Having A Baby Wasn't Supposed to Feel Like This...
This is a blog post I wrote a while back, early in my recovery process from postpartum depression and anxiety. This is a bit of a recounting of my journey and experiences, and I hope having this out there for the world will help with the normalization of perinatal mood disorders.
Having a baby wasn't supposed to feel like this… it was supposed to be a time filled with wonder and joy, a time to revel in awe of the precious new life I had created. Instead, it was a seemingly endless time filled with crippling feelings of inadequacy, shame, guilt, anxiety, and an incessant desire to somehow escape from this situation I felt so completely trapped in. Of course, it's completely normal for every mother to experience some, if not all, of these feelings to some extent, at one point or another. However, the intensity of my feelings and irrationality that accompanied them, spoke to something greater at play. I was suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety, and I'd like to share my story.
Fortunately, my postpartum depression (ppd) did not start right after birth. I had about 2 blissful months with baby J before this ugly disease reared its head. I remember so clearly the weekend it all began. My husband was away for business over a long weekend, and it was the first time I had been alone with both my girls for such a period of time. I was nervous before he left, but I felt I could handle it okay. I felt like I had to, in order to keep up with the super mom persona society inflicts on all mothers. It was the second day he was gone, and I was upstairs in the nursery attempting to get baby J to take a nap… by this point, she had lost her newborn ability to nap anytime and anywhere. Often times I held her for the entirety of her nap to help her get sleep. Most of the time this wasn’t a problem. My husband works from home a lot, so on the days my older daughter, L, was home from preschool, there was at least someone present to help her if needed, while I was tucked away in the nursery.
On this particular morning, it struck me suddenly how very alone I was. L was downstairs watching a movie, so I knew she’d probably be fine, but I started feeling very anxious. What if she did need me, what would I do? How bad of a mother was I that I was essentially leaving my 3.5 year old to fend for herself during this 1-2 hour period? I felt out of control. I felt I had to do it all, but how? I’m only one person. While baby J was napping, my anxiety built and built, and spiraled me down into a dark place it would take me months to ascend from. I’m pretty sure this is the moment it all began.
I’m a problem solver by nature. I see a problem, and I get to work to find a solution. As my anxiety was coursing through my body, I decided the only way through this particular problem was to gain more control. I had to get baby J on a predictable schedule, and I had to work on getting her to sleep more independently for naps, so I wouldn’t be abandoning L so frequently. This became my mission and ultimately my trigger for the next few months. This need to find control over baby Js sleep patterns consumed me to the point of madness. Looking back on it now, I can see how irrational this was, and even then I knew to a point how my fixation wasn’t normal, but I just couldn’t get past it. I recognized pretty quickly that I needed to seek help and found a therapist to begin counseling.
The next 5 months or so, was definitely a roller coaster of emotions. Therapy was helping, but it was a very slow process. I had a lot of feelings to process and a lot of emotional baggage to unpack, so to speak. I considered medication, but my husband was weary of the side effects, and for the most part, I didn’t think I really needed medication either. My ppd was very cyclical, and I think, tied into my menstrual cycles. I would have a string of good days in which I felt I was making progress, and then 1 really bad week, with a devastating backslide, and this would go back and forth. It felt very much like 1 step forward, 2 steps back.
Everyday I struggled with the thought that I had ruined my life by having another baby. I should have stopped while I was ahead. This was made all the worse by the fact we were seriously considering stopping at 1 child for a very long time. Obviously, I caught baby fever and we did decide to have another baby, but now that I was at such a point of despair, it was so easy for me to wonder what life would have been like if we had stuck with that earlier decision to be done having kids. I wished everyday to go back to what my life was like before. It was such a conflicting feeling, because I knew I loved baby J, we did after all get a lot of great bonding time prior to my ppd. I struggled with so much guilt and shame. If I loved her as fiercely as I did, then why when I put her to bed, did I secretly hope she’d become one of the horrible SIDS statistics and end my misery? Why did I fantasize about a life without her in it? I knew I could never actually harm her though, nor did I want to. Mostly I just felt a lot of regret that I ever got pregnant with her in the first place. I was in misery, and I only had myself to blame.
She was shattering my perception of control, and I couldn’t handle it. I felt so defeated and resigned. I felt like I wasn’t cut out to be a mom, which in turn made me feel like a horrible person. Any other time in life when I had put so much effort and work into something I always got a pay-out, and I felt like I was being failed now. I wasn’t getting the desired results.. I started resenting baby J, because I felt like I was doing everything right to foster good sleep habits for her, and she wasn’t holding up her end of the deal. I spent countless hours scouring the internet for expert advice, and trying to determine what was actually the right path, since there’s so much conflicting advice out there. I wanted so much to make things perfect for her so that she’d fall into line. I was trying to do everything the experts say, to make things just right for her, so she could then fall into the schedule I was hoping for. When she failed to live up to my ridiculously high expectations, I felt like a failure, and that I had done something wrong, and I needed to find another answer. I was baffled because the experts said if I did, X,Y and Z, I should expect these perfect results, and that’s just not how it was going for me. At the time, it felt like she was defying me on purpose, just to spite me. I was reaching for perfection, which I now know is futile, and I felt like such a failure. It seems so irrational now, but at the time, I just couldn’t see that.
It got to the point that I didn’t want to exist anymore. I never wanted to actually kill myself per se, it was more of a passive suicidal ideation. If I was driving alone, I would fantasize about getting into a car accident, and at least if I didn’t die, I would be out of commission, and baby J would be someone else problem. Or I would fantasize about just packing a bag, getting on a plane and leaving it all behind. I was so tired of trying, and failing, to gain control, but as long as I was around, I just couldn’t give it up. I knew to get any relief I had to remove myself from the picture, whether by death or by disappearing. Thankfully, my fantasies remained fantasies and I never actually got up the courage to do anything real. There was still a part of me, even if very small, that knew things had to get better, and I wanted to be around for when that happened. Mostly, I just wished I could go to sleep for awhile, and wake up when baby J was a toddler, because I figured it would have to be better by then.
Things came to a head on Easter, and I had a massive breakdown after baby J refused to take an afternoon nap. I was under a lot of pressure because it was a holiday and we had a lot of family to visit, and I wanted things to go well. I think I was at just the right spot in my menstrual cycle and my hormones were all over the place, and I was in between particularly intense therapy sessions. I was in the process of doing EMDR, a therapy technique to process through events to gain closure and peace, and I had a lot of raw emotions brought up because of this. That day, and the day following I was at the lowest I’ve ever been. Thankfully, because I have a great support system in my husband, therapist and my family, I was helped through it, and ultimately got started on an antidepressant, as well as finished out my EMDR session.
To this day I’m not sure if it was the medication, or the successful EMDR that helped me turn the corner. Maybe it was a combination of both. Either way, I was finally able to walk out of the fog that I had been in for so long. I’m still on the medication, and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to start weaning off it at the year point. (EDITED TO ADD- I successfully weaned off the medication with no complications or set backs, since I wrote this) I’m confident that I was able to process through everything in therapy, so when the time comes to wean, I’ll stay stable.
Reflecting back on the whole experience, I can see that this forced a growth in me, and I am a healthier person now because of it. Although, it’s hard not to wish it didn’t happen at all. It’s hard to reconcile everything that happened, and it scares me to think about how lost I was. At the time I didn’t feel that different, but now I can see clearly, and I was a completely different person. It was hard on my husband, because for a time it felt as though he lost the person he had married, and he didn’t know how to get the real me back. It’s not as though I was able to be reasoned with very easily, my thinking was anything but logical.
I’m now left with the question of why this happened to me. It’s certainly not something I ever expected to happen. It feels like such a cruel betrayal by my brain, and it’s something I think about a lot lately. In the end though, whatever the reason for it, I’m just glad to have come out the other side. I hope sharing my experience can help other women, though I know ppd looks different for everybody. Mostly, I just hope more progress will be made to remove the stigma surrounding ppd, so women will feel empowered to get help. I wouldn’t have made it through my ordeal by myself, and it pains me to think about other women who may be going through this by themselves because they’re too ashamed to seek treatment or support. Help is out there, and if any of what I’ve wrote resonates with you, know you are not alone. Having a baby isn’t supposed to feel bad, and if it does, then I implore you, please find help. You can get to the point where I am too, where you can feel peace again and marvel at life with your amazing tiny human you created… this is what having a baby is supposed to feel like.
If you are struggling, please reach out for help. www.postpartum.net is a great place to start.