Surviving My Postpartum Depression
Curled up in a ball on the floor, unable to collect my thoughts, my husband said to me, “You need to get help.”
Five days after I gave birth to my first child, I was sitting in my car in the grocery store parking lot, sobbing hysterically, trying to express my emotions to my husband, Daniel.
My brain hurt. I couldn’t string my thoughts together. Earlier that day, the doctor told us that we needed to start our baby on formula so that she would gain weight faster.
I was terrified. I didn’t know how hard it would be to breastfeed. I couldn’t have predicted that I wouldn’t have enough milk to feed my baby. Or that breastfeeding would be so painful.
I’m already failing as a mother. I can’t even feed my own baby.
“I don’t even know what kind of formula to get,” I told Daniel. “I’m already failing as a mother. I can’t even feed my own baby.”
“It’s okay,” he said. “We’ll figure this out.”
We went into the store and picked up pre-made formula. I didn’t have the head for making bottles. And I didn’t know how to do it. I was too tired to learn.
I cried in the car on the way home. My husband turned to me. “Are you okay?”
“No,” I said. “I feel awful.”
“Have you eaten today?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
It was 9 PM.
“I’m stopping for food. You need to eat.”
I got a burger and immediately felt better. Over the next few days my crying subsided, and I got the hang of using formula. My baby was on the right track. I thought, “If this was postpartum depression, it wasn’t so bad.”
I’d struggled with depression my whole life. This wasn’t nearly as serious as my depression in high school, which would make me want to hide under the covers most days or cause me to uncontrollably cry in the middle of class. It wasn’t as painful as my depression in college, which made me feel isolated and alone.
The dark pit of postpartum depression was waiting to engulf me when I had my second child.
I felt overwhelmed every day. My maternity leave was three days long – I’m a freelancer and I wasn’t receiving any benefits from a job or the state of California to take off longer. I couldn’t afford to not work.
I thought my second child would be like my first and I would have time to work when she napped. But she wasn’t having any of it. She was fussier and cried much more, and she needed to be held all the time. When I tried to wrap her around my body, she didn’t like that either. I was juggling answering emails, writing articles, and interviewing clients on the phone while taking care of my child. My loving husband helped as much as he could, but he was at work too, so I was usually alone during the day.
I couldn’t concentrate. I started staying up until 2 AM every night so I could have some peace and quiet and alone time. I wasn’t getting much sleep.
I started binging on food. I ate sugar and drank coffee compulsively to stay awake throughout the day.
The worst part was the anxiety. I was constantly afraid my baby and toddler weren’t safe.
The worst part was the anxiety. I was constantly afraid my baby and toddler weren’t safe. I would picture terrible scenarios in my head – ones I wouldn’t repeat out loud out of fear that they would happen. I knew this was my obsessive-compulsive disorder on steroids, but I couldn’t stop the thoughts from intruding my brain.
I felt like I was a horrible mother. I was crying incessantly, breaking down in front of my husband who tried to console me.
After ending up curled up in a ball on the floor one afternoon, unable to collect my thoughts, my husband said to me, “You need to get help. I think you have postpartum depression.”
“What?” I said. “I’m not depressed.”
“You’re not well,” he said. “I’m worried about you.”
I didn’t want to be this person. I wanted to be healthy. I needed to be, for my family, for myself.
I talked about my PPD with my therapist. It felt freeing to put a label on what I was feeling. I looked up PPD on online found message boards where other mothers wrote they had experienced similar symptoms. I wasn’t alone.
I opened up to people about my PPD, too. Mothers came to me and told me they appreciated how outspoken I was. They had also suffered, and I helped them feel less alone.
I went to bed earlier, started taking medicine, got back into the gym, and put my baby in daycare with my other child. I felt guilty about sending her to daycare earlier than I wanted, but I knew they would do a fine job. Plus, my children would be in the same place, together, during the day. That was comforting to me.
I learned that being a good mother doesn’t mean you have to take care of your kids 24/7. Being a stay-at-home mom is admirable, but it just wasn’t for me. I learned that that’s okay. Parenting is different for everyone.
Even though PPD has been one of the hardest challenges I’ve faced, it doesn’t stop me from wanting more kids. I love being a mother, even with all its ups and downs. It’s incredibly gratifying.
The postpartum phase will be challenging, but at least I’ll know how to take care of myself the next time around. And that’s the most important thing I can do for myself – and for my beautiful family.