At first, I tried to keep the crying quiet. I didn’t want to wake my sleeping newborn or worry my sleep-deprived husband. When the sobs couldn’t be muffled by the bathroom door any longer, I told my husband it was just the baby blues. My ob/gyn had warned me about the baby blues. They were sure to pass.
But they didn’t pass. In fact, the crying got worse. I felt hopeless. I whispered “I’m sorry” over and over again as my tears splashed on my baby’s head. I sobbed apologies into my husband’s shoulder as he tried to comfort me while holding our newborn son. I knew I was making an already difficult situation harder, but I couldn’t stop.
I told my husband that I wished we hadn’t had a baby. This was just too hard. When people tried to convince me that I didn’t mean it, I knew they were wrong. I meant it. I wanted my old life back.
I had to admit things were bad when I looked at the bottle of morphine the hospital had sent home with me and wondered if it would be enough to kill me. But I didn’t know what to do about it. I was too tired to make any decisions. It took me days to call my mom for help. And it wasn’t until my son’s pediatrician told me I had to take care of myself that I dragged myself to the emergency room.
Lots of things contributed to my depression, including a miscarriage a year before, trouble conceiving and a personal history of depression. I was also experiencing trouble breastfeeding; I felt like I was failing my baby. Add to that hormonal changes and sleep deprivation and I was a mess.
Many more things and people contributed to my recovery. My husband’s steadfast support was most important. I am so grateful I live in a province with dedicated paternity leave. We also have good friends who let me text and call at all hours of the day. I kept needing reassurance because of my anxiety, and my friends patiently gave me that reassurance. They also made sure we had food and company. I remember one night in particular. I texted friends that the baby wouldn’t sleep, and I was losing my mind. At five in the morning, a good friend came to drive my crying baby and tired husband around so I could get a precious hour of sleep. That hour of sleep and quiet kept me from breaking, as did so many other kindnesses from friends and family.
I was also lucky enough to be working with a postpartum doula who not only reassured us that our baby was okay, but also helped us find a therapist who works with parents experiencing postpartum mood disorders.
Without the support of friends, family and experts, I don’t think that I’d be enjoying time with my little guy now. Medication also played an important role in my recovery. The first day I went without crying, I texted the same friends who had received all my middle of the night breakdowns. They were there to celebrate with me, just as they had been there when all I could do was talk obsessively about the baby’s weight and sleep.
Six weeks doesn’t sound like much time now, but it felt like forever and I would not go back there for anything. I was ashamed of what I saw as weakness and scared of the disturbing images that would flash through my mind. My psychiatrist and therapist helped normalise how I felt. They even reassured me that the images of my baby flying into a wall did not mean I was going to hurt him. I needed to hear that other mothers saw these things and didn’t hurt their babies.
Labour has nothing on the pain of post-partum depression. I’m not saying I’m fully recovered. I still have bad days. I often feel guilty for things that are outside my control. (When I learned baby acne was caused by the hormones in breast milk, I even blamed myself for this common, minor skin condition. Like I can control my hormones!) When we have a bad night’s sleep I worry that I could go back to the really dark place. Sometimes, I still feel overwhelmed by simple tasks, like doing the dishes. But I feel so much more like myself now than I did just a few months ago, and I try to celebrate the small accomplishments—like finally figuring out how to shower when it’s just me and the baby!
If you’re suffering, you’re not alone. And you’re not a bad mother. Moms deserve love too. We need to take care of ourselves and each other.