It wasn’t supposed to happen. Not to me. Yet, two agonizing days after the birth of my first child I knew that things weren’t right. It had nothing to do with my brand new baby boy, Max. He was perfect.
The beautiful, full-head of dark brown hair and angelic dark blue-eyed newborn was healthy. No, he was everything I’d ever imagined him to be and more. Instead, it was me. There was something wrong. Terribly wrong.
I brought my new son home less than two days after a long, exhausting induced labor and was scared beyond belief to leave the hospital. I had never been around babies before.
I was almost thirty-three years old and had no idea how to even change a dirty diaper let alone breast-fed a baby. I was afraid to hold him, panicked when I heard him cry and felt unbelievably exhausted, sore, anxious and scared.
The first night was brutal. All Max did was cry all night long. I tried to nurse him constantly, continually wondering whether or not I was doing it right. Did he have enough milk? Was he starving? Or was he full? His screams continued. I think I had one hour of sleep.
Day two at home from the hospital continued in this format. He cried constantly, I fed him, changed him, held him and felt even more exhausted and anxious than ever. What on earth was going on? I thought, distraught and perplexed.
Isn’t motherhood supposed to be the greatest thing in the world? Aren’t I supposed to love my baby more than anything on this earth? What was wrong with me? Instead of being overjoyed, I was overwhelmed, panicked and wanted to run, far away from this hell.
As the days passed, instead of wanting to hold him, I became more and more anxious and scared of being with him. I continued to sleep less than an hour a night due to worry, constant feeding, anxiety, and pure over exhaustion. I could no longer eat, sleep or think. This pattern of sleep deprivation and anxiety continued for the first two weeks post-partum and unfortunately only got worse. I was slipping away into a dark and lonely place and all I could think about was how I’d ever pull myself back. I thought I was going to die.
I knew something was dramatically wrong and my dear mother was the one to point it out. She knew the signs and told me flat out that I had a problem which she believed to be postpartum depression. She had worried about this happening to me even before the birth, as I’d always had issues with my periods and was extremely moody during adolescence.
I tried to deny it. Instead, I thought it was something about me. That I was the one to blame. I was the failure. I never should have become a mother.
I became so anxious about everything that had to do with the baby that I literally could no longer sleep, eat, or even think. All I could do was wallow away in my fears which finally lead to a panic attack bringing me to the ER at the hospital. This was now six weeks after the delivery of my son, and God, I wish I had known earlier what was happening to me.
It was indeed a pure textbook case of Postpartum Depression (PPD) which generally occurs after delivery, and if not treated can lead to psychosis, suicide and even death of the baby. Apparently, this problem is more widespread than we are lead to believe. It is also difficult to measure and access because not all mothers report PPD due to embarrassment, fear or shame.
According to the most recent study directed by the CDC in 2008, approximately 11% of women per annual live births suffer from varying degrees of PPD. Per “Postpartum Progress”, a leading blog on PPD which demonstrates extensive knowledge on the subject, “this would mean that each year approximately 950,000 women are suffering from postpartum depression”. I believe that these numbers are actually on the low side since many cases of PPD are not reported.
My doctors didn’t help me or diagnose it. They never educated me about the risks. The more I think about it, I believe I was already beginning to suffer from depression during my one month of bedrest and isolation before the birth. Thankfully, to my amazing husband and mother who supported me and helped me during this terribly, dark time of my life, they were able to find me the right help and also take on full time care of my newborn. But, it wasn’t easy. It took weeks upon weeks of phone calls trying to get help and even longer to find the right help.
I was going to get out of this darkness: This desolate, hopelessness, anxiety and fear of not being able to care for my child. I wanted to finally be his mother, and I wanted to be me. I had to get over the feelings of being a failure which was the hardest thing for me to do.
I felt like I had failed in life. I was always someone who had done it all. Got good grades, had a good career, married a wonderful spouse, traveled the world. Yet, here I was all alone faced with PPD and needing to take medication and see a shrink.
Accepting that this was the only way to get better, I finally caved in. I stopped breastfeeding, started up my birth control pills again (to balance my hormones) and agreed to take an anti-anxiety medication (which was extremely hard for me to do). Yet, three months later with the love and support from my family and doctors, I was me again. I was back. I survived something so difficult that I never believed I would pull through. But, I made it. And, thank God I’m back.
I never want to ever go there again. It’s a dark and lonely place.
Two years and four days later, I was able to have another child, a baby girl, which I never believed would be possible. This time I knew what to expect and was prepared. I had everything in place in the event that I got PPD again. I prayed it wouldn’t happen again and someone was looking out for me. It didn’t. I was fine, more than fine.
Now when I look back, it really angers me that PPD still remains a taboo subject, an embarrassment that people don’t want to believe happens. The doctors don’t educate us, the media downplays it (especially Tom Cruise) yet thousands of women suffer and remain untreated every single day.
Motherhood is supposed to be a time of great joy and happiness. However, sometimes it doesn’t always go as planned. And, that is ok. With love, support and confidence in yourself as a successful, loving mother, you’ll survive and even thrive.
Have you ever experienced Postpartum Depression? If so, what helped you to recover?
Photo credit to the author.