My daughter came into the world quietly. She never cried. It’s an irony that still rattles my soul.
I had wanted a child for so long. My husband and I tried for several years to have a baby, and we had practically given up. So when we found out that I was pregnant we were overjoyed and taken by complete surprise. I prepared thoroughly for every step of my journey ahead. I read up on everything. It was wonderful. But no one prepared me for what it would be like to actually be a mom.
It started with the traumatic birth and the isolation from my family, but after about three weeks I knew for sure that something was wrong. I assumed I wouldn’t get much sleep and would be tired, but this was different. It was awful!
One day in the middle of an early morning feeding I looked at my child and just started crying. I couldn’t see through my tears. I cried with my entire body. I shook so badly that I could barely hold her. What’s wrong with me? I thought. Here is this beautiful, miracle child. I can’t even feel love for her. I don’t deserve to be her mother.
It made me cry that much harder. I never felt so guilty. I was scared.
Weeks turned to months. I was on autopilot. Every day was the same as the one before. It was one, big horrible dream. I fantasized about running away. I had thoughts about being in a coffin under the ground. I couldn’t eat and I couldn’t sleep. When I did sleep I had violent dreams, all involving my baby dying. One night I woke up screaming and scared that the house was on fire. One night I dreamed that someone smothered her with a pillow.
Then the anxiety attacks started.
One night my daughter was crying because she was hungry, and I just didn’t have the energy or desire to hold her anymore. It was sensory overload. I started screaming at my husband. “You don’t know how hard this is for me! I’m so alone! No one understands!”
There really wasn’t much help out there for me. I told my OB what I was feeling at my six-week appointment. I told a public health nurse how I was feeling when my child was three months old. I called a province-wide medical information line and it was like no one was listening. Everyone dismissed it or told me it was just the Baby Blues.
When my child was about four months old, I reached my breaking point. I took myself and my baby to the emergency room. I thought I was dying and just couldn’t be a mother anymore. I wished someone would adopt her. Only then did anyone take me seriously. Finally, a doctor looked at me and said, “You have postpartum depression, and you need help.”
I got very little sympathy from my mother and sisters. None of them had any problems being a mom. I’m convinced that they think PPD is all in a person’s head. They told me “snap out of it” and “be thankful you have a healthy baby.” They were against me taking medications and breastfeeding at the same time.
Since that time, I’ve learned that you can’t rely on what other people say about your illness. Only you know what is normal for you and what is not, and it certainly isn’t normal for you to want to harm yourself or your baby. We all feel frustration. We all lose our patience. We are not perfect. We are just moms, trying to do the best we can. But with the right help during our PPD journey, we can all get better.
Slowly I recovered. Over time I began to feel like me again. It took medication and a lot of talking to people who were willing to listen. I had to do it alone because my immediate family didn’t live in the same city. But doing it alone has made me stronger and all the more grateful. I am still on medications, but I am thankful for them.
I never want to feel the low that I felt after becoming a mom. Postpartum depression was a horrible ride, and I am so glad that I came out of it. Now I am able to enjoy my daughter, and my life. My daughter will be four this summer. I love watching her grow. Sometimes I feel guilty that I don’t remember much about her being a baby. But I did the best that I could at the time, and she is a happy child. She is my miracle. She saved me from this illness. She is my hero.
Reading about postpartum depression can really open your eyes. Don’t wait. Read about it while you are pregnant. Learn as much about it as you can, whenever you can. Talking about it to people helped me a lot, too. Simple things like getting on the computer, going for a walk, taking a shower, getting your partner to take the baby so you can get some sleep, may all seem like things you should already be able to do. But in the midst of raising a demanding baby, you sometimes get so confused that you can’t even remember if you ate, let alone feel the ability to do something for yourself.
Often we suffer in silence because we think that nobody feels the way we do, or we fear that someone will take our child. That’s wrong. Reach out to whoever is listening. Sometimes it may take three or four different health professionals before you find one who will take you seriously. Not enough is known about PPD, but if more women speak up we can end the silence and the stigma. Even when you feel the darkest moment in your life, there is something to pull you back. PPD is a hard road, but you will consider your life and your role as a mother that much more important after you suffer through it. Don’t feel guilty. Don’t keep it a secret. Tell someone.
A Note from Dr. Shosh
When I went through these illnesses decades ago, there was no help in sight. Now there’s excellent help available. You deserve the best, and don’t settle for less. Here are some specific insights from this story:
— A traumatic birth and isolation from your family (assuming your family provides good support) are both high risk factors.
— Moms who encountered fertility challenges are often extra hard on themselves when frustrated with motherhood. Family and friends flood them with guilt-tripping statements like, “You’re finally a mother … you should feel lucky!” which can confirm their worst feelings of inadequacy.
— Thoughts of running away are typical for moms with PPD. I call them escapist fantasies, and they are often wrongly confused with suicidal thoughts.
— Loss of appetite and insomnia are common symptoms of postpartum depression/anxiety.
— Even when you reach out for help, you might unfortunately still find ignorance among professionals. Keep searching until you find the right help.
— Ignore those who don’t validate and hear you. If you sense something’s wrong, you must trust your instincts. Please get checked out immediately.
Image credit: Anne Worner