As I tried to write something in honor of Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, I found myself repeating what I have written before.
It is still hard to be honest, really honest about how I felt during the year after the birth of my first son because so many of those feelings are still coupled with guilt and shame, but I feel compelled to share so that my story might help one other person and as one of my friends says, “Libbie, you need to own the sh*t out of that.” So here I go, owning the sh*t….
Originally Published at 4thTrimesterSupport.com
Lately, I’ve written a lot about the experience I have had with my most recent post partum period. I’ve felt compelled to share so much because there is such a stark contrast to the first time that I became a mother.
I think of the day that my first son was born and the day after as the worst days of my life. My mother had told me about her birth stories and basically represented that when my child was born, instantly, the white fluffy clouds would part, sunshine would stream through, the angels would break out their trumpets and a triumphant chorus of love would welcome my baby and me into our new lives. I would hold this wet squidgy body against my chest and as the meconium dripped over my stomach, I would cry tears of joy as my body and mind were overcome by a love that I could never imagine.
Let’s just say, there were no angels, and there were no trumpets. When they placed my baby on my chest, I just looked at it. IT – this strange foreign creature. There was no connection, no warmth. I was so glad when someone else held my baby while I was being stitched up.
I felt like something was so wrong. I was so ashamed that I did not feel this surge of love. I didn’t tell anyone. They rolled us into the postpartum area and I was bombarded with information. I kept good notes and paid attention to everyone. I felt a tremendous sense of loss, but I just focused on the information and then charting poops and pees. I went to sleep that night and wept. I just couldn’t understand why things were so horrible.
When I woke up the next morning, I could not believe the sun had come up. I could not believe that there was a newspaper. How could the entire world have kept going when something like this had happened to me. It was the beginning of one long dark night that would last in varying degrees for over a year. I had no idea that my feelings, or lack thereof, could be indicative of Postpartum Depression or Anxiety.
My Postpartum Depression didn’t follow the standard rubric (because it wasn’t just depression). I ate well, I fell asleep quickly, I went to work, I saw friends, I didn’t cry, I did everything I was supposed to do. But inside I was drowning. I was drowning in a sea of numbness – but just like real drowning, it was silent. Everything looked okay.
I even had my therapist fooled. A PhD psychologist didn’t know that I was depressed. I bounced my baby on my lap in our sessions and told her about how I was tired or struggling with an issue at work.
She asked if I wanted to hurt my baby. “No, of course not.” I would say. What kind of monster would want to hurt their baby? I didn’t tell her that I every time I encountered a certain situation I would imagine something awful happening to my baby. These intrusive thoughts were so disturbing that I could not even acknowledge them myself, let alone mention them to my therapist. The shame of those feeling still sits in my gut.
She told me that I would feel better when I slept.
I did not feel better when I slept.
I fantasized about running away. I fantasized about dropping my baby off with my mother and checking into a mental hospital for a few weeks just so that I could sleep. I wondered if I could find a job in Alaska and just disappear one day. I could not figure out why so many mothers seemed so happy and I could not find joy in my new life. They professed a love for their children that I could not imagine and certainly did not feel. I felt like an awful person. I was failing at motherhood.
When I read Down Came the Rain, by Brooke Shields, I finally heard the answer to my questions. I finally felt that someone had captured some of what I was feeling and had given it a name. They had given it a name that meant that I wasn’t a bad mom. They had given it a name that meant that I wasn’t alone. They had given it a name that meant that there was light at the end of this very long, very dark tunnel.
After about a year, a new therapist helped me to really identify and treat my Postpartum Depression and Anxiety. When I had my second baby, I had knowledge, a better arsenal of tools, a different birth and some good luck. All of that led to a drastically different experience, but I still needed help and support.
4th Trimester Support (And now The Mothers’ Space) is the product of all of my experience. It is the group that I wish had been there for me. A place where everyone did not need to put on a brave face and say, “Yes, of course, I am so happy, I love having a baby.” A place where I could speak the truth. A place where the thoughts in my head and the feelings in my heart did not need to be hidden away. A place where I could bring them out into the light and be met with compassion and support. A place that offered healing, community and connection.
The Delaware Chapter of Postpartum Support International is the next step in creating meaningful resources and support in our area for moms and families suffering with PMADs. Please join us on May 12th as we Climb Out of the Darkness. Our free, family friendly stroll is all about building a compassionate community for young families.
*****If you or someone you know are struggling with postpartum depression, anxiety or other mood disorder please reach out for help. Postpartum Support International warmline 1-800-944-4773(4PPD).
People in crisis should call their physicians, their local emergency number or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).