I am honored to share with you this guest post from my friend Adrienne, as she tells her PPD story.
Hey, new mama. This could be your first baby, your third, or your sixth. Doesn’t matter. Somehow every precious new life makes a mother feel like a newbie all over again.
Sit down. I want to tell you something important. I want to tell you something you need to hear. Because I care about you.
But no one warned me about it. Not a soul.
I pictured having my sweet child (we waited until the birth to find out the sex), and holding Baby and loving her. The feelings of natural attachment and bonding washing over me as I cooed to and held my child. For months I pictured this. And, during the pregnancy, I truly felt bonded to my baby. I’m still amazed how quickly that changed.
My labor was long, and so very hard. It started Monday with huge contractions that weren’t progressing me. And weren’t stopping. After three days of intense pain, lots of crying and despair, I finally gave birth ten minutes shy of midnight on Thursday night. Her due date.
My life changed in an instant. They laid that sweet baby girl on my chest, and I wept. I held her close and it seemed like time stopped. I sobbed as I welcomed her into my life. I told her how much I loved her, that I hoped I’d be a good mother to her, to spend my life trying to earn the honor of being her mother. I felt love, attachment.
Within a few hours, it was gone.
The rest of the time in the hospital, I felt numb. Tired. Cut off from everyone. Everyone else seemed so happy, so thrilled. Why can’t I feel like them, I’d think.
My family came several times, and I just sat staring at them in wonder–how they felt joy and gladness. I felt….dead. I thought it was the intense fatigue from my lengthy and exhausting labor. I thought once I got home and healed some, I would feel myself.
For weeks, I’d hold her on my lap or in front of my face. I’d stare into her eyes. I’d look at her little hands, her tiny feet. I’d try to make myself feel something. Anything. Love, attachment. Excitement. But I felt nothing.
She was severely colicky. She’d scream and wail for 12 hours a day. It made leaving the house impossible. I was stuck at home alone. With a screaming child for whom I couldn’t make myself feel anything. Occasionally, we’d go twenty minutes to my parents house for dinner. She’d scream the whole way there, the entire time we were there, and all the way home. It was awful.
And still, I tried to feel something–anything. And I just felt nothing. Except dread.
Two and a half months after having my first, we found out that we were pregnant again. I was shocked. This was not in our plan. Thirteen weeks in, I miscarried my first son. I spiralled downward even further. It was a terrible and dark and lonely time.
But then, six months in, something switched. I don’t know what. But slowly, I was myself. I started to wake up, come out of the cocoon. That six months was the longest of my life. I thought it was all just part of being a first-time mom. Because no one had warned me. Not one person had mentioned what I had gone through. So, of course, it must be normal.
I had my second daughter two years after having my first. For the first few months, I was happy and balanced. I was joyful and we bonded quickly. Praise God, I thought.
But five months in, I spiraled down again. It would be another six months of anxiety, loneliness and depression. Once again, I suffered alone. I thought it was something wrong with me. I’ll get over it; I’ll snap out of it. And six months after the onset, I began again to heal.
When I was pregnant with my third daughter, I heard the chatter. Postpartum depression. I read the symptoms. I read how it manifested itself in mothers. It sounded so familiar. I drew in a breath–yes, depression.
While talking to my sister one afternoon, I dared to speak the words–dared to see how someone would take me admitting it. “I think I had postpartum depression with Elizabeth and Mary.” I described how I had felt–the swirling darkness, the apathy, the numbness, everything. I expected backlash, denial. “Oh, Adrienne. I’m sorry. I had no idea.” No one did. Because I didn’t know I needed help.
When my Anne was born, I only struggled with the Baby Blues for a week. What a welcome break.
Then my world fell apart.
In 2014, my husband and I found out we were expecting again. The timing was not ours, but after losing my first son I gave all to God and rejoiced at another new life. But he was never meant to be mine for long. At eighteen weeks, he left this world. I was devastated.
I had no idea a mother could experience postpartum depression while grieving the loss of her sweet baby. But you can. And it’s so much worse when mixed with grief.
After having, praise God, my newest baby–a sweet son born this last April–I hoped and prayed I would be spared that awful cross. But, I sank again.
This time, I had promised I would tell my husband when I couldn’t cope alone. I made sure to be very aware of triggers (lack of sleep, colic–which my son had, being overwhelmed, not getting enough breaks) and also aware of the symptoms. But, I started spiraling again.
So, one Saturday afternoon during naptime, I sat on my husband’s lap and cried into his shoulder. He helped me get help.
For me, it was low progesterone. How I wish I had known that with the previous struggles. I started two weeks of supplements, and within three days, I felt like myself. I will still have rough days, but with help, the battle is so much easier.
It took me four years to even say the words to my sister. Four years to admit it to myself. It took me seven years to say it to friends, other mothers. I suffered in silence. Because that is was we do. Just like miscarriage and stillbirth, we mothers feel we have to suffer alone. Because we aren’t supposed to talk about that.
Well. What if we do?
What if we start looking at new mothers, expecting mothers, and tell them what might happen. What they might struggle with.
I read to today that 15 to 25% of mothers experience postpartum depression. I don’t believe it. I think it’s more.
I’m shocked by the number of mama friends who confess to me that they, too, drowned in depression alone. Because they felt they couldn’t talk about it. Because they didn’t know this happens. That other mothers battle this. That there is help and encouragement out there. That there is healing out there.
So, my dear mom friends, I had postpartum depression. I have struggled six times in my life with it. And I am not ashamed. It was not my fault. I did not make me any less of a good mother.
In the trenches of this battle, when I would look at my son, I felt horrible guilt that I was finally given a son and I couldn’t even feel anything for him. That wasn’t my fault.
Love is a choice. And I look back on my battles with PPD, and feel proud. Even when I couldn’t feel it, even when I wanted to run away or shut the door and ignore the screaming because of the waves of depression washing over me–I chose to love. I picked those tiny people up and held them to my aching heart. I love you, I would whisper. I didn’t feel it, but I did love them.
Postpartum depression is real. It’s awful. But, it shouldn’t be isolating. I encourage you, suffering mothers, to reach out, call a friend, whisper the words.
I chose not to take medication. That was the right choice for me. But there are so many options out there. Please get help. Please don’t do what I did and suffer alone. I’m grateful for my sister, who didn’t judge me but loved me through it. I’m grateful for my husband who gently but firmly had me call my Creighton doctor and checked with me daily, even still today, about how was and am feeling. I’m grateful to the moms who checked in with me, even though they didn’t know the battles I was fighting. I’m grateful for this website and Lydia who showed me I’m not alone. What I feel is normal and treatable.
And for you mamas who have never had to bear this cross–reach out! Ask new moms–even those with more than one sweet baby–how they are doing. Offer to help. Bring meals. Take children, if you can. Even if they don’t admit that they are suffering, check in often. Many of us bear this cross quietly. Even when we are getting help. When we hear from friends and family, we feel less alone and more cared for.
Let’s not fight alone. Let us band together, mamas. Because it’s when we join hands that one of us on the brink of falling will be helped up. It’s when we join hands that we all will be held up together.