It was “only baby blues”. I was “only moody”. I was “only sleep-deprived” and “only hormonal”. I was blind to the obvious, I refused to see the truth. The truth, that is only so vivid in retrospect, that I had postpartum depression.
You see, I had my misconceptions about it. I had seen it egregiously depicted on television and in movies. I had heard and read the horror stories. I thought postpartum depression was something inherent to the act of mothering, instead of the much more simple and true definition that a woman has depression after having a baby.
Instead of looking for the signs in order to get help, I avoided them in order to resist being called out for being unfit. Besides, I was happy and okay for several weeks following my son’s birth, so I figured I had bypassed it somehow. It wasn’t the clearest path.
Stressful Life Events
Though I was initially overwhelmed by the newborn phase, the bliss of my healthy baby boy simply being so decidedly here and okay was enough to have me over the moon and joyous for weeks. I rocked the birth, I had this adorable little person who was healthy and adorable. I recovered well. My husband had several weeks of paternity leave. My mom stayed with us for a few weeks to help. I was a-okay.
And then life decided it wasn’t done with us. About a month after returning from paternity leave, my husband was laid off. Oh, and we had given our landlord notice because we were house-hunting. With a newborn.
Stressed would be the word.
I have since learned that postpartum depression is most likely caused by a combination of factors: sleep-deprivation (check), emotional stress (check), fatigue (check). Not to mention the hormonal changes and neurological changes that take place in our brains. One is also more likely to develop postpartum depression if they have experienced depression in the past (check), during pregnancy (check) and/or experience a stressful life event following the birth of a baby (check, check). Check mate.
My perinatal depression had quieted to a small, ignorable hum those first few months. I was aware I didn’t feel great, but I also was able to explain it away as baby blues, or mood swings and hormonal shifts following birth that equilibrate and stop over time. I managed to leverage any bad feelings against the profound joy I felt.
But steadily and maybe inevitably, sleep-deprivation and hormones and the depression that had emerged during my pregnancy started chipping away at that foundation of joy.
The depression didn’t really flare into a problematic level until after my husband started his new job and we moved with a five-month-old.
Pro tip: Don’t move with a five-month old if you can help it.
Once my husband got a new job, he was commuting much farther, and our new house, in our comparatively unwalkable neighborhood, became the hole in which my mental health festered and deteriorated. I was alone with my kiddo for twelve hours a day, exhausted, depleted, and completely unsure of myself.
I felt sad so much of the time. I fantasized about sleep constantly. I just wanted to feel like myself again.
I tried going to a therapist because I knew something was off. She was (and I don’t say this lightly) a moron and of no help, so that was a bust. I tried exercising, but my postpartum body didn’t function like my pre-baby body which was unbelievably frustrating, so that was a bust, too.
It was all so confusing. I was supposed to be only overjoyed, but what I felt more often than not was utterly unprepared, panicked, exhausted, and alone.
PPD Is Tricky
Postpartum depression doesn’t always look how you expect it to. The depression, the anxiety, never had to do with my son himself or being a mom, per se.
I’m actually incredibly proud that I took excellent care of my kid despite how hard of a time I was having. He was thriving, growing, adorable. He breastfed like a champ, his coos and babbles and snuggles were all my favorite things. I loved so much of that time together.
The darkness was all in and about me. I felt like I was defective as a person. That I was going crazy. I was panicked about SIDs to the point that even when he did sleep, I didn’t. I was furious and resentful and terrified that I felt depressed at all. That my life and myself were so unrecognizable to me.
I harbored guilt, feelings of inadequacy, and (unfounded) terror around my son’s health. I was so anxious that I would lose my friends because I had a baby and couldn’t be as available as I had been before. I worried myself into a state of numbed emptiness. God, it was awful.
In the end, I just suffered. Every day. Not all day every day, but every day. I hid it well, even from myself. I shoved it aside. I tried not to focus on it or wallow when I felt able. Other days, I would weep over the chaos in my brain.
I thought about death, but only as it related to my just not being bone tired anymore. Though it is very common, I am just plain lucky that I never felt suicidal or had thoughts of hurting myself. (This is not a judgement if you do. There is nothing to judge about a medical condition. Just GET HELP.)
I’ve learned that I suffered needlessly. That there was nothing brave or strong about suffering silently. It was dumb and narrow-minded. I truly wish that I had known what was going on with myself so much sooner, to save myself the pain and isolation of depression. I also wish I had trusted and offered my loved ones more opportunity to be there for me.
More on that coming tomorrow in Part 3.*
If you think you could have postpartum depression, don’t hesitate to get help. You deserve to be happy. You’re not at fault. It is a treatable medical condition. You don’t have to suffer.
Postpartum Support International: Call or Text the hotline, there are online support groups, a smart patients online forum, and so much more:
Help for Moms: Love their mission statement: “We are glad you are here. We want you to know that you are not alone and you are not to blame. Help is available. You will get better.”
Get The Facts: Learn more about perinatal mood disorders including symptoms, risk factors, & treatments.
*This is Part 2 of a five-part series in honor of Mental Health Awareness month. I will be posting about maternal mental illness and my own experience with postpartum depression and anxiety every day during mental health week (May 14-19) in an effort to reduce stigma and raise awareness for maternal mental illness. Read Part 1 here.
Photo Credit: Pexels.