Trigger Warning: postpartum depression
A Woman's Journey Through Postpartum Depression
This is our story…the story of when I became a mom, and you became the first love of my life. You actually just walked into my room, and saw the blank document open on the screen and asked me what I was doing. I said, I’ve been asked to share a story…a story about when I first became a mom and how I struggled. You looked at me with a sudden pain in your eyes – at all of 9 years old, I’m not sure how you can have such expression in your eyes. I immediately knew that you were worried that being your mom was somehow a chore for me, a struggle I wouldn’t choose every damn day to take on. I immediately assured you that I fell in love with you the moment I met you, the moment you were born, but that I had struggled. You asked me why, and it was then my turn to struggle – how much do you tell a 9 year old boy; how much detail do you give about how his mom had always struggled with being sad and that after he was born, it was so bad she didn’t know she could go on. That she had been depressed for most of her life and that after you were born it just go so very bad.
You asked me what depression was…damn it, mothering isn’t supposed to be this hard. I didn’t want to tell you…but I knew I couldn’t shelter you because that would be such an injustice to you and the people that come into your life who you might be able to help, and who might be able to help you. I knew I had to speak the truth…
And then I looked in your eyes again, my beautiful little big man, and explained that very simply, very very simply, depression was being very sad and not being able to not to be sad. I explained that it wasn’t that I didn’t want to be happy, but that it was hard to see the forest through the trees some days and see the good in life. I didn’t know how else to explain what depression was, without minimizing it, without making you think it was some hopeless disease that I couldn’t get better from, without you thinking it wasn’t ok to be sad. I wanted you to know that struggle and sadness was ok, but that we keep moving forward. You, my sweet sweet boy, somehow knew exactly what I meant and simply said “I love you mom.” As you walked back to your room, I knew, I had to tell our story…
When I found out I was pregnant with you, it was one of the happiest days of my life. I was ready to be a mom, to have all those joys of motherhood and experience all the little things that came with bringing a small human into the world. I dreamed of the fantasy, but also knew that it wasn’t going to be all sunshine and rainbows. I was already on medication for my depression – years of just not feeling right…and the doctors agreed that I could stay on it because it was such a low dose. They warned me that post-partum depression was going to be a very real risk for me…and while the academic side of me knew this…I just locked it away in the closet – it didn’t fit my fantasy.
Being pregnant with you was a dream – no morning sickness, no bloating, no nasty nausea, nothing. The first time I felt your kicks, it was amazing. You went on to make sure I knew you were around all the damn time…kicking me whenever you could, making sure I knew you were in there and growing fast. I treasured every moment of it. Nothing went wrong…until it all did. So very suddenly, everything went wrong…I went for a pre-natal check up which was now going to happen every week or so because I was at 36 weeks – so very close to meeting you but not quite ready yet. My midwife suddenly became very cautious. I’m not sure if it is because she had just lost a baby at full term or if she just sensed something, but all of a sudden I was being sent to the hospital for high blood pressure. All of a sudden my idyllic perfect pregnancy was out the window, and I was put on bed rest because they wanted to make sure you stayed in longer. You were perfectly healthy and showing no signs of stress. Your mom on the other hand – well, I wasn’t doing so hot. Several trips to labor and delivery and bedrest for a few days, and I was finally admitted. You needed to be delivered or else my health was going to be in serious risk. This was absolutely not how this story was supposed to go.
I was admitted on a Saturday and given medication to start the birth process. I wanted to try and go as natural as possible – so no pain medication if I could manage it. I was in labor (read that as IN PAIN) for a good 24 hours when the doctors said they were going to give me morphine so I could rest, and then reevaluate in the morning. I will never forget the last thing I heard before I passed out – the doctor saying “she will be asleep for at least 4 hours.” I woke up 2 hours later in the worst pain of my life, still confused from the morphine haze, but knowing something was wrong. The nurse was called and I was so out of it, I couldn’t really communicate what was going on. The nurses kept saying there was no reason for me to be in such pain. No one would listen to me…they all said it was absolutely impossible for me to be ready to push. Finally, the head nurse came – maybe because I was becoming hysterical maybe because I had finally convinced them that I was in such excruciating pain – and checked me and said the doctor needed to come right away. I will never forget the moment you were born…You didn’t cry…not right away…and I remember hearing them bring you over to the bed to examine you and the doctor saying that if I didn’t push, they were going to have to take me in for emergency surgery. Nope, not today, doc. I finally heard you cry, and suddenly the world was right. Those few moments are still such a blur to me, but I remember that cry, and my will to NOT leave your side.
We spent the next few days in idyllic peace at the hospital until we were both cleared to go home. I tried breastfeeding, and was just told over and over again, keep trying…it will happen…you have to make it happen. I struggled my sweet child, but I did try my best. I swear I did…
The next few days went by so quick. Your dad was still home with us, and we somehow managed the round the clock feedings and lack of sleep and me recovering from what ended up being a traumatic birth experience. I looked at you and knew I loved you…
but something felt off…
This wasn’t how motherhood was supposed to feel. This wasn’t the fairy tale I had envisioned while I was pregnant. I felt disconnected…from you, from being a mom, from life. I told people…about how I felt disconnected, how it was getting wearisome to try and breastfeed you, that I didn’t feel like you and I were bonding. I was told it was just lack of sleep. I was told to just keep trying. I was told to ignore it. I remember calling the lactation consultant at the hospital – the very people who were supposed to be there to help – and being told, I was just clearly not trying hard enough. I was made to feel like I just wasn’t good enough, and not doing enough. Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a mom.
And then there was a freak storm in October…we lost power at the house so you and I went to go stay with abuela and grandpa. And I gave up. A small part of my brain knew it was better to make sure you were fed, than to keep struggling to breast feed you. I had failed you, I had absolutely and unabashedly failed you, and no one told me any different. No one told me that it was OK to feel the way I was feeling, that there was hep out there, that it was ok to try different ways of feeding you. In my hopes for us to bond, we switched to just formula…my body had failed you yet again, but at least you were eating and maybe now, we could bond.
But we didn’t…
I still felt so wrong. Again, the intellectual side of me knew there was something wrong, that this was way more than just lack of sleep and new motherhood, but no one was listening to my concerns, no one heard my fucking voice or the words I was saying. I was just the paranoid new mom who didn’t know any better.
Until the night, it wasn’t. We were home alone, and I was giving you one last bottle before bed…well until you were up again in 2 hours, but who’s counting. We were in your room, in the dark, and I looked down at you and felt…nothing. And it scared the shit out of me. I was so terrified, I immediately put you in your crib and called your dad, begging him to come home because I needed to go away; I needed to leave. It was at that moment, I didn’t give a fuck what people said – I needed help. Now. I need to reach out and ask for the help I so desperately needed before something horrible happened. I worried about how I was feeling and what it would mean for us, for me.
The next day, I called the midwife who had taken such good care of us before you were born, but for one reason or another I hadn’t seen for post-natal care. She immediately saw it for what it was…something that is so common but no one talks about. She diagnosed me with post partum depression, upped my medication ever so slightly and referred me to counseling. She told me it was absolutely OK to be feeling what I was feeling, and that it did not mean I was a bad person or a bad mother. She said that together, with the help of a counselor, we would get through this. I finally felt like someone was listening.
I remember those counseling visits with this amazing woman who let me just come, and sit on her couch, and cry. She would hold you, and I would explain how I felt nothing when I held you, but how I so desperately wanted to feel something because I knew I loved you…with every ounce of my soul, I knew I loved you, but I didn’t feel it, I couldn’t feel it. And all she did was listen…she listened and heard me, she heard my voice and the words I was saying, and said “it was ok.” And you, my brave, amazing boy, you just kept loving me…you would look at me, and smile, and make those adorable baby noises, and just kept being you. You would look at me with these deep, old, soulful eyes, and little by little, I started feeling again. Little by little, I grew to feel the love for you I knew I had for you. You, my little big man, saved me. It was in the knowing that it was OK to feel the way I was feeling, and that it didn’t make me a horrible person, that I started healing, that I started seeing the traumatic birth experience and the post-partum depression was real, not made up, and something that could be helped.
One of the things I learned is that despite postpartum depression being such a very real and scary and prevalent thing that happens to women, no one talks about it. No one really talks about depression, how it is ok to be sad…and to feel feelings. Depression is not some nasty thing to be swept under the rug…it is a very real, very scary, and very lonely thing. Postpartum might be even worse because while you are feeling those very real, scary and lonely feelings, you are also supposed to care for this small, helpless creature…oh, and you are supposed to bond with it and love it and be perfect for it.
I want you to know, my sweet sweet boy, that it is absolutely ok that your mom felt those things after you were born. It was not her fault, and it was not your fault. And maybe if people had listened to her words, to her voice a little sooner, we would have started our amazing journey a little bit earlier. But I wouldn’t trade our story for anything in the world. You taught me how to love, and how to speak up for myself, and for you. I knew things weren’t right, I knew this wasn’t how things were supposed to be. And YOU gave me the strength to reach out for help. And maybe, sweet boy, maybe by writing our story, someone else will reach out too and get help a little bit sooner. And my hope for you, is that you always feel like you can share your feelings with me…especially if you are sad, because I will always listen, I will always endeavor to hear your words and your voice.
I hope that our story will rest on the ears of some other mother, who might be struggling, not only with the midnight feedings, or the constant changes in a new baby, a mother who might have been told she’s just not doing it right, or who feels unheard. And my hope for that mother is that she reaches out to her doctor, to her counselor, to her family or friends, to anyone until she finally has her voice heard. Because while it is OK for you to feel this way, it doesn’t have to be this way, and there is help. Always speak up and ask for that help. Life is too important to struggle in silence. I hear you.