All parents know that moment. That moment when you look down at your squishy faced newborn and you don’t see the weird baby acne, the blue veins, or the scowl. You only see the most perfect person that ever roamed the Earth and you are filled with this sappy happiness that is so full and so beautiful that you might burst.
I didn’t get that moment. Instead, after a pregnancy where I was violently ill for 8 months, and a 28 hour labor that ended in an unplanned C-section, I was rewarded with post-partum depression.
True post-partum depression is thought to affect about 10% of women. Up to 80% of new mothers experience the ‘baby blues’, a typical hormonal craziness that happens for a few weeks after another person stops living inside of your body. Then, if you’re one of the unlucky ones, true PPD sets in.
Parenthood, especially early parenthood, is an exhausting marathon of meeting someone else’s needs. It’s messy, embarrassing, and inconvenient. You are paid in smiles, coos, and snuggles that will melt your your heart. My heart refused to melt.
When well-wishing friends would stop by to see the new baby, the tears would start in as I tried to speak. Thankfully, these tears were often taken as me being so overwhelmed with love for the child. Very few people knew that I spent my days actively mourning my pre-baby life and hating the infant who had stolen that from me.
I was having one particularly rough bout with the baby, a scream and cry-a-thon from both of us, and I remarked to a family member that it was spring time, spring break season. I wondered aloud when I would get my ‘spring break’ or any break ever again. This family member immediately scolded me and asked how I could possibly want to give up the beauty of motherhood to something as frivolous as a spring break. She shamed me into believing that I was shallow. I learned quickly that no one wants to hear about how you don’t love your baby.
My doctor recommended date night to get me feeling better! Sure! Let me drag my leaky boobs out in public in a nursing bra with a man that I despise, leaving a screaming baby that I can’t stand, and have a filet mignon! When I get home, it will all be better! Maybe the sitter will steal the baby!
I am horrified to report that I would not have been sad if something would have “happened” to the baby, to my child. I remember thinking that it would be a really quick grief period that I would go through. On my darkest day, I held the most perfect child in the world, and I also held a gun. I held them both so tightly as I sobbed. Even now, I can’t type those words without crying. I lived like this for a year.
I was able to nurse my son until he was 14 months old. However, when solid foods are introduced, nursing declines and continues to taper off. When this tapering off process began, my mood began to improve. When I stopped nursing, miraculously, the depression was gone. My body had an extremely bad chemical reaction to the hormones of pregnancy, delivery, and breastfeeding. When I finished nursing, my chemicals rebalanced and I felt like myself again.
I am a professional counselor, and at the time, I was working as a life coach for a University. Of all people, I ‘should’ have known better, but all of the professional training in the world won’t help you recognize your own hormonal stir-fry. With my second pregnancy, I alerted my new doctor immediately to what had happened the last time, and I started taking anti-depressants at my two week post-partum check-up, when it was clear that I was headed down the same path. Before I delivered the baby, I reminded her again, “please look for these signs, because I might deny it”.
I am happy to report that I would throw myself in front of a bus for my two children. I now cry because they are growing up too quickly. I sneak into their rooms at night to smell their hair and kiss their cheeks. If someone looks at them cross-eyed, my mama fists come flying. I will always have a certain amount of grief and sadness for what I was cheated out of. I would give anything to have back even one day of their babyhood. If I could have a clear mind and go back to hold them for an entire day, I would trace their tiny features and watch them breathe. I wouldn’t put them down, for fear of missing an adorable stretch, yawn, or whimper. Since I am not able to ever get that time back, I am committed to making sure that no new mother that I know of will ever think she is the only one who feels this way. I write the most downer baby shower cards ever, as I tell new moms that they might not feel so good and that they can call me any time. Sadly, the support for PPD is very limited. The national hotline is only staffed one day per week and a quick web search showed me that the most popular online support group has only one new message posted this week and zero new members. I will keep telling new moms that it might be overwhelming and intolerable, and that there is no shame in helping your hormones rebalance.
If you get a really depressing baby shower card from me, you now know the reason.
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