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I think one of the most important things I could tell someone about postpartum depression is that is doesn't look or feel the same to any two people … which is one of the reasons it's such an awful beast. You can't look at someone else in search of signs or clues to know that you're suffering from the same problem, because it manifests differently in different people. At least, that was my downfall. I didn't recognize my struggle as PPD, and because of that I fell through the cracks for too long.
I was given a brochure at the hospital after my son was born, prior to my discharge: "Postpartum Depression and the Signs to Look For." Okay, I thought. File it along with the 12,000 other pieces of paper, forms, and pamphlets we were given under the heading of "very important." And off we went.
Like any new mom, I was scared, tired, and in physical pain (I was also recovering from a c-section). But my own needs ceased to exist the moment another human emerged from my body, and our lives soon centered around our son and his well-being.
Of course I loved him. Didn't I? He was my child. He was beautiful and soft, he curled into my chest, and I felt a fierce need to protect him. But he was also feeding off my body every 120 minutes and had less personality than a sea urchin. I mean, of course I loved him. I just didn't know him yet. At least that's what I told myself.
I quickly fell further into indifference. I knew my role of feeding and nurturing was important, but other than that, I felt I could slip out the door and no one would notice or care that I'd left. My son and I weren't bonding, I was terrible at swaddling, and he seemed to prefer being held by anyone but me. In hindsight, I know that wasn't the case, but my mind told me otherwise in the moment.
Besides my boobs, I was useless to this child.
Within a week, my mindset became even darker. I began to feel I was useless not just to my child but also to my entire family. Furthermore, I was convinced my husband and son would be better off without me. I'd leave, I decided, as soon as my son was finished with breastfeeding – as much as my mind told me I was a horrible mother, wife, and person, it was never able to convince me I didn't need to breastfeed. I actually never wanted to breastfeed, but did it because I thought I should. Funny how that ended up being my salvation and the only reason I stayed.
I went back and forth between thinking maybe something was wrong and I needed help, and worrying that I was the problem – I was a bad mom, and so many other women handled this better than I was, or ever could.
I was also suffering from insomnia; even though I was exhausted, I couldn't sleep. During one of those endless nights, I decided to find the brochure I'd been given on PPD. I actually felt excited as I opened it, thinking maybe it would hold the answers I was looking for. Maybe it wasn't my personal shortcomings as a mother; maybe I actually was sick.
The brochure gave me no answers. That fleeting moment of hope was extinguished as quickly as it sparked. I saw no resemblance between the pamphlet's description of PPD and what I was feeling.
I can't even express how much anger I have toward that brochure. PPD looks different in different people, and even one individual can go through a huge and confusing range of feelings. If I have a second child and PPD finds me again, I may not have the same experience I did with my first baby. All the brochure should say is, "If you have even the slightest sense that something is off, SEE YOUR DOCTOR NOW!"
But it didn't. And I didn't see enough of myself in the checklist, so I continued on my downward spiral.
I retreated from my friends, and I never left the house unless I had to. I felt like I was in an endless cycle of childcare. Soon my thoughts shifted from running away to taking my own life. I went from not good enough to not worth living.
Oh, but that baby needed his breast milk. He had acid reflux, couldn't endure formula, and I was his only option. But I kept planning my exit once he weaned.
Luckily I found help before that happened.
One morning, my son was particularly fussy, and somehow a dam within me broke. Slow tears soon morphed into deep hysterics. I picked up the phone and called my husband at work, begging him to come home right away.
I went straight to the doctor and began getting the help I needed, the help that gave me my life back. I was a wife again, a friend. And most importantly, I bloomed in motherhood. I loved my son and I liked him. Cherished him.
It's difficult to quantify hard times once they've passed. The pain seems to fade with the months and years. Like childbirth, I suppose. But aside from the deaths of loved ones, I can honestly say that suffering from PPD before treatment was the worst time in my life.
I will never get back the time I lost with my son. I'm working on processing the guilt I still feel and, quite honestly, I'm angry about it all. No mother should feel that way.
To any mom, as well as your spouse, partner, friends, and family, I beg of you: If something seems even a little bit off, don't ignore it, don't wait, and never assume it's normal. What's the worst that can happen, you see a doctor and they send you home?
Mental health is important. You are important. And help is readily available.
Anxious, overwhelmed, unhappy, or scared by how you feel? If you're struggling emotionally, you could be depressed. Take this 10-question quiz to find out.
Opinions expressed by parent contributors are their own.