My Story: My son was born on a Friday morning. On Saturday morning, my husband went home to feed our dogs and shower, and I decided to take my first postpartum shower. As I got in the shower, I began to sob – just out of nowhere, like someone had turned on a switch. No idea why. I was sobbing as hard as I'd ever sobbed in my life, and I couldn't stop. My ribs hurt from the crying. My sob session lasted at least 15 minutes. I knew something was going on and suspected it was something beyond the baby blues, especially since I have a history of depression from the time I was 12. Although I had sort of assumed I was at risk for PPD, I was still confused and scared.
Later that morning, I got up some courage, and although it made me begin to sob again, I asked the nurse if she could arrange for me to see someone from psych. She said they'd prefer to let my obstetrician handle that. And she left. Well, I hated my obstetrician. He was paternalistic, dismissive, and arrogant.
I'd hated him for nine months but I guess because this was my first pregnancy, I felt unable to assert myself and switch doctors. If I had to name one regret about the pregnancy and giving birth, I regret not changing doctors in my first trimester, like my gut told me to.
The obstetrician came by later on. He asked me was whether I had family coming for me. I told him yes, my husband. The obstetrician didn't say anything else about it. And that, I guess, was that, from his perspective. He didn't ask any questions about it at my six-week post-birth checkup, either.
Like many parents, we had a new baby that didn't sleep. I was exhausted, but I lost the ability to sleep. Most nights, I didn’t even get 45 minutes of sleep. Many, many nights, I didn‘t fall asleep at all. Even Ambien wouldn’t help. It was bizarre. And it wasn't that the baby was keeping me up; my wonderful husband was taking night baby duty in order to let me sleep. I was just physically unable to. Even something we take for granted – the physical ability to relax and sink into your mattress – I lost that ability. I'd be in bed feeling like my bones were sharp and made of lead. When the baby was three weeks old, our friends’ son asked me what my baby’s name was, and I could not for the life of me remember. My cognitive skills were already shot.
I didn't bond with my son at all that first year. It seemed like he was an alien. I took care of his physical needs and snuggled with him, but I didn't have that maternal completely-in-love thing that moms are supposed to have. I turned 38 nine days after he was born, so I'd had freedom as an adult for decades...and suddenly being tied to a baby felt oppressive and like I was trapped. My freedom to do whatever whenever was gone. I had understood, intellectually, that this would be the case as his primary caregiver, but it's something you can't really understand until you experience it. Our house felt very tiny and suffocating, and all the steps required for getting out of the house were (most of the time) beyond my abilities.
I resented my son and felt like his slave.
Your life gets very, very small when you’re in the house all the time. At the same time, money was really tight. I was on maternity leave, and my husband was working his butt off but not getting paid nearly enough. I resented my husband for not making more money. I resented my son for being so needy and not even letting me take a minute to pee. I felt suffocated and trapped. I felt like it was all too much to take. When I felt like we were really short on money, I'd stop eating till I dreamed at night about pancakes and hamburgers. Since I was trapped taking care of my son and couldn't earn money, not eating felt like the only way I had control over whether we were about to plunge over the cliff of poverty into homelessness, etc. (the reality was that we were scraping by, but we were never, ever must-stop-eating poor.)
I had horrible thoughts.I fantasized about committing some horrible crime that would get me put into jail...because in jail, your rent and food are paid for, you're not responsible for anyone else, and no one expects you to leave. No one expects anything of you at all. (and this is also so ridiculous because I'm a good girl, always the little rule-follower...I've never even had a traffic ticket, much less done anything that might land me in jail.) I had horrible thoughts about hurting my son – and also about hurting myself - in order to make the nightmare over. I want to emphatically state at this point that thoughts are not actions. At no time did I ever hurt my son. He was very well cared for. I could no more have hurt him than turned into a blue bunny rabbit. But I had horrible, horrible thoughts, nonetheless.
And felt so guilty about it. I had no idea that other women have those thoughts all the time.
To his credit, my husband bonded with my son immediately and deeply...and was amazing with him. He took up the slack and stayed up nights with the baby (all while working very long days). I thank God for that. He's still amazing with my son, who thinks daddy's a rock star.
I felt unable to reach out for help in person. So I found an online PPD support group. And got no support at all. Most of the women weren't suffering from anything that sounded even near as bad as what I was going through. One woman told me that if I started to eat more salad, I'd feel much better. And that was the good online PPD support group, with lots of members and lots of traffic. I felt angry at that, and hopeless, like I was in such bad shape, no one would ever be able to help. I wanted so badly to hear that what I was going through was something that others had gone through and survived.
I ordered (cheap used) books about PPD off of amazon. The one that helped me the most was a book that was a compilation of anecdotes from other moms who had suffered from PPD. I learned that those horrible thoughts were actually really common-but also that that was more or less the dirtiest little secret about PPD that no one likes to admit. Reading that book, Brooke Shields' book, Marie Osmond's book, and Adrienne Martini's book helped a lot. I decided I had to get help.
The nurse practitioner at the community (free) mental health agency took my history. I told her that my dad had been bipolar. She said I was definitely bipolar (even though I told her I'd had no symptoms of mania, only of slow, sluggish, inactive depression). I had some anger (I had snapped at my husband occasionally, but I'd never had any tantrums, broken anything, hit anyone, or exhibited any other behavior that would indicate a manic, out of control kind of anger), and she said bipolar could manifest itself through anger, and was with me. She put me on antipsychotic meds.
I told her I felt like the worst mother in the world. Which earned us a visit from children's services. They found absolutely nothing that indicated that my son was in danger, and then left us alone. But my husband and in-laws were appalled, and so then on top of all my other issues, I felt horribly guilty for being honest while trying to get help. I felt cursed and doomed.
With the meds, bad got much worse – AND I gained a bunch of weight on top of it. I still had all the other problems, but now on top of those, I was a zombie. I had no emotion. I felt like I was at the bottom of a deep well with no way out. I took care of my son's physical needs and stared out the window a lot. Still, I took the medications religiously, convinced that they would make me better. My husband begged me to stop taking them, but I told him I didn't know what else to do. I stayed on them for four months, before I finally walked into the mental health center with my son and told the counselor that I would kill myself that morning if she did not immediately help me. My in-laws came and took the baby, and I was taken to the hospital, where I stayed for a week.
The hospital was more or less just a holding tank that gave me a brief, blessed reprieve (very much needed and appreciated), but it didn't really change anything at all.
It wasn't until my husband forced me to stop taking the drugs that I did.
Then, almost to the day, a year after I had the baby I could suddenly sleep again. SO weird. I still believe it was hormonal. Sleep brought with it a little bit of hope and lucidity...enough to get me to another doc. My vitamin D level was 6 (she said it should be 50). She put me on wellbutrin and massive doses of vitamin D.
I don't want to portray it as if I woke up one day and everything was all better. Everything was not perfect right away. It's still not perfect...but eventually, things did normalize somewhat. I still suffer from depression even with the wellbutrin, but even though it's debilatating at times, it's minimal in comparison to the PPD, and something I (sometimes) know how to deal with. I'm functional and I have a job that I love, making decent money. My husband is the one who stays home with my son, and he's fantastic at it.
Today, my son is 8. He's gorgeous, smart, funny, sweet, wonderful, and we have that in-love mommy-son bond. Most important of all, he's mostly a happy kid. A really happy kid. That makes me relieved. I was terrified I'd broken something in him because we didn't bond for nearly a year. I adore him and can't get enough of the smell of his hair. I love him so much, the thought of losing him scares me to death. I'm not a perfect mother, but I'm engaged with him, he loves me and he's thriving. We both are.
Anonymous | USA