If you’re anything like me, you know you can handle a baby. You’ve had a successful career. You’ve worked hard. You’re ambitious, determined, reliable, dependable, diligent, and you always have a sense of humor. Plus you’ve raised a few puppies and it can’t be much different, right?
Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Nobody tells you (and if they do, you probably don’t believe them) that life changes forever when you have a baby. And nobody tells you that it’s not all rainbows and unicorns.
I got the blues after I brought my son home. That first night, I sat at the table and it just felt all wrong. I wasn’t happy or excited. I felt completely out of my comfort zone. And when I tried to take a bite of the delicately prepared filet mignon that my husband cooked as a celebratory dinner, I burst into tears.
I felt overwhelmed. And I felt embarrassed and ashamed for feeling overwhelmed. It was a sign of weakness in my book. I could do this.
Those baby blues passed within the first three weeks. I gave up breastfeeding, an incredible huge source of my stress, and started to get the hang of the whole motherhood thing.
I met some other mothers and we would get together at least once a week. It was a great source of support … and anxiety.
I was always silently comparing my baby to others. I would apologize if he was crying or cranky. I would apologize for the worst smelling diapers. I would try to explain away his horrendous cradle cap and hair loss and birthmark. All extremely normal things.
I was also silently comparing my mothering skills to theirs. I didn’t use cloth diapers. I didn’t buy organic baby food. I overdressed my baby. I hadn’t taught him sign language. I was doing it all wrong.
Why was it so easy for everyone else and so hard for me? Why wasn’t I enjoying being a mother like everyone I saw? Why couldn’t I just relax?
What I didn’t know at the time was that I was suffering from postpartum depression, In fact, I never actually admitted it until now.
I sought treatment almost a year after my son was born. I had no idea I was depressed and I had no idea that it would wait a year to come to the forefront.
I remember anxiously meeting a new doctor telling him I couldn’t sleep. I had never been able to nap and nights were stressful enough just sleeping on edge waiting to hear the baby’s cry. But it had devolved into night after night with two hours of sleep at the most. He mentioned that I might be suffering from “the Big D” as he called it.
It took a while to admit to him and to myself that, yes, I was suffering and had been suffering postpartum depression for quite some time. I was so fortunate to have a doctor that listened and a husband who understood.
I went into therapy and was soon told I had my head on straight. It was just the chemicals in my body that weren’t cooperating. I found the right combination of medications and after a few months, I felt progressively better until one day I visited the doctor and said I felt like me again.
It’s been four years since that episode that brought me to my knees. It took me a long time before I could even think about it or talk about it because I wanted so badly to distance myself from those feelings. But I can talk about it now.
I’ve had to be patient with myself. I’ve had to learn that depression looks different for every single person. That postpartum depression is not a sign of weakness. That making yourself better is what will make you a better mother.
When you’re caught in the moment, it feels like you’ve lost your life and it will never return. But one thing other mothers who have also suffered can give is perspective. We are survivors. We are thrivers.
I had to redefine my ideas about motherhood. My dream family of four stopped at a happy family of three. My firstborn son became an only child when it became apparent that I wasn’t going to have any more children. I couldn’t put myself or my family through the possibility of that kind of depression again.
Today I love my life. And I’m more aware of myself as a mother, a woman, and just as a person as a result of everything I’ve been through. I’d never choose for any woman to go through it but when you come out on the other side (and you do come out), you’ll find that some of it is actually rainbows and unicorns.