Like most expecting moms, I had heard of postpartum depression. I had heard about the signs and treatments, and the likelihood of experiencing it. I had heard about baby blues as well. To be honest, I fully expected to go through the “normal” feelings of baby blues. But I can’t say I expected to be hit with postpartum depression. And I can’t say I expected it to come and go for as long as it did.
The first few months of motherhood were so emotionally confusing for me. I was constantly torn between wanting physical separation from my daughter, and not wanting to leave her with anyone because the only thing that stopped her crying was nursing. When people would ask, “Isn’t it the best thing ever?” I couldn’t help but want to yell and ask what part of this was the best thing ever. Was it the constantly interrupted sleep? The baby attached to your body almost 24/7? The feeling of losing the life you used to have? I was afraid to be open with people, afraid they would think I was a monster. I felt like I was expected to love every moment, but I just didn’t.
There was so much crying; both on my part and my daughter’s. I cried during nursing sessions in the middle of the night, I cried when my oatmeal boiled over in the microwave, and I cried when a family member suggested how to wash a swaddle. Some days I would lay in bed until noon with my daughter latched on. I wasn’t eating well, and I certainly wasn’t putting any of my needs first.
My Lowest Point
I had a lot of low points: frustration, hopelessness, you name it. But I think my lowest point was when I found myself looking at our bedroom stairs and saying to myself “If I fell down these stairs right now and ended up in the hospital, I wouldn’t have to take care of my daughter.” I was completely sleep-deprived, not eating well, and feeling isolated. That combination took me to such a dark place that allowed that thought to become possible.
Talk to Someone, Anyone
The standard follow up postpartum appointment is six weeks after birth. Six weeks is a long time if your mental health is suffering. When the nurse asked me about PPD, I told her I had experienced signs of it, but that I was feeling better. Everyone was happy, or so we all thought, but my PPD didn’t just go away. I didn’t realize it could “hibernate” and come back at any time. It came back when I was at my lowest. It did that for months. Looking back, the entire first year of my daughter’s life was an emotional roller coaster where depression would hit at any time.
Have Someone Looking Out For You
When my husband and I went through birthing classes, they talked about postpartum depression and how the mother is not likely to be aware she is suffering from it. They told us to make sure someone is keeping an eye on your mental health because they will notice it before you do.
My sister was the first one to say something to both me and my husband, and my sister-in-law shared with me some things that helped her. She suggested simple things like going outside for some deep breaths of fresh air and forcing myself to get up and walk around the house. So if there’s anything I can preach, it is to have someone – a spouse, parent, sibling, friend, – looking out for you. Someone who will be able to notice the signs of PPD, and be able to approach you about it.
Working Through PPD
Expectations seemed so high. I kept questioning how I was supposed to be a good mom AND a perfect wife? It all seemed so unrealistic and unfair. The thought that kept crossing my mind was, “Is this just how it is from now on? Is this how it will always be?”
The loss of independence was a shock to my system, and the fact that I couldn’t do anything at any time was difficult for me. I wanted to be the best mom I could be, but I didn’t know how to do that and keep my identity. The first steps were taking the pressure off myself, eating better, and getting a little more sleep. I wore my daughter in the carrier and took walks outside, or did simple household chores that brought me satisfaction. It took me a while to figure it out, but I just kept taking little steps. It also took me a while to understand and be okay with the fact that holding onto the old me was going to look a little different now.