It was just after 5 AM. I was staring at my husband under the bright white lights from my hospital bed in the delivery room. I was trying to channel him, to see if he was feeling “that thing” that everyone said we would feel—that joy, that euphoria of being a new parent.
I didn’t feel it. Actually, I felt nothing; I was numb.
I drifted through the next few days telling myself I was happy, smiling for visitors and photos. But when no one was around, the demons danced in my head. I was terrified. I didn’t want to be alone with that thing: my baby.
And then it got worse. My daughter started crying. Colic, but I didn’t know it at the time; I only knew I was a terrible mother. I knew I had made an awful mistake having this baby. When she cried, I cried harder. I would pace the house and feel the anger boiling inside of me. I ate very little. I slept even less.
A friend gave me advice to go for a walk with the stroller if she got “fussy”, so I walked furiously for hours every day. I did the same one-mile loop around my neighborhood five or six times a day. These walks took me to dark places; I often stood at the top of a particular hill along my route with the stroller and thought about what would happen if I just… let go. I imagined this every time I was on that hilltop. I hated myself each time, and it reinforced my feelings of failure as a mother, even though I was pretty sure I could never actually do it.
I spent each day miserable and anxious. I toggled between feeling sorry for myself and feeling ashamed at what a terrible mother I was. I continued to cry; sleep continued to elude me. And as the months passed, she stopped crying… but I could not. In fact, I didn’t even notice that she was getting calmer. I was in a constant state of emergency.
When she started sleeping through the night, I still rarely slept more than three hours. I stared at the ceiling for hours, focused on the enormous pit in my stomach. I started each morning with an overwhelming wave of dread about the day ahead of me. I tried to come to terms with this new life. I had done this to myself—I chose to have a baby—and this misery was the price I had to pay. I would never be happy again.
After a long maternity leave, I was ready to return to work. I told myself the dark cloud might lift a little once I was back to my normal routine at work. But that’s not what happened. The first day at work, I cried —not because I missed my baby, but because I was overwhelmed by my life. The second day, I told my boss I was thinking about quitting, and I cried some more. The third day brought even more crying—I felt hopeless and alone.
On the fourth day, my boss, who has known me well for nearly ten years, called me into her office. She told me I was not myself. She asked me to go to the doctor and take some more time off work.
I shudder to think what would have happened if she had not said those words to me. The trip to my obstetrician’s office is a blur, but I have a vivid memory of the nurse taking my blood pressure and asking, “What brings you in today?” I opened my mouth to tell her, but no words came out. Only sobs.
Thus began my journey out of postpartum depression.
There is much more to this story: panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, medication, hospitals, and guilt beyond imagination. But this story has a happy ending. My daughter just turned two years old. I feel a stronger bond with her now than I ever could have thought possible. We survived that struggle together. She is the best thing that ever happened to me.
There are countless things I wish had been different. What I went through is no one’s fault (including my own, I just wasn’t aware of that then). But if postpartum depression was easier for us to talk about, I could have gotten help sooner. Common mindsets about mental health and PPD are often uninformed, preventing people from getting the help they need.
Do you know anyone who has suffered from PPD? I bet you do. One in five mothers will experience anxiety or depression during pregnancy or the first year following delivery, and it is the number one complication of pregnancy and childbirth. The most frustrating fact is how truly treatable this problem is. If we can talk openly about how new moms are feeling, then we can prevent PPD from having such a deep and lasting effect. The message I send to every struggling new mom is this:
You are not alone. You are not to blame. And with help, you will be well.
Nadia Monroe is the founder of Postpartum Support Maryland, an affiliate of Postpartum Support Virginia, providing resources for struggling moms in the MD,VA, DC area. She lives with her daughter and husband in University Park, MD and, in addition to her volunteer work, works full time in Human Resources. For more information, to get resources, or to join the discussion, please visit www.postpartumva.org