In the week after my best friend gave birth to her first child, she turned to me and said, with no small amount of accusation, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
And I heard her. I did. Because what we all find out, on some level, is that motherhood will kick your ass. In ways you’ve been told and ways you could never have imagined.
After my first son was born, I experienced a kind of euphoria. It was the happiest I had ever been. But despite this, there were raw moments that are etched into my brain forever.
As I held my inconsolable newborn, I pictured myself throwing him across the room.
As my husband headed to bed while I tended to our wide awake infant at 10:30pm, I told him in no uncertain terms to, “Just fuck off then!”
I wore a full face of make-up every day as a way to disguise the havoc sleep deprivation was wreaking on my skin.
Motherhood made me feel crazy at times. But I was lucky – I recognised the feeling and could respond accordingly. You see, I’d been suffering depression – and treating it – for years before I became a mum. It might seem odd to describe myself as lucky for having a history of depression, but what it meant was that I already had some coping strategies. And I had accepted that my mental illness did not make me a bad person.
New motherhood and new depression? I can’t imagine a harder learning curve.
When my second son was born, I felt that everything I had learned with my first son had completely fallen out of my brain. I couldn’t stop crying. My mum took the week off work to sit with me each day after my husband went back to work. I suspect this was PPD but, again, luckily I was already on anti-depressants and knew to ask for help.
Anyone who has ever suffered a mental illness will be well familiar with the residual shame, guilt and embarrassment. And who could be more vulnerable than the new mother who should be busy joyfully re-enacting baby lotion commercials?
Just to be clear, baby lotion commercials are BULLSHIT. Beautiful moments do exist, but under the fog of depression it’s almost impossible to find them. Add sleep deprivation and a generous helping of crushing guilt and searing shame and you have a recipe for a woman cut dangerously loose from her sanity.
You are not to blame. And you are not alone.
The first step for me was being honest with my partner and wider family. I actively sought their support. I know this can be difficult but it is crucial to getting well again. Find someone who will have your back. I hope that’s your partner but if it isn’t, find someone else you can trust.
The next step was heading to my family doctor to discuss my options. If you still have contact with a midwife or maternal and child health nurse post-birth, she may be the perfect person to discuss how you are coping. As scary as it is, the more honest you can be with a health professional, the better able they are to help you back to wellness. For me, medication and therapy worked but this will not necessarily be the answer for you. A trained professional can point you in the right direction.
Finally, I have learnt that self-care is EVERYTHING. In those early days when I was wearing more make-up than a showgirl, although it may seem horribly superficial, it worked to help restore a sense of ‘Angie’ alongside the all-encompassing new role of ‘mother.’ Having a nice, hot shower, dressing comfortably in something that made me feel good and then applying some mascara made me feel at least vaguely attractive, and that was important to me. Again, this may not be an issue for you, in which case I say rock your sweats and dirty hair but find the thing that DOES make you feel good and look for opportunities to incorporate it into your life.
I didn’t head back to the gym immediately but I did move. I pushed that pram for miles! I went to Mothers’ Group and bonded with women who understood exactly what I was going through. I got myself out of the house when I could. Fresh air is therapeutic and free.
When you have a baby, they tell you, “Forget about everything. Let those expectations go. Just be with your baby!” and it is sound advice – when applied to things like housework and any other quest for perfection. But don’t let YOU go. I don’t mean weight or looks or dirty hair. I mean you as a person. A beautiful, intelligent, worthwhile human being. Motherhood is so much about surrendering to this new reality but don’t forget to honour that incredible woman within. She’s still there and she needs some love.
You are not alone. You deserve to feel better. And you will.
Angie has three kids, one man and a dreadful habit of oversharing. She blogs at The Little Mumma.
Postpartum Progress, the world’s most widely-read blog on all things related to emotional health around pregnancy & childbirth, is a service of Postpartum Progress Inc., a 501c3 nonprofit devoted to raising awareness of postpartum depression and similar illnesses. Please consider making a donation today, Mother’s Day, so we can continue and expand our work supporting maternal mental health. Thank you!