On a Saturday morning at 12:37 my water broke. I woke up thinking I was having the worst pregnancy night sweats of all time. I went to the bathroom, realized I was in labor, psyched myself up for a few minutes, and gave myself a good old-fashioned pep talk in the mirror. I called my midwife who told me I had plenty of time to relax a bit, but I was nervous about the forty minute drive and kept hearing the voices of women in my family telling me about their super quick births. I just wanted to get to the hospital. I should have listened to my midwife.
At 4:34 that afternoon we welcomed our perfect baby boy into this world. The midwife placed him on my chest and he picked his head up to look at me. My little Superman.
My labor wasn’t as fast and easy as my family had led me to believe, and I won’t get into the gory details, but I did it without any pain medications of any kind and when I’m having a hard time in my life I remember that I was in labor for sixteen hours and pushed for four without anyone’s help. I can do anything.
In hindsight, I can see I was suffering from postpartum depression. When I was in it, I didn’t realize it. I couldn’t see it. I never abused my son, and I wasn’t afraid to hold him. In the movies, that’s what postpartum depression looks like. It doesn’t look like drowning.
I thought I was just overwhelmed with all of the added responsibility and a husband who thought I wasn’t a good enough housewife and didn’t get enough chores done during the day. I thought I was just exhausted. I thought I wasn’t good enough. I thought I was failing. And I didn’t tell anyone because then people would know what an awful mother I was. So I put on my happy face and pretended to have it all together.
At my follow-up appointment, I gave the doctor the answers I knew she wanted while she read me the postpartum checklist. I was so consumed with seeming weak or unprepared. I was afraid, and I didn’t have anyone to lean on. I was the first in my friend group to have a child, my mother and I have never been close. I had no idea I was feeling what every new mother feels.
I thought if I could just clean more and do one more load of laundry and wash a few more dishes, everything would be fine. If I could cook a perfect dinner every night and make my own organic baby food and keep my son in sparkling clean clothes than my husband would be happy. And I couldn’t understand why it got so much harder to keep up.
I never napped when my son did, I had to find time to take a shower and there was too much cleaning to be done. Since I was nursing I got up for every feeding in the middle of the night. My husband believed his sleep was paramount to anything else so there was no nursing in bed allowed. I sat in the rocking chair in the nursery or on the couch in the living room. After all, he had a real job, I just stayed home all day.
I was so exhausted, both mentally and physically, it never occurred to me that I wasn’t keeping up because the work load doubled. I washed all the baby laundry separate from our own. I did loads of burp cloths and onesies everyday, but our own laundry never got done. Same with the bottles, they were hand washed separate from the other dishes. There were always clean bottles and nipples, but we never had clean forks.
In public, I was the image of a happy new mother but in the privacy of my home every time my son cried, I yelled at him. And every time my son giggled, I didn’t feel anything. And every time my son fussed, I yelled at him. And every time my son fell asleep in my arms, I didn’t feel anything.
There’s a picture I keep on my bookshelf of my son sleeping on my shoulder. He’s exactly thirty-six days old. My head is turned toward him and I’m looking down at him. My chin is lightly brushing the side of his sleeping face. When I look at that picture now, my heart surges with how incredibly in love with that face I am. When the picture was being taken, I remember being concerned with how it would look, and when people saw it would they think I was being a good mother?
One morning he was cruising around the living room in his walker and I lost it. I sat on the floor, buried my face in my hands, and cried. It was the kind of cry you don’t even know is coming and then suddenly everything is pouring out of you and there’s no way to stop it. You just have to ride the wave until it brings you back to shore and hope you finally stop drowning. He made his way over to me, put his hand on my head, and quietly babbled something with the inflection of a question. My superman was asking if I was okay. How could I tell him I wasn’t? How could I make him understand that I was in trouble and I was terrified of bringing him down with me?
I looked up at him and saw his perfect little face and felt his perfect little hand on my head. Everything changed. In that instant I knew I couldn’t do this alone anymore. I took him out of his walker and hugged him and apologized to him, promised him I’d be the mother he deserved. And I was.
Therapy wasn’t easy. Admitting I was struggling was even harder. Now, in my new marriage with my new daughter and another baby on the way, I realize how incredibly lucky I was. When my husband and I found out our daughter was on her way, I sat him down and told him this story. I wanted to be sure there was no way I could fake being okay when I was drowning. I needed someone else to actively look for the signs I wouldn’t allow myself to see. I didn’t want to hide it, but I also didn’t trust myself enough to know it if I saw it.
Postpartum depression is nothing to hide, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. You aren’t failing and you aren’t weak and you aren’t a terrible mother. You’re human. And you’re going to be okay.