(not the most creative post title, but it's getting late! :) )
This is the first in a series of posts I’ll write about my turbulent journey into motherhood and experience with postpartum depression. It’s my hope that by being honest about my own situation, I can help other mothers get help when they might not have otherwise.
Most of the time, I felt hollow. A bone without marrow, brittle and empty, ready to splinter under my own weight. I desperately wanted time to myself, fantasized about it like water in a desert, but when I finally got it, it felt wrong. A mirage of an oasis on a distant hill -- I reached it only to have a mouth full of sand. I felt a tether attached to my heart; the organ was ripped from my chest every time I closed the door between me and my baby. I would think “Finally, a moment of peace,” only to realize that I was even more stressed than before. My mind raced, “What if she needs me? What if my milk is drying up even more because I’m away from her? What if she wakes up in ten minutes and I’m actually sacrificing time I could have been sleeping?”
When I did get time to myself, rather than relaxing, I obsessively completed “chores” that I held to be all-important. I spent hours folding cloth diapers just so, even though there were going to be opened up and shat on again within 12 hours. I organized the bottles and nipples and other crappy bottle-feeding accouterment with autistic precision onto the drying rack. (bottles on the left over the sink, nipples in a row each in line with a bottle, nipple rings after that, then the blue “airflow” attachment standing up next, followed by the beige nozzle that fitted into the blue part on the far right)
It wasn’t normal. I wasn’t myself.
I didn’t recognize it though, not for a long time. It was hidden behind lack of sleep, behind feeding problems, behind lingering exhaustion from the birth, and behind the grey and cold winter weather. And, I mean, is any new mum herself ever again? Having a child changes your world forever, whether you end up with depression or not. It is the biggest change one can have in life, I’d say, bigger than marriage or career or home-ownership, or a move across the country or around the world. Those things don’t change who you are. But having a child does. You become “Mom.” It’s the first time you live for someone else before yourself. Sure, when I got married, I started to consider my husband’s life in my decisions, but we could discuss things. He wasn’t wholly dependent on me, helpless without me.
It was terrifying.
Of course, there were other emotions: wonder at my beautiful daughter’s already expansive repertoire of facial expressions, heart-wrenching bliss every time she fell (forehead-thudding) asleep against my chest in her carrier, excitement when she reached every new tiny milestone (“She has eyelashes now! She has a voice! She’s unclenching her hands now!”) But, there was also terror, and a deep, deep sadness that it took me a long time to see behind all the other happy-new-mom feelings. I always thought that postpartum depression would be a sort of catatonic-state turn-your-back-on-motherhood kind of thing. I didn’t realize it could be both things. It almost made it worse, like “If I’m so happy to be a mom, how can this sadness even be real?
I was afraid not just that something would happen to Ebba, but also about what would happen to me. Would I ever be human again? Was I absolutely horrible for even having that worry? Was it unmomly to miss myself? Because, I did. I missed myself terribly. I missed the way I would spontaneously break into dance in the livingroom, the way I accelerated uncontrollably if there were no cars in front of me, the way I snuggled into David in the night. I missed my irresponsibility, I missed my youth, I missed my freaking hair; why the fuck did it keep falling out!?
I’m not sure what the worst part was, if it was the confusion over my situation, or the thought that I was all alone, that no one could possibly identify with me (though I had plenty of friends who said they did! I just assumed they had no friggin’ idea), or if it was the fact that I looked ahead and for the first time in my life I saw no light at the end of the tunnel.
Actually, I think the worst part was thinking that I had failed. I had an image of how I would be as a mum, and the word depressed was nowhere in that image. I thought of (and still do, sometimes) all the moments I had probably missed, all the activities I didn’t do: more baby yoga, mom meetups, babytime, babywearing groups, Mothers Unfolding, La Leche League. The thought that these early moments as a new mum will never be offered to me again devastated me. Even if I have another child, I will never be that fresh-out-of-the-shell new mummy, laughing and crying and commiserating with the other new mummies. (the fact that I actually did do a lot of these things was beside the point! hehe)
Though I have had friends who went through depression before, it was still difficult for me to admit that that is what was happening in my own life. I never really consciously thought, “I’m better than that,” before, but suddenly that’s what was running through my head. “It’s not depression, because I’m better than that.” It took one morning when all I did was cry to make me realize that I needed help. I finally, after four months of this, reached out to a friend and started making the calls I needed to make. I told my doctor, in a breaking voice (followed by a hurricane of tears), that I was “not dealing so well with the whole feeding thing,” and she jumped into action and got me connected with all the referrals I could possibly need. I found myself on the (incredibly long) waiting list for Reproductive Mental Health at BC Women’s hospital, and I googled support groups to try and get help sooner. Quickly, I found Hollie Hall at Pacific Postpartum Support and I attended my first support group two weeks later.
Once I acknowledged my problem and admitted it to people, there was an avalanche of support. It’s out there, if you ask. And, though at the time I didn’t think it would, it has helped immensely. My only big regret is not getting this help sooner. I enjoy life as a mom so, so much more now, and I wish I could have pushed that enjoyment earlier in Ebba’s first year, to when she was 2 or even 1 month, instead of 4 or 5.
My baby is going on 9 months now, and this milestone marks, in some way, my return to reality. I’m starting to go back to work, and, more importantly, I have ended most of my postpartum depression supports. On September 17, I attended my last support group, and on September 20, I met with the psychiatrist one last time.
As those who saw me the weekend after that know, I am not “fixed.” A few days of bad sleep and a few too many hours of the Facebook comparison game rendered me a blubbering idiot once more. But at least I am a blubbering idiot with strategies now, which (though it might not look like it while I’m crying into my tea at a cafe) makes a big difference. Because, really, this is nothing compared to how I was in the beginning.
I won’t go into the story behind those early days, or even my theories on why I descended into depression. It might have been the feeding stress, but many women have postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety (my diagnosis) without any such catalyst. Maybe it would have happened to me anyway. The causes don’t matter so much. What matters is realizing that so many women struggle with new motherhood, whether it be a tiny hiccup or a huge hurdle, but it is possible to get better. All you have to do is ask for help (again, whether it just be leaning on a friend over coffee, or talk therapy, or groups, or even medication.)
I am dedicating this post to expecting and new mums everywhere, whether you hit bottom as hard as I did, or just are struggling a bit with the hormonally low baby blues. It’s dedicated to the moms like me who thought, “that happens to other women, ones who don’t plan properly.” (Oh how wrong I was.) It’s dedicated to the expectant moms who are already worried that it might happen to them. It’s dedicated to the moms who wake up crying most mornings and don’t know why -- because they love their new baby so much, how could they be depressed? To the mums who think it’s a passing phase. And, you know, it’s even dedicated to the mamas who are totally blissed out, it’s dedicated to the bad days that even you have sometimes. No one is perfect, and no one should try to be.
But this is also dedicated to me, to my experience and to the strength that I have tried to muster over these past few months. And it’s dedicated to Ebba, for being so supremely awesome and helping me to overcome this without even trying.
I’ll write more soon with more specific information about my (continual) recovery process, so stay tuned and feel free to forward this to any new mums you know out there.