I wrote this article in the throes of my darkest postpartum depression. I have broken it into two parts because I want to acknowledge just how long of a journey healing from a postpartum mood disorder can take. This is part one of my journey, which focuses on how hard my experience was and how hopeless I felt for nine months. Part two will focus on my healing journey, even though I never thought I would find one when I wrote this piece. Take a moment to read about how hard and hopeless depression can feel but also read the second part, in which there is hope and healing.
I stare down at her and I am filled with fury. Fury that she has wrecked my world. Despair, because I have to live in this hellish new reality. Resentful, that she needs me so much. Exhausted, because I am not sleeping well, even when she is. Anxious, because I worry about everything. Listless, because I don’t have the desire to do or enjoy anything. Out of control, because I can't help but have these feelings. Sad, because nothing appeals to me any more. Hateful, because I hate being a mother and I am always angry. Hopeless because at 8 months postpartum it seems like I will always feel this way. Guilty, because I have a healthy baby girl and yet I feel this way.
The first three weeks after I had my baby were heavenly. I felt amazing. After dealing with a crabby, overly emotional wife for nine months my husband thought I was an angel.
Then I started crying more. Having a hard time making decisions about the smallest thing. Fighting with my husband for no reason. Feeling incredibly angry. Not sleeping well. Being anxious for no reason. I lost interest in doing anything. I would cry after dates when we'd have to go pick up my daughter. I stopped enjoying things I had previously liked. I began to hate my life and motherhood.
But I didn’t feel “depressed” often. I got up and dressed every morning. I got out and kept my life in order. I didn’t feel “down” or have the "classic" postpartum depression signs, so it didn’t really occur to me that I might be suffering from a postpartum mood disorder.
Then at my six week postpartum checkup I was given a postpartum depression screening to fill out. My midwife came in, looked at the sheet I'd fill out, glanced at me, and asked, “So not feeling so great, huh? What’s going on?”
And I lost it. Sitting on the examination table in a scanty white gown, I bawled harder than my fussy baby.
She referred me to a counsellor and, eager to feel better, I got excited to start going.
I went religiously to my counseling. I was determined to give it a heartfelt go before I turned to medicine, particularly because my counselor made me feel like I didn't have any kind of "depression", just "lifetraps".
A month passed and nothing changed. As the weeks continued to tick by I began to feel much worse despite the fact that I was going to groups like my counselor pushed me to do, getting out for errands almost every day and getting regular time away from baby - the classic cures for postpartum troubles.
My sleep got worse. I quit enjoying dates with my husband altogether. Nothing was fun anymore. I ate horribly - nothing but desserts for every meal except dinner. I didn't have the motivation to pursue my passions or do anything with my life. I felt trapped by motherhood. All I could see was the miserable decades of childbearing and rearing stretching out before me. More and more anger grew in my heart.
Guilt constantly wracked me. I felt guilty for being unhappy with my situation. So many women would love to be in my position! How dare I not be in love with stay at home motherhood?! I wanted to get away from my baby as much as I could. I tried to get her to sleep and play alone as much as I could, all the while feeling guilty for not spending more time with her. I knew it was crazy but I worried that feeling so resentful about my daughter and giving thought or voice to those feelings would result in punishment - that she would die or be harmed somehow.
I told my counselor that I felt like I wasn't making progress, but I felt like she undermined my suffering. She didn't seem to understand that going to groups like she so strongly recommended was making me feel worse, not better. She wouldn't seem to give me concrete advice on what to do.
I was going to see my doctor every month, just to touch base. Every time she asked me how I was doing and if I wanted to try medicine. Every time I said I wanted to hold out a little longer.
Until I hit bottom.
About 5 months postpartum, I went in to my doctor’s office and she asked how I was doing and how counseling was going. I poured out my frustrations about counseling not seeming to work and began to cry. Finally, I acknowledged that I wanted to try medicine.
I put off picking up my prescription for as long as I could. The day after I got it was one of my darkest times. I wandered around the house in my bathrobe in a dark funk. I didn't brush my hair or wash my face. I didn't even bother to pull my socks on all the way.
I felt like a failure. My mind wasn't strong enough to overcome my disorder without drugs, and I felt lost in the sea of Americans popping antidepressant pills.
But then things began to look up. I gradually began to enjoy my daughter more. I quit treating my poor husband like an emotional punching bag. I started to pursue my passion to become a birth educator. I still felt like crap some days. I still resented my daughter sometimes, but I quit feeling so crippled...for a while.
Then I had one of those really bad, horrible days you get once in a while. I felt like crap, but I figured it was a fluke and that I would feel better the next day. I didn't, and the whole cycle of depression started again. I kept telling myself it was hormonal - that it was PMS, or being on my period or "recovering" from the hormones on my period, but after a month of feeling horrible and one particularly big fight with my husband I wound back up at the doctor's office begging for help.
I was ashamed. I felt crazy, like I was making things up, for telling my doctor that the drug that had made me feel so good for almost two months suddenly seemed to have stopped working. My doctor was a saint and talked me through my options. We decided to up my doseage before trying a different medication. It didn’t work and we had to switch me to a new medicine.
Unfortunately, nine months after the birth of my baby, I still don't feel like my old self. It has been so long since I have felt good that I hardly knew what feeling like "myself" is. I can’t seem to find the right medicine at the right dose. Many days I wonder if I will ever feel good and happy on the regular basis again. I wonder if this is the new normal. If this is all motherhood is. I wonder.
I hope not.