A Sea of Despair: Postpartum Pools of Pain

A few months ago I wrote about my struggle with depression and anxiety, and I was taken aback by the overwhelmingly positive response I received afterward.  It took me a long time to work up the courage to tell my story; I was admittedly afraid of what others might think of my decision to publicly reveal such a personal experience. But the kindness and support that followed was so moving that I’ve decided to revisit the topic today.

When I wrote that post, it was intended to be a one-time thing.  I don’t typically take myself too seriously, not on this blog nor in real life, and I’d rather others do the same.  But then something happened that I didn’t expect. Many of you reached out to me after reading my story to tell me how much my words had spoken to you, and that you understood everything I had gone through because you, too, had dealt with a similar struggle. It seemed that, like with many other aspects of motherhood, the difficulties I had experienced were also felt by many others. Apparently, I wasn’t as alone as I’d thought.

According to the American Psychology Association, up to 16% of new mothers experience postpartum depression.  Frankly, I think their numbers are off.  Perhaps a mere 16% actually report their feelings to a doctor, but I’m willing to bet a nice chunk of ladies simply suffer in silence.

With so many of society’s misconceptions about motherhood, it’s easy to see why so many women find themselves adrift in a sea of despair after becoming a parent for the first time.  Having children is rarely all you think it will be and more.  Sure, the highs are high and they feel amazing.  But the lows? Are so very, very LOW.  And you’ll find that these lows often fill the extra-wide gaps in between the fleeting, infrequent highs.

It seems like every time I flip on the TV I see some sappy diaper commercial featuring a mother tenderly singing her little one to sleep, humming soothing lullabies and swaying gently in a pastel-colored rocking chair. Unfortunately, those commercials are total crap.  Because they never show the four hours leading up to that endearing moment where the baby has finally drifted off—you know, the part where mommy’s  precious little angel was screaming and crying inconsolably until mommy “tenderly” considered chugging a fifth of vodka and sawing off her own ears.

For me, the hardest part of becoming a mom was learning to adjust to how shockingly different life becomes after having kids.  I got pregnant in my mid-twenties before I got married, and it was very unplanned.  While some women feel they are ready to settle down and start popping out some little people at that age, I was definitely not one of those women. 

Before I got pregnant, life was like standing on the roof of Rockefeller Center and looking down at the world below—breathtakingly beautiful, wildly exhilarating, enchantingly romantic.  Oh, to be young and carefree, just dreaming all day and playing all night.  Such blissful endless freedom. Nothing but opportunities at your door and time on your hands.

Until one day you pee on a stick and your life changes forever.

It took me such a long time to adjust to my life being so vastly different after having kids that I never even realized I was depressed.  The transition was happening at such a snail’s pace that I didn’t know it was actually changing me, like as a person.  For years I was just living my life in robot-mode, going through the motions, completely unaware that I was dying inside a little more every day.

From the very beginning I should have known I was in trouble, because when they tried to hand my son to me a few hours after my c-section I didn’t even want to see him.  It wasn’t that I didn’t love him or want him, I honestly just didn’t know what the hell to do with him.  What did I know about babies? I was practically still one myself. And that instant connection parents always describe?  That immediate gush of awe and amazement that everybody talks about after they’ve given birth? Yea well, I didn’t get it. Not right away, anyway.  I loved my little boy, of course.  But the fear and confusion and pain in my head were clouding the feelings in my heart.

I got the hang of motherhood quickly, I think.  A lot more quickly than I thought I would, at least.  There are women coping with such severe postpartum depression that they can’t even take care of their children.  Thankfully, that wasn’t me (and my issue technically might not even fall under the actual definition of “postpartum” depression, but who gives a shit about definitions?) Like I said, the depressed feelings I had were growing very slowly over time. Little by little, I was falling deeper into my own sea of despair.  And I was totally unaware that those feelings would culminate after a miscarriage and eventually bring me to a debilitating breaking point.

Some women don’t ever have a real breaking point. In some ways, a “nervous breakdown” is almost a luxury, as long as you bounce back from it. Because it takes you to such a low point that you literally have nowhere to go but up. And then it motivates you to stay up.

Motherhood is hard.  Like, crazy hard.  Every feeling you experience as a parent is magnified exponentially.  You’re not just tired; you’re exhausted.  You’re not just scared; you’re terrified.  You’re not just confused, you’re helpless. You’re not just lonely; you’re the last person on earth!

I wish I could say I had advice for those of you who are still drifting in your own sea of despair.  All I can say is that it will get better eventually.  I’m living proof of that.  Eventually, you will begin to feel more comfortable in your own mommy skin.  Someday you will start to realize that, even though the bad feelings are horrible, conversely, the good feelings are great.  The love you feel is unconditional. The pride you feel is insurmountable. The bond you feel is unbreakable.

Actually, I do have one piece of advice.  Whatever you do, don’t lose track of YOU.  I know that’s easier said than done, because becoming a parent takes over virtually every aspect of your life until you are pretty much unrecognizable to yourself.  But try hard to hold onto as many pieces of yourself as you can, and then use them to make you whole again when you find yourself falling apart.

Because your baby needs you. And in the end, the only one who can really save you…is you. ❤

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**Update** It has been pointed out to me that I should mention if you are feeling this kind of depression that you should see a doctor.  This is absolutely, 100% true.  I didn’t go for a long time, and I probably could have saved myself a LOT of pain if I had.  While I do believe that you’re the only one who can save yourself, I think professional help will pinpoint how to do that.  And sometimes you may even need the help of medication because you can’t really do it on your own–this was the case for me at my lowest point. And it’s perfectly okay.  There are a thousand excuses not to go, and I’d know because I used them all.  But you’ll only be fooling yourself.  Thanks to aviets at Mom Goes On who pointed this out to me!

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10 thoughts on “A Sea of Despair: Postpartum Pools of Pain

  1. Could I add something? Talk to a doctor. Therapy and medication are very often necessary for overcoming depression. Don’t try to get over it without help.

  2. I didn’t read your prior post, so I don’t know if you covered this. Post-partum depression – while seemingly a mental condition – is often the result of significant hormonal changes. There is a difference between “normal” exhaustion/fears of mommyhood and post-p depression. I’d like to add a sense of urgency and awareness to the comment above. A new Mommy suffering depression typically isn’t capable of recognizing it until – as you say – months later. I think doctor visits/care for new Moms are as essential as for your baby because treatments are available. We need to educate Moms that it is OK to tell a doctor your true feelings because that’s the only way PPD can be assessed.

    I wish I’d known this in time to “educate” my daughter-in-law who suffered in silence for months because she thought it was HER problem.

    Thank you for being willing to shine light on this; hopefully you have helped others to avoid your agony.

    • My initial post talked about an episode of postpartum depression after I suffered a miscarriage. By definition, that was absolutely a result of hormone changes and fell under the category of classic PPD. But this post talks more about the confusion and depressed feelings that occurred after I had my first child. I had begun to feel depressed very slowly over time and I think it contributed to the “breaking point” that I described in my initial post, caused by a miscarriage. I wrote this post because I just want women to realize that the way they feel after having a baby– be it the cause of postpartum hormones or simply just the overwhelming feelings that go along with being a new mom–is something that a lot of us feel, and it can be devastating. I’m not sure if you saw my update but I did include that women should seek help after this happens. 100% yes– medical treatment is necessary. I finally got help after my miscarriage, when I was at the lowest point. I’m so sorry that your daughter-in-law went through that. It’s not an easy thing to overcome.

      • Oh you bet! I’m so sorry fir your troubles too – pregnancy still carries a lot if risks and heartaches. We sometimes forget that it’s not always love and roses.

        I am hopeful you’ve touched a few Moms or friends if Moms who can use your experiences snd knowledge to make their own journey less difficult.

  3. Thank you for having the courage to write both of your posts on this topic. All moms need a support network after having (or even adopting) a baby because your life gets turned on its head. Add to that the sleep deprivation and the hormones and you get into territory where a therapist and even medication may be necessary. And then if a woman had a history of depression or anxiety prior to having children, she is almost guaranteed to have a postpartum episode of depression and anxiety. The most helpful thing for a new mom can be a partner, relative or friend who will make the call and get her to a doctor when you start to see the kinds of things that Highchairs and Headaches talked about.

    • And thank you for reading my posts. I really wanted to draw attention to this topic because of how common it is and how dangerous it can be to moms who are suffering. You’re absolutely right about needing a friend, partner or relative to make the call. In my case, my mom and my sister were pretty close to checking me into a facility. I was luck to have them– I don’t think I could have survived it without them. It’s so hard to find strength within yourself.

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