Postpartum Depression: It Gets Better

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ppd-momImage via Shutterstock

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

Comments

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  1. CBear31 says

    This rings so true to me. I’ve suffered depression since my late teens. I came off my meds when pregnant with my first, didn’t go back on them til about 6 months after he was born and I suffered terrible PPD. I didn’t love my son for the first 6 months of his life and I feel like he and I were robbed of those precious first months. I dont remember much apart from the crying, and feeling angry and resentful towards my son and my husband. The relationship between myself and my son has now thankfully improved and he’s a happy little 2.5yr old, I still feel the guilt though. Completely different with my second, started meds again in third trimester and apart from the odd bad day (pretty normal with a newborn and toddler!) things are so much better. I encourage anyone suffering to seek help because there truly is light after darkness, and you are worthy of happiness. Great article thankyou

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    • says

      CBear: I am so sorry to hear you too have a long-standing history with depression. It can be terribly dark and, in my case, postpartum depression was the darkest. That said, I am thrilled to hear you found medications that worked for you and are finally able to enjoy your family. You are right: we are worthy of the happiness!

      Thanks for your support, and stay strong!

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  2. Anon says

    After going through PTSD and PPD at the same time in my life, for about a year, things did get better…for a minute. While the PTSD faded, I feel that depression just keeps coming back. I can’t shake it. It’s good to know I’m not alone in this struggle.

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    • says

      I am so sorry to hear you are still struggling too. I have my good days and my bad days, but just remember: You are not alone. While no one may have your exact story, there are millions of other women who can relate (and some are likely in your life already).

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  3. BondiolaMomma says

    Thank you so much for writing this, I felt like this too and I couldn´t express it with words, no one thought it was this serious. I am in therapy now and things are getting better, slowly but better. Having a baby is so much more than giving birth. It´s changing so many things about oneself.

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    • says

      BondiolaMomma: You said something so important: “Having a baby is so much more than giving birth.” Becoming a parent changes every piece of who we are. It changes our relationships with our spouse or significant other, it changes our sense of self…it changes us to the core. That said, as you fight through your own depression, try not to loose sight of who you were. While things change we can incorporate pieces of our “pre-parent lives” into our new self and become something greater.

      Stay strong!

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  4. Sarah says

    Thank you. I suffered PPD or PND as it was known in England. I cried everyday. It was hard because in England in the first few weeks they do a lot of home visits. I was struggling to breast feed, my son wasn’t gaining weight and I found the idea of going outside horrifying. I was given a lot of crap from people that just didn’t understand. Although I never became sucidal I did plummet into a hopeless despair. Thank you for bringing this to the attention of the wider readers.

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    • says

      It was my pleasure, Sarah. While it was a dark time — probably the darkest in my life — there was no doubt in my mind that I needed to share this story, when I became strong enough. I want other women to realize it is okay, they are okay, and it IS okay to ask for help.

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  5. Laura says

    Thank you for being so candid about sharing this. I had postpartum too around the same time and my daughter is almost two years old now. It’s so difficult to describe how you feel but you will always remember the crying and numbness of everything around you. I hope more people talk about this. Thank you for sharing :)

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    • says

      I hope more people talk about this too, Laura. Depression (in all of its forms) should become a comfortable word in our vocabulary, and talking about it is the only way we can normalize it and stop the stigma.

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  6. Cr4z135 says

    Thank you. This is the hardest and also most wonderful time, though it seems like most days I can only manage to exist for my son’s sake, but I know that this too shall pass.

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    • says

      If you haven’t done so already, consider seeking help. Postpartumprogress.org is a fantastic online resource and, depending where you live, there may be support groups or “mommy-and-me” groups where you can get together with other women and talk about your feelings and experiences. (Your OB/GYN or the hospital where you delivered — or in a hospital in your area — should have more information on this.)

      Stay strong!

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  7. TahoeTransplant says

    I wish I could have read this post during my first 2 months with my daughter. I remember holding her, and feeling nothing. Not like what I was “supposed to”. I skipped over all the bonding sections in the library of baby books I read studiously prior to her birth… “who doesn’t bond with their baby” i thought. But I didn’t. I mourned my loss of freedom, and resented her while feeling utterly alone and overwhelmed. I wouldn’t let my husband near her… I felt like a failure of a mother, I only wanted my husband to have this perfectly content Gerber baby, and if she was anything less I felt like I was the only person who could fix it. I didn’t struggle with suicide or hurting her… i just wanted out. I wanted to return her. I would cry all the time, yell at my husband and actually scream at my little 6 week old that would not be comforted by anything. I felt like she was rejecting me, so therefore I would reject her. But, at about 3 months, things changed. She started smiling (she’d still cry at times)… but that smile… I knew I wasn’t being rejected.

    For all the new moms out there… hang in there. When they say the first few months are “hard” I had no idea… but it will pass. Perhaps on its own, as it did for me… and perhaps with therapy (there is NO shame in that). But do everything you can to overcome it, because the time lost can never be made up.

    Thank you for posting the honesty of motherhood.

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    • Colleen says

      This. Every. Freaking. Word. I wanted to go back in time and kick myself in the vag and stop myself from ever getting pregnant. I wanted so desperately to not be a mom. I felt nothing for her. the only joy I felt was in response to how happy others were at her existence. And I never ever expected this because I have always adored babies and young children. Now she is 2 and I love her more than anything. I learned that it was not only ok but reasonable to take time to come to love someone you just met. Especially when you are also responsible for meeting this little strangers NONSTOP demands. And moms need to be honest about it. I just kept thinking why, why, why did NO ONE warn me???

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    • says

      Thanks so much for sharing your story, Tahoe. I too “mourned my loss of freedom, and resented her [my daughter and my husband] while feeling utterly alone and overwhelmed.” I felt like a failure as a mother and a wife. It was a terrible time and I spent the first year — more than a year actually — either a crying mess, collapsed on the floor while my daughter “grew up” without me or screaming in a full-blown rage. I would then cycle around to guilt and, low and behold, this vicious pattern continued each and every day.

      And you are so very right about “hanging in there.” I didn’t feel I could many days, and I hated when other parents reminded me these were the best days of my life. I also hated hearing it will get better, because — at that time — I couldn’t see when, and I couldn’t handle it getting any worse. I encourage any woman struggling to speak with their doctor, their spouse, a friend, anyone who will listen. Find a support group through your local hospital or a therapist through your insurance company. PM me on Facebook. (Seriously, I will listen!) Whatever you do know you are not alone and there is absolutely no shame in what you are going through, even though you may feel like you are the worst person in the world. You aren’t. You are strong and beautiful and, I promise, you will find your footing again.

      You can find me on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kimberly-Zapata/123908237674?ref=bookmarks

      If you are currently struggling or know someone who might be I encourage you to check out Postpartum Progress for more information/support: http://postpartumprogress.org

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