I always thought I would love being a mom.
At age 30, I had a semi-decent grip on my life and figured this would be a great time to start the family my husband and I had always talked about. I'd always loved kids, and I even had experience with my sister's son two years prior. I was at the hospital when my nephew was born, and I had a knack for soothing him when he was fussy. I adored him and loved to spend time with him; I figured this was what being a mother was all about.
Spoiler alert: That is not what new motherhood is about.
At least, not for me. No one really plans for things like postpartum depression. Being a new mother is difficult, but adding PPD to the mix makes it feel like you're drowning. But I wanted to share my story for all the new moms who feel guilty. Who feel like failures. Who feel like they made a mistake for having a baby. I wish I had known that motherhood isn't natural for everyone, that it's ok, and that you can get help.
When I got pregnant with our son Reid, I had a clear vision of what my life would be like. After all, I had plenty of baby experience with my sweet nephew, so I knew exactly what to do! My husband, Kirk, and I decided about halfway through the pregnancy that I would leave my good job at the prosecutor’s office and stay home with our baby. It’s what I wanted, and he was cool with it. The baby and I would lounge around the house together, play at the park, take leisurely strolls around the neighborhood. I was ready for my new life to begin.
About four weeks before Reid was born, Kirk’s dad died suddenly. For anyone who knew my father-in-law, he was an absolute force. His mere presence filled the room. I loved being around him—there was something about his self-assuredness that I found incredibly comforting. He had been teaching Kirk to take over the family business for the past couple years; now with only a few weeks left 'til my due date, my husband unexpectedly took over his family business and there was a huge, gaping hole in our lives.
Reid was born (against his will, thanks to an induction) on a Monday. On Tuesday, I had an absolute breakdown in the hospital. I told Kirk that this is where I live now—in the maternity ward—because there are nurses and people to help me here. I felt like I couldn't do this at home. The nurses basically had to kick us out on Wednesday.
I figured what I was feeling was pretty normal; I had just birthed a human being after all. To say hormones are all over the place is an understatement. They should find their balance again soon, I thought. It's just the "baby blues." Give it time.
So I did. For a couple weeks I tried to pull myself together. Breastfeeding was so much harder than I thought it would be, and I sighed with relief when the pediatrician suggested we try formula. Reid cried all the time; he would scream from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. every night, and intermittently throughout the day. Since the weather was nice, Kirk frequently took him outside on a walk to calm him down. It worked, like, 30 percent of the time. Sometimes in the morning, I would take Reid outside because the crying didn't feel as loud out there.
I hated this new life. This was nothing like I had imagined.
Instead of relishing motherhood as I'd expected, I found myself resenting my baby.
I coped by getting breaks away from Reid as often as I could. If someone came over to help, I handed them the baby and went to our basement guest room to take a nap. The first piece of new-mom advice from medical professionals and friends alike is to always “sleep when you can,” so my guest room naps seemed like the perfect solution. Still, I was exhausted. I couldn’t seem to find energy to do anything. I was crying several times a day but couldn’t figure out why. I thought, this is my life now. I live in the basement, apart from my family, and I hate it. Reid shared Kirk's and my bedroom, and Kirk did all the middle-of-the-night feedings. (Did I mention how much I love him, and what a saint he is?) I felt incredible guilt over how much Kirk was doing with the baby; his father had just died after all. I was also jealous of how bonded he seemed to be with Reid. I hardly felt a bond at all.
Despite the frequent crying, I felt almost no emotion. I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t exactly sad, I just…was. Frequently I became anxious over small things, like Kirk leaving for work in the morning. Or Reid sleeping too much or not enough, eating too much or not enough—standard baby things. I am a total TV junkie (name a show and I’ve probably seen at least one episode) yet I wouldn’t even turn on the TV because I didn’t enjoy it anymore. After about 4 weeks, Kirk more or less forced me to call my obstetrician and reach out to a friend who had trouble after her first baby was born. My OB prescribed some anti-depressants, which he said could take up to 6 weeks to fully kick in. Awesome. My friend recommended her therapist, and I made an appointment for a few days later.
My therapist had me fill out a survey indicating whether a person seems to have postpartum depression/anxiety or not. My score was nearly off the charts. I proceeded to cry for almost the whole hour and kept apologizing for being a mess. My new therapist told me something I never expected to hear, something that completely shifted things for me: Newborn babies are sometimes hard to like. They take without giving, and it’s especially hard to “treasure each moment” when they are purple-faced with screaming. Hearing this made me feel so much better and less of a failure.
I continued to see my therapist frequently, and we figured out the correct dosage of the medication I had been taking. She helped me with some cognitive therapy as well. Very, very slowly I started to feel better. I felt not exactly confident as a mother, but adequate. Everyone was still alive, including me. I started doing normal things again. Then, one day, about 2 months into therapy, I experienced a major turning point: I held Reid for his entire nap. I could have put him down in the bassinet, but I wanted to hold my baby. This was a huge.
Life went on. Things became manageable again. I became myself again, and Reid became my sweet, funny child. That's not to say he is the easiest kid—he seems to have inherited my stubbornness and penchant for having things "just so"—but I genuinely love who he is, and I love being his mother.
I still take some medication, especially after our daughter, Sydney, was born. Things were much better and less intense the second time around—I knew what to look for, how to cope, and we started medication immediately after birth (after being off it during the pregnancy). I wasn’t ashamed of my feelings like I was the first time, barely able to tell my friends and family. I even took in the mail and watched TV.
While even this story is very difficult for me to share, now that I feel more equipped to talk about it, I have found that numerous friends have had similar experiences, in varying degrees. I had no clue, because people just don’t talk about it. I never thought this would happen to me either. But it did, and I got through it.
I remember back to those days in the basement, when I thought "this is the way my life is now." I now know that was postpartum depression talking; it wasn't the truth. Thanks to the care of my husband, the help of my doctors, and the support of my family and friends, I know that while the postpartum period can be very hard, things can be better.
For more information and resources on postpartum depression, click here.
Photo Credit: Horace and Mae