that I wasn't OK, I was so afraid to tell anyone. I was also worried that, in the end, telling someone wouldn't make a difference and I would never get better.
I eventually broke down one day when a friend asked me generically, "How are you?" At first I felt bad, because typically when people ask this question they expect to hear, "I'm fine." However, she gave me the courage to talk with my midwife.
Talking About It With My Provider
When I did talk to my midwife about how I was feeling, I tiptoed around the word "depression," as if saying it out loud would instantaneously make it true. Instead I used words like exhausted, overwhelmed, disappointed, afraid, anxious, and unable to cope. Fortunately, she recognized what was going on so I didn't have to say the word "depressed." She said it for me, and together we created a plan of action.
Feeling Like I Had Failed
Even though I was ready to do what I needed to do in order to get well and be the best mom I could be, I still felt like I must have done something wrong. Why couldn't I just be happy? I had a great job, two great kids, a career, and what most people dream of having. The problem was that depression is a lying b*tch, and she made me forget those things.
Taking Antidepressants For The First Time
I was so nervous and embarrassed to pick up my prescription for antidepressants. I was sure everyone around me would judge me as an unfit mother. I had a very fussy baby in the back seat and when the pharmacist asked if I had any questions, so I joked, "What is the meaning of life?" He responded, "42," and we laughed at both getting a geeky science fiction joke.
Telling My Husband About My Diagnosis
When I first told my then-husband (now ex-husband) that I had been diagnosed with postpartum depression, he was not supportive of me taking antidepressants. He totally didn't understand what I was going through and, instead, thought I could just "snap out of it."
How It Would Change The Way I Felt About Motherhood
Being a mother with depression felt so odd to me. I didn't know how to reconcile my love for my children and the way my brain and body were making me feel.
Getting Sleep For The First Time In Weeks
I was diagnosed with depression on a Friday. My midwife only let me leave if I promised to fill a prescription for both anti-depressants and a prescription sleep aid, and after I promised to have someone else do night time parenting duties for a couple of days so I could get some sleep. She told me that not sleeping was making my depression and anxiety dangerously worse. I didn't tell her that my husband had decided to take a road trip with his buddy. Instead, I made my promises and took my kids to my parents' house so my mom could make make sure I had time to rest. After weeks of not really sleeping, it was blissful.
Starting To Feel Better
A few weeks after I started taking antidepressants, I remember waking up and seeing the sunlight streaming through the windows and thinking how beautiful it was. I hadn't noticed that something was beautiful in so, so long. It was like the dark cloud over my head had drifted away and the sunshine had taken its place. I was so overwhelmed that I actually started crying happy tears.
After confronting my depression and getting help, I started to realize that the things I had seen as my fault — my undersupply, sleep deprivation, my marriage failing — were not my fault at all. I was able to start forgiving myself a little bit every day and, eventually, I was able to recognize the ways that I was a good mother.
Even though I'm not perfect, I'm enough.