If you are a mom who has postpartum depression or is feeling down, I feel your pain. I imagined that I’d be all glowing and mellow during the weeks after delivering my baby. I thought it was within my grasp, seeing as how incredibly serene I felt through most of my pregnancy. This had to be due to pregnancy hormones. Nine weeks into my pregnancy the morning sickness was gone and I was feeling fine — better than fine. Luckily, the same pregnancy hormones that cause you to feel crappy in the beginning can actually make you feel good once your body gets adjusted to them. I felt calm. If you didn’t know me, you might mistakenly think I was into meditation or something. One friend said, “Wow, you’re doing really great considering the fact that your life is about to change so drastically. I get nervous when I try a new shade of toenail polish.”
I smiled smugly, “I guess I’m just good with change.” I was actually under the hormonal delusion that I had an easygoing personality.
Like many women, I had a lot of great soft-focus fantasies about how utterly sweet life would be once the baby got here. Self-confidence would be oozing through my pores and my motherly instinct, along with that hour and forty-five minute infant care class I took, would help me “just know” how to do everything. I envisioned myself lying in bed cuddling and nursing my new baby, the poster child for breastfeeding. Naturally, there would be a parade of well wishers who would stop by and be astounded at how quickly I’d bounced back from giving birth. In fact, we all would look so good that Annie Lebowitz would drop in to shoot a photo spread of my newly-formed family for Greatest Parents Ever! magazine.
Interestingly, not one of my Earth Mother fantasies had me home from the hospital a week after giving birth, more bloated than a professional bowler, with dark circles under my eyes and sobbing nonstop all day long on the couch. Yet that would be the more accurate picture.
After you give birth, no matter how excited you were and still are, your body goes through hormonal changes where your levels drop from the highest they’ve ever been to completely off the charts.
For me, once those hormones took a nose dive so did my mental health. I’ve never felt as bad as the days following the “happiest day of my life.” After the initial awe of having a child came the overwhelming realization that her life was in my hands. All day long I was petrified that something was wrong with my baby. I’d stare at her while she slept peacefully, willing her to wake up so I’d know she was okay. Positive that she wasn’t breathing properly, I counted her breaths using a stopwatch, and convinced myself that her complexion looked bluish.
While worrying incessantly about the baby, I also knew with certainty that my husband was plotting his escape. I didn’t blame him one bit. I wouldn’t want to live with me either. I was a complete mess. Besides greeting each new day with constant crying, I was still fifty pounds overweight and I had cellulite on my arms for goodness sake.
To be fair, I’d been prone to little bouts of relationship paranoia in the past. Like when my husband and I were first dating. After any large or small disagreements, I found it comforting to have a nice four-hour marathon talk to really be sure we’d smoothed things over. A lot of men, I realized, only like to have two-hour talks — three tops. And if there’s a shark special on Discover they may want to forgo conversation altogether. So, okay, I’d always suspected that I might be a teensy bit emotionally high maintenance but I just chalked it up to being “artistic”. And, to my credit, after the first year of dating, I’d chilled out a lot.
Well, here we were almost six years later and within 48 hours I’d slid so far down I made Lindsay Lohan look emotionally stable. I figured my husband was about two crying jags away from leaving me to find a new mother for his baby; someone thin, cute, dry-eyed and maybe, oh, eight years younger than me. My husband attempted to reassure me, but he didn’t know what to do. He tried telling me that what I was feeling was probably just caused by hormones and was completely normal. He even offered to take the baby into another room overnight and be responsible for all the feedings so that I could get some much-needed sleep. I know, I know, most new mothers would happily give up Splenda for a year in exchange for one decent night of sleep, but I accused my husband of wanting to be away from me. Finally, he begged me to please tell my obstetrician what was going on.
The moment my doctor walked into the examining room at my first postpartum checkup I started crying. He nonchalantly said, “Go ahead and get dressed and come into my office.”
With pants back on and tears still a-streamin’, I explained to him how awful I was feeling. “I can’t sleep, I’m crying all day long, and I’m sure my husband has his bags packed. I’m taking care of my baby, and I love her, but I’m feeling completely overwhelmed.”
All he said was, “Well, you just had a baby. It’s a big responsibility.”
“This feels like a little more than just that,” I said.
“Yes, well, it sounds to me like a touch of the baby blues.”
This was a touch of the baby blues? It felt more like the display at Costco just collapsed on my head.
“It’s perfectly normal, nothing to worry about,” he reassured me. “You’ll be fine. If you’re not feeling better in a couple of weeks, then let me know, and we can write you a prescription for something.”
I prayed that something would be a morphine drip.
During a subsequent bout of insomnia, I did some Internet research and found that “baby blues” occur in 50-80% of women within the first few days of giving birth and may last for a few days to a few weeks. Baby blues is described as weepiness, anxiety and emotional instability. The feelings should get increasingly less intense, often resolving themselves.
According to my personal research, here’s what postpartum depression is NOT: It’s not just feeling a little extra emotional; it’s not getting misty-eyed at a sappy AT&T commercial; it’s not bursting into tears because you just spotted a rainbow.
Postpartum depression is real BLUES. You’re sad. And you think you’re not supposed to be sad because you just had a baby and that’s supposed to make you feel happy and complete. So you leap to the conclusion you must be a bad person.
Women experience postpartum depression in varying degrees. Mine was a pretty rough experience. A percentage of news moms don’t get any depression at all. These are the same women who also never suffered cramps with their period, never experienced the blinding pain of a migraine, or had someone break up with them via e-mail. Feel free to resent them, everyone else does.
But there is another type of woman who insists she had a wonderful pregnancy and doesn’t believe in postpartum anxiety or postpartum depression. This type of woman refers to her baby’s birth as the “the blessed event” and throws around the word “amazing” like Jay-Z uses “bitch.” If you’re suffering from postpartum depression this woman will only compound your anxiety by constantly reminding you of how “ecstatic you should be feeling!” and how “mommy time is a gift to be treasured every second of every day!” and how you should be getting up off that couch and shouting from the rooftops “Thank God almighty, I’m a Mommy at last!”
Just know that this woman is in denial. She is the type of woman whose husband is sleeping with her best friend but she just chalks up all their late nights together to “They must be planning a surprise party for me.” Uh-huh. For the past three years? Yeah, that’ll be one hell of a surprise!
Two weeks after my initial doctor’s appointment, I went back for my follow up. I was still crying more than a drunk sorority chick at a pinning ceremony. I gave him the “no change” update.
“Oh, okay, well then let’s just get you on an antidepressant and see how it goes.” I was sent home with a prescription for Paxil, which I’d already filled and popped before even pausing to read the instructions. If I had, I would’ve seen the small print where it mentioned a .0001% chance of mania in new users. Guess who comprised that one-tenth of a millionth of a percent? Yup, I was flying.
Luckily, I was scheduled to attend a neighborhood cooking club that night (in spite of the fact that I rarely cook and don’t intend to start) and, let me tell you, these women could use a dose of mania. Even a well-steeped cup of English Breakfast tea would help liven this group. I told tales a mile a minute of my five-week-old daughter, my love of ABBA and my trouble breastfeeding. The mommies stared at me like I’d just suggested we all swap husbands for the night.
Before I had a chance to go back to the doctor to get on antidepressant option #2, I noticed I was starting to feel better. I had stopped breastfeeding, which for me evened out my hormones; started exercising; my husband was taking some of the middle of the night feedings, and I was talking to other mothers about how I felt. This is key. Pretty soon I was down to just constant complaining — which actually wasn’t too far from my normal state of being. And eventually, I was just dealing with the adjustment to parenthood, and not the actual postpartum depression, which was a hell of a lot better.
Everyone experiences some type of emotional response to the drastic plunge in hormone levels. You’ve also just had a baby and your life is very suddenly, very drastically changed forever. That’s some heavy shit which can’t help but change you in a permanent way. I challenge you to find a new mother or any mother whose eyes remain dry while watching a newscast involving a baby. It doesn’t even have to be a human baby. Chimps, llamas, even hamsters will bring on the tears.
But, if your feelings get out of control or if you experience depression or anxiety for more than a few weeks, you probably need help to get over it. Hell, I need help to cope when I have no new messages on my voicemail. On the other hand, if you find that you’re feeling tired all the time, overwhelmed, irritable and have virtually no sex drive whatsoever, welcome to motherhood my friend.