Recently I spoke to a friend about postpartum depression. Did you go through this? She wanted to know. I can’t control these crazy emotions. Her words were so full of sadness my heart ached for her. Having a baby is hard, I told her, but it gets better. I promise.
I suffered from pregnancy-induced depression as early as my second trimester. I would sob for seemingly no reason. I would become enraged and throw things. I behaved so out of character that my husband became deeply worried. He became worried for me but also for the stress my emotions would put on the baby. He urged me to tell the doctor at one of my check-ups. I really didn’t want to. I was ashamed that I couldn’t keep it together, I felt as if these crazy emotions were my fault. With Anthony’s prompting, I finally broke down and told the doctor. Actually, I broke down and sobbed in front of the doctor and he figured out the rest.
The most important thing I found out by telling my doctor is that postpartum and antepartum depression is that it not just affects you, or the people you’re around. It affects the bonding process with your baby. Especially for a new mom, uncertain about how you’re going to take care of a brand new life form so wholly dependent on you for survival. The last thing you need is anything making that experience more stressful.
You know for sure that having a baby is going to change your life. You know that, and are even looking forward to it. But what you might not take into consideration is that your hormones are going to go wild. Suddenly you are sleep deprived, possibly recovering from a traumatic birth (my case), and you’re going to experience the worst PMS of your life. You are going to feel so much pressure about doing the right thing and you are never going to measure up to the pre-baby visions you had of yourself effortlessly vacuuming and breastfeeding at the same time.
And that’s okay.
I think a lot about parenthood and how it has changed me but also just about parenthood in general. I remember through a fog what it was like before kids. Parenthood is a mystery in that it must be experienced to be understood. There is nothing anyone can tell you that will give you a sense of what it is like, and watching the interactions of parents and kids as an outsider offers an incomplete picture at best. What it won’t tell you is how unrelenting parenting is. It won’t tell you about the oppressive weight that is having another being permanently attached to you. With a baby comes the responsibility of living to your highest aspirations for yourself. Your struggles become your baby’s struggles.
Being a parent means looking at the clock and discovering with a sinking heart it’s only noon and feeling like it should be 4:00 pm for the amount of hard work and effort you’ve put into the day.
Being a parent means holding yourself up to an imaginary yardstick of achievement on a daily basis and feeling like you’ve failed. Or even if you’ve done really well, you have that feeling that it wasn’t enough.
Being a parent means sniffing your baby’s head day in and day out and never, ever getting tired of the new baby smell.
Being a parent means I can’t describe the joy I experience when I hear by baby fart. I successfully made a being so complex she can fart.
Being a parent means I have moments of new mom wonder and awe on a daily basis. I stare at her and think to myself, “I made this. I created her. She was nothing and she came from me.”
When you first have a baby the hardest part is the fact that it’s a non-stop, full-time, 24 hours-a-day job. If you get no sleep one night, you can’t automatically expect to catch up on it the next night, or even the night after that. It’s moment-by-moment survival. You never get a break. You never feel like it will be over.
You’re not going to become who you think you are going to become. Once you’ve reconciled with that, you’ll know that that is okay, too. I remember one of the toughest realizations came when Anthony went back to work and I was at home with Isobel 24 hours a day.
I’m never going to be able to shower again.
This one thought destroyed me. It summed up everything about my life that wouldn’t be the same ever again, or at least not for many, many years. It was hard to let go and become the person I am now because I’m not the person I thought I’d be.
It’s okay if it’s hard. Sometimes if you’re doing it correctly it’s supposed to be hard. Some families handle the transition in stride, but it was hard for me. No one has a baby in a vacuum, and the complications of life surrounding Isobel’s pregnancy and birth were enormous. I was dealing with a lot of things simultaneously. And it was hard. And that’s okay.
If you are experiencing depression at any stage of your pregnancy or after the baby’s born, tell your doctor. They will not judge you. It is not your fault. If you feel this way it’s not because you don’t love or want your baby. Your doctor will know exactly what to do. It’s the best thing not only for you, not only for your family, but for your relationship with your child. I will admit right now that the transition to motherhood was difficult for me, and I relied on medication, my doctors, therapy and my husband and friends to get through it.
And that’s okay.