This is what postpartum depression looks like. This is the face of a mother who has been battling PPD for nearly four years.
I remember sitting in our living room recliner at 20-something weeks pregnant, as dusk deepened and the room grew darker, googling “prenatal depression” as hot tears streamed down my face. My husband found me and I managed to choke out the words that filled me with shame, “I think something is wrong with me.”
The 12-week Bradley birth class, week after week of an instructor demonizing epidurals and c-sections, citing statistics about how drugs and interventions caused babies to not nurse, get sick more often, not develop as well. Her voice in my head to this day whenever we hit a bump in the road, whether it’s a sniffle or a stutter. “This is my fault,” I think. “It’s because I got that epidural.”
Checking into the hospital after timing the contractions and checking off all the “head to hospital boxes” only to be told by a very curt nurse, “you’re barely 1 centimeter.” Laying on a hospital bed soaked in amniotic fluid from my water that had broken an hour before, unable to articulate that I needed new clothes, sobbing through contractions that already felt excruciating, knowing I had SO far to go, feeing defeated before we even started, feeling tricked and let down by my own body, the body everyone had been telling me was “made for this.” I didn’t feel made for anything.
Standing in the nursery window on a gray December day, my head pressed against the cool glass, breathing through the panic bubbling up in my chest again. A three month old wailing in his crib behind me. Looking out at the street, thinking to myself, “I’ll just pack a bag and get in my car and drive to California. I’ll leave a note. Maybe someday Matt will understand. They’re better off without me.”
The pain in my husband’s eyes when I cried to him that I’m sorry I ruined his life by trapping him with a mess of a wife and a newborn son.
The anxiety that bubbled up every time I noticed the sun beginning to set. Would I sleep? Would he cry? How was I going to make it?
Turning down invitations from friends to come over or go out, making up excuses, sometimes outright lies. Anything to keep them at arm’s length. Anything to keep them from seeing how much I was messing it all up.
The panic attack in Hawaii, a dream family vacation with a 3-month old. We planned a full day on the beach and I forgot the beach tent for shade. My mom telling me it was fine, just go grab a stick to make a tent out of a swaddle blanket. Mumbling “I can’t,” sitting down in the sand with limbs that felt like they were lead, the thoughts coming like missiles to my already battered and bombed-out heart:
You are a terrible mom.
What made you think you could do this?
You will never get the hang of it.
And the closer, the slippery snake that wound it’s way in again and again, squeezing everything else out: they would be better off without you. You are a burden to absolutely everyone, most of all your family.
My mom’s voice, annoyed at first. “What do you mean you can’t? Just go grab a stick.” Then seeing me crumple, she folds around me like my favorite quilt on a cold day. Her tone is gentler, worried. “Honey, what is going on?” It all comes tumbling out in a rush, the words that have been dammed up for months. The levee breaks and they’re out in the open. I can’t take them back. I need her to understand, mom to mom. I thought for sure she’d tell me to buck up, count my blessings and stop being dramatic. Instead she looks at me as only a mom can and says kindly, “let’s get you some help.” Her words like a life preserver when I felt like I was about to go under.
My mother, helping ME to mother. A cycle that has continued since the dawn of time.
I share this because it is my deepest desire that moms feel less alone. If something I share here makes even one person nod their head, say “gosh, yes, me too,” that’s all I hope for. I want women to know that postpartum depression doesn’t discriminate. I had nothing to “be depressed about.” I had (have!) an incredible husband, a healthy baby, a loving and helpful family, an incredible village.
And yet. The intrusive thoughts, the debilitating anxiety, the uncontrollable rage. It came like a thief in the night, intent on stealing all the joy from my son’s newborn season. Like a wrecking ball, intent on smashing through my marriage, my friendships, my self-worth.
May is maternal mental health month, and it’s my prayer that no mama feels alone on her journey. Postpartum depression and anxiety are nothing to be ashamed of. There is hope. There is healing. There is light in the midst of the darkness.
And in case no one has told you today: you’re a GOOD MOM. You’re doing a GOOD JOB. And most of all, you are NOT ALONE.