Looking back, I’m certain it started before my daughter was born.
The lack of sleep; the (absolutely false) certainty that my husband didn’t care about me; the extreme moodiness and startlingly short temper; the self-isolation and loathing. It was NOT just pregnancy hormones messing with me; my mind was being overtaken by a kind of depression I wasn’t familiar with, and it did not lift after I had N.
We had sought out fertility treatment to get pregnant and, lucky us, found ourselves expecting after just one month of Clomid. We were thrilled!
We made preparations, buying and accepting gifts for our soon-to-arrive offspring. I diligently studied up on breastfeeding, cloth diapers, and the newest safety guidelines on infant sleep and travel while enjoying a complication-free pregnancy.
As the third trimester loomed over me, I started struggling, namely with the symptoms listed in the second paragraph. I even had thoughts of self harm, but never mentioned them to anyone. I thought I was just a crazy, hormonal pregnant woman and this would pass.
At my last prenatal appointment — 40 weeks and 6 days pregnant — I was shocked to learn that I would go in next morning for a Cesarean due to N’s perceived size. I cried all night long thinking I had made my baby the hulk!
The section went perfectly, though, and she was healthy. I recovered well, physically, though I was troubled for a long time regarding the Caesarean. I don’t think the surgery contributed to my postpartum depression; however, I think if I had been healthier, mentally, I would have had less guilt and regret about it.
I loved her right away. I never felt like I couldn’t bond with her, though that is a common issue for mothers who suffer from postpartum depression.
My issues were with myself. I wasn’t patient enough. I was ugly and a terrible mother; I constantly apologized to N for being her mother. I was a sorry excuse for a wife. I even privately told God that I wished He had never made me. I hated myself so very deeply that I even resorted to mild self harm that I never told anyone about. That, perhaps, is the most difficult part to share.
We struggled tremendously with breastfeeding due to what turned out to be a posterior tongue tie and class for lip tie that were corrected via laser surgery. Even after the correction she needed physical therapy for several weeks to properly correct her latch, which was excruciatingly painful for me both before and after the surgery. Slanted, bleeding, and blanched nipples and vasospasms caused me even more emotional trauma. Having been incorrectly fear mongered away from using formula, I had become petrified of not being able to exclusively breastfeed my baby. This added stress made things even worse regarding my mental wellbeing. (For those wondering, we were able to breastfeed successfully and I still nurse on demand sixteen months in.)
Know what else will screw up everything about your brain chemistry? Not sleeping. Ever.
Sleep had become so elusive during my third trimester, I was certain that, even with a baby, I would sleep better in a postpartum state because I wouldn’t be so hugely pregnant.
I was wrong.
But it wasn’t because of N. Granted, I soon learned that she would never sleep on her own in a bassinet or crib, but once I accepted that she fared best in a swing or in a safe cosleeping environment, she slept quite well.
But I didn’t.
I would lie awake for hours as my little girl dreamed peacefully, desperate to fall asleep, until she woke up. I’d then cry because I hadn’t gotten any rest at all. Nothing helped me sleep.
Weeks of this started to affect me. My temper became extremely short; I had uncontrollable bouts of rage where I would scream, cry, and throw things. I broke a remote, a few of her toys, and ruined a couch cushion because I threw a bottle of baby oil at it and it leaked all over it.
I never wanted to hurt N and I never did anything remotely violent toward her. I did, however, have terrifying visions of swinging her by her ankles into a wall. These visions haunted me and created a horrible fear that she would be taken away if I shared them with anyone.
It was during this time that suicidal thoughts blossomed in my mind. I remember thinking I should just swallow an entire bottle of Benadryl. I never intended to go through with these thoughts; however, they persisted.
My supportive husband finally gently asked me to get help when N was about five months old. I became hysterical and expressed my fear that N would be removed from our guardianship if I shared my symptoms with a doctor.
But with some encouragement from a friend, I finally made an appointment with a psychiatrist. I explained my symptoms, told her we were breastfeeding, and requested a safe antidepressant. She prescribed low dose Zoloft and set me up with a counselor.
The first thing that changed after a few days of Zoloft was that I was able to sleep. That alone made me feel like a different person and created a domino effect: I had energy, felt more capable, was less overwhelmed by little things that had previously caused me to burst into tears or fly into a rage.
I set goals with my counselor and after a few months was released from those services with an open invitation to return for any reason.
By the time N was eight months old I had improved drastically, but I could not have done it on my own. Medication combined with counseling and my own personal efforts such as exercising and other methods of self care made the biggest difference for me. I am still on Zoloft and have no shame in that. My daughter deserves a happy, functioning mother… and I deserve to be happy, too.