Being a new mom is hard. In fact, it's pretty much one of the most difficult things I have ever done. Between my painful recovery from childbirth, difficulty breastfeeding, and the intense pressure I felt to do everything perfectly, being the parent to a helpless, demanding newborn felt impossible at times. My recovery was made even harder by postpartum depression. In fact, and in so many ways, new moms with depression have it way harder than other moms. It's not that we're all in some sort of "who has it worst?" contest, but being realistic about new-mom life and postpartum depression is the only way women, like me, will get the help they need. So this isn't a pissing contest, it's just the truth.
You see, depression lies. Even when you're doing just fine as a mom and accomplishing everything you're supposed to be accomplishing, your depression will make you think you're failing. I was exhausted from growing a human in my body, but my postpartum depression made it impossible for me to sleep. I would stay awake all night, just staring at my baby, hoping that they would be OK despite my obvious shortcomings as their mother. When I wasn't able to produce enough breast milk, and my daughter got seriously sick, I blamed myself. The pressure to breastfeed made me want to die, and postpartum depression helped me create a plan to carry it out.
I felt so alone. I was sad and anxious all of the time. 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. What kind of mom is sad when she has a new baby to snuggle? (It turns out, a lot of us are.) To make matters worse, our society both stigmatizes mental illness and fetishizes new moms. Everyone pretends to be perfect on the outside, and no one ever talks about anything unpleasant they're experiencing on the inside, especially depression. So when I first realized I was depressed, I was really embarrassed and thought this was something to hide and be ashamed of.
For these and so many other reasons, new moms with depression have it so much harder than moms who don't experience these painful, debilitating feelings of self-hatred. So it's time to talk about it, starting with the following:
Because Depression Lies To Us
Postpartum depression is a lying b*tch. She told me I was a bad mom and convinced me that my undersupply was a result of me simply not trying hard enough to breastfeed. The truth, of course, was that it was entirely outside of my control.
At first I didn't even recognize that I was depressed, either. I mean, of course I wasn't depressed, right? I had a new baby. I thought my problems meant I was a bad mom.
Because It's Hard To Admit We're Depressed
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 make it true and, well, I didn't want it to be true. I used words like exhausted, overwhelmed, disappointed, and afraid. Fortunately, my midwife read between the lines.
Because It Makes Recovery Even More Exhausting
Sleep deprivation and new motherhood seem to go hand in hand. The trouble is, while a little lost sleep is normal, I didn't sleep for days at a time because of my postpartum depression. Some days it was pretty much impossible to function, let alone care for a newborn.
Because Other People Don't Understand
It's really impossible to understand how it feels to be depressed unless you've been there. I was so afraid to tell anyone, and didn't know how to explain my depression to those I knew weren't (or never have) struggling with it themselves. When I told my now ex-husband how I was feeling, he totally didn't understand what I was going through. And him asking, "Why can't you just be happy?" didn't work.
Because It Can Make It Hard To Bond With Our Babies
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.
Because We Feel So Guilty About It
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 life that most people dream of.
My postpartum depression made me feel so guilty, when I should have been more kind to myself.
Because We Feel Isolated & Alone
Depression can feel so lonely. I didn't want to admit that I was depressed, and I felt so alone in my feelings as a result of not sharing them with the people around me. But it was also completely overwhelming to invite people over or have to entertain people. I wish I could have had someone sit in silence with me in my messy house. I didn't want to make small talk o play hostess, I just wanted to feel less alone.
Because It Can Cause Insomnia
I literally felt like I was dying from lack of sleep, and before you talk about new moms universally experiencing sleep deprivation, let me just say this was not just sleep deprivation. Oh no, it was not being able to sleep at all, as in no sleep for days. I can't really describe how horrible it was.
Because Getting Help Can Feel So Challenging
I never would have asked for help on my own. Depression just seemed impossible to explain and horrifically embarrassing and confusing. I eventually broke down one day, when another new mom friend asked me how I was doing. Even "coming clean" felt bad, because people rarely expect to hear the truth when you ask them how they're doing. She gave me the courage to talk with my midwife and get the help I needed, though, and I am so glad I did.
Because There's A Stigma
There's so much stigma around mental illness in our culture. Few people talk about mental illness or admit to taking medication for mental health conditions. It's so messed up, because we don't feel the same way about medication for asthma or high blood pressure.
If you struggle with depression or feelings of self-harm, please seek professional help or call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.