Dear New Mama,
How are you? Yes, YOU. I really want to know. I’m sure everyone else has been cooing over your new little one, as most people do, but not me. I’m here for you. Personally, I’d rather not be around a screaming newborn. Or a newborn in general. Yes, I’ve said it. And I’m a mom- can you believe it? Can you believe that I’ve admitted it, that I don’t like babies? In fact, babies fill me with anxiety and dread, they make me want to run. You, too? It’s okay. I know you’ve gotten the subliminal message that becoming a mother is an instant path to bliss, that the switch gets flipped the minute your child is born and the angels start singing and the scent of roses fills the air… but I’m here to tell you: for some of us, that is a fairy tale.
Some of us- at least 1 in 7 new moms- experience the dark side of the postpartum period, without those secret Jedi Mother skills we expected to be downloaded along with our newborns. We are the Warrior Moms, navigating the rough waters of postpartum depression/anxiety/OCD/PTSD and psychosis. And we’ll be your Jedi Knights while you seek to find your bearings, master new skills, and enter into the light. We all have different journeys, and they follow different schedules, but rest assured, we’ve been there. We know those thoughts that are running through your head, those feelings of shame, failure, guilt, fear- you name it, we’ve experienced it. And we won’t stop until your head is above water and you’ve grabbed a lifeline.
Lest you think I’m making this up to coddle you, let me tell you a story. There once was a “mature” woman who had put off motherhood out of fear of the changes it would bring. At age 37, she decided it was time to grow up, to graduate from wife to mother. She had a history of severe depression and anxiety, was already working with a psychiatrist, and so had an inkling of the possible emotional complications of motherhood. Yet the onslaught of anxiety following her son’s birth still hit her like a ton of bricks.
How could anyone be so anxious around a baby?
“It’ll get easier,” said well-meaning family and friends.
“Your hormones are still out of whack.”
“What’s so scary about an infant?”
None of these words eased the fear she felt, the sense of being trapped, the need to run away and never look back. In fact, they only increased her sense of failure and her guilt over not being the mother she wanted to be for her son. That mother was me, in 2012.
My story has a happy ending, but as most stories go, the road to that ending was not a straight line. It was more like a roller coaster. Initial meds took effect and lifted the cloud hanging over me, for a few months. I felt more in control, less afraid… and then, WHOOSH! The roller coaster plummeted down an unforeseen drop, leaving me at a place where all I wanted was to get off the ride, even if it meant danger to my physical self.
Anything would have been preferable to the intensity of my emotions.
I needed some time away, a safe place to begin my journey back to level ground, and so I willingly entered short-term in-patient psychiatric treatment. Definitely not a four-star hotel, but a place where I could focus on my well-being without the constant pressure of an infant. And slowly, I emerged from the darkness.
I’m not saying you need hospitalization; our stories all vary. But, with time and treatment, we all arrive at a better place, one where we can look back and breathe a sigh of relief that we’ve made it this far. All of us Warrior Moms are living proof that it does, indeed, get better, and we’re here for you, every single day.
So take a deep breath, exhale, and tell yourself “I’m a good mom.” You’re here, and you’re trying. And we’re standing behind and beside you every step of the way. We’re the Force.
The Annual Mother’s Day Rally for Moms’ Mental Health is presented by Postpartum Progress, a national nonprofit that raises awareness & provides peer support for women who have postpartum depression and all other mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth. To see some of the ways we provide moms support, visit http://postpartumprogress.org/community/.