After the birth of my second child in 1999, I found myself in a deep, dark hole within myself. It was postpartum depression and according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services I was one of the 13% of postnatal women annually who slip into that same darkness.
It was a disturbing and frightening time in my life that I still remember well and pray never to experience again. My biggest regret is not having the knowledge to recognize the symptoms and the courage to seek help earlier before I was so deep that it was a struggle to climb back out.
Postpartum Depression: More Than Baby Blues
My second child, Mia, came screaming into the world at 12:27 a.m. on a Tuesday morning in August of 1999.
Elation and euphoria are the norm for a mother giving birth and looking at her child for the first time and I was no different. I was instantly in love.
My husband Sam, baby Mia and I left the hospital and went to my parent’s home – where our two-year-old son Kage and my parents were waiting for us. This was our temporary home – my parents’ house. Our house had burned earlier in the year and Sam, Kage and I had moved in with my parents while we waited on the insurance to settle and get our new house built.
Our new house was waiting for us now, finished and ready to be moved into – a week before my due date. Prior to Mia’s birth, though, I had announced that I would not be moving until after the baby was born. I was nesting and would not be going anywhere. When Mia was one week old, our new family of four moved into our new house.
I felt hopeful that we would settle into the newness of the home and the four-person family quickly.
Fast forward six months when life should have been back to normal and well-adjusted. In fact, my life was far from it.
I began to realize something wasn’t right when the normal period of hormonal imbalance and baby blues after delivery had long since passed. Baby blues generally last about 10 days postpartum – but mine had never gone away and had in fact escalated.
My daughter was six months old but I still felt like a rubber band stretched to its limits and farther. I had a newborn and a two-year-old, a beautiful new house and a husband who loved me but I felt angry, sad and disinterested at the same time.
I didn’t enjoy the little milestones my new daughter was reaching and I wasn’t interested in the things my two-year-old son was doing. I tried to act normal and I thought that what I was experiencing was just simple stress.
As that rubber band continued to stretch, I found myself wondering “Am I going to hurt one of the kids today?” or “Am I going to make my husband hate me today?”
I was hoping and praying I didn’t lose control, lose my temper, lose my mind or lose all three. Every hour that I was calm was a good hour, but every second I gave in to the demons clawing at me I hated myself more.
I had postpartum depression and there were days, minutes hours when I wanted to die. Not because I no longer wanted to live but because I was desperate for some relief from the misery I was experiencing.
For someone who has not experienced postpartum depression, it’s easy to say “Get a grip! Snap out of it!” I know, because I said the same things after the birth of my first child. I experienced a few days of baby blues after Kage was born, and then all was well.
My second pregnancy was nothing like the first and now, looking back I can see alarm bells going off and warning signals blaring from the beginning. They were screaming “You’re the perfect setup for postpartum depression – watch your back!”
Postpartum Depression: Stress During Pregnancy is a Factor
My son Kage was 15 months old when I found out I was pregnant again. I had thrown myself wholeheartedly into the role of Kage’s mommy and now I had a new baby on the way. I honestly didn’t know how to be someone else’s mommy.
I was scared out of my mind. Kage would be two when this baby was due and I was worried about how I would handle an energetic two-year-old and a newborn.
When I had been pregnant the first time I had felt great: beautiful, courageous even majestic. Yes, I also felt tired, fat and nauseated but I loved being pregnant. I didn’t feel all of the awful things most pregnant women felt. I enjoyed being pregnant.
This second time was different. I felt tired – actually exhausted – nauseated, moody and just plain awful. In addition, I constantly felt this sense of dread – a feeling of impending doom. It was like a black cloud that hung around my shoulders and my head.
I had wild thoughts – certainties that something was wrong with the baby, fears that I would die during childbirth, worries that I would not be able to handle having two children. My thoughts of a problem with the baby were constant. I couldn’t shake the feelings that there was just something not quite right.
These thoughts were, and are, so unlike me. I am a very positive person who rarely worries or frets. I am easygoing and generally take everything as it comes, with a smile on my face. I was very disturbed by the dark turn in my personality. I remember reading at that time that second pregnancies are often plagued with unfounded fears and is not uncommon.
I was relieved and overjoyed when we had an ultrasound at 18 weeks showing a healthy baby girl. I was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief. My behavior had been bizarre enough that my husband later told me he was also worried that something was wrong with me or the baby.
In March of that year – when I was five months pregnant – our house burned, bringing an amazing amount of stress to me. We had to live with my parents which was also stressful. Later, when we started building a new house – more stress.
My poor daughter suffered through stress with me from her conception. It didn’t take long to realize she was a high need baby. I was breastfeeding and Mia wanted absolutely no one but me. She would scream wildly if my husband or my mother tried to feed her a bottle of breast milk – which put more strain on me. Mia would cry hysterically if I wasn’t holding her. No one else could hold her for longer than five minutes before she fell apart with tears and infant sobs – wanting me.
I began to feel like I was no longer a person – I was simply a caretaker and milk giver. By the time Mia was six months old I didn’t enjoy anything in my life, I felt a depth of rage that I had never experienced and I had a mind full of twisted, scattered thoughts.
Every time my children cried, I reacted with tears and anger and a feeling of self-loathing. I didn’t want to hear them cry. I didn’t want to deal with the responsibility. I felt like a failure as a wife, a mom, and a person.
Postpartum Depression: Past Time to Get Help
I finally decided that I needed to get help when I sat in my living room one day watching without emotion as my son played and my daughter cried. I watched a movie in my head: I would load the kids into the car, drop them off at my mothers, then find the biggest tree along the road and drive headlong into it at the fastest speed I could reach. If my mom wasn’t home, then oh well, the kids would just take that ride with me.
I realized at that moment that my feelings were far beyond normal and I needed help – fast.
I spent the rest of that day researching postpartum depression on the Internet. I had felt – in the back of my mind – for at least a couple of months that I was suffering from postpartum depression, but I was ashamed. I didn’t want to admit to anyone that I wasn’t in control – that I was floundering and flailing in dark water and I was about to go down for the third time.
When my husband got home from work that night, I met him at the door and blurted out “I’m going to the doctor tomorrow. I can’t deal with this anymore.”
I told him everything that I’d been dealing with and he agreed to help me get the treatment I needed which ended up being a prescription for the antidepressant Paxil and lots of love and support to help me get through this.
I have kept two journal entries from that time – when I started medication to help me climb up out of the dark hole and stop wading in the dark water. Both entries say things so much better than I could write them myself now – 10 years later. These were written by the person I was then – caught in the grip of the postpartum depression.
February 2, 2000
This has been a great day. I’ve been in a good mood most of the day and I haven’t lost my temper (much) or my mind today. I actually played with both kids and enjoyed it. I set up an obstacle course for Kage and giggled while I climbed over boxes, under his little table, under Mia’s swing and stepped over the footstool with him. He enjoyed it. I was able to smile and revel in my baby girl’s laughter as I tickled and nuzzled her. I haven’t enjoyed her very much since her birth, so today was particularly sweet as I was able to appreciate my daughter while not getting angry at her for being a baby.
While Kage was taking his bath, he began splashing water at me. Instead of getting angry and yelling at him, I actually splashed him back and played with him. And I had fun.
It hasn’t been all hunky-dory today though. Kage didn’t sleep great last night and I didn’t really do too good myself. So I was really tired this morning. Mia kept fussing because she was so sleepy and every time I would get her to sleep she would wake up and cry as soon as I put her down. I wanted to scream at her.
I was able to get Kage to take a nap today, so I took Mia and laid down on the bed and slept. I felt so great when I woke up, hence the good mood I’ve managed to keep going for the last six hours.
Tomorrow will come with some trepidation for me though. I wonder if a good day is going to be followed by a particularly nasty one. . .
That’s the most frightening part of it – the loneliness. When I would get angry or look at Kage or Mia and think that I couldn’t even stand the sight of them, I felt so alone. Like no one else can relate or understand – because “good” mothers don’t have these feelings.
“Good” mothers don’t want to slap their son or shake their daughter just so they will be silent for 30 seconds.
“Good” mothers don’t want to walk out the front door and disappear from life.
I’ve learned though, that women don’t talk about postpartum depression. Families don’t talk about it. That’s why it is so hard for women to get help. They – like me – don’t want to admit that they’re having a problem. I didn’t want to speak my thoughts aloud. I felt that speaking them would brand me with a scarlet letter and all the world would see this struggle that I had hidden silently and would know what a terrible mother I was.
But I see now that is so wrong. I needed to speak out. To ask for help. To admit my need. Telling my husband about the demons hounding me and the evil thoughts swirling around inside my head was the catalyst to begin my healing process.
I know I have a long road ahead.
But today has been a really good day.
February 3, 2000
Yesterday was good – today wasn’t. It figures. The day started off really well – aside from another night of bad sleep.
I felt really good this morning and I was pretty calm. I gave Kage his antibiotic this morning – which was a fight. He kicked and screamed and fought and part of the medicine ended upon on him, not in him. And I didn’t lose my cool! It was amazing. I didn’t get mad. I didn’t yell at him. I felt completely in control.
The day went forward and it seemed like it might be another good day.
But it began unraveling quickly and got out of hand. I was very tired from my lack of sleep the night before. Mia was very tired but couldn’t settle down to go to sleep. She cried and whined a lot. Kage was very tired but refused to take a nap.
Two days ago I swore I would not set myself up for a fall by fighting with him about a nap. And what did I do? I tried to force him to take a nap. He fought, Mia cried, and I blew my top. I began throwing things – the box of diaper wipes, Kage’s little TV tray, the plastic measured cup Kage has been carrying around, a Styrofoam cup – anything to keep me from losing my temper on my kids.
Even as I was losing it and having my tantrum, I realized what I was doing, but I felt like I couldn’t stop. It was like something had taken over and I was helpless to regain control. The more angry I became, the more I hated this person I had become.
I no longer recognize myself. This person isn’t me. I don’t know who she is, all I know is that I HATE her. I want her to disappear.
I want myself back.
Finally, I began calming down. Then I began sobbing uncontrollably. I couldn’t stop crying because I hurt so bad. The emotional pain I was feeling was so intense that I physically ached. I remember my mind screaming out “God – where are You?! Where are You?!”
Sam came home at four and knew instantly that I was in trouble. He convinced me to take Mia and lay down on the bed for a little while. It helped a great deal. Now, I feel more able to cope. My nerves are not as raw and frayed as they were and I’m not as fragile emotionally.
Last night I was pleased, thinking I was well on the road to recovery. Maybe I just needed to be reminded that it is a long road with lots of bumps and potholes.
Thankfully, I came out of that darkness and have not revisited it. Just writing this article brought feelings of pain and shame as I remembered. Today, my children are 12, 10 and 8 (another daughter was added to the family 2001). When Ruby was born, I knew what to look for and my husband and I were vigilant. It was unnecessary as I did not slide into postpartum depression that time.
Please, if you find yourself in this situation – don’t be ashamed. You are not alone – please get help. I am living proof that there is light on the other side of that darkness and a better life up, outside of that hole.
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