Have you ever noticed how our culture seems to paint the business of motherhood as all sunshine and roses? Beautiful, happy mothers nuzzling chubby, rosy-cheeked babies while cooking dinner with one hand and knitting a sweater with the other? Ever wonder how true to life that lovely image is?
I’m here to tell you: our culture is delusional. Motherhood looks nothing like that in real life. Especially new motherhood. But you know what bothers me the most?
No one talks about it! WHY?!
It has been nine weeks since the birth of my first daughter. I love her dearly. I wouldn’t trade her for the world. But I’m just starting to fall in love with her. *GASP*
Are you shocked? I was too. When we brought Munchkin home from the hospital I went through a disbelief phase. A few days where I asked myself, “What is this baby doing here? What am I supposed to do with her?” But we were so sleep deprived and shell shocked that for the first couple of weeks we kind of just went through the motions of feeding her, changing her, snuggling her, putting her to sleep. Rinse. Repeat.
But then the third week hit. Oh, boy, did it hit. HARD.
Munchkin started screaming and there was little we could do to make her stop. She wouldn’t sleep during the day except for 20 minutes here and there. Night sleeping was better but only because she slept thisclose to me in our bed, which meant I didn’t sleep. My nipples were cracked and bleeding and every feeding was toe-curling painful because we still couldn’t get her to latch on correctly. To add on to all of that, I got hit with Postpartum Depression but I refused to admit it.
Throughout all of this, I couldn’t help the “unmotherly” thoughts that were running through my head. Things like “this was a horrible mistake,” “can we take her back to the hospital,” “I’m not cut out for this,” “maybe I wasn’t meant to be a mother,” “how will I ever survive this.” I told my husband I felt like I was in mourning: for our old life, for what we had been as a couple before the baby, for being able to worry about myself and no one else. I told him I felt overwhelmed and very, very sad. He encouraged me to talk to our midwife and tell her how I was feeling. We had been told to watch for signs of depression and he felt that we needed to check in with her. But, still, I refused.
Finally, after a night of trying to soothe an inconsolable screaming baby, my husband found me rocking our newborn while sobbing uncontrollably. Great, heaving sobs. He had heard me from across the house and come to check on me. He came to me and laid his hand on my shoulder. He knew there was nothing he could say. There was nothing that needed to be said. “I can’t do this anymore,” I choked out between sobs.
My husband called our midwife the next day. He broke down on the phone as he described watching his strong, capable, tough-as-nails wife falling to pieces before his eyes. They conspired to set up a meeting for me to talk to my midwife the next day. At the meeting, she convinced me that my “baby blues” had become much more than just a bit of sadness and that it was important for me to get some help. We discussed my options and as much as I hated to do it, I chose to go on anti-depressants for as long as it took to get me over this hump. My midwife assured me that I could still breastfeed and that I wouldn’t have to be on the drugs longer than necessary. She also encouraged me to reach out to other moms or to ladies at my church and start building a support network of women to talk to. Both my husband and I left that meeting emotionally spent but daring to see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
At first I felt ashamed that I was suffering from PPD. I felt that I was weak or incompetent and should have been able to handle this stressful time better. I started to do a little more research on PPD while Munchkin napped and came to realize that PPD is far more common than anyone talks about. In fact, it is suspected that many more women suffer from some degree of PPD than the statistics show because women are afraid to admit it, just like I was. I started looking into reading books on the subject and found a serious lack of published information, at least in bookstores or on Amazon. The one book I did find and read (and was so grateful for) was Down Came the Rain by Brooke Shields. Finally, another woman whose post-partum experience was something I could relate to! The feelings she described having were so similar to my own that it was eerie.
I wanted to read more, but there is very little out there and that made me angry. Angry because I knew from experience how isolating and scary and shameful and awful PPD was but no one was talking about it. Why not? Why was it the norm to just ignore this all too common affliction when it would be so much more helpful to every mommy out there to talk about what she’s going through and know that she’s not alone? Who decided that silence was order of the day for a subject that needed, more than anything, to be discussed?
So I decided that I would not be silent. I would not be ashamed. I would tell anyone who asked, “So how are you doing?” the truth about PPD and how it sidelined me. I would speak up for myself and other mommies out there so that maybe another mommy who met me would realize that what she’s feeling isn’t abnormal or shameful. I want other mommies to know they are not alone. I want to remind myself that I am not alone.
I have only been on the medication for a few weeks now but I can already tell a huge difference. I still have days where I feel sad or panicky. I still cry a lot, but it’s becoming less and less every week. I have forced myself to reach out and join a women’s Bible study on Tuesday mornings (childcare included!) and go to play dates with a young mommy group on Friday mornings. Being able to get out of the house and talk to other ladies who are going through the same life phase has been so helpful.
And finally, finally, I am able to start feeling a deep love for my daughter. Slowly, as the medicine works its magic on my chemically-addled brain, I am able to stop feeling like someone just handed me a baby and start feeling like Munchkin was destined to be my baby.
Now, I am taking it a day at a time. And while I would love to tell you that motherhood is all sunshine and roses like the movies make it out to be, I would be lying. But the days are getting sunnier and every now and then I get a whiff of a fresh rose. For now, that’s good enough for me.
If you think you are suffering from Postpartum Depression, DO NOT WAIT TO GET HELP. Seek medical advice as soon as possible. You can also find support through this website. You are not alone and you do not have to feel this way!