Imagine. After several arduous hours of pushing a rather large object out of a rather small opening, you are finally holding the most beautiful baby that you have ever seen. He is looking up at you and responding to your voice and somewhere faintly in the background you are pretty sure you hear angels singing the “Hallelujah Chorus”. You start to count the fingers and toes as he snuggles on your chest and you breathe in that beautiful baby smell. From that moment on every moment, though tiring, is a joy as you watch your child grow and develop in the most special way.
What a load of crap.
Well, at least for me. My story went a little differently. Yes, there was pain. Four days worth of pitocin induced pain for my first beautiful baby boy. And the only thing I heard after that was my heart pounding in my ears and the sounds of nurses rushing out of the room with my baby who wasn’t breathing. My second boy had to be in the nursery for 48 hours with tubes and IVs poking out of his little hands to fight off an infection that passed from me during childbirth. By the time the nurses told me I was ready to leave the hospital, I was already depressed. I had no desire to go home and do this all on my own. Honestly, I would have stayed in the hospital forever if they had let me.
Now, the difficult events leading up to and immediately following the birth of both my children may not have been the catalyst leading to my postpartum depression, but I’m sure they didn’t help the matter. And no matter how many new mommies complain about how tired they are and post Facebook statuses to the effect of “I NEED COFFEE” or “WHY WON’T THIS BABY SLEEP?!?!?”, I now know deep down that those emotions (though completely valid and understandable) just don’t hold a candle to the depression that I, and many other women, have felt after giving birth.
I have now successfully gone through over a year (total) of postpartum depression, to the point where I finally sought professional help this past year. Too bad it took me so long to figure out what was wrong. I mean, what new mother isn’t tired and cranky? What new mother can’t keep a clean house because it just doesn’t seem to matter? Or, doesn’t really have the urge to get out of sweatpants and dirty, spit-up laden t-shirts?
What mother doesn’t have suicidal thoughts at 2:00 in the morning when that precious newborn just won’t stop crying?
Ok, so maybe this is more than just the normal stress and emotions that happen after your world is turned upside down with a new baby.
Sure, new mothers experience stress, fatigue, and the whole gamut of emotions after giving birth. Few, however, have the anxiety attacks that I had on a daily basis. Attacks that led to hyperventilation and caused my heart to practically pound out of my chest. And few find themselves unable to stop eating because that is the only respite in an otherwise awful existence. And I don’t know many mothers that feel like their family would be better off if they were out of the picture. But this worthlessness was my life, along with a sense that after only a few weeks of being a mother, I was already a complete and total failure.
Before I continue, fair warning to all those who have never experienced postpartum or any other kind of depression; what I am about to say may shock you.
What I really felt after my boys were born was a cacophony of scary emotions and the desire to throw myself off the roof of a building, or at least punch a nice sized hole through the wall. My mind never stopped running. I kept thinking, “Is JJ getting enough quality sleep at night? What if I don’t feed him enough vegetables? Should I try to get out with him today or is it even worth the effort? Should I hang out with friends and accept their graciously offered help, or should I avoid them and not deal with the hassle of making this place look presentable just so they can come over and help me clean?”
And that was just the beginning.
There were days when I called Josh and begged him to come home simply because I felt like I was drowning in a sea of emotions and couldn’t even function enough to make it one more minute without another adult in the room to tell me it was OK. I found that I wanted to hurt somebody, especially myself. “I swear, if that baby wakes up one more time tonight, I’m gonna rip out all my hair!!”
Even after several weeks home with my first boy, I still didn’t feel any maternal bond with him. The typical elation and joy that most women express after having their first born eluded me. In fact, I didn’t understand how new mothers could be happy at all. What was there to be happy about? Sure, I had a lot of emotions running through me, but joy and contentment were not among them. Women who talked about the joys of being a new mommy and how it was the best thing that ever happened to them must be putting up a front because I never once felt like that.
It became incredibly obvious that something was serious wrong when I found myself in the bathtub crying my eyes out a week after my first boy was born. The doctor recommended regular baths to help me heal, at least 15 minutes twice a day. No problem, right? Only, this simple task was the most stressful and depressing time of my day. I sat in the bath while Josh kept JJ busy in the other room and all I could do was cry. I was still in a lot of pain. I felt guilty for leaving my boy, even for just a few minutes to help my body heal. I felt annoyed when Josh couldn’t get JJ to calm down and stop crying. I felt like I just needed a few minutes to myself but I couldn’t enjoy it because I was so stressed about getting back to my boy and comforting him the way only a Mommy knows how (said with slight sarcasm). I felt angry at myself for feeling all the above emotions and for not simply enjoying a few brief moments alone without laying an immense guilt trip on myself.
With my second child, the first couple weeks proved to be manageable and I even thought I would get through this one unscathed. But, it came creeping up on me without my even noticing. Pretty soon, every day was drudgery. I couldn’t face one more toddler tantrum, or screaming baby with belly problems. Every night was depressing because I knew I would be up all night trying to feed and comfort the baby. Then, in the morning it was even worse because I had to face the whole day alone with a toddler who wouldn’t eat anything except cereal and macaroni and cheese and got a thrill out of screaming bloody murder during his brother’s naps. I couldn’t even accept help from others because I felt bad unloading my kids onto someone else. Even when family visited I couldn’t enjoy a short respite because I was too busy worrying about being a bother to other people and stressed that they may mess up a nap or feeding schedule.
To top it off, I had these incredibly, ludicrously high expectations for myself as a mother. Surely I could get my kids to eat healthy, be on a perfect nap schedule, let me change their diapers without a reenactment of World War II, all while teaching them the alphabet, colors, a new song or two, and all about Jesus’ love and every Bible story I could muster.
Sounds a little extreme, but I still have days where if I don’t do at least 3 things on that list I feel like a failure.
The worst part was well-meaning friends and family who tried to tell me that I simply needed to “calm down” and “relax” and enjoy my beautiful boys because these times are just “so precious” and they grow up “too fast”. I get that, really I do. But, honestly, if them growing up means I get to end this depression, then good-riddance sweet baby clothes and cute little footsy pajamas and hello to grown up teenage boys with the ability to walk, eat, bathe, and clean up all on their own (not saying that they will, but at least they will be able to). There is something to be said for simply empathizing with a person going through a horrible time; crying with them and holding them and just leaving it at that.
And now for the truly shocking piece of this story. Please understand that, though embarrassing, the following is simply a fact of postpartum that can no longer be ignored. Too many women suffer through this in silence and shame when they should be speaking out and getting help. The worst and most excruciating part of this depression is my attitude toward my beautiful boys. Though I adore them and would never wish them any harm, depression can do funny things to your subconscious. It can make you want to do drastic things to quiet a crying baby. It can make you want to harm your own child. Though I never, ever acted on these emotions in any way, and am rather ashamed to admit them now, this is a fact that can’t be ignored. When you have hormones racing through your body, you have minimal sleep and a newborn crying all night long, you’d be surprised where your mind can take you. It goes to a very dark place that is incomprehensible to anyone who has never experienced it before. It can make you want to do something you would never in your right mind even consider. That is the nature of this beast, and that is what is quietly destroying so many women who feel they can’t utter such horrible feelings to another human soul. And that, in my opinion, is what is truly tragic about this disease. Yes, it can fairly and adequately be called a “disease”.
It came to a climax when my youngest boy got sent to the emergency room at 2 ½ months with RSV (a respiratory virus). I was with him for five days in the hospital, but by the second day I had to ask Joshua to come stay the night with us because I just couldn’t handle it alone. My poor boy was going through torture just trying to breathe and getting his nose suctioned out every few hours and all I could think of was the stress of trying to manage his sleep schedule and feeding schedule with all the wires coming off of him. After an hour of crying to Joshua and unloading all of the emotions that I hadn’t yet shared with him, he looked at me and told me I needed to get help.
That’s when I started going to counseling. As I started airing all my dirty laundry to a my counselor (or, rather, the least embarrassing highlights), and she proceeded to tell me what should have been obvious, but became abundantly clear when a complete stranger confirmed, “Yes, you are depressed, but you also have an extraordinary amount of anxiety and stress!” That’s when I knew I had gone over the edge. I was crazy and something had to be done before I drove my husband insane. Then who would take care of our kids? The worst part was that I couldn’t even tell my counselor the whole truth about what I was experiencing because I was too embarrassed. Still, the cloud started lifting and slowly I started to feel human again.
One thing became very clear to me during this healing process. God could have healed me a long time ago. He maybe would have if I had thought to ask. It took until a month ago before I finally started praying for this to end. One thing I know for sure, if I am going to go through all this crap, there better be a payoff. And I mean more than just that “inner character” and “this will make you stronger” stuff that most people like to spout off. Don’t get me wrong, there is something to be said for learning from your painful experiences and growing in them. There are even some great Bible verses to that effect. But if one more person tries to tell “comfort” me with those wonderful one-liners, I think I’m going to have to punch them in the face. For this type of distress and depression, I want to see real, tangible benefits for all that I had to go through.
And now for the payoff. For all those women who have gone through or are currently going through postpartum, I want this to be your letter of understanding and camaraderie. I want to unmask this awful depression so we can stop being embarrassed about our feelings and start doing something about them. I want us to stop being afraid of those other mothers, those seemingly perfect, “June Cleaver”, “my house is always clean and my 2 year old already knows how to read and write in English AND Latin!” Postpartum or not, we are all different women with different skills and abilities, and we need to stop comparing ourselves to one another and instead start helping and supporting each other. That is all I want to do. To show you that I have my shortcomings and I am nowhere near a perfect mother, but I love my kids. I would do anything for them. And the most important thing I can do for them right now, is to make Mommy better. To get past this depression and find a way to grow and learn from it so that I can be a better mother in the future. And in case you were wondering, no I am not fully healed yet. My second boy is 6 months old and I am on the road to recovery, but I still have my bad days. But, little by little, my bad days are becoming better and better and they come around less. I am starting to understand what it means to be a mother who is actually happy to be a mother and can enjoy her children and see them as pieces of my heart instead of catalysts of stress.
Beyond my own healing, I want to be that voice that you need to hear. That voice of understanding and maybe even a little hope. Hope that this can and will get better. But most of all, that voice that says you are not alone, you are not a bad mother, and that this is NOT YOUR FAULT. It’s just not. You have to know that. You have to know that you couldn’t have done anything different to avoid these hormones and emotions that have taken control of your insides.
So, again, I repeat, THIS IS NOT YOUR FAULT. Say it out loud, repeat it. Heck, write it on your bathroom mirror with lipstick if that’s what it takes. But get it through your head.
If this is the good that comes out of my depression, then that is OK with me. In fact, that makes it more than worth it. I know that’s hard to hear, because many people wouldn’t agree that going through hell would be worth it just so you can comfort someone else or give them some peace and healing. I get that. And, honestly, sometimes the pain I have experienced didn’t seem to reap any benefit whatsoever. But just this once, I am saying that it was worth it for me and I have come to terms with that. I am going to make it worth it by sharing my story and finding a way to help other mothers find hope. Find help. Find healing. That is worthy of my pain. You, mothers with postpartum, are worthy of my pain.
Now, go find that lipstick.
**If it is possible that you or someone you love is experiencing postpartum depression, please follow the below links for confirmation and answers: