My Experience with Postpartum Depression
As much as you may want to, please resist the urge to get prescriptive on me or Theo about anything after reading this. You may feel compelled to recommend probiotics or lavender or eliminating dairy or ask me if I’ve looked into X. Please don’t. Because 1) nothing is helpful in retrospect, and 2) I lived in this reality for MONTHS. If you thought about it after reading my experience, I promise you I did too. We looked into everything. We had everything checked. There were doctors and naturopaths and baby chiropractors in and out of our lives for months. There was nothing “wrong” with either of us (fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you see it, haha). This was just a sucky chapter in our lives and we’re happy to have moved past it.
Also, keep in mind that at the time of this post, I’m feeling much better.
Let’s get into it.
IN THE THICK OF IT
“So do you love being a mom?” The first time I heard this was 5 weeks postpartum. I forced a smile at the barista who asked and politely replied, “absolutely,” before walking home to my perpetually screaming new baby. Later that same week I left Theo with my husband to step out for some fresh air. The streets were empty except for one car speeding down the street I was about to cross. I briefly thought that if I timed my steps just right, I could “accidentally” get hit. No no, not so badly I would die (though that didn’t scare me), but just a little. Like, just enough that I’d have to be in the hospital for a minute. At least it would be quiet there, right? And I wish I could write about just one specific memory when I felt completely inadequate to mother Theo, but those feelings haunted me every hour of every day for months.
So at 5 weeks in, how do I even respond to a perfectly innocent yet totally loaded question like, “So do you love being a mom?” I wasn’t upset that she asked; we can’t expect strangers to anticipate and appropriately react to our internal struggles. But this question killed me. My husband explained it REALLY well: asking me this at 5 weeks in is like asking someone who just quit their job to start a business if it was worth it. How could you possibly know the answer to that yet?! It’s barely even begun!
If the answer to that question isn’t 100% positive, you’d never respond honestly because that question is never “just a question.” You always hear longing in people’s voices when they ask about the newborn days. They talk about how magical they are and how much you’ll miss them, but I wish someone told me that it’s not the newborn days that put the longing in their voice now; it’s who that newborn becomes that makes them ache to relive the beginning. The semi-sentient potato that does nothing but eat, cry, and poop doesn’t feel like the same person you fall in love with a few months later when they flash their toothless grin and reach up to you from their tiny bed.
I’m sure it’s true the newborn days are the highlight for some people, but they were very dark for me. Well, for both my husband and I, but I’m speaking only from my perspective here. The brutal lack of sleep, 24/7 breastfeeding, and brain-rattling baby screams chipped away at my sanity and depression snuck up on me before I even knew what happened. The fourth trimester is difficult for anyone, but for first few months of my baby’s life, I sincerely thought I ruined my own.
What really did me in? Well, Theo was a crier. In medical terms, he had colic.
WHAT IS COLIC LIKE?
“…frequent, prolonged and intense crying or fussiness in an otherwise healthy infant.” Contrary to popular belief, it is not gas and it is not reflux. And if you’re thinking, “well, babies cry!” Also, no. It’s true that an average baby sometimes cries for seemingly no reason. It’s just their way of coping with a new environment so there’s always a little of that regardless of the baby. A colicky baby cries at least 3 hours a day, at least 3 days a week, for at least 3 consecutive weeks. Our baby cried almost every waking minute every day of his life until he was nearly 4 months old, at an intensity that was so alarming, our nerves were shot before sunrise daily. We were jittery and drained 24/7 and that’s not an exaggeration.
Newborns have the type of cry that’s supposed to make you jump into action. It’s piercingly high and shockingly loud. Fun fact: newborn cries reach 130 decibels, which is as loud as a machine gun. The threshold for pain is 120 decibels and normal conversation is about 50 decibels. The reason for this intensity is biological, it’s smart, and it’s how they’d survive if abandoned. But to hear it on loop for hours and hours, day after day, while being told nothing is wrong by every doctor you visit, and it’s just something to endure? That’s a special kind of torture we were not ready for.
We went to 3 different pediatricians, convinced something was wrong, but everyone said the same thing: He’s perfectly healthy, it’s just “developmental,” “it’s colic.” And everyone we spoke to said, “it goes away by 3 months. Hang in there! Three months!” So when we hit that magical 3 month mark and almost nothing changed, you can imagine how much deeper I slid into the quicksand that is depression. It was more of the same… Theo would wake up, have a few minutes of peacefulness, then quickly melt down into unstoppable crying for hours, or until the next time we could get him to sleep (which was another struggle I’ll go into in its own post).
During one of my desperate Google searches to figure out how to fix my baby, I found this: “Navy SEALS are trained to withstand torture by putting them through sleep depravation with the sound of crying babies blasting through the speakers.” I felt so validated! I wasn’t crazy for thinking this was torturous– it was exactly as awful as I felt it was.
WHAT PPD FELT LIKE FOR ME
I felt like I was living with a veil over my eyes. I could see everything everyone else was seeing, but blurred. Life was so, so hard with a baby that never stopped crying, and coupled with extreme sleep deprivation, I just couldn’t find happiness anywhere. There were weeks I cried every day, feeling utterly broken by this experience. I’ve never felt so trapped or hopeless and I didn’t think this could be a temporary feeling either. I couldn’t blame hormones, I couldn’t blame colic, and it never even crossed my mind that I might be depressed. I thought I needed to take responsibility for these feelings— it was no one’s fault but my own. After all, I chose to have a baby.
I talked myself out of believing I could be depressed because it didn’t look like what I heard commonly described in the media. People with PPD wanted to hurt their children, right? All those women on Moms Who Murder had PPD. I told myself I don’t have PPD because I adore my son and actually fear something bad might happen to him.
Also, I thought babies are supposed to need their mothers, but I truly believed my baby was different; as long as I replaced the food source, he didn’t need me at all. And more than just not needing or wanting me, I thought he actively hated me. I’m not joking or being hyperbolic. I’ve never experienced anything as emotionally painful as being unable to calm my own baby as he screamed in my arms. I thought it was me. I thought he didn’t know or care who I was.
Despite that, every day I woke up and tried to convince myself that I was fine. I was *good*. I was that cartoon dog sitting at his kitchen table, surrounded by fire going, “This is fine!” 😀 And for a while I believed it. The first crack in my armor came while I was casually talking to Adrien in our kitchen and said, out loud for the first time, that Theo is a much more difficult baby than I expected to have. For some reason, putting these feelings into words made it real. It meant it was true– I was having a hard time.
PPD and PPA (Postpartum Anxiety) can affect anyone regardless of the temperament of their babies, but for women whose babies have colic, the percentage goes up to between 70-80%. But it wasn’t until two months later that I found list of postpartum depression characteristics that made me rethink my beliefs that I was a bad mother and that Theo hated me. Maybe they weren’t “truths,” but symptoms:
– persistent feelings of inadequacy
– sadness beyond the first 2 weeks postpartum
– hatred of your new life
After reading that list I sort of perked up! I thought, “Wait, THAT’S depression?! Well shit I definitely have that!” 😂 The whole concept was pretty foreign to me because I’ve never been depressed before. I’ve had anxiety, but anxiety exists on the opposite end of the spectrum. Anxiety feels like a bad high whereas depression is slow and low and deep.
I could hardly talk about Theo without crying because the topic of my son just made me so sad. In those early days I stopped following moms on Instagram because they ALL seemed so happy, I’d get angry seeing it. What did I do to deserve such chaos? What did I do wrong to break my child? I felt like maybe *I* was broken because I wasn’t having this magical, blissed out experience with my new baby. We weren’t even getting those mythical “good days” people raved about. You know, when people say, “ah, but the good days are REALLY great, right?” I felt like I was back in middle school pretending to understand a joke. Like, HA HA HA! Hold on, wait, what do you mean by “really great”? If by that you also mean “still moderately bad” then yeah I guess we have those!
And somehow it made it even worse knowing not everyone has a baby like this. Family members felt bad for us because of how much our boy cried and somehow that was at once comforting and horrible because we realized, “wow, so this is really bad…”
Our baby cried a lot. A lot, a lot. But on top of that, everything else was just hard. It was a never ending cascade of difficulty. Breastfeeding didn’t come easy for us, healing after the birth was hard, our house was in disarray because he was born 2 weeks before his due date, and I STILL had tonsillitis when we came home from the hospital (which I got 5 days before my water broke). I was getting 2-3 hours of sleep every 24 hours. Oh, and my family was here from the US for 5 weeks straight during this time. It was all just too much.
It’s so easy to think no one would judge anyone for having PPD until it’s YOU. Then you feel like everyone would judge. Everyone would think you’re unfit to be a mother. Everyone would try to take your baby from you (it sounds irrational but YES, you truly DO fear this!). Everyone would think you’re weak. Everyone would think you’re dramatic. In my case, I thought everyone would think I was doing something wrong because my baby won’t stop crying. And EVERY.GODDAMN.PERSON. will stare you dead in the face and ask, “are you sure he’s not just hungry?” Or, “does he have a dirty diaper?” These questions were infuriating because I genuinely want to know what those people thought we were doing while our baby screamed his face off. Staring at the wall? Or doing every thing you could possibly think of (including plenty you’d never think of) to try to fix it? Everyone was trying to help, but all those comments just made me feel even more inadequate. How bad of a mother must they think I am that I wouldn’t even try to FEED or CHANGE my baby?
All of this “advice” fed into the narrative I already had playing in my head: I am a failure. I’m psychologically destroying Theo. I cannot fix him, therefore, my son hates me.
So yeah, with all that going on, you just hide it. And let me tell you– it is SO easy to hide on social media. It’s SO easy to put on a happy face for a few 15 second videos every other day. It’s SO easy to only show what you want even in a psychological, emotional free fall. I’m telling you this because I knowingly perpetuated that narrative of perfection, of everything being “fine,” when I was breaking down inside.
HOW I FEEL NOW
I kept waiting to talk about this because I was waiting for a clear end. Like, I don’t know, some grand finale where the depression mailed me a letter and formally resigned. Maybe a press release. Something! But it doesn’t work that way. Postpartum depression isn’t a finite experience and it doesn’t just end abruptly. It ebbs and flows and fades over time, but otherwise it’s like the weather. You might have a week of sunshine followed by three days of thunderstorms. And depending on the season, over time those storms get further apart and less intense, but you get used to the fact that storms happen.
So today at 7.5 months postpartum, I feel much better. The fog started to lift around 5 months when Theo’s crying subsided and began sleeping better (due to our own efforts– not by magic), but I still have bad days sometimes. I mourn the experience I expected to have which was to have a baby that required waking up a lot at night and lots of attention. In other words, a normal amount of work for a new baby. But I also thought I’d have a baby who would be easily comforted by his Mama holding him, even as a newborn. I wanted the newborn experience others have where your baby peacefully sleeps on your chest for hours on end. Honestly, it still stings when I compare our experience to others.
In general, I’m doing better. Newborns are a whole different breed of human, but now I feel like my 7.5 month old boy loves and likes me. I love and like him. I feel like I have a son, not just a baby. And that’s a distinction no one talks about when it happens. Some women instantly get that “MY SON/DAUGHTER IS HERE WOW” feeling when their children are born. I didn’t. I loved him and I thought birth was amazing and I was in awe of my baby, but he was kind of just that: a baby. I feel like he didn’t feel like my SON until later on.
But more days than not, this feels like the love story I always read about between mothers and their sons. My boy. My baby. My little human puppy 😆 I find him irresistible in every way and in 90% of every moment, even the hard ones.
One perspective that carried me on dark days was the notion that our children choose us before they get here. I’m about to get a little woo-woo on you, so stay with me! Their spirits seek us out and create contracts with our souls before they decide to enter our lives. They choose us based on what qualities and nurturing they need in order to fulfill their purpose on Earth (even including children who are adopted!). I thought this was beautiful and every time I caught myself thinking Theo hated me, I remembered this. He chose me. He needs me. So even on the days I sobbed while he screamed, convinced he hated me and he chose wrong, I chose to be there for him and show up fully with all the patience I could muster.
HOW I’M HEALING
For me, the best therapy has been to stop ignoring my feelings and pretending like I don’t feel bad sometimes. I talk it out endlessly with Adrien and a couple people who are close to me, including one girlfriend who had a baby just like Theo (who’s now one of my favorite kids EVER). Another thing that’s been huge has been getting in some kind of solo activity regularly. It’s getting to the gym and on my mat, and solo walks and time to write. And yes, also talking to a therapist but I’m still on the hunt for someone who’s a good fit.
Find what you need to feel heard and validated. It could be therapy or medication or a combination of both. It could be yoga or hiking or pedicures or a combination of all of the above. There’s no one right “cure,” but the common thread is that you find a way to reconnect to yourself. To be corny, feel your feelings.
I really hesitated to write about this at all. I wasn’t sure it was a good idea because yeah, I think it’s important we as mothers don’t feel alone in our struggles, but my primary concern was Theo. I didn’t want him to read this someday and feel like I didn’t want him or didn’t love him.
So first, let this post serve as a digital hug to all the moms and dads out there currently in the shit. You’re not alone in your experience or feelings— even the darkest ones. I just want you to know that I see you. Like, I SEE YOU. It is exactly as hard as you feel like it is and you are not crazy or bad or selfish or wrong. Contrary to every breakup ever: it’s not you, it’s THEM. YOUR BABY is occasionally batshit CRAY. But you? YOU are the perfect mother for your son or daughter and you are exactly where you need to be.
Second, and most important, a quick note to my son in his adult form if he ever sees this: You are the realization of a dream I never knew I had. Thank you for making me your mama. And thank you for making me feel like some kind of advanced level parent already because you know the twisted ego satisfaction me and your Papa get from making things much harder than they need to be 😂 You may have chosen me first, but know that I’d choose you again and again, without question or hesitation because we belong to each other. I love you and I like you and I’ve got you. On good days and on bad days, I don’t regret a single minute of time spent with you. I love you beyond measure, beyond words… so so big big much ❤️Mama