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



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

Rage: The Scariest Symptom of PPD



It was the rage that frightened me. I had expected to feel down, sad, and grumpy. Which I did, that’s for sure. But rage? That was not something I expected from postpartum depression. And the rage is what drove me to get help.

About five weeks after my second daughter, Grace, was born, my husband could tell I was not doing well. So he decided to surprise me with a half-day at a local spa. I was thrilled. Nails, facial, massage … and no baby or toddler attached to me for a few blissful hours. Heaven.

But when I came home, I could hear Grace’s crying from the basement. My body tensed immediately and the relaxed feeling was gone. Hubs told me that Grace didn’t eat the entire time I was out. She took a little milk from a bottle but then wouldn’t accept the bottle again.

She didn’t accept a bottle EVER again.

And I could feel the rage start to build from that day.

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I felt trapped by my colicky, non-sleeping, no-bottle-taking baby. I was frustrated with my toddler, Anne, who was throwing tantrums constantly. And I was really questioning my decision to leave my full-time writing job for the occasional freelance gig.

I felt overwhelmed, sad, anxious, and angry. Every. Single. Day.

Then one night I really lost it on Anne when she was having a tantrum. I couldn’t control the words flying out of my mouth. I wanted to smack her and make her stop (which thankfully, I didn’t). I wanted to be anywhere but there.

The rage coming out of me was other-worldly. Thankfully Hubs was there and was able to intervene. I feel physically ill when I think about how I acted and what could have happened. It was the most terrifying feeling I had ever experienced.

I called both my primary care and OB docs the next day. Working together, they got me on Zoloft and into therapy right away. And I felt better within days. The sadness, the lack of interest in life, the anxiety … it all got better with the Zoloft.

The rage, though, took more work to get under control. The Zoloft helped. But the therapy was what made it much, much better.

Four years later, I am still managing my depression. The PPD got better, but then morphed into another kind of depression when my dad suddenly died. Who knows what it technically is now — but I’m still dealing with it.

And the rage is still there. It’s the most difficult part to manage and from my experience, the least-talked about symptom of depression.

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That’s why I’m writing this post. I want all you moms out there to know that if you deal with PPD, depression, and especially the rage that can accompany it, you are not alone. You are not a bad mom. It can and will get better—if you get help.

Being a mom means doing hard things. And sometimes the hardest thing is asking for the help you need. I know that first phone call was incredibly hard for me to make.

But now I understand that depression happens to regular people. These scary feelings do not make me a bad mother. And with medication, therapy, and healthier life choices, I feel more like me again.

Yes, I’m still fighting the depression, sadness, and rage. But now, finally … finally I feel like I’m winning.

My Journey with Postpartum Depression



“She’s a perfect angel.” That’s what the woman at the grocery store said the first time I brought my baby out to go shopping. She was awake in her carrier, smiling at strangers and cooing already. I wanted to say to that woman that she was wrong. My baby girl was not a perfect angel, especially when she was screaming three centimeters from my face at two in the morning. But then I felt horrible about thinking that, and my stomach knotted, and I wanted to crawl into a small dark place and cry.

“Thank you,” I said. I mustered a polite smile and moved on. I learned quickly that munchkin loved people—other people. She loved going out into the world, seeing new faces, hearing new voices. She loved movement. She loved motion. She loved light and noise and chaos. But between learning how to breastfeed, postpartum recovery, and my daily mid-afternoon cry, I couldn’t seem to muster the energy to leave the house. I spent my days sitting on the couch with her screaming at me.

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“What a little cutie.” A waitress wiggled her finger in front of munchkin’s face. It was my first time out at a restaurant with her. She had just woken up from her nap. She smiled wide, her eyebrows raised, and her bright red hair caught the light. She was cute, beautiful even. But every mention of her cuteness made my breasts ache, not only from the endless cycle of engorgement and emptiness, but also from the force of her kicking and hitting my chest at each feeding, from her thrashing on me as I tried to burp her, from her volcanic meltdowns when my milk ran dry.

“Thank you,” I said. I held her tight and squeezed her cheeks. I didn’t know what I was doing. “Maybe this was a mistake.” I repeated those words to myself daily. I learned that breast milk stained my couch cushions, that munchkin’s mood would mirror mine, that there was no time to eat or bathe or sleep between feedings and diaper changes. The first words out of my mouth when I gave birth were “Oh my god, she’s beautiful.” The second words were “I don’t know if I want to do this again.” The second words echoed in my head, and I hated myself for saying them. This wasn’t munchkin’s fault, it was mine.

“If you want my advice,” a woman in the waiting room began. But I didn’t. Everyone had their tricks, their pointers, their hints. None of their words of wisdom told me how to stop crying when nothing was wrong. None of them told me how to feel like a whole person.

I breastfed her and let her sleep on my chest. She used my nipples as pacifiers, and listened to my heartbeat to calm her down. “She loves you,” my husband said. “She wants to be close to you.” I nodded. Every day when he came home from work she would smile wide for him. At home, with me, she would barely crack a grin. He made her happy, he held her without her pushing against him, he changed her diaper without her screaming. He was the good parent.

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“I think I have postpartum depression,” I said.

I repeated those words to my husband, to my mother, to my father, to my friends, to my doctor.

Each time I said them, I felt better. Each week, I cry less. Each day, I feel better.

It took me eight weeks of sobbing to convince myself to say those words. Another two weeks before I let myself call my doctor. I got help. I look at munchkin now and smile, and she smiles back. One day soon, all I’ll remember are the smiles.