I never thought I’d cry in the middle of Target, trying to pick out a type of chocolate. But there I was, crying in Target, feeing so overwhelmed by the plethora of chocolate choices that I pushed my cart down the aisle and back again, with tears streaming down my face, my belly still swollen with that “no I’m no longer pregnant and I have the c-section scar to prove it” puffiness, and my hair not washed in days. I’m not even sure if I had brushed my teeth. I look back and thank God I had the decency to put a bra on. The worst part was, it wasn’t the first time. The even-worst part was, it wasn’t the last.
During my first few months of motherhood, I’m not sure who cried more – me or my son. And he cried a lot. A LOT. I cried when I went to bed. I cried when I woke up (every three hours max, thanks pumping!), grief stricken that I had to do it all over again. I cried in the shower. I cried when I got out of the shower and my breasts leaked, when just moments before we had failed at breastfeeding again. I cried in the car, at almost every song that could possibly be about motherhood (spoiler alert: It’s almost all of them). I cried when my husband left for work. I cried when he came home. I cried when my mother showed up. I cried when she left. I cried when we failed at breastfeeding – again. I cried when he drank so. much. formula, and I worried how we’d afford to keep up with his appetite. I cried when he wouldn’t sleep. I cried when he finally fell asleep. I cried when the dog barked and woke him up. I cried when people asked how much I loved my baby. I cried, three weeks after he was born, when I realized that I did actually love him.
I wish I could tell you that at my six week postpartum appointment that I asked for, and received help. That I acknowledged my pain and my heartache. That I admitted that I was struggling. But instead, I filled out my questionnaire with the answers I knew would pass the test. You see, I’m a survivor of a suicide attempt, and I have a history colored with depression and anxiety. I knew exactly what my doctor was looking for, and like hell was he going to find it in me. Looking back, I don’t know why I wasn’t more in tune with my struggle, but that’s the thing about motherhood, for me anyway. It brings with it this fierce desire to be wonderful at it. To have the answers. To be a natural, loving, perfect mother. And although in my heart I knew I was anything but, I was known for having my shit together. For making shit happen. For always having the answer. And there was no way in hell I was going to admit my perceived failings to a medical professional. How was I already failing at the deepest and darkest level?
And that, in a nutshell, is what postpartum depression feels like. The deepest, and the darkest. Because not only are you facing depression, which is, on a good day, a deep and a dark struggle on its own, but you’re facing it as a new mother. Your body just did something heroic – and terrifying. Your hormones are through the roof – or in the basement. Lack of sleep becomes that thing everyone joked about, but is now a reality. And suddenly, it’s not just you. You’re faced with the realization that no matter how you feel, and no matter what you do, another being is now dependent on you for every ounce of its continued existence. There is no rest for the weary. There is no time out. There is no reset (at least not for a while), where one day ends, and a fresh day full of hope begins. My first several weeks of motherhood were like Groundhog Day, with it repeating every three hours, every time I opened my eyes again. A fresh wave of pain and regret (and yes, tears) hit me all over again. Every. Single Time. How is this my life? How did I get here? Is it too late to give the baby back? Is my family better off without me?
But here’s the thing, mommas. You’re here. This is your life. It is too late (in the best way possible, I pinky promise). And no, your family will never, ever, not even for a solitary moment, be better off without you. They need you. And right now, you really need them. Especially that new little baby of yours.
Wondering how I survived postpartum depression? It was a combination of all of the following – take from it what you will, and promise me you’ll find what’s best for you:
1. I saw a therapist once a week. She was instrumental in my ability to accept motherhood, to accept myself as a mother, and to accept my baby as the baby he was, and not the baby I thought he’d be (that last piece alone was critical for a Type A new mother).
2. I got a lot of help. My husband was (and is!) an equal parent, and our families were instrumental in providing support and help. They took time off of work and rearranged schedules to help whenever they could.
3. I went back to work at six weeks postpartum. You might think that’s crazy, but it was helpful to me. It gave me back some routine and focus, which is critical for me, as a person.
4. We had family photos done when my son was three months old. Seeing him – and us – and me – through, literally, a different lens, opened my eyes to the reality of life. Seeing those photos was like taking my first deep breath in a very long time. I could finally exhale.
5. I stopped listening to the “just wait”s, which had me convinced that motherhood would ALWAYS be this deep, dark, struggle. I let myself believe that I had lived through the darkest. I still, to this day, believe that’s true. And I never, ever, tell a new parent to “just wait”.
6. Time. The newborn stage was painful for me, and looking back I have a lot of regret for both myself, and my son, with how I felt about it. That’s something I’m still working though. But as time went on, and it became a little less of GIVE GIVE GIVE, and a little more of GIVE GIVE get, it got easier. Now, as the mother of an almost-two year old, I still remember those days, but I have trouble understanding them. Time is the best healer of all.
7. I wish I had been open to medication. I say that in case you are struggling with this decision. I recently started a medication routine for depression and anxiety, and am seeing huge improvement in my every day life. Looking back, I wish I had been open to it during this difficult time in life. Hindsight, am I right?
Postpartum depression is deep. And dark. It can be the deepest. And the darkest. But if you pull yourself out, and you let others help to pull you out, then I promise that the light on the other side is the brightest and most beautiful that you will ever experience. You just have to get there.
If you feel you are in crisis and need someone to listen, please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Allow someone to listen to you in love.
(This blog is posted with Mommy In Flats We Are Motherhood Campaign. Head over to read more on postpartum depression and anxiety. You are not alone.)