I’ve had a draft of this post saved for a few months, but felt a sense of anxiety and hesitancy around publishing it.
While postpartum depression is something MANY women experience after they give birth, I knew nothing about it. And I never thought postpartum depression would be part of my story. But it is. And it continues to be something I think about even at nearly twenty-one months postpartum.
I don’t use my platforms to share personal experiences, but if this helps just one person feel less alone, and I felt so alone, then I’ll be glad I did.
A Personal Account of Postpartum Depression
Having a baby put a spotlight on the worst parts of my personality. Anxiety. The obsession with perfectionism. Expectations of how things “should” be. Judgment. The desperate need to be right and have the last word. All of my darkest secrets that I spent years trying to ignore with bottles of wine, online shopping, exercising, overworking, and overloading my to-do list bubbled over like a pot of water sitting on the “good” burner the second my son came into the world. Welcome to adulthood, BTW. You have a favorite oven burner now.
I didn’t realize it at the moment, but looking back, all the signs of postpartum anxiety and depression were there. And when I revisit those moments or talk about them with other women, every single one of them has a “ME TOO” moment or similar story to share. So while I hesitate to share my experience, I know it’s needed because if we DON’T share, no one else will.
As far and wide as the internet is, when it comes to postpartum depression, it’s not that deep.
The Fourth Trimester
After Luke was born, I had the baby blues, hard.
I cried every day. I felt like a stranger in my body, and I was exhausted from the EXTREME oscillation I felt going back and forth between loving my baby and hating myself. Hating myself for reasons I don’t even quite remember. Still, I’m sure had to do with my sagging, swollen, vacant body, ruthless insecurity as a new mom, and being terrified that I would never feel confident again.
I never felt the urge to self-harm, or harm my baby; but I couldn’t silence the voice in the back of my mind that said over and over, “What have you done? Having a baby was a horrible mistake.”
I was convinced:
- I’d never feel comfortable in my body again
- Feeling beautiful was part of my past
- The rest of my life would be spent breastfeeding on a couch, and I’d never leave my house again
- It would take hours to prepare to leave the house from then on out
- My husband and I would never reconnect and we’d never have another kid because we would NEVER have sex
- I’d never see my friends again, and maybe that was okay because I was so jealous of all of them who didn’t have kids and could do whatever they wanted whenever they wanted and they didn’t even know how good they had it!!!! JESUS CHRIST THOSE ASSHOLES!!!!! ^%@%$#%%@$@%%#^#&@*@*#^%#$@
- Survival was the one and only goal
To everyone who thinks a baby will fix your relationship, I’m here to tell you, it will not.
I wondered why everyone claims the first year of marriage is the hardest when adjusting to life with a newborn was simultaneously beautiful and excruciating. No one talks about how quickly and how much your relationship will change, and I have to scream, WHY?! I was so unprepared and my unrealistic expectations set me up for a rude awakening.
In my relationship with my husband, I was his number one priority. And then all of a sudden, I wasn’t. Obviously, your baby has to come first. They’re helpless and cannot survive without every bit of attention, nurture, and care. So why wasn’t I able to move past a changing relationship? I took it personally, and could not, for the life of me, figure out why it wasn’t the blissful love portrayed on TV, movies, Instagram, and every other woman’s sentiment, “WE ARE SO IN LOVE.” All I wanted to say is, “THIS IS SO HARD.” But even the thought alone made me feel like a bad mom, and a selfish, unreasonable wife.
The good news the fourth trimester comes and goes. What every mom says is so true, it does get better. You get to know your baby, you feel more comfortable with feeding, sleep is more natural to come by, and the newness is less stressful. You start to find your stride, but like any progress, it’s not always linear.
Going Back to Work: Anxiety was my Full-Time Job
After my first week back, my anxiety mounted slowly, as the bubble I created for myself and my baby during my maternity leave popped.
There was always a pang of guilt when I dropped Luke off at daycare, but I never worried something would go wrong with him while he was there. What I worried about INCESSANTLY was that something would happen to Matt or me, and it would paralyze me.
I’d cross the street and have CLEAR visions of getting hit by a car. In the morning, I’d get on a train, and visualize graphic scenes of unspeakable and horrific events. I’d pass strangers on the sidewalk and be afraid of getting pushed into oncoming traffic. When I worked out, I worried my heart would stop. My imagination ran wild, being fueled by our political climate, and the stories I saw on the news.
A different sense of anxiety trickled into my work life, leaving me short of breath whenever I thought about how much work needed to get done during the day. I’d go hours FRANTICALLY answering emails, or fruitlessly “organizing,” and then when I would finally sit down to write my to-do’s, I’d be left with an itemized list of maybe three things. I couldn’t process my thoughts or my life like I used to, and went from getting off on being busy, to not knowing how to handle it.
I felt broken, inept, and fucking crazy.
The Trigger of my Postpartum Depression
I didn’t know it, but my postpartum depression started when Luke was four months old.
I went on my first work trip and pumped around the clock. When I got home, I learned I accidentally incorrectly package the insulated shipping system and found over EIGHTY OUNCES of room temperature, spoiled breast milk sitting on my doorstep.
I dropped to my knees and sobbed, harder than I ever cried in my entire life, I was inconsolable for weeks. The voice in the back of my head whispered, “Your only job is to feed your son, and you couldn’t even do that. You’re never going to make it.”
Mom-shaming or any bullying for that matter has never phased me because nothing another person could ever say to me could compete with the voice in the back of my head. She’s the biggest, meanest, bitch I know. Another mom doesn’t have to shame me. Because I’m three steps ahead, shaming myself. When I unpack my formative experience, that voice has always been there. But having a baby gave her a soapbox.
As a result, I overcompensated in every other area of my life. At work, if there was a task up for grabs, I took it. I subbed the open classes. I ran to my friend’s side the second they said they needed help. If my husband said he was hungry, I whipped up a beef tenderloin with homemade aioli and then baked dessert WITH THE GOOD VANILLA, FUCK THE STORE BOUGHT, INA, IT IS NOT FINE!!! I operated that way for months, camouflaging my emotions and feelings with a fake smile and burying my growing insecurities and problems with tasks, to-do’s, and chores — most of which I did in an extra and unnecessary manner.
I was going to PROVE that I could handle anything that came my way to make up for my spoiled breast milk. And therefore, I became a hamster on a mechanical wheel.
And it drove me into the ground.
The Physical and Mental Manifestation
I spent hours each night lying in bed feeling like my chest was getting CRUSHED like waves crashing or cement pouring on top of me. I was suffocating, convinced that this would be my life forever. I’d cry to the point of losing my breath, shaking, choking, and losing control of my senses.
My skin was broken out, my hair was still falling out in droves, way past the point of “normal” postpartum hair loss, and I couldn’t focus on anything.
I was OBSESSED with productivity and pumping, and I would forget to eat and lost enough weight to warrant worry from my closest friends. When I would eat, I had negative food thoughts. I started binging at night, something I had NEVER done before. And ANY time I dared to think, “I’m not happy,” the voice in the back of my head would ring, “You are so fucked up.”
When my brother died, suddenly and unexpectedly, grief, was the other shoe. And it dropped.
At ten months postpartum, I organized a dinner at one of the top restaurants in Chicago to celebrate my husband’s new job.
Long story short, I had too much to drink and sabotaged the entire evening by dissecting and wrongfully interpreting everything he said and picking every scab I never let heal. I used him as a punching bag, and I the bantamweight champion, baby.
I blacked out and woke up at the bottom of my barrel. As if my hangover wasn’t enough, I was sick to my stomach, knowing that if I didn’t get some professional help, I would continue my self-destruction and be the downfall of my marriage. The voice in my head threatened, “Matt’s going to leave you. And why wouldn’t he? You’re not doing anything right. YOU. ARE. A FAILURE. YOU. ARE. UNLOVABLE.”
And right then and there I knew I couldn’t live another moment as I had for the last year. So the next day, I made an appointment to see a therapist, reaching for the business card, my OB handed me the day after I had Luke, “just in case.”
When I think about that night at the restaurant, and the morning after, I cringe. But actually, I am grateful because, without it, I don’t think I would have been proactive in my mental health. The universe took care of me because I matched with a therapist who is an absolute dream come true.
The Magic of Therapeutic Guidance
I’ve been in therapy for the better part of a year, and spend HOURS consuming content trying to know and understand myself. It is arduous work, but it is so worth it. Through my weekly sessions, guided meditations, and the books I’ve read on thought work and self-mastery, I now know that shame, ego, guilt, and insecurity cannot exist if you are open, honest, and allow room for vulnerability.
I also have access and have learned how to use tools and resources to help me process feelings, and self-identify when the reality I find myself in is not the reality of the world around me. The reality I create is some offputting place where I’m the center of all evil, and everyone KNOWS IT. The reality I create is always the WORST case scenario, and the sensitivity and insecurity that results never puts me in the position to be open, mindful, or receive the experience around me. I know that now, and I’m prepared to work through it.
After I had Luke, I put so much pressure on myself to be perfect and was so desperate to find “normalcy” that I never let myself acclimate to motherhood. And I learned my self-inflicted behavior drove me to resent everyone and everything around me. And I suffered in silence because the voice in my head said, “Your life is dripping with privilege, you have NO RIGHT TO FEEL THIS WAY.”
That voice is still there, but I’m a helluva lot better at shutting her down and standing up for myself.
To the New Parents who are Reading This:
I do not have it all figured out. And by no means do I feel “cured,” or happy all day every day. But I’m learning how to navigate life’s ebbs and flows in a new way. I don’t have all the answers, shit, no parent does. But I know this:
- You do NOT have to bear every burden, seek help, in whatever form is available, or makes the most sense.
- Your relationship WILL change with your spouse, and that’s okay. Be patient, communicative, and be honest. It’s the only way.
- Your life will change, but no season lasts forever.
- The reality of what you’re able to accomplish will change. Reframe your definition of success; it will help keep you sane.
- Your old self and your new self CAN co-exist, but like ANY other relationship, it takes work.
- There is no right or wrong way to do ANY ONE THING.
Most of all, it’s on you to establish an environment that allows for the conditions for you to thrive. If it’s not how you pictured or what you thought, that doesn’t make it BAD! It just is. There is NO definition or aesthetic to parenthood; Instagram will try to have you believe otherwise, tho. So watch out! For real tho.
I truly thought it would be easy because that’s how everyone made it look and when it wasn’t, I wasn’t equipped to handle it. I struggled with my adjustment to motherhood because I was holding on to my unrealistic expectations with a white knuckle grip, only to find the moments of happiness I was searching for when I let that shit go.
To the Mother’s who are Reading This:
If you feel alone, please know that you are not. Postpartum depression is not taboo. It is part of this life.
If you feel like you don’t know anyone else going through what you’re going through, please reconsider, because you know me.
And if you’re anything like me, know the feelings of isolation or alienation result from the wrongful story you tell yourself. Not another person, place, or thing. You can change your experience. I promise you.
Whatever support you have access to, take advantage of it and do not waste time suffering in silence. It takes a particular person to self-help, and most of us aren’t her. Talk to someone. Take the medication. Do what you have to do to find your set point.
Do NOT feel inept, shamed, or embarrassed. The postpartum journey will look different for everyone. While we’re all in different boats, we are rowing the same way.
The first few years of motherhood are hard. Really, really hard. And it’s okay if you don’t love every moment of it. I wish I gave myself that grace a lot earlier. Guess what? You’re NOT going to love every minute of it, and that does NOT make you a bad mom. It just doesn’t. It makes you human.
I wrote and edited this post with tears in my eyes, and published it with a lump in my throat. For a moment, I worried about what other people may think of me. But I guess I don’t really care because this is my truth. And if it helps even one person, it is worth it.
To the mother who is reading this, I see you, ma. And I am with you.