I never heard the words “postpartum depression” until it was too late. I had no idea such a thing existed except in extreme cases of mothers drowning their children that the media covered in National Enquirer-style reporting. My pregnancies were easy. My deliveries were easy. Seriously, childbirth was easier than bunion surgery. True story. But still, something wasn’t right.
When my first son was born, life was a blissful adjustment. My baby nestled and snoozled and cuddled. He was a great eater and an even better sleeper. My husband and I had adjusted. Baby weight melted off (though the skin didn’t necessarily go back to its original taut condition). Life was happy, complete, loving. We thought we had this parenting thing down and we patted each other on the back for making our way. It’s not that having a baby didn’t turn our world upside down and every which way; it’s that we made it work. We were a family. I was a mother.
My husband and I wanted to round out our family so we had our second baby, a son. Again my pregnancy and delivery were easy. The baby was always on my person, and he slept and ate and cuddled and giggled. My boys are 22 months apart, meaning they were both in diapers for a short while. Adjusting to life with two children was not so easy. I was feeling harried and strung out and was not experiencing the same bliss I had the first time around. I kept searching for this bliss and worried my baby wasn’t experiencing the same happy bond as my older son had in his infancy. Then I feared that I compensated for this worry by focusing on the baby and neglecting my older son who hardly had a chance to be an only child who was coddled and lovingly spoiled. I was running amok on a hamster wheel fraught with traps of guilt and shame and weakness. I was agitated and sleepless. I couldn’t breastfeed due to some serious medical issues, and even the lactation consultant told me to carry on with bottle feeding to nourish my baby. I felt guilty and judged and like less of a mother.
This guilt transported me to a weary place that was a maze of despair. I trudged through my days and lay awake through my nights. This is the point in my life I stopped sleeping. I chalked this new malaise up to my husband’s new job that required a lot of travel, raising my sons with no family support, financial strains of life as a foursome, a tantruming two-year old, diapers and feedings and the other trappings of motherhood, medical scares, and simply being worn out. I labored through my day moving like a robot conducting task after task with little emotion. I was becoming less and less present. I lost my laugh.
My husband would come home to a weeping puddle of stress and weariness. He stepped in like a star and was my rock at 5:30 everyday. I suppose this makes him a rock star. I started watching the clock. My sons needed him. I needed him. We both chalked my mood up to hormones and stress. He helped oh so much and presented the patience of a saint. But still, I wallowed. I lost myself.
Still, we had no sense of “postpartum depression.” We knew I wasn’t myself but didn’t know how I could bounce back. I talked to my friends, who all recommended various pills, herbs, and prescription drugs. I talked to my doctor, who told me I must be tired. I insisted that the boys were great sleepers, but he said the early days of motherhood are simply tiring. I didn’t advocate for myself because I didn’t know how to. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I disconnected from other mothers. I stayed away from Dr. Google. I resigned myself to simply feel like a wet rag and drag my feet all day. I resigned myself to sleepless nights and a head hung low. I lived like this for months. My husband was our rock and my champion. Eventually, I started seeing some clarity and straightened my shoulders and found a glimmer of glee in my sons’ giggling. I don’t know what changed. I just knew that I had. I felt the warmth of the sun wash over me, and it seemed I was a snake who shed her crusty skin.
I wish I knew then what I know now. I would have more happy memories of those early days. I would have less guilt over how I deprived my sons. I would have fought harder. I would have spoken up, spoken out. I would have asked for help. I wish I had.
Ilina Ewen writes at Dirt & Noise, where she shares her musings and grumblings of life as the sole woman in a house of boys. Even her dog is male. She’s an accidental foodie, social activist, and volunteer who really needs to learn how to say no.
The 4th Annual Mother’s Day Rally for Moms’ Mental Health is presented by Postpartum Progress, a national nonprofit 501c3 that raises awareness & advocates for more and better services for women who have postpartum depression and all other mental illnesses related to pregnancy and childbirth. Please consider making a donation today, on Mother’s Day, to help us continue to spread the word and support the mental health of new mothers.