For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to have babies. My 14-year-old self dreamed about becoming a mother one day. I wanted to marry Seth from The O.C. and raise curly-haired munchkins on the West Coast. I imagined motherhood as a serene, not-at-all anxiety-inducing experience, and I imagined that my life, in general, would be like this.
The universe had other plans for me, though. When I was a teenager, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, and I've been in treatment and therapy on and off since then. As a result, I questioned whether motherhood would ever be in the cards for me. And when I finally did become a parent, I struggled with postpartum depression — and was subsequently shamed for it.
I've been a parent for 6 months, and it has been an incredible experience. But it's also been profoundly exhausting. I'm regularly plagued with self-doubt and anxiety, and I keep wondering: Am I doing this right? Is the baby breathing? How long is too long to be in the car with a newborn?
Motherhood has felt like a test of sorts; a test of my relationship and a test of myself as an individual. Perhaps most of all, it has been a test of my mental health.
Before I had my daughter, I admittedly wondered if she'd help me re-shape my life into whatever it was I wanted it to be. Maybe she'd be the motivation I needed to move back overseas, or to transition into a freelance job rather than an in-office one. In many ways, Luna did just that. I now feel happier at work. I feel happier in our new environment. I feel happier when I look outside the window in the morning and see moorland instead of concrete.
I felt legitimately guilty for creating this whole other person who was now stuck with me as a mother. I became convinced that I was going to f*ck my baby up.
As someone who's long struggled with anxiety and depression, however, new motherhood undoubtedly exacerbated my depression. I spent the first four weeks of Luna's life crying so much that I began questioning whether it was possible for tear ducts to dry out. Sometimes the crying was in response to hers. Sometimes it was spontaneous.
In the four weeks after that, I began realizing just how rarely I was brushing my teeth. I couldn't remember if I was eating. I couldn't muster up the energy or confidence to leave the house with my baby. I felt legitimately guilty for creating this whole other person who was now stuck with me as a mother. I became convinced that I was going to f*ck my baby up.
Talking about this stuff was really hard. All around me, folks kept going on about how thrilled I must be, and how I must be so in love with my baby. They'd swoon over her and tell me how aimless and sad I seemed before having a kid. They'd tell me I "definitely needed" this experience of becoming a parent to give me a sense of purpose in life.
A family friend once asked me if I felt that "having a child fills one with a deep desire to move forward in a fresh state of soulful ambition and purpose." (Yes, she used those exact words.) I wasn't quite sure how to answer that. I wanted to explain that I was over-the-moon and deeply motivated to achieve my goals so this baby would someday have a mother she could be proud of. But I also wanted to say that I was devastated. That I hated myself for giving an innocent creature a mother who was so useless and self-deprecating and fickle and confused.
Why was I feeling so down, when something so amazing was happening to me? Was I naive to think I could take care of a child?
Eventually, I realized that I had to talk about my depression or it was going to eat me up inside. My worst bouts of depression had proven as much in the past. So I started trying to tell people how miserable I was. I would always preface it by saying, "Please believe that I adore my daughter and I would never not want to have her, but..." I just couldn't escape the guilt.
People didn't want to hear about these feelings at all. When I FaceTimed with a relative and confided in her that I was depressed, I could see empathy briefly flicker across her face, followed by an expression of agitation. "You have to snap out of this, Marie," she said. "There's no reason to be upset. Just replace the sadness with gratefulness because that's how you should be felling." It sounded like she thought there was an on/off button for my depression, that I was actively choosing to be unhappy.
When I confessed to another friend that I was feeling depressed, she told me that this was precisely the reason she was apprehensive when I told her I wanted to carry my surprise baby to terk. "I'm just not sure parenthood and mental health illnesses mix well, you know?," she said. Her partner, another friend of mine, agreed. "You can't take care of someone else when you can't even take care of yourself," she said.
I know many people think that motherhood should be all smiles all the time, but I already know it's a lot messier and more complicated than that.
Although I was lucky that my partner was entirely understanding, patient, and willing to take care of our daughter on his own if ever I needed a break, those two comments stuck with me. They seemed to confirm every depression-fueled doubt I'd been having about being a parent. Why was I feeling so down, when something so amazing was happening to me? Was it ridiculous to have this child after two decades of sometimes debilitating depression in the first place? Was I naive to think I could take care of a child?
Although the first three months of parenthood have so far been the hardest, I've continued to ask myself these questions from time to time. But Luna is 6 months old now and her chubby little face constantly has a smile on it. If I leave the room for a few moments, she lights up upon my return. As of late, I've been one of the only people who can soothe her when she's freaking out. She seems comfortable in my arms. So clearly, I must be doing something right.
When I think about the shaming comments I received, I know that they were from people who have a narrow-minded view of what motherhood should look like. I know many people think that motherhood should be all smiles all the time, but I already know it's a lot messier and more complicated than that. Motherhood can be infuriating and tiring; puke-stained and unwashed; remarkably satisfying one moment and downright horrifying the next.
Depression is messy, too. But if there's one thing I know about it for sure, it's that it can lead to a lot of beauty, introspection, and soul-searching. You just have to fight your way through it and work hard AF to get there.
If you struggle with postpartum depression, please seek professional help or contact Postpartum Support International (PSI) at 1.800.944.4773.