“I wouldn’t say you have postpartum depression because you still seem to be finding joy in doing everyday things.”
That was said to me when my first baby was only a month old. And I believed it. Not because I felt good, but because I thought that in order to have a serious mood disorder like Postpartum Depression (PPD), someone else had to recognize it in me. I couldn’t just claim it for myself.
But if I didn’t have PPD, then maybe I just wasn’t meant to be a mom?
I hated early motherhood. Really despised it. Yes, I loved my baby more fiercely than I could have ever imagined. And yes, I wanted him desperately. I missed him when he was asleep just like every other mom said I would. But I hated what he’d done to my life.
I thought my life was over when his began. There was no more me-time. There was no privacy. There was no sleep or restoration to be had. I was tired, cranky, exhausted, and miserable all the time.
But they said I wasn’t depressed.
Maybe I just needed my baby to sleep? Once I reached out in desperation to the Mom groups looking for help or advice or solace; anything to bring clarify to what I was going through. What I got instead was ridicule and the reassurance that this was the new look of my life. Veteran moms told me they hadn’t slept in year and that sleeping through the night was a myth. They told me it was all normal, everything I was experiencing.
When I told them I didn’t think I could go on in the state I was, they said every mom has days like that, even years later. But I wasn’t having “days” like that. It was every day like that.
I spent every day in a dark room, isolated from the world, trying to will a baby to sleep. And that felt like my life exactly. Dark. Isolated. Fighting.
If they said it was normal, clearly I was the problem. I wasn’t meant to be a mom.
I felt anything but normal.
I felt mad, sad, scared, angry, and overwhelmed in the most boring way. I’d spend each day just wishing it would end and the night would bring rest. Then I’d spend each night wishing for the sun to rise so I could stop searching for sleep that wouldn’t come. I wanted those early days to just leave me but they just turned into more endless days.
I felt like I was sitting in a dark hole with a colicky baby that needed me but didn’t want me. I felt like I couldn’t find the words to tell anyone what I was going through because I felt everything except depressed. I felt stolen. Like someone had kidnapped me and put me in a prison of loneliness where you are never actually alone.
I hated this new version of normal.
One day, when my son was two years old, I sat outside of his bedroom door, again trying to coax him to sleep. Each time he tried to leave the room, I would sternly tell him to get back into bed. My husband found me there and said what I was doing was a little ridiculous. I’ll never forget the feeling of rage that washed over me when I said, “This whole parenting thing is ridiculous! I’m constantly fighting to get him to do things he doesn’t want to do and I’m so tired of it!” I felt in that moment that this would never end. The stages would change, but I was sure the misery that motherhood brought me was forever.
And that’s when it hit me… I’d been in the throes of PPD for two years. Two whole years. And for what ever reason, I’d been waiting for someone else to give me the permission to claim that.
And that is when I started to climb out of it.
I realized I’d been sacrificing not just my happiness but myself for my son. Giving him so much, too much, of myself and it was leaving me resentful, empty and depressed. Others didn’t recognize it because my days weren’t characterized by sadness as we often think depression is. I wasn’t withdrawing on purpose but I was very isolated. I could find joy in every day things but not in the things I had to do every day.
I don’t know if I climbed out because I suddenly recognized it, or if I suddenly recognized it because I’d climbed out. But that was the start of brighter days. I could not believe I’d struggled that way, completely unaware, for two years.
Finally, the clouds were clearing.
Once I was able to put a name to what I was feeling – Postpartum Depression – I knew how to ask for help and I knew how to talk to myself when those dark times came up.
“You were meant to be a mom and you’re a good mom. You’re just struggling right now. And that’s OK. But you can’t live here” Was something I said to myself often.
I spoke to a mental health professional and, with his help, fixed my broken sleep. You see, even when my son started sleeping better, I never did. And I didn’t realize how my shattered sleep was affecting everything in my life, including my mood and my health.
I prioritized my physical health for the first time in years. I intentionally sought out time away from my son so I didn’t need to be “on” twenty-four-seven.
I was able to let my husband back in on what I was going through. When I thought what I was feeling was “normal” I had no idea how to talk about it. And that made me shut everyone out. “I’m fine” was all I found myself able to say. But looking back, clearly I wasn’t fine. And I wish someone had seen that.
I wish someone had told me this…
Mama, if you’ve found yourself here, where “normal” feels miserable, even if you are convinced and have been told that you do not have PPD, you still might be suffering from a postpartum mood disorder. These can last longer than some realize. But please believe, the clouds will clear. The season will change. You’re not a bad mom. You’re a mom who is in a bad place and you can climb out.
Give what you’re going through a name, even if you have to label it yourself. Don’t wait for someone else to tell you what you’ve going through. You’re allowed to tell them. You deserve to find happiness in the midst of motherhood and you do not have to sacrifice yourself to prove you are worthy of this life.
Here are some things that can help
- Support your hormones through vitamins and supplements
- Eat a balanced diet (not just your kids PB&J crusts)
- Talk to a mental health professional who specialized in postpartum mood disorders
- Admit out loud, to yourself or others, when you are struggling
- Find time to yourself that feels positive and not isolated
- Ask for help from those around you
- Move your body
- Journal to get the feelings out in a tangible way
- Find five things you love about each day and focus there
- Remind yourself you’re not broken and this will get better