I thought postpartum depression was for other women. I had gone through years of fertility treatment and tears. My depression was over. I was having a baby and couldn’t have been happier. I thought postpartum depression was for the unprepared. I had worked in daycare, had tons of experience, and even took a newborn care class (for my husband’s sake). I had confidence in my abilities. I mean, look how beautiful I made this nursery?! It was go-time, and I was ready.
Well, as it turns out, preparing to become a parent is like trying to prepare for a flood by shoving paper towels under the door. A couple of days after my son was born, I broke into a hundred pieces. The thing is, everyone called it depression. What I was feeling, in my opinion, was not depression. I would call it an overwhelming sense of anxiety. I had always been a bit of a control freak. My husband may disagree with the “a bit” part. Well, control and parenthood are not exactly like chocolate and peanut butter. They don’t always go together deliciously.
This baby was tiny. I was in charge of keeping him safe, and all I could think of was the millions of dangers his little body might face. I was still in pain. Nursing was hard. I was crying more than the newborn.
Sometimes the shred of sanity I still had would float above the hysterical me. It would yell at me to pull it together, thus making the broken me just feel guilty. This just turned into a giant loop. I was fortunate enough to have one incredible tool in this mighty fight. I had a supportive spouse with paternity leave. He would tiptoe into the nursery and scoop our son out of my arms to “give me some time.” When it came time for my postpartum appointment, he gently suggested that I share my feelings with the doctor. After acknowledging and addressing my postpartum depression and anxiety, things got better.
One would think that, since my son is 8 years old presently, that I can laugh about it now. I’m usually good about that kind of thing, but I’m not quite there yet. It sucks to feel vulnerable. It sucks to admit that you need help when mothers are supposed to be the strongest creatures on earth. However, there is a reason the flight attendant tells you to put on your oxygen mask before putting on your child’s. They can’t function if you don’t. Things got better for me, but only because I had support. I know not everyone has a supportive spouse, and paternity leave can be a luxury.
There seems to be some sort of unspoken rule that we leave the new mommy alone for a while. She needs her privacy. Well, sometimes she doesn’t. I’m not suggesting we show up unannounced on doorsteps, holding a bottle of wine. (But if you want to do that, I can send you my address.) Just call her. Do a coffee run. Hold the baby for 20 minutes so Mom can shower. Ask how she is doing. Give her an opening to express what is going on. These things can help her be the strong mother who is most certainly inside of her.
Like I said, I can’t quite laugh about it yet. I can say that I will always remember my postpartum depression as the first time I conquered a parenthood battle, and like the rest I have (or will) be facing, it should be not be done alone. Only 2,844,362,197 left to go.