SURVIVING POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION + LEARNING TO EMBRACE MOTHERHOOD
Becoming a mother changed my life, but not just in the ways you might expect. I experienced the overwhelming sense of love and attachment (typical after giving birth), but more importantly I faced postpartum depression that left me feeling completely isolated and alone. Before having my son, I always dreamt of becoming a mother. I am the youngest of a large blended family and grew up surrounded by nieces and nephews. I nannied starting at 14 years old and I thought I was truly prepared for anything motherhood threw my way, but now I realize you can never be fully prepared for motherhood.
I spent the first eighteen months of my son’s life battling postpartum depression (PPD) and resentment. In hindsight, it was a battle I was not prepared to face and for the most part I chose to fight it alone, failing to tell even those closest to me that I was struggling. I spent countless nights nursing my son while crying uncontrollably and I spent most of my days pretending that I was perfectly okay. The truth is depression runs in my family, and I was warned throughout my pregnancy that this made me even more susceptible to postpartum depression. I was told what to look out for after giving birth, but unfortunately, I failed to take this advice and I never asked for help.
Expectations go hand in hand with pregnancy and motherhood. Prior to having my son I dreamt of play groups and mommy-and-me classes. I expected breastfeeding to be a breeze and I expected my son to take a bottle like most babies do. When these expectations fell short, I was forced to grapple with disappointment, which eventually led to frustration and resentment. I battled with inner thoughts of helplessness, failure, and despair. Our son was born stubborn, refusing to ever take a bottle and demanding milk at all hours of the night (as newborns often do). To complicate things even further, I went back to work when my son was 2 months old and came home to a starving and screaming baby 5 days a week. I was convinced that this was somehow my fault, that I was a bad mother, and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t see how the situation would improve. Instead of enjoying our new family as I imagined I would, I spent my time day-dreaming about running away. One particularly painful day I even suggested to my husband that maybe I should leave as I was completely convinced that both he and my son would be better off without me.
I resented my family and friends who seemed to have less burdened lives and I resented my husband for his inability to help in the way only a mother can. I resisted facing the reality that motherhood was not going to be what I expected. I grew to hate the questions from friends and strangers asking how my son was sleeping or how the adjustment was going. I know everyone was well-intentioned, but I couldn’t admit that I was struggling to cope when everyone around me seemed to have motherhood “figured out”. I lied and said things were great when in reality things felt as if they were falling apart. Each day was a struggle for me and I faced it entirely alone. Not surprisingly my approach backfired and the more I told everyone I was fine and that motherhood was a breeze, the further I drifted away from the people that could’ve actually helped. My “mom friends” who very well could have been struggling themselves dismissed me since I looked like I had it together. My husband, who also struggled with the transition to parenthood, leaned on me for support since I appeared to be handling things so well. The few people who could – and surely would – have supported me were not given that opportunity.
My son is now 2 years old and while I still have challenging days (who doesn’t?!), I have finally begun to embrace all that motherhood has to offer. I have been honest with my family and friends about my earlier struggles and most importantly I have become more honest with myself. I chose to leave my unfulfilling job to focus on my son and on my health. Most importantly I learned to ask for help, something every mother needs from time to time – and wouldn’t you know it, I receive help in return! If you are struggling with postpartum depression or simply having a hard time adjusting to all the changes motherhood throws your way, learn from my mistakes and ask for the help and support that you need rather than pushing people away and putting on a brave face. I have been there, I know what it feels like, and I am telling you that you are not alone and more importantly you cannot do it alone and that is perfectly okay.