My husband and I have always struggled to get pregnant. I remember the hopelessness, the nights I cried myself to sleep and the self enforced exclusion from my peers starting families of their own. My empty arms ached and I agonized over my body’s inability to do what women were supposed to just do naturally.
When I finally got pregnant with our first, a baby girl, we were overjoyed. The sense of gratitude and awe lasted through the pregnancy despite unending nausea, migraines and gallbladder attacks that were so frequent that the hospital staff knew me by name. I spent months decorating the nursery, making bibs, blankets and purchasing things for her. I was happier than I had ever been.
That’s why, I think Postpartum Depression caught me off guard. How could I be feeling so miserable and not love the baby that I had so desperately prayed for?
The first week after Lucy was born I rode a high of endorphins and adrenaline. I knew she was going to cry before she started and woke up for every feed and diaper change. I obsessed over keeping my house clean and staying on top of laundry. Lucy was my perfect miracle baby and I had to be perfect for her.
Week one soon became week two and then week three postpartum. Anytime I made a mistake or perceived I’d dropped the ball somewhere, I’d beat myself up for hours, sometimes days. I felt like I was sinking into a deep dark hole where no light could reach. I became obsessive with keeping the house clean, being the only person to take care of Lucy and project what I thought good moms did or looked like on social media. It was exhausting and I felt like I had no control.
Then one day, I snapped. Through my sobs, my husband gently and lovingly tried to comfort me, telling me what an amazing mom I was and how much Lucy loved me. I didn’t believe him. All I believed about myself as a mother were dark, hateful and suffocating. No matter how much I obsessively cleaned, or smiled and laughed with friends and family with Lucy in my arms I couldn’t get out of the dark pit I’d been pushed into by postpartum depression.
Later that day, I had a prescription for citalopram. After a few weeks, I felt like I had received the gift of myself. A few months later, I started counseling and gradually stopped taking the medication at my doctor’s recommendation. I was me, and because of that I didn’t have to try to be a perfect mom for Lucy. I already was without even trying because I was her mom.
My second pregnancy was even more difficult. The months passed with nausea, migraines, and hip pain that made walking sometimes impossible. I was induced at 41 weeks. After 1 hour and 10 minutes of labor, Atticus was born.
There was no emotional high this time. All Atticus did was scream, no matter what I did to try to soothe him. My baby and I felt like two puzzle pieces that wouldn’t fit together no matter how hard I tried. He wouldn’t latch on my breast and when he did it would only last a few seconds. My milk wasn’t coming in and despite watching every YouTube video on the proper latch, consuming a ridiculous amount of milk boosting foods and asking for advice while at the hospital, I was failing. Buying him formula physically hurt. I hated myself and felt like a terrible mother. I wanted more than anything to breastfeed him, but I couldn’t do it.
I began to take showers just so I could cry without anyone noticing. All I wanted to do was sleep and cry. I would spend hours at night while everyone was sleeping scrolling through social media looking at the picture perfect portrayals of motherhood and feel empty. I’d watch family vlogs and resent the mommas who were able to breastfeed and give out sage advice about it like free candy. I didn’t measure up to what my brain was telling me was the mother my kids needed.
I stopped leaping to comfort Atticus when he would start crying. If someone else was there, I’d get up and walk away or ignore him. When Lucy did something that would normally make me laugh, I felt nothing. If I didn’t feel hatred or loathing towards myself, I felt hollow and numb. It was as if my brain had added a heavy filter that transformed bright colours and warmth into blots of cold, inky black water filling my lungs, muting my hearing and blinding me. Often I felt like I was watching two children whose parents were late for pickup. I felt no connection to either of them and resented how often they’d cry.
Even more alarming in retrospect, because I didn’t adhere to perfect images of motherhood I purposefully surrounded myself with, I felt as though my children and my husband would be better off without me.
My husband would constantly ask me if I was okay and I’d try to reassure him and blame my constant neutral expression on exhaustion. Atticus had colic so neither one of us was sleeping.
One night after both the kids had been put to bed, he sat down on the couch across from me and said, “I love you and I’m worried about you. I know you’re not okay.” Tears streamed down my face as I shared my feelings, or lack thereof. The next morning he drove me to our doctor’s office to get help.
Postpartum Depression is a thief of joy. At a time in my life where I should have been the happiest, I felt empty, angry and sorrowful. Yet, I still felt like I had to project images of perfection to combat the feelings of inadequacy.
I have no idea what would have happened if my husband didn’t know the signs of Postpartum Depression. I might not be sitting here sharing my story with you today. One thing I do know is that every single woman who is struggling or has struggled with Postpartum Depression is a warrior; beautiful, powerful and amazing.
If you are drowning in inky black sorrow, you will feel light, joy and love again. It’s there all around you. Keep fighting, keep trying and allow yourself to be loved and supported because you are a warrior.