It Wasn’t What I Expected: My Story of Postpartum Depression

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We walked in the house around dinner time the last day in February 2011. We were coming home from our unexpected transfer to the hospital after birthing my baby girl, Marlee, at home. It was already dark. My mom was rocking my little baby and I was jealous to hold her. She was mine and I was anxious to be that perfect mommy like I had always envisioned. I had wanted this my whole life. I had always been desperate to hold any baby I had ever been around. But now that I was here and had one to keep right in my very arms, I felt a little lost. I had no idea what I was doing, and I really didn’t even know who this baby was. While in the hospital, not really even missing her, I wondered what had just happened to me. A 19 hour labor at home pushing a posterior (“sunny side up”) baby, then bleeding because my uterus would not contract and blacking out. Then a trip to the hospital leaving my baby at home in my mother’s care. Did I really go through all of that? Was that a dream? Or maybe just something I imagined? What was I doing here and who was this baby waiting for me? Did she really come from me? I had only been with her about an hour before I left, and it wasn’t the most conducive to bonding with her. She hadn’t even nursed! What was waiting for me here finally as a mom?

It Wasn’t What I Expected: My Story of Postpartum Depression

Once home we tried to settle into some kind of routine. We went to bed and we put her down, but she cried a lot. She spit up even more. I continued to feed her formula for a couple of days. That was what they had started her on (clearly she needed to eat and I wasn’t around) and I didn’t really know what to do. How should I start this breastfeeding thing? Soon I started to nurse her. It had always been my dream to breastfeed, and I just knew it would complete this ethereal and instant bond I would have with my newborn, but that was far from the case. Instead of that image of a peaceful mother with a content baby snuggled in one arm, latched at the breast, cocooned in heavenly bond, I experienced excruciating pain. What was I doing wrong? I remember sitting on the couch, cross legged, holding my baby with a pillow underneath her, a pillow behind me, and another pillow under my arm, bending over a little trying to manipulate my breast in her mouth, back and shoulders aching and feeling pain (from the latch) that rivaled my worst contraction. I seriously thought about giving the whole thing up, which shocked and confused me, since I never thought I would want to give up so easily on something I wanted so much. The next day a wonderful and warm lactation consultant came over and put me at ease. She showed me better ways of nursing and suggested I wear a nipple shield to help her latch and for the pain. It was like a miracle. It enabled me to breastfeed without feeling like I wanted to be knocked out with drugs. It was annoying to have to wear the nipple shield, but now that it was bearable, I was determined to continue.

Several days passed and the shock of giving birth didn’t seem to wear off like I thought it would. At first I felt traumatized from my experience, although over all it was a good birth. I only needed IV fluids and rest at the hospital—nothing was seriously wrong with me, and I had birthed a healthy baby all naturally at home like I wanted. So what was I feeling? I felt scared and sad. I couldn’t understand what I was scared of though. My mom stayed with us for a week and I remember her up at night one night watching TV and me breaking down in front of her. I couldn’t understand why I felt so traumatized from the birth. No it wasn’t a “perfect” birth like we had planned, but I was still shocked by it and so afraid that it had even happened to me. What had I done in having a child? My mom tried to comfort me. Was I just worn out from a long labor and unexpected transfer to the hospital? It didn’t help that my baby seemed to oppose sleep and that she spit up constantly. I didn’t really know what to do with these feelings, but I knew I had a baby to take care of so that’s what I did. I nursed and bounced and swaddled and tried to sleep when I could, but when I tried to, all I could think about was my birth and the fears swirling in my head. This dark foreboding began to creep ever nearer as the days went on.

The days seemed long as my baby grew and I wondered if she would start feeling like “my” baby soon. Of course I loved her, but I didn’t feel like I really loved her. I felt I didn’t even know her. For a long time, I easily imagined that she was actually someone else’s baby. Life inside my head seemed to grow more cloudy with fears and anxiety. My life flashed before my eyes everyday. It was a strange emotion: overwhelming fear for the future mixed with a very real and present loss. I felt I was experiencing death and with that the knowledge that I would never again be able to see my baby grow up, to be with her, to help her as she matured, to watch her marry and to know her children. I saw her a young woman, on her own in this big crazy mixed up world without her parents to guide her, and the grief threatened to destroy me. The grief was extremely real and even as I held her, I felt a deep loss I couldn’t explain. I felt a deep sadness that nothing would ever be okay again.  Shouldn’t I be happy? Shouldn’t I be enjoying this? Well meaning family, friends and strangers would congratulate us and comment, “Enjoy the time, it goes by so fast!” But I wasn’t enjoying the time and I felt terribly guilty because of that. I felt I was missing out on our precious new life together as a family of three. I was taking care of my baby, but I didn’t feel very connected to her. I’m so glad I continued to breastfeed because I felt it was our only real connection to each other, and that somehow, by breastfeeding her, I could get to know her and love her.

It Wasn’t What I Expected: My Story of Postpartum Depression

At home, my husband was the only one I let see me fall apart. I would cry tears of deep sorrow. I had this bundle of precious new life, but I felt like death had surrounded me. It was very real to me and I felt as though I were mourning the loss of my life and the life of my baby although I never actually thought something would happen to either one of us. The only thing that I could rationalize in my head that gave me comfort was that I believed in Jesus, and maybe if Marlee did too then one day we would all be heaven together, and I would never have to lose her. Although it sounds crazy now, this truly was the only thing that kept me from drowning in my dark hole of grief and allowed me to face each day with a little bit of solace. Instead of enjoying our gift from God, I clung to the hope that maybe I would see her again one day in a heavenly future.

The days would pass with family and visitors praising our new little daughter, but as night began to fall a sense of terrible deep dread and panic would fall upon me. It was a dread deep in my soul, so deep I didn’t think anything could touch it, relieve it or make it go away. As night began to fall, family and visitors went off to their infant-less homes, my exhausted husband went off to bed and it was just me, the night and my baby. I would begin to cry for “no reason,” especially as the day wore on. I dreaded being alone, I dreaded the night, I dreaded the thought that everyone all around town were all going to sleep and no one would be up to help me or watch me or convince me that things were really going to get better. All the distractions were gone: the TV shows I watched during the day weren’t on, the stores were closed, family was asleep and I couldn’t bear to wake anyone, even in my loneliest of moments. It was beside the fact that I had to take care of a colicky infant all night by myself; I just really didn’t want to be alone. I was scared to be alone. I didn’t know what I might do or say or feel. I didn’t know if the abyss of sorrow and fears that followed me would swallow me completely, and I didn’t know how I would act around my daughter.

Some time after she was born, thoughts of harming my baby would invade my mind. I knew deep down that I would never truly harm my precious daughter, but these thoughts, almost urges, were powerful and strange. I had images of her being hurt by a sharp knife or being crushed or smothered. Ashamed, horrified and confused, I didn’t know what to do with these unexpected thoughts except push them as far away as possible. But they continued and I was genuinely afraid to be around her. I didn’t know what urge might possess me at any given moment. I feared to be around sharp knives in the kitchen or anything that might be dangerous. I feared that I would lose all self-control and in one split second act on one of these thoughts although I despised the thought of it and never had any intention to do so. These thoughts haunted me for many months after she was born.

I honestly felt like my life was over, that I would never be the same as I was, I would never again be happy, and nothing in the world would ever be the same again. And of course nothing is the same as it was before you had a baby, but this ran much deeper than just having a new member of the family to take care of. I wanted desperately for the things to go back to the way they were before. I wanted to feel the same about myself, I wanted to feel the way I did before about my husband, I wanted the responsibility, the fear, the exhaustion, this grief and guilt and dread to all go away. And the fact that I thought it never would go away made it all the more unbearable.

Besides having this presence of dread and foreboding I also felt intense anger, maybe even rage. I remember one night when Marlee was very young, she was up in the middle of the night of course, crying and difficult to console. I was so tired. I had been up with her before and it seemed I just couldn’t get a break. My husband was sleeping, and I hated him for that, but I reasoned that he really needed to sleep because he had to get up and go to work. At least I could take a nap in the middle of the day. I was in my daughter’s room feeling completely overwhelmed. I buried my head in my arms, and I can’t remember why he got up but when my husband came in I suddenly yelled at him, “YOU’RE NOT HELPING ME!” Although I didn’t say it quite that nicely! Then on the bed I collapsed in a heap of uncontrollable sobs. I just remember saying, “I can’t do this.” I didn’t even recognize myself.

Another time during the middle of the night, Marlee was actually asleep, but I woke up being very thirsty and needed to get a drink. I remember being so enraged over this that I got up and as I was calmly walking to the kitchen I suddenly threw my cup across the room as hard as I could. It was plastic, thank goodness, so it didn’t break, but I wanted to break everything in that room. I just wanted to sleep, damn it! I had this overwhelming urge to tear the house into pieces. I hated everything: my body for needing to get a drink, and this whole motherhood thing, and not getting sleep, and not being able to do anything I wanted to do, and always being demanded of. The rage felt like it would swallow me whole if I didn’t do something with it. But I couldn’t, I reasoned, I just couldn’t act that way. So I tried to calm myself down and went back to bed.

I really felt like I was going crazy. I felt like I would never be normal again and this really would never end. I heard people say being emotional was normal after having a baby, that the “baby blues” would soon pass, but somewhere I knew this just couldn’t be normal. I just knew that having constant fears that I would stab my baby with a knife or that I would suddenly have the urge to drop her on the ground just couldn’t be “normal” fluctuations in hormones. I only reached out to my midwife once. I couldn’t hold back the tears as I talked to her. “What can I do?” I asked her, but I didn’t dare tell her about the thoughts of death I was having. I was too ashamed.  She gave me some natural remedies to help my mood and assured me that it was normal and would pass, but I’m not sure I believed her.

I don’t know why I didn’t seek more help. I promised myself I could never tell anyone what I was really thinking, the thoughts about my baby dying, not feeling in love with her, feeling like I was going crazy, never wanting any more kids, feeling like I would never ever be normal again. I had to be her mommy, so that’s what I did. There was no one else to do it, and so I mustered up the courage and the strength to keep picking her up when I didn’t want to, to keep rocking her when I wanted to leave her alone, to keep breastfeeding when it hurt, and to keep being “mommy.”

It Wasn’t What I Expected: My Story of Postpartum Depression

And somehow, somewhere things got easier with time. I don’t recommend doing what I did. If you’re feeling like I did, you should talk to someone, you should seek help. But I didn’t. Instead I prayed A LOT, had a lot of loving family members around me (although I’m sure they didn’t know what I was going through) and I got through it. Does it affect me still? My baby is now 3 years old and I’m just now coming to accept that I had Postpartum Depression (PPD). Even writing that now seems awkward and scary, but if I had accepted this when she was young I might not have heaped so much guilt on myself for feeling like a “horrible mom.” I might have recognized it for what it was—something that was happening to me, not who I was.

It just felt right to tell my story now. I don’t know what people will say or think, but I hope any mom out there will be encouraged by my story and not feel alone in this crazy thing we call motherhood.

Thank you to Brittany for sharing your story with such openness and honesty. For any readers out there who might be experiencing PPD, please don’t go it alone. And don’t be embarrassed. Seek help immediately. What you are experiencing is a very real and frightening condition. Talk to someone today.

BrittanyMcCardle_headshotBrittany McCardle is a wife and mama to two precious girls. She blogs at The Gentle Home where she writes about finding fulfillment in the simple life of faith, home and family. When she’s not changing diapers, reading stories, doing laundry, cooking (mostly) paleo style meals and sweeping the country dirt out of her house, she’s trying to catch up on a good book, sneak in a shower, art journal or writing on her blog. The Gentle Home holds snapshots of her life–the ups, the downs, the beautiful, the silly, her faith in Jesus, nourishing recipes and her thoughts on living life with authenticity.

{Photo credit @iStock.com/kiatipol.}

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