Sleepless nights, my heart galloping with anxiety.
The morning sunlight sweeping over my new baby and I would bring dread—because it meant we’d have an entire day together that I needed to somehow fill. Thoughts hounding me, barking that I was already an awful mom, that I didn’t deserve this beautiful little boy.
Postpartum depression was like being in an awful, altered state; I felt hopeless and overwhelmed, my body still bruised and bleeding from birth. On top of that, I was suddenly faced with caring for a new, helpless creature who relied on me for everything. Postpartum depression is one of the cruelest experiences a mother can endure. If you’re struggling with it right now, here’s what I want you to know:
You didn’t cause this. There’s something about mental illness that convinces us that we’re responsible for our situation, that we somehow chose to have our brains stop making enough serotonin. But really, who would choose that? Why would anyone choose to feel like they’re slogging through quicksand during what’s supposed to be a transformative time, and when they’re suddenly responsible for another human being? Postpartum depression isn’t a choice you make. It’s a crappy illness that no one would ever volunteer for, and it’s Not. Your. Fault.
Self-care must be a priority. We might think that self-care is the bourgeois shorthand for bubble baths and mani-pedis. But for those battling postpartum depression, or for that matter, any mental or physical illness, it’s essential. Our self-care might be prioritizing exercise, seeing a therapist, going to support groups, creating a plan to get some sleep, finding childcare, or getting on the right medication. Self-care isn’t selfish, it’s a necessity.
When my son was a baby, I had a wake-up call that put self-care into perspective for me. One morning, I discovered a pea-sized lump in my armpit, and before I found out it wasn’t anything serious, I imagined the worst-case scenario of being diagnosed with cancer. It dawned on me that if that was the case, I’d need to take much better care of myself. I’d need to get more than the shattered sleep I was getting. I’d need breaks to go to appointments and more help caring for my son. My therapist wisely pointed out that it shouldn’t take cancer for me to prioritize basic needs like rest. Depression is a serious illness, and self-care is a crucial part of treatment.
You are not a bad mother. One of the most challenging aspects of my postpartum depression was feeling as if I’d already failed at motherhood. I experienced intrusive thoughts about harming my child, as well as fantasizing about checking into a psychiatric hospital where I could sleep and not be responsible for his constant care. Depression is notoriously good at spewing lies at us, distorting the reality of a situation, and hissing negative thoughts at us. But it’s not real—it’s simply the voice of depression. Our darkest thoughts don’t make us bad moms.
You’re not alone. When we’re dealing with postpartum depression and other perinatal mood disorders, it can feel like we’re alone. We see other moms who seem to be breezing through new motherhood on clouds of baby powder, which can make us feel even worse for not enjoying this unique and much-heralded stage of life. But somewhere between 10 to 20 percent of new mothers experience postpartum depression—which is more than the percentage of women who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes and preeclampsia combined. Finding a support group where I heard other moms echoing my experience was a huge balm for me in those early months.
It gets better. With time and treatment, postpartum depression lifts. Life improves drastically. We get the hang of taking care of our child, and we’re able to enjoy many moments of parenthood. Being a parent has not been easy for me, but it’s so much easier than being a parent with postpartum depression.
Author: Lynn Shattuck
Image: Jane Rahman/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Social Editor: Yoli Ramazzina