By the time my first baby was about four months old, I started realizing that maybe something was going on with me; something bigger than I first realized. I had become a virtual stranger to myself. I was angry, withdrawn, and felt trapped in my new role as a mom. Nothing seemed to help, and I didn’t know how to handle all the unexpected emotions.
When you’re anticipating joy, and get darkness in its place, it’s difficult to understand. And when I finally found enough understanding and willingness to learn more, what I learned only left me even more confused.
After all of my late-night Googling, one thing soon became clear: When dealing with “trying” emotions after having a baby, there are basically two diagnoses — baby blues or postpartum depression. My own symptoms were heavier and longer lasting than those described by most definitions of the so-called baby blues, but everything I heard and knew about postpartum depression required having negative feelings toward your baby. I never wanted to hurt my baby in any way. I had intellectual love for him, even when the emotional love was absent.
So where did I fit? Nowhere, it seemed; which only made me sink deeper into my isolation, and further convinced me that I was the only one suffering in this way.
What no one told me, and no article seemed to accurately define, is that wanting to hurt your baby is only one of the many, many ways postpartum depression manifests itself. Yes, postpartum depression is anger, sadness, hopelessness, resentment, numbness, fear, anxiety … but it also so much more. It is as unique as the baby you are holding.
We all wear it differently. We all feel it differently.
I felt my PPD in many ways, but one day in particular I felt it in ways I will never forget. My husband worked long hours and took our car with him, leaving me stranded and alone with our baby on a farm in the dead of winter. It was very isolating, and my emotional state only intensified that isolation. But on this day, my mom had called and offered to take the baby and I out shopping. It was like a little ray of hope glimmered through the darkness. I had asked my husband to leave me the car seat the night before and I got all ready to head out (no small task with a newborn) — only to realize that my husband had forgotten to leave me the seat after all.
I was crushed, to say the least. But it went further than that — in that moment I was so overcome with rage and hopelessness that I decided to leave my husband. Forever. I started looking up train tickets and planned how I could pack up my baby and run away. I hated my husband and I hated my life. But even in those dark moments, I didn’t place any of the blame on my baby. I never once held the baby responsible for my misery.
It wasn’t until many months later that I actually saw this experience for what it was: postpartum depression. My husband returned home late that night, totally clueless to anything that had happened that day. He’d made an innocent mistake, forgetting to leave me the car seat, but I reacted as if it were a capital offense. That began my pattern of scheming ways to abandon my life every single day — every time a situation took me from low to even lower. I really felt like that was the only logical solution. Though I lacked the deep love and happiness towards my baby that I anticipated, I never hated him, or desired to harm him. Because all my negativity came out in other ways, I couldn’t make the connection necessary to understand what was actually happening to me.
The impact postpartum depression had on my life went so much deeper than how I felt about my baby. Every aspect of my life suffered: My marriage, my job, and even my relationship with myself spiraled downward. Things grew so dark before I was able to seek help, mainly because I didn’t understand anything was really wrong. I didn’t see how my experience fit on the postpartum depression spectrum.
How could I love my baby, and still have postpartum depression?
The truth is, that regardless of what your depression looks like, you deserve help — even the smallest case of baby blues justifies intervention and aid. Labels and stereotypes about PPD only prevent women from really identifying and understanding what is happening to us, and in turn the suffering intensifies. When I was finally able to get help, I learned that I didn’t actually hate my husband, I didn’t really want to run away, and that I was sort of a rock star for enduring the emotional torture I had been living with.
Postpartum depression isn’t in your control, but seeking help is. Above all, know this: You aren’t alone.