My Secret: Surviving Postpartum Depression
There are things that moms just don't say out loud. Well, I’ll stick to my own experience…
I had a beautiful pregnancy. I was never sick, I slept peacefully and deep even until the end. I was rarely uncomfortable physically or emotionally. I didn’t struggle with weight gain. I felt more beautiful than I’ve ever felt and all my body image issues vanished. I loved being pregnant; I loved feeling her move around and kick me. I loved going on walks with “my little passenger” as I called her. I never felt alone. I was the happiest I’ve ever been in my whole life.
In the final moments at the hospital before I delivered her, my body began shaking almost convulsively. I wasn’t cold. I heard the doctor tell my husband not to worry, “it’s a sign of the hormones leaving her body”—of the baby leaving my body (I cried as I typed that). I think it was actually her spirit leaving me. As I held this tiny beautiful being in my arms, I was in awe. In that very moment I knew with certainty my purpose in life. I thought, “Oh there you are!”. I already knew her. As I held her, I missed her.
I cried in the hospital bathroom when I took a shower for the first time and felt my soft, squishy, empty belly. She was gone. Even though I kept reminding myself over and over that she was safe and sound right outside the door, I couldn’t shake the feeling. The truth is, I was mourning a loss. My relationship with her had changed. The spiritual connection I had with her while I was pregnant was now physical, and it was hard for me to comprehend that it was the same baby. I felt separation anxiety as I held her in my arms. I couldn’t rationally talk myself out of feeling like I had lost a baby. I felt like someone had cut off my arm, a piece of me was gone. My little passenger had left. It was 3 weeks before I stopped crying in the shower.
As I looked around me, I had a loving and supportive husband, and a perfect and healthy little girl. I was surrounded with all of these wonderful things that should have made me happy, yet my whole world was crashing down around me. I felt so guilty that I felt so depressed; I felt undeserving of all the gifts in my life. I felt unworthy and eventually unfit to be a mother. I thought my husband and baby would be better off without me. I was ashamed and disappointed in myself. I hid these thoughts with smiles and Instagram filters. I portrayed myself as the mother I thought I should be. People would say to me, “You look great, how’d you lose all the baby weight!?” and I’d think, “Oh I just don’t eat because I’m so stressed out and got an ulcer as the result of taking 600mg Ibuprofen four times a day on an empty stomach, and every time I do eat I get a stomach ache so bad that only lying on the floor in the fetal position feels comfortable”. My actual response: “Aww thanks, just good genetics I guess!”
I began having horrific thoughts of bad things happening to my daughter. They would consume me, and in the moment I’d go through the emotions as though it was actually happening. Sometimes I’d end up on the floor in tears, other times I’d stop breathing until I involuntarily gasped for air. I’d imagine every terrifying, gruesome detail. That’s not the worst part; sometimes it would be me hurting her in my nightmare. I didn’t want to hurt her, the thought was sickening and repulsive. But why would I even imagine such a revolting, thing? I wasn’t even frustrated in the moment or overwhelmed. I was convinced that if anyone found out my secret they’d take my child away from me; at any moment Child Protective Services would be banging down my door and I’d be locked away. I wasn’t honest about what was going on and as the result I suffered alone for 7 months. I would die with this secret if it didn’t kill me first. I began isolating and obsessively protecting my child. The outside world and everyone in it became a threat to her; a threat to me. I knew if anything tragic happened to her, I couldn't go on living. I kept her alive to keep me alive. I was consumed with fear and agony. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t feel worthy of self care, love, or compassion.
On the outside I smiled and replied, “I’m great!” when someone asked me how I was doing. Truthfully, I couldn't articulate how I was doing and frankly I didn’t care. All I cared about was keeping my little baby alive. Feeding her, not me. Bathing her, not me. Hell, I’d go hours before I’d use the bathroom. The only voice in my head other than the one saying I was an awful mom, was the one reminding me that being a mom means your baby's needs come before your own and it would be selfish to think otherwise (I’ll expand later on how this is actually completely backwards).
I’ll finish for now with this…I’m scared you’re judging me right now as you read this. I fear everyone will believe what I’m really afraid of, that I’m a terrible mother; that my child would be better off without me. I don't feel brave for being honest, I feel vulnerable and terrified. Honestly, I still feel ashamed. The words in my head I try to listen to are, “what if?”. What if all this self-shaming, self deprecation and fear is a bunch of B.S. What if I’m just a new mom battling Postpartum Depression and adjusting to a new reality, a new normal. What if I’m actually a good mom? What if I’m not alone? What if I’m really okay? If someone reading this, suffering too, can feel a little peace knowing they aren’t the only one struggling as a new mom, then maybe my experience was worth something. I still have bad days but as time passes they become further apart. It does get better. Our situations may look different but the feelings remain the same; it’s real and it's scary. Most importantly, we’re not alone.