From the moment I learned I was pregnant, my baby was my world. She was all I could think about and we were so excited to be expecting. Expecting. That’s kind of a loaded word, isn’t it? You spend your time pre-baby not just waiting, but “expecting”. Expecting not only a baby, but a whole life. A charming nursery to be filled with tiny jeans and even tinier socks. Long, magical nights spent rocking your new baby, motherly instinct oozing from your every pore. Friends and family coming to oooh and ahhh over your new little family. I had it all planned out.
Those plans fell apart even before DoodleBug was born. I had a high-risk pregnancy, the details of which I won’t bore you with. The major cross-country move we made in the third trimester resulting in me quitting my job and leaving my career as a teacher to become a stay-at-home mom. We sold our home, packed up our car-sick cat, and crammed as much furniture as possible into a tiny apartment in our new city. It’s a laundry-list of depression risk factors.
When DoodleBug was born and spent her first three days of life having difficulty nursing and then receiving antibiotic injections, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Though she (thankfully) came home healthy, I was filled with fear that I didn’t know how to care for this seemingly fragile child. Cue the anxiety.
When I look back now, I can see that throughout my year of postpartum depression and anxiety, I took amazing care of my baby. I breastfed DoodleBug for three moths, using a nipple shield (hellooooo, mastitis!) because she refused to latch without, and gave up all dairy and soy because of her milk allergies (during the holidays, no less). When she continued to projectile vomit, I gave up nursing and we bought her the best formula money could buy. You know the prescription stuff … that costs as much as gold. She was rocked to sleep, fed on demand, taken on outings, worn in my mobywrap, entertained endlessly when awake … and of course I have a million pictures to show for it. Everything revolved around my baby and her needs.
All the while, a part of me knew something wasn’t right. No matter how well I cared for DoodleBug, I always felt like a failure, and I attributed my unhappiness to that failure. “I’ll feel better when I can figure out how to get her to nurse without the shield,” I told myself. “Everything will be alright when I can get her to nap for more than 30 minutes,” I used to say. The insecurity and overwhelming responsibility was crushing. So I read. I read every baby-care book I could get my hands on. With each, I spiraled deeper into my dark hole, convinced I would never figure out the right way to take care of DB, and would never be happy. I pitied my baby for being stuck with me for a mom. I wanted to put her in her crib, leave a note for my husband and just drive away. I truly believed they would be better off without me.
When my baby started sleeping, when we found a formula that solved all our vomiting and reflux problems, when she started laughing and playing and crawling, and I was still miserable … that’s when I finally asked for help. I had nothing left to blame the unhappiness on. She was five months old. By that time, the depression had grown so deep that I had stopped feeling anything. I was just numb, all the time. It was the numbness that finally scared me into calling the doctor. I’m not sure how something as simple as a phone call can be so devastating and liberating at the same time.
I spent more than a year-and-a-half in therapy. It took a while, but we found the right combination of medication that took the edge off the despair and gave me back enough of myself so I could think clearly. True to the stereotype, we trudged through hours of childhood memories. I journaled. My therapist validated my feelings and mirrored back to me what she heard. She asked insightful questions designed to let me change my perspective if I was ready. Slowly but surely I put the pieces back together. And what started as treatment for postpartum depression led to a realization that I had been struggling with generalized anxiety disorder and mood swings for years.
If I could go back and prevent the PPD and anxiety I absolutely would. Thought at the same time, a part of me is grateful for the therapy and diagnoses that have led to this moment, because in this moment I am a confident mom of a willful and amazing two-and-a-half-year-old daughter. I am again the joyful version of myself I hadn’t been for years. I just wish I hadn’t waited so long to get help.
I waited because I was uneducated about the symptoms and real dangers of postpartum mood disorders. I waited because I thought I had to be miserable all the time and unable to care for my child in order for something to be wrong. I was ashamed and afraid of what it would mean if I wasn’t the mother I wanted to be. But mostly, I just didn’t matter enough.
So, on this Mother’s Day, the most important thing I can say to each of you is that you matter. Although your life may be consumed with counting diapers, feedings, and those few hours of sleep, you matter. When friends and family come to see your bundle of joy and you seem to fade into the background, you matter. And whether you’re just having a bad day, are suffering through the baby blues, or you’re in the midst of a postpartum mood disorder, you matter. Take care of yourself. Rest. Tell someone you trust if you’re feeling overwhelmed. Ask for help. It’s not just that your baby needs you to be at your best. You — the woman you were before this new baby, and the woman learning to be a new mother — deserve to be healthy and happy.
Susan is an elementary teacher-turned-SAHM and private music instructor.She is a postpartum depression and anxiety survivor, and was diagnosed after her recovery with generalized anxiety disorder and mood swings. She blogs atLearned Happinessabout parenting and finding balance and happiness in a life impacted by mental illness.
Donations to Postpartum Progress can be made here: http://postpartumprogress.org/donate-postpartum-depression-2/