Depression runs in my family, so my husband and I were both worried about the possibility of post-partum depression once we learned I was pregnant. We did extensive research and made a “game plan” for the time after birth, just in case the symptoms appeared. When our son was born, we were surprised and elated that instead of feeling even a twinge of baby blues, I was actually the happiest I had ever been.
Atticus was an incredible infant. He slept through the night at one month and nursed like a champ. He rarely cried and started smiling, laughing, and cooing so early that I felt blessed with the “perfect” baby.
Then I went back to work. I am a teacher, so keeping up with breastfeeding was a challenge. The first few months went well enough. I pumped during my off-periods and toted the milk home each afternoon for Atticus to drink at daycare the following day. I eventually fell so behind in my work, however, that my stress level began to increase, which meant my supply practically disappeared. With a heavy heart, I had to stop nursing… and that’s when things took a turn for the worst.
As most of you know, a hormonal shift occurs after birth. This shift is the underlying cause of post-partum depression. What I didn’t realize is that a similar shift occurs when a woman stops breastfeeding. My mood had suddenly changed, but I ascribed this to the sudden changes my son was experiencing as well.
Atticus, who was such a happy and easy-going baby, became a completely different kid at six months. While he was still smiles and laughs most of the time, there was now an element of frustration that came from him. He hated the transition to solid foods, teething was a challenge, and he got a nasty bug that lasted for nearly two weeks. This all paled in comparison to the biggest challenge we now faced: our champion sleeper was now waking up three or four times each night, sometimes for an hour at a time. Naturally, we were all exhausted. My husband and I took to sleeping in shifts so that we could each get four hours of sleep, but sometimes Atticus would howl so loudly that neither of us was getting any shut-eye.
This unpredictable shift in my understanding of parenting was accompanied by manic episodes and dramatic mood swings that I assumed were a result of my exhaustion. I was having a hard time falling back asleep once we finally got Atticus settled down. I loved my son, but found myself coming up with excuses to avoid him: I had to work late, I needed to go to yoga class for the fourth day in a row, I completely forgot this meeting I had scheduled. All of it was to get away from the challenges I was facing at home.
And then came the guilt. What kind of mother made excuses to be away from her son? What kind of mother didn’t relish in the challenges of raising an adorable, albeit grumpy baby? These feelings of guilt kept me up at night and kept me from completing even simple tasks.
I retreated into myself, fearing that anyone who learned of my emotions would think I was unworthy of motherhood. I avoided chances to see friends, and even stopped communicating fully with my husband. Then I became angry. The anger was, as everything else I felt, accompanied by guilt, so I kept it inside until it would explode in such a frightening display that I even scared myself a few times. Objects were thrown, midnight drives to the other side of town became the norm, and I felt like I could scream for hours, just to let off the steam that had been festering inside me.
I realized I needed help. I called my doc, unsure if postpartum depression can even appear as late as seven months after giving birth. Everything I knew about this form of depression pointed to the first two weeks after delivery. My doctor assured me that my feelings were normal and treatable, and not simply the result of a lack of sleep. Now we’re discussing treatment options (I’d like to avoid medication, but at this point I just want my life back).
Don’t suffer in silence, don’t think that your feelings are synonymous with failure, and recognize that post-partum depression can occur anytime in the first year (not first weeks) after delivery.
This experience has taught me a few things that I’d really like to share with the Offbeat community: don’t suffer in silence, don’t think that your feelings are synonymous with failure, and recognize that post-partum depression can occur anytime in the first year (not first weeks) after delivery. If you’re experiencing guilt, anger, resentment, and depression, it might be wise to talk with your doctor or midwife.
If it is actually postpartum depression, you need to seek professional help. We all like to think that we’re strong enough to handle even the most daunting of tasks, but your sanity and the health of your family depends on your willingness to let someone else in. There is a silver lining; for me, it’s the hope that I can be the grateful, exuberant mother I once was.