As I sat at our Thanksgiving table a few days ago, I could not help but look back to this holiday one year ago. As I did, I found myself saddened remembering the emotional challenges I faced.
Jane’s First Day Home
One year ago, we arrived home with our bundle of joy, Jane, on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I had never felt happier or more purposeful in my life. Our experience at the hospital was amazing, and from what we knew of her, Jane was a perfect angel. I assumed that she would be on her first night in her new home. As the day turned to night, we felt more comfortable with her. And then the clock struck midnight. For what felt like an eternity, Jane cried. I cried. I felt so incredibly helpless holding my baby but having no idea how to make her feel settled. We tried everything. We rocked her, we swung her, we fed her. Finally, around 2:00 am, Mark and I watched The Happiest Baby on the Block dvd. We swaddled her just like it said to do, but we still had no luck. Close to four, Mark told me to get some rest, and finally in the warmth of her nursery, the two of them fell asleep.
I woke up feeling like the weight of the world stood on my chest. Why could I not provide what Jane needed? How selfish it was of me to have Mark stay up with her while I slept. What do I need to do differently? It was all just so incredibly overwhelming.
As Thanksgiving morning progressed, I found myself surrounded by my family. We watched the parade and chatted and laughed. It was sunny outside, and things felt slightly more normal. I held Jane and loved on her and kissed her and felt a warmth in my heart that I had never before felt. But, as the sun began to set and the day turned into evening, I felt panic rising in my chest. It was like a tightness. I would say it was almost unexplainable, yet, it felt all together tangible. And it manifested itself in tears. I remember looking at my mom and sister and crying like a child who was lost in the mall. I told them how scared I felt that it was almost nighttime. They reassured me that things would be fine, and for the moment, I believed that they would be. As they got into their cars and pulled away from our house, I had never felt more empty. Here I was, in my home with my beautiful new family, and all I could feel was loneliness. And, of course, guilt for feeling alone.
Another night went by.
Thank God for Mark. I knew from the moment we married that he was an amazing husband, but never before had it been so clear. I think he saw how much I was struggling, so he took the night shift in order for me to sleep. Saturday night, my sister spent the night at our house and slept in the guest room and woke up for feedings and diaper changes. There is no way to thank someone for that kind of help. I’m sure she just thought it was giving us a minute to rest, but in actuality, it was helping me get past the thoughts running through my head. “Would life ever be normal again?” “Would I spend the rest of my life counting from 10:00 to 1:00 to 4:00 to 7:00 to 10:00 and on and on?” “Would Mark and I ever wake up next to each other again?” “Why did Mark get to go back to work instead of me?” “How would I do this without him?” “Was I meant to be a mother, and if so, would I ever be a good one?”
As guests came by that weekend, and we had our newborn photo session, I felt like I was watching myself from outside of my body. I laughed and smiled and agreed that everything was perfect and wonderful. But I knew something was wrong. I had no shortage of love for Jane. In fact, I loved her so much that I felt scared of everything. I was scared she would stop breathing, or that she was too hot, or that she wasn’t eating enough.
And again, my fear turned to tears. I found myself weeping but for no concrete reason. And when I would try to explain it, I felt crazy. Here I was with resources many are without. We had what we needed financially to raise Jane in a reasonable manner, but I was petrified of using too many wipes or keeping the Sleep Sheep going past 30 minutes in the fear of having to buy more wipes or batteries. We had my family here to help, but I only felt secure and assured when they were at our house. At one point, I decided that I wanted to get a bigger house so we could all just live together so we’d know everyone was safe. I had a job that allowed me time off to spend with my baby, but when I heard her cry, I would have to mentally peel myself off of the couch to go to her. Why? I just kept asking why?
Why did I feel so sad?
I had a fairly severe post-delivery complication that had to be addressed, so we booked an appointment with my OB exactly one week after Jane arrived. The night before my appointment, Mark and I finally had the honest discussion that needed to be had. He told me that he thought I was sick and needed help. It was the most freeing thing I had ever heard. I remember holding on to him and sobbing. I was sick, and the thought that there was help out there that would allow me to feel normal was emotionally necessary. For the first time in a week, I felt like I could regain some control over myself.
At my appointment, I couldn’t get the words out fast enough. The tears flowed, and the doctor knew immediately what I was trying to explain. He told me that he would start a prescription for Celexa that I could begin to take immediately. The downside was that it can take two weeks for anti-depressants to kick in. While initially that provided me a sense of panic (I could not have imagined waiting another day much less two weeks to feel better), just knowing that help was coming allowed me to breathe again.
I had been honest and opened myself up to what I perceived to be judgement and scrutiny about my love for Jane and being a mother. What I found was that it was in telling the truth about this emotional struggle that I found peace. While I have never kept this a secret from the people in my life, I have also never shared it openly.
I am most certainly not an expert on Postpartum depression. I cannot say that what helped me through it is what would work for everyone. All I can say is that it is real, and it is by no means a measure of how you feel about your child. While it can be a lonely place, there are many women who have experienced this or something like it.
One of my friends who visited early on left me a voice message that I would replay to myself. In it she said that I need not return her call (which was the most wonderful thing because I would have felt guilty not doing it, but I emotionally could not have) but that she wanted me to know that she could tell I was hurting. She said that she saw in me what she had gone through, and that I should not confuse the feelings I had with my love for my baby. It was the most beautiful thing a friend has ever done for me. I have tried to pass on her words of wisdom, truth, and compassion when I know a friend who needs the same. Hopefully, someone out there can read her message and find the same kind of relief and comfort that I did.
To my dearest Jane, I want you to know that as I sat around our Thanksgiving table, this year and last, you are the thing for which I am most grateful. You have brought me a sense of joy and hope and love that I could have only dreamed of. When Mommy was sad, it was never because of you. You were why Mommy wanted to get well. I love you more every day and cannot imagine life without you.
Jennifer, thank you for sharing! It is brave to be open about such a topic. I, too, have dealt with postpartum depression since Nathaniel was about 2 months old. I haven’t been able to take medication because of breastfeeding, but I have been seeing a counselor that works specifically with pregnant and postpartum mothers. She has really, really helped, and, of course, my husband’s support, and family’s support has also helped. Every day the world becomes less scary, and every day that everything turns out fine, makes me that much stronger. My biggest struggle now is the constant guilt, but I’m sure if I continue the work, that will subside, too. It’s good to know we are not alone in our struggle.
Thanks so much for sharing your experience – you are certainly not alone. I think it is so important for women to share their experiences with postpartum depression, because it is very scary and very real. So many women struggle with PPD in silence, feeling that they are abnormal and unsure on how to share their feelings and emotions. No one really explains to you when your pregnant what you may experience after you have the baby, as everyone is different, but it seems to me that a high percentage of women I know suffered with PPD, so it must be more common that we even know. I know I struggled with it for a few months and was so shocked at how low I got that I couldn’t even bare to share it with my husband- though he knew something was wrong.
I just can’t thank you enough for sharing such a personal and beautiful story and for being brave enough to put it out there for other moms. You are a wonderful mom to a beautiful little girl.