When my son was born, I felt a giant wave of relief. I had been suffering from perinatal depression and anxiety throughout my pregnancy, and I had felt ambivalent toward the baby growing in me for the entire time. I was petrified that I wouldn’t love my son when he was finally born, but, thankfully, I was enamored immediately. He was perfect, and I was so happy he had come into our lives, despite my initial fears.
Several weeks went by, and while I had a bit of the baby blues, I mostly felt great. Because of my perinatal depression, I knew I was at higher risk of developing postpartum depression, so I was on pretty high alert for some of the signs. I was in love with my little boy, though, so I figured I was in the clear. I mean, my biggest fear had been that I wouldn’t love him, and since that wasn’t an issue, I just assumed I’d be fine.
Then, gradually, I began to get obsessed with SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). I was sure that my son would get it, and I started to wake intermittently (and completely unintentionally) to check his breathing. Pretty much hourly, in fact. Then I started wanting to yell, scream, and hit people. Random people. These were pretty good indicators that something was amiss, and a visit to my overseeing psychiatrist confirmed that postpartum depression and anxiety had struck.
I was lucky. I was being monitored right from the outset, and my medical team (consisting of a midwife, GP, psychiatrist and social worker) were right there for me, when things began to feel...wrong.
Now, 18 months later, things are a lot easier for me. I still see my social worker regularly, and I still have moments where I feel overwhelmed, or low, or anxious, but there's a bit more space. I like to describe it as "padding," meaning, if something takes place that sets me off, I don't immediately respond negatively or fly off the handle. Instead, I'm able to take a brief moment and make sure I'm ready to react reasonably before I do (at least, most of the time).
So what other things have I learned from surviving PPD? If you've been there, some of this probably sounds familiar.
When Someone Offers You Support, Take It
You don't need to be strong for anyone, or try to make it on your own. People offer help because they want to help, and you both win when you let them.
The Brilliant Truth Of The "Airplane Oxygen Mask" Analogy
In order to help others around you (namely, your baby), you need to help yourself first. That's why they tell you to put your oxygen mask on first if you're in an airplane that becomes depressurized. Same goes for you in your new role as a mother. Help yourself, so that you can help your baby. Any mom who's been through PPD eventually, unfailingly comes to realize how true this is at some point.
Feeling Terrible Does Not Make You A Terrible Mother Or Person
This was one thing some of the women in my PPD support group struggled with. They felt as though they were bad moms because they weren't enjoying every moment of parenthood. By the time you make it out the other side of PPD, you undoubtedly know this is simply not the case, and you deserve more than to put that guilt on yourself.
It's OK Not To Enjoy Being A Mother
There may come a time when you can enjoy being a mother, but if that's not in the first few months, or even a year, that's OK. After all, your baby won't remember what you were like then. Just focus on getting better, don't give yourself more reasons to feel guilty.
You Can Feel Awful And Still Successfully Take Care Of Your Baby
The reality is that you and your family will work together to keep your baby alive, with all of their needs taken care of. You may feel like sh*t, but you'll do it.
You Are Not Your Depression Or Anxiety
It may be hard to wrap your head around when you're deep in it, but you are more than this disease. PPD affects many women, and we eventually find a way to manage and hopefully get through it. Please, if nothing else, believe this: You are more than this.