I’m a survivor of three perinatal mood disorders — prenatal depression, postpartum depression, and postpartum anxiety — which I’ve experienced to varying degrees both during and after three out of four of my pregnancies. This is the story of my worst experience with PPD, after the birth of my second baby.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a mom.
I was certain I’d be in love with my babies from day one, and that the happiness of motherhood would far outweigh any struggles.
But darkness? Despair? Guilt and shame and the overwhelming desire to run away? This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
As I stared at the face of my stunningly beautiful baby girl, I knew that her dark eyes and bright smile should have made my heart explode with joy.
I had been thrilled the morning that I saw the little plus sign on my pregnancy test, and I loved watching my one-year-old’s face light up with excitement whenever we talked about “the baby in mama’s tummy.”
But then, about halfway through those long 40 weeks, something began to change.
I began having early contractions and I was put on bed rest for the remainder of the pregnancy in order to avoid early labor. At the same time, I was no longer as happy as I had been and I began to lose interest in my normal activities.
Sometimes I felt all the emotions at once; at other times, I felt dull and flat. At first, I thought this change in my personality was because I was bored on bed rest.
But, deep down I knew that something just wasn’t right. What was going on? I needed to find out. I went to visit a close friend, who is also a psychologist, and was diagnosed with depression.
When sweet Sofia was born at 39 weeks, I was certain that now I would begin to feel well. But ten days later — in the throes of night-feedings, a colicky newborn who refused to be put down, and postpartum hormonal chaos — I hit rock bottom.
One horrible night is etched in my memory forever. Sofia was screaming inconsolably off and on from midnight to past 3am, refusing to be put down and refusing to sleep.
At less than two weeks old, she already had terrible acid reflux, which only exacerbated her colic. I dreaded most nights with her, but this night seemed worse than normal.
My body ached, my head pounded, my breasts were sore and painful from her newborn latch. My tired mama heart was desperate to comfort my baby, and nothing I could do would stop the crying.
All I wanted in the world was sleep. Sweet, uninterrupted sleep. I began to beg God for it. Was that too much to ask? Sofia was not cooperating, and with every wail, I became more frantic. The tears began to stream down my face and my heart began to sink into despair. That night, even in the loving arms of my husband, I felt utterly alone.
And the nights continued like this for many weeks. I would go from tears of desperation to tears of anger in the same minute. I wanted to scream at my precious daughter, and a few times I did. Afterwards, I was always full of intense shame and remorse.
Sometimes, I felt like I was going crazy — I would see shadows out of the corner of my eye, or feel like I was not really present in the room I was standing in. I hated those feelings, and often I hated myself.
My heart was in a dark place — I began to think that I should never have become a mother, and that my children and husband would be much better off without me. Although I never contemplated suicide, I had fantasies of running away somewhere to hide in a hole and sleep for the rest of my life.
I convinced myself that my children wouldn’t miss me, wouldn’t even remember me, and that my husband could find someone better to take my place. I just wanted relief from motherhood, which felt so totally overwhelming to me.
It took four months of this torture before I became brave enough to listen to the concern of my friends and family, and ask my ObGyn for help. He prescribed Celexa, and within two weeks, I noticed that a cloud began to lift from my head. A few more weeks passed, and I felt the spark of a range of emotions coming back to my heart.
Although the medication wasn’t a magical cure-all, I began to look for hope again. I clung on to the Sacraments and faith — faith without feeling — and slowly the weeks passed and I was coming out of the darkness. I was finally beginning to feel a deep love for my beautiful baby, who before had seemed like such a difficult burden.
There is no way to sugar-coat it: PPD was the worst experience of my life. There were days and nights that I was certain that I would die of lack of sleep, or despair. There were times that I wanted to run away from it all and never come back. But now, on the other side, I can see how strong I really was.
I stayed in the fight. And you can, too.
If you’re struggling with PPD, I want you to hear this loud and clear:
No matter how hard it is now, keep fighting. I promise you, it will get better. It will take hard work. You will want to give up. But if you persevere, you can be well again.
You will be yourself again, and you will be better than you were before. I know; I’ve been there.
And I promise, no matter what your demons whisper to you in the darkness, you are needed, you are loved, you are worth it.