When I had our daughter, Isabella, I felt blindsided. You would think after nine months I would be mentally ready. I wasn't. I didn't admit that to myself. And when I started to feel down, I thought it was only because she was colicky, crying for four to eight hours straight day or night.
At the same time, I also felt everything had to be perfect all the time. That may have been because my relationship with my boyfriend was so new — we had been together just over a year when Isabella was born, and only moved in together when I was seven months pregnant. All I could think was, “Is he going to realize what he is really in for and leave me?” And so I struggled to get her to stop her siren crying while keeping the house clean and doing laundry, when I should have been sleeping.
I wanted to be one of those perfect TV moms. You know, the ones that are cheerful all the time, take challenges as they come with a smile, and always have dinner ready on time. I would see this type of mom on Facebook and see the crafts they did while their babies slept, their shrinking waistlines, and their pretty houses. (I didn't suspect any of it was staged.)
I didn't want to give up on this idea — despite the fact that I was overwhelmed and depressed. I loved Isabella with all my heart, but her 10- to 20-minute naps didn’t give me enough time to regroup. I was also very alone. I had very few friends in the city, and none of them were moms.
Meanwhile, sleep-deprived and feeling like a failure, I rocked our screaming baby in the glider, picturing putting her in the garbage can or leaving her at the fire station. It was horrifying.
It took me a while to admit to myself that I was feeling this way because I was suffering from postpartum depression.
I'm no stranger to depression. When I was 15 years old, I was put on antidepressants. I wasn't a fan, and with my mom’s support, I went off of them two years after I started. I found therapy and healthy living personally more successful, although I understand this approach doesn’t work for everyone.
But rocking Isabella as she cried, I felt the same kind of bottoming-out feeling I had known in my teens. I was in a deep fog of despair, at the bottom of a dark well of sadness, with no rope to help me climb out. I was worried but was also under the impression that a lot of new moms felt overwhelmed after giving birth. Maybe this was "normal"? Maybe I just needed to “cowboy up," as my grandpa would say.
My doctor asked me if I was OK, but I shrugged off her help. In retrospect, my doctor could have probed harder for answers from me. I believe with a little bit of nudging I would have finally admitted it to myself, and to her.
Fortunately, I did eventually open up to my husband about what I was feeling. And together we mapped out a plan. He would share waking-up-at-night duties. I joined a rock-climbing center to do something active with other adults (a crucial step). And every week I would leave the house and have some alone time — whether it was a walk, book shopping, or coffee by myself. We divided up the housework, and I started to journal my feelings.
With less responsibility, healthier eating, and some alone time to think, I started to feel like myself again. It might have been easier if I had chosen therapy. But I didn’t, partly because I feel depression is so stigmatized in our society — the same way that struggles with having children (or choosing not to) is also stigmatized. And that is just so sad.
Eventually, with pure determination, the support of my husband, and the passing of Isabella’s colic, I got through that difficult time. Today, our daughter is a happy 7-year-old.
I know other women are struggling today, and I want them to know that it's OK to ask for help. You may think you'll feel judged, but you'll likely be supported instead. Or even find out that the woman you're talking to was in a similar position.