Before being diagnosed with postpartum depression (PPD), my new role as a mother felt more like a punishment than a gift. I know that I'm "not supposed to" say things like that, but it's true. I had looked forward to the day I would meet my son since the day my husband and I had decided to start trying to have a baby, but once he was in my arms, my feelings didn't mimic my expectations. Fast forward to my diagnosis, when I could finally begin to understand the struggles moms with postpartum depression know all too well with a lot more clarity. In fact, more than I had hoped for.
I had heard of postpartum depression before, but only because certain celebrities had come forward with their own postpartum struggles, so I assumed that it was just a semi-fictional diagnosis created as a "publicity stunt" to make the rich and famous seem less, well, rich and famous. "Who resents their baby?" I thought to myself as I listened to interviews with celebrity moms and shoved my pregnant face full of popcorn. A few months later, of course, I knew what it felt like to resent the very gift that I had prayed for.
I didn't realize I was suffering from postpartum depression at first. I just assumed that like all new mothers, I was exhausted and overwhelmed with my new life change. I thought that my feelings were fleeting and that they would pass if I just tried harder or got out of the house more frequently or took better care of myself. But they didn't. Weeks turned into months, and the dream I thought I wanted to live suddenly felt more like a nightmare. I knew something was wrong, but I couldn't pinpoint exactly what it was. I eventually went to see my doctor for help. Let me just tell you, describing the following struggles to her was not easy, but by doing so I regained control over my life.
I took care of my son around the clock (with the help of my partner, who was an equal participant in said care). I breastfed when I was able to and changed his diaper every couple hours and kept him swaddled and warm and spent every waking moment of my life by his side to make sure that his needs were met. I did everything that a parent is supposed to do while caring for a newborn, but I still didn't feel like I actually cared for him the way I should have. My feelings didn't align with the media's depictions of moms and, honestly, it made me feel like I wasn't a good mother because of it.
Once my feelings became more troubling, I started to do some research on the signs of postpartum depression (PPD). What I found matched how I felt, and though I was relieved that I wasn't actually a terrible mother or person or flawed in some fundamental way for feeling the way that I did, I also wasn't exactly thrilled at the idea of letting anyone in on "my secret." I was afraid of what others might think if they knew I was struggling, so I kept it to myself, which FYI, is not a good move.
So why exactly was I scared to tell people about my postpartum depression? Well, truthfully, I was embarrassed. I was ashamed that I was harboring such unattractive feelings towards my son (and myself). I was already unfairly judging myself, so I didn't feel the need to feel like I was being judged by my peers, too.
I loved my son. I loved everything about him. He was beautiful and happy and healthy and, as far as newborns go, a fairly easy baby to take care of. Still, I never felt connected with him. I never felt "the bond" that so many new mothers talk about. Even when I would nurse him, when everyone says they bond with their baby, I was watching the clock instead of looking into his eyes, or whatever it is that you're supposed to do to be able to "bond" with your baby. I loved him, yes, but did I bond with him? Unfortunately, no. At least, not immediately.
One of the worst parts about PPD, for me, was when I questioned my decision to become a parent. My husband and I were prepared in every way possible for our son; we were as ready as we could have possibly been and we were both excited to bring him into our lives. However, not too long after I had him, I was questioning whether or not I was actually as ready as I thought I was. I fell into a dark corner and began to doubt my new role and whether I was able to play it the way I wanted and needed to. Though that moment was fleeting, it's one I will never forget.
Everyone, and I do mean everyone wanted to come over to meet our son. Friends, family, coworkers, absolutely everyone and anyone we knew or even sort of knew had plans to see us after our baby was born. While I was happy to have so many people in my son's life that cared about our family, I was also a little resentful about not being allowed any time to myself to sort through my feelings or just rest.
It seemed like every single day someone else was knocking on our door. They all brought food and gifts and well wishes, but I still wasn't all that enthused about their visits. I just wanted some alone time; some time to just relax and breathe and adjust and just be. Trying to put on a front and pretend like I wasn't falling into a deep pit of depression every single day was exhausting.
I remember one night (well, early morning) when my son was only a few months old and we woke up to eat. By that point, I was no longer breastfeeding so I fed him with a bottle. After he was done and had fallen asleep, I set him on the couch next to me. Most moms would have held him and most moms would have cherished that precious scent of a newborn's hair and reveled in the bliss of having a sleeping baby on their chest, but not me. I just sat him next to me and cried. Again.
And actually doing so, sometimes.
I had heard some of my mom friends talk about crying when their baby cried because they were so exhausted and they didn't know what their baby needed, but I hadn't heard them talk about crying as often as I was. There would be days when my son was sleeping, and when I should have been resting, too, but instead I would just sit and cry. Our day could have been moving along perfectly, but it didn't keep me from crying. It was like I literally couldn't control it. It would hit me hard, and often, and when it did there was no stopping it because I had no idea how or why it was happening in the first place.
Self care is crucial when you're a new mom. Yes, it goes against every instinct that tells you to put your baby first, but if you don't take care of yourself properly, you can't be expected to take care of another person that way either.
Even when my son was in a predictable sleeping routine, one that allowed me a few hours to myself to brush my teeth or shower or read or just sit in silence and breathe, I never took time to do anything for myself. I would stay in the same far-too-large, spit up covered shirt for days at a time. I wouldn't wash my hair or my face or even feed myself. I just didn't care enough about myself enough to do anything for myself, and it only made my downward spiral worse.
I had friends and family around me pretty much all the time during the first few months of my son's life. I was surrounded by loved ones but, honestly, I had never felt more alone. Even when people were around me, I was somewhere else. My mind was never present and even though I was smiling and laughing and pretending to love my new life, I was far from happy.
Having postpartum depression made me feel uneasy almost 100 percent of the time. I had a perfect baby, a supportive and loving partner, a family that had my back, friends who did the same, and a job that I loved, but I still felt like something just wasn't right. Something was wrong, but not in a way that I could easily understand, much less communicate to others. That's the thing about postpartum depression; it's not something that you can see. It's something that you just feel. Even if you don't know exactly what you're feeling or why you're feeling it, you feel the pain so deeply that it's capable of tarnishing everything that makes you feel good or whole or happy.
So yeah, explaining all of these things to my doctor was unpleasant, but I did it anyway. I ripped off the band-aid that I used to attempt to hide my feelings and I just let myself bleed out to her. But she listened, and she told me that, despite how I was feeling, that there was nothing wrong with me. She started treating me for postpartum depression and told me that I was going to be OK and, of course, she was right. I am OK, and if you're suffering from PPD, you will be, too.