I Wanted to Throw My Baby Out the Window

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“Once, maybe twice a day, I get an image of terrible violence against the baby. Like a flicker in the corner of my eye, it lasts for a quarter of a second, maybe less. Sometimes it is me who inflicts this violence, sometimes it is someone else. Martin says it is all right—it is just her astonishing vulnerability that works strange things in my head. But I know it is also because I am trapped, not just by her endless needs, but also by the endless, mindless love I have for her. For once, I am glad I am an older mother. I don’t panic. I put a limit on the images that flash across my mind’s eye. I am allowed two per day, maybe three. If I get more than that, then it’s off to the doctor for the happy pills. Shoes or no shoes.” —Anne Enright, from her memoir Making Babies

One night, when our first baby was six weeks old, she wouldn’t stop crying. I swaddled and rocked and nursed. I sang and patted and danced. I changed her diaper, even though it was dry. I changed her clothes, thinking maybe a tag was sticking her or something. No matter what I did, she cried.

And I was so tired. I mean, SO. FREAKING. TIRED. Once or twice every hour, she’d seem like she was finally settling down. I’d lie down with her, just start to drift off to sleep, only to be woken up again by her tiny, high-pitched cry.

Finally, I felt something fracture in my psyche, instantaneously, like a crack in glass. And for the briefest of moments, every one of my maternal instincts flew out the window.

And so did the baby.

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At least that’s what happened in my head. I could visualize it perfectly, tossing her through the open window. I could feel my arms swinging back, the momentum of flinging her forward, the weight of my sweet angel leaving my hands. I could hear her wails growing quieter as she fell down, down, down.

It was just a momentary vision — barely even a second — and I snapped back quickly. But it scared me to my core. What was wrong with me? Was this postpartum psychosis? Was I fatally flawed as a mother? Was I simply not cut out for this? Was it all an enormous, eternal mistake?

I started bawling. Then I called my mom. I didn’t tell her about my Terrible Mothering Thought. I was too ashamed. I told her the baby wouldn’t stop crying. I tried to describe my tiredness, thinking that would cover my clear inadequacy as a mother. She listened, then she said, “Oh, Annie. I remember when your brother was a baby and wouldn’t stop crying one night. My only instinct was to toss him out the window.

I gasped and laughed and cried at the same time, as only someone in a sleepless hysteria can do. My God. My mother? My rock of a mother who didn’t have a violent bone in her body had had a Terrible Mothering Thought? The same Terrible Mothering Thought I had had? This was normal? I was normal?

Then she told me it was OK to set the baby down and leave the room. Take a deep breath. Get ahold of your sanity. Go outside on the porch so you can’t hear her crying if you need to.

Her admission and permission saved me. I’d read everything about nurturing and attachment, about the importance of picking babies up when they cry, about how good mothers are supposed to be able to “read” their babies’ cries, and how basically only a serial killer would abandon a baby who was wailing. It never dawned on me that sometimes there’s nothing you can do.

Sometimes babies cry and cry and you have no idea why. And unless you’re superhuman, the sound of a baby crying incessantly will get to you. You have to take a break from it sometimes. Getting permission to do so from my incredibly nurturing and attached mother was probably the most valuable baby gift I could have gotten.

And I’ve learned through the years that Terrible Mothering Thoughts actually come and go with somewhat alarming frequency. I was never spanked as a child, nor physically punished in any way, and yet I have been tempted to smack a child on occasion. I assumed, since it wasn’t part of my upbringing, that I’d never have to fight those kinds of feelings. But kids can push you. Crying, whining, arguing, complaining about things no one on God’s green earth should complain about — just with their voices alone, kids can drive you to the edge of your sanity.

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Just remember: A Terrible Mothering Thought is different from a Terrible Mothering Act. Thinking something is not the same as acting on it. I knew I’d never ACTUALLY throw my baby out the window. I know I’d never ACTUALLY slap my cheeky child across her cheeky cheeks. But that urge pops up sometimes. I’ve learned not to judge myself for it and to just let those thoughts come and go.

If you have wondered if you’re alone in those kinds of thoughts, you’re not. Most moms don’t talk about it, but anecdotal evidence tells me it’s very common. Obviously, there are extreme feelings that need more than just a brush-off, and if you find yourself having thoughts that truly scare you or feel like you really might harm your child, definitely talk to a doctor. But an occasional Terrible Mothering Thought is to be expected.

And though you might not want to tell everyone about those thoughts, they should also be shared on occasion. We all need to hear we’re not the only one.

Related post: 26 Reasons I’ve Cried Since Having a Baby

Postpartum Depression: It Gets Better

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I should have realized something was wrong when I wanted to hold a tray of sushi instead of my one-day-old daughter. I should have realized something was wrong when I broke down in tears — when I screamed at my husband — as I tried to secure our three-day-old daughter in her carseat for the first time. I should have realized something was wrong when I handed our week-old daughter to her grandmother and walked away, locking myself in the bathroom to cry.

Looking back, I now know I cried every day after the birth of my daughter except the day she was born. The first night in the hospital I cried because I couldn’t sleep. I cried the next day because of the searing pain in my crotch. (We lived in a four-floor walk-up and I could feel the stitches from my second-degree tear pulling with each step.) But the crying never stopped, even when the “reasons” did. It was instinctual, like a cough or sneeze, and the tears came in torrents: three, four, five times a day.

I knew I was suffering from postpartum depression when my daughter was six weeks old. Amelia was napping and I scuttled, instinctively, to the bathroom, thankful for two minutes to myself. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. My eyes were swollen, my skin was pockmarked and dry, and clumps of dirty blond hair sat on my shoulder. My hair was falling out. My doctor told me this would happen, “changing hormones,” but I didn’t care. I wanted it gone; I needed it gone. I vested every ounce of me, the woman I was before I became “Amelia’s mom,” in those limp, dying locks.

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That weekend I went to the closest salon, pointed to a photo on the wall — a shaggy pixie cut — and walked out with hair shorter than my husband’s. For a few moments I loved it and the me it meant I could be, not a mother but something more, but promise and potential were quickly lost. I became increasingly hopeless, empty, emotional, and disconnected. I felt on the verge of losing control. I didn’t feel as close to my daughter as I should have. I didn’t love my husband like I used to and, some days, I didn’t love him — or Amelia — at all.

Depression is impossible to explain. It is as much a feeling as it is void of feeling. You move, eat, and breathe, so you know you are alive, but you can’t feel — or what you do feel you don’t understand. It’s confusing, illogical, and indiscriminate, and it is part of you that runs deep in your core.

Things were always their worst at 3 a.m., or “Mad Money hour” as I came to call it. My daughter would wake for an early morning feeding and, since she was being exclusively breastfed, the onus fell on me. Jim Cramer would rant about stocks and bonds and Roth IRAs while Amelia fed and my husband slept. Nothing good happens at that hour. It is the time of the day I most often questioned motherhood and my life.

And I did consider suicide. It started off as “nothing serious,” spontaneous thoughts like jumping in front of traffic, but before long these thoughts became all-consuming, a way out. I would lock the brakes on my daughter’s jogger as we stood at red lights and play with her, my back to traffic and my heels dangling off the curb. If I could just lean back, if I could just slip away.

The suicidal thoughts intensified, and I made plans, though I was never able to decide on one. I knew if I cut myself I wouldn’t slice deep enough, and hanging myself wasn’t an option. (Our shower curtain rod was held in place by three stripped screws; it would certainly buckle beneath the weight of my body.) Pills seemed most probable, though they too could fail. I thought of the consequences, but none seemed as detrimental to me as me, in the midst of PPD. I was a danger to myself and Amelia. If I was gone, she would be safe.

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I stopped eating, or at least anything that resembled a meal. I picked at scraps of bread and ate spoonfuls of Parmesan cheese. I lost my pregnancy weight in three months and more weight in the months that followed. All the while I continued to cry. I cried if I spilled a glass of water. I cried if there were too many dishes. I cried if my cat threw up and I had to clean it. I cried because I was crying.

It was November 2013 when I finally admitted to myself, and my husband, that I couldn’t take anymore. I don’t remember what broke me, cracked nipples or guzzling yet another cold cup of coffee, but I needed help. I begged my husband to commit me. I told him I cried every day. I told him I couldn’t take anymore. I told him I wanted to die.

What I didn’t tell him, what I didn’t tell anyone, was that I had a vision of killing our daughter.

***

I was diagnosed with postpartum depression in January 2014.

Depression convinces you you are hopeless. Depression isolates you and makes you feel completely and utterly alone, and postpartum depression is no different.

Amelia is 20 months old now, and I would like to say I have fully recovered, but I am still struggling. I am in therapy and things are better, but I still have bad days — I think I always will.

In the meantime, my hair grew back. Though the color rarely remains consistent (in the last year I’ve donned blond, red, purple, teal, and brunette locks), it is growing. To be honest, the growth kind of snuck up on me. One day it was too short to style and the next I could tuck it up in a ponytail.

It seems silly to hang onto my hair, but that is what I have right now. It is a reminder of one very long, and very bad, hair day. As wild and unkempt as it gets — as unruly and unmanageable as it may become — I haven’t cut it. I don’t cut it. I can’t cut my hair. And maybe that is the lesson for me, and for all mothers, especially the ones reading this through the misty filter of unshed tears: hang on. Hang on to whatever you have because it gets better.

Not perfect, but better, so just hang on.

Related post: Rage: The Scariest Symptom of PPD

A Letter To My Sons, On Postpartum Depression

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Dear Boys,

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry I am not the mama I want to be for you. This is not what I imagined: this consuming sadness, this anger, this gray hopelessness I feel day in and day out. I want to be fun for you. I want to sing silly songs while we paint self-portraits. I want to chase you through sun-dappled parks; I want to catch crayfish and eat ice cream for lunch. I want to make playdough snakes, to glitter Pinterest projects, to celebrate Dress Like a Pirate Day in a tricorn hat and a corset.

But instead, some days, I struggle to get out of bed. I stumble through your breakfast; I turn on the television again. I can’t summon a song. My body hurts too much to chase you, and if my body doesn’t hurt, my heart does. I slog through the afternoon, too tired to for Pinterest projects. Everything is gray. I feel boxed-in, suffocated by it. This is not what I wanted for us. This is not what I wanted for you.

They call it postpartum depression. It’s a trick of hormones and chemicals, a misery of missed connections and neurons malfunctioning. I have forgotten, simply, how to be happy. Right now, happy is like a dream I half-remembered upon waking. Some days it’s closer than others, but it remains, always, out of reach.

My deep sadness is not because of you. It’s in spite of you, and that is, perhaps, the most cutting part. I am unshakeably, unutterably sad amidst the miraculous gift of you. I snap when I should laugh; I turn away when I should reach out. I make myself hug you, my darling, because my sadness makes me forget to. That forgetting makes me even sadder.

I am unhappy. But being unhappy doesn’t mean I am unhappy with you. Even in our roughest moments, in the times I shout at you because I’m so stressed and broken, I am happy with you. I love you even at your most exasperating. I love you when you’ve poured flour all over the kitchen; I love you when you’ve painted the dog. I love you when I wake up with you in the dark quiet of the night, again and again and again. I love you in the midst of my pain.

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I love you in the dark, sweet one. Some days I don’t feel love, but empty space, and I go through the motions anyway. I am dimly comforted: love is an action, not a feeling. I pray my actions are enough for you.

There is no logic to this depression. There is no reason; there is no explanation other than a trick of chemistry, and no cure other than the same. I didn’t ask for this emptiness. This grayness sucks at me – everyone tells me to enjoy every moment of you. But how can I enjoy what I can’t see? How can I savor moments spent gasping for air?

These people who rhapsodize about how babies don’t keep – those people can’t see the choking grayness around me. They mean well, truly. But depression’s invisibility is part of its own special hell: a drowning woman looks like she’s paddling in the sunshine. And if she dare call for a life preserver, people might not help. They’ll say it’s her own fault. They’ll say she’s overreacting, that she’s got to ride out the hormones and the baby blues. And the worst fear: that the world mistakes depression for rejection. That if I really loved my babies, they will say, I would be happy.

I don’t need other people to say these things. I hear them every day, in depression’s own twisted voice.

This disease has robbed us both, my darling. It’s stolen time; it’s stolen feelings; it’s stolen the pinterest-perfect moments every other mother seems to have. But postpartum depression’s cruelest twist is also its greatest weakness. It may rob me of so many things, but it can never take you.

And no matter how dark it is, I have you to care for. I may feel empty, but I make sure you know love. My arms feel heavy, but I put them around you. I am exhausted, but I pick you up. I kiss you despite my pain. You are my strength, my darling. I want the best for you. The best is a mother, no matter how broken she is. And that mother is me.

I have you. I keep going. And in the end, that must be enough for us both.

Related post: The Cloud of Depression

Coping With Postpartum Anxiety

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I had a difficult labor (30 hours ending in a c-section), followed by breastfeeding issues (my daughter had a tongue tie), and colic. It’s been tough. I say all this because I still feel the need to defend my postpartum anxiety.

Somewhere around the six-week mark after Mae’s birth, everything caught up to me. The sleep deprivation, the crying, the worry. I would wake up in the morning with a sense of dread and anxiety that is hard to explain. It felt like my body was simultaneously being held down by a cement block as well as stretched in a thousand directions. I wanted to crawl out of my skin. Walking to the shower felt like running a marathon.

People make you think those first days, weeks, and months of your child’s life should be the happiest of your life. And yes, I was overwhelmed with love for Mae, but I was also paralyzed by anxiety and worry. I was able to take care of Mae, but I couldn’t do a thing for myself. I wasn’t eating or sleeping. Food tasted like cardboard and sleep wouldn’t come. It was like my body buzzed with worry. I would get up, feed Mae, change diapers, sing to her, but my mind was constantly looking into the future at the next possible catastrophe. My body was going through the necessary motions for Mae, but that was all I could muster.

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I didn’t want to see anyone because I knew they’d expect me to be a new, glowing mother, and I was far from that.

I kept telling myself this was just the baby blues and it would pass. But it didn’t pass. It got worse. I was a bad mother. I couldn’t cut it. I was so ashamed. A low point that I can clearly remember is my mom spoon-feeding me yogurt and I wasn’t physically able to swallow.

I “woke up” one morning and literally thought I might die from lack of sleeping and eating. My heart was racing and my head was fuzzy. I’d forgotten to eat for 24 hours.

I hit rock bottom. I wanted to feel better for my family, my husband, and most importantly, my daughter, but I just couldn’t do it on my own. My family and husband decided I needed help. They were in pain just watching me.I was in agony.

I saw my midwife. I got on medication that’s safe for breastfeeding. I joined a support group. I took baby steps. It took two weeks for the medication to start working and those were the longest two weeks of my life. Bit by bit, I started feeling a little better. But it’s still tough some days. I still get worried about the future or trying new things with Mae, but I force myself.

I wish I hadn’t let myself struggle for so long. I wish I’d known more about the anxiety-side of postpartum. I’d always heard about depression, and I wasn’t really depressed. I was overwhelmed with worry, a worry so intense that I could barely move. What if she started crying and never stopped? What if I couldn’t soothe her? What if my breasts weren’t producing enough milk? What if her intestines were twisted? My mind was racing and never rested.

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I want other women to know they aren’t alone; that you aren’t less of a mother because of postpartum anxiety or depression. (I am still having to tell myself this daily.) But, I am strong. I never stopped mothering Mae. I’m still breastfeeding her even if it is from a bottle. And I’ve kissed her and loved her every day in spite of my anxiety.

Related post: My Journey with Postpartum Depression

The Postpartum Monster In My Head

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Pregnancy is hard for me. The morning sickness is debilitating, the squishing of my internal organs as baby grows uncomfortable, the third trimester aches and pains and pre-labor contractions nearly insufferable, and the c-section delivery second only to a Criminal Minds torture scene. To say I look forward to the day baby comes into the world is an understatement.

When asked at hospital admittance if I suffer from postpartum depression, my answer is always no. It’s not depression. It’s elation. Elation at the fact that I no longer have to undergo the misery of pregnancy. Elation at baby and I having made it through surgery alive. Elation at getting to see and hold and know this new person I’ve grown inside me for nine months.

Depression, no. Elation, yes. But also something in-between.

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I wouldn’t characterize this in-between feeling as sadness. It’s more one of fear, regret, and nostalgia. I attribute it to my anxiety, which I was diagnosed as having four years ago after my son’s traumatic birth but which, after a couple therapy sessions and careful introspection, I realize I’ve had my entire life.

This fear and regret and nostalgia manifests itself in any number of ways, but usually as extreme fantasies, the roots of which always involve something bad happening to my baby or family, me obsessing about the abrupt transition from being pregnant to not, and me reminiscing about the parts of pregnancy that I think I miss. To be clear, these fantasies don’t involve me doing anything bad to my baby or family or me regretting bringing my baby into the world. Instead, they involve plausible yet completely out-of-left-field scenarios in which harm comes our way and me longing for and regretting that I will no longer feel my baby kicking inside me or daydream about the day I hear his first cries despite the physical and emotional toll pregnancy always has on me.

This in-between feeling, this postpartum monster in my head, strikes when I am feeling particularly vulnerable or alone: at bedtime; when the visitors have dispersed and my husband has returned to work, leaving me to be the sole caretaker of baby for as long as maternity leave extends; when baby naps, relinquishing me briefly from my responsibilities as mother and permitting me to be alone with my hormone-fueled thoughts.

This postpartum monster plants visions of me accidentally dropping baby as I carry him to his changing table or attempt to feed him. It embeds nightmares of baby aspirating on spit-up during the night while I lay unaware beside him, slumbering peacefully. It makes me question every twitch of baby’s eyes and smack of baby’s lips, certain baby is suffering from the very same brain-injury-related seizures his brother before him suffered at birth as a result of his stroke in utero. It tortures me with thoughts of disease and accident and tragedy befalling the ones I love most.

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This postpartum monster reminds me that I will never again experience the miracle that is growing a human inside me — that I alone solidified this fate for myself when I chose to have a tubal ligation during this last c-section (never mind that the doctor confirmed this was the right decision after determining another c-section would be out of the question thanks to the severe scar tissue problems that made delivering this last baby one sliver shy of impossible). It reminds me that never again will I feel tiny baby kicks or hiccups. It makes me miss the times when I would talk to my swollen midsection and know someone on the inside was listening. It makes me remember with fondness the first time I heard baby’s first cries and makes me regret that I will never again be overcome with an emotion so raw and joyful as that of knowing this new life will thrive. It makes me regret all I took for granted during pregnancy — makes me wonder if my discomfort and agony wasn’t just a figment of my imagination.

This postpartum monster resides somewhere between depression and elation. It shares living quarters with fear, regret, and nostalgia, lingering for weeks, toying with my feelings, and renting space in my head. This postpartum monster will soon be evicted and no longer able to evoke such primal emotion, but its imprint will remain forever, for though its life span is short-lived and its capacity to take me over entirely nonexistent, it is real nonetheless. This postpartum monster is real.

And it is the reality of this postpartum monster that can make it the scariest monster of all.

Related post: Rage: The Scariest Symptom of PPD