The hardest part of having my first child wasn't the pregnancy, labor, or delivery. It wasn't the early days of struggling to find my footing as mother. It wasn't with each breastfeeding "failure" or dealing with my daughter's jaundice and colic. For me, it was the moment I was diagnosed with postpartum depression (PPD) and only then, in retrospect, could I see all I'd become. Paranoid, depressed, angry, and lacking sleep an aggravate some of the fears every mom suffering from PPD has, and they certainly fed my worries with reckless abandon. Before I knew it, I was forced into a deep hole I just couldn't crawl out of on my own.
PPD is a monster. It eats away at the person you once were until you're unrecognizable, even to yourself. Those were scary times because, as it was happening, I wasn't aware of the changes. I knew I felt dark, that getting out of bed had become a chore, and crying was supposed to be part of the hormones shifting back into their correct places. It wasn't until things got too dark, when I didn't get out of bed at all, and when the hormones didn't settle back into "normal," did I start to wonder if something was wrong with me. Somehow, thoughts of suicide slowly crept into the corners of my brain. They became regular visitors who tried to convince me my new baby, and my partner, would have better lives without me. It all felt normal within me. I didn't pause to question the thoughts, nor did I necessarily fight them.
My entire life has been one metal health battle after another. From early childhood anxiety and depression, to my adulthood where I was officially diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder, (GAD) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Unfortunately, when I'm in the thick of it, I don't. It all starts to feel very normal and that's probably the scariest part. These disorders also overlap and have similar symptoms, so when my doctor revealed I had PPD, although relieved to know the feelings weren't just in my head, I wasn't surprised.
Having PPD, for me, meant not knowing how I'd deal with a typical day as a new mother. Would I be the person my daughter needed, or would I cower? Out of everything I've ever gone though, the one thing I knew I couldn't do was anything that might put my daughter in danger. I got all the help I needed, including medication, therapy, and support from family and friends, but even after I came out of the PPD hole I felt the stigma following me. Yes, I had PPD, but I was doing everything I could to combat the dangerous disorder so that I could be the mother my daughter needed me to be, and the woman I needed me to be.
The long days and nights I suffered with PPD, my fears were abundant. Part of having the depression meant knowing I wasn't in control and if I wasn't, who (or what) was? My baby needed me, but I was lost inside of myself in an endless maze with no exit.
The biggest fear I had through my lengthy bout of PPD was that I was, in no way, able to be a mother. I'd spent nine months preparing for the journey and yet, now that my baby was in my arms, she felt like a stranger. When she cried, I hid with my hands over my ears. When she needed me, I sometimes turned away from her. In the beginning, PPD was a disruption that prevented me from bonding with my daughter but. eventually, it morphed into something so much bigger.
I wanted to be a great mother but, for most of those days, I either didn't know how or would become too frustrated with myself for not controlling my emotions or feelings. Becoming a parent is overwhelming. It takes a lot to get used to and to find a rhythm that works for you. I was afraid, everyday, I'd never find it, life would always be a struggle, and, mostly, that my baby and I would never bond. I was no good at breastfeeding or calming her, and she didn't even seem to like me. These are the thoughts I had that contributed to the overwhelm and it's that doubt that created a division between me and motherhood for a long, long time.
A legitimate fear I had with PPD was if I might cause physical harm to myself. I had the thought, too, and as a child found that I was able to cope with devastating situations by cutting and self-harm. So, on the days I felt the most low, I knew if I didn't confess to my partner (or whoever) what was going through my head, I might've really hurt myself.
The thing I misunderstood about my feelings then was that, while terrifying, this, too, is a normal symptom of PPD. It didn't make me an awful mother or weak. It didn't mean I wanted to harm my baby or partner. It didn't even mean I really wanted to harm myself. The anxiety and panic attacks had peaked and, at the time, the only way through some of that pain, I thought, was self-harm.
Once the fog lifted and I got the help I needed, I saw this as what is truly was: a chemical imbalance I had no control over without proper treatment.
While I, personally, never had thoughts of me causing harm to my baby, it's all too common in other mothers with PPD and even more commonly diagnosed as postpartum OCD, which is something I did experience (and still struggle with) throughout the depression. This includes having intrusive thoughts about harm coming to your newborn, even if not inflicted by you. You may develop rituals or obsessions revolving around those thoughts in order to offset any danger, with triggers possibly being the baby crying or sleep-deprivation.
Regardless of the fancy official titles of these disorders, and however "normal" or common it is to experience them, they're mental illnesses that should be taken seriously and treated promptly. It took me months to come to terms with it. I get how embarrassing it is to tell someone you're having such horrible thoughts about your own child, but you're not alone. Most of us have been there in some form and it doesn't make you a bad mother. You're just a mother who needs a little help.
My depression tried to kill me. It fed me lies, told me I was nothing, and that I'd always be nothing. I started to believe my daughter didn't need me, my partner didn't need me, and, well, no one needed me. That's the way PPD likes it. It wants to corner you so you're isolated from the rest of the world, and brainwash you into thinking you're the problem. I feared, as the thoughts reminded me, I could give into suicide and no one would care. Maybe they'd even celebrate. It was around this time I knew I couldn't fix any of this on my own. I needed help, because my baby needed someone better than the woman PPD made me.
Before I sought treatment, the biggest fear I had was that no matter what I did, I'd never experience joy again. Maybe I'd never bond with my daughter or laugh or enjoy anything the way I once did. PPD stole so much from me, I didn't think I was capable of healing. I was wrong.
If you're reading this, going through PPD right now and not knowing if you'll ever find the light again, I get it. These fears are valid. These fears are real. These fears are yours and you shouldn't be ashamed of them. Becoming a mother is trying in every way. You can't know how your mind and body will react until it's happening, and sometimes (in my case) not until you've suffered in silence for too long do you realize the severity. That's when you get screened, talk to a professional, and confide in someone you trust. Just do something proactive. You're not your postpartum depression. You are a great mother. You can, and will, bond with your baby. I want you to read these words and know that I'm proof of how dark it can be, but more than that, proof the light will shine again.