I had a rough time with both of my kids during the newborn stage. My first, Declan, had a traumatic delivery. I was induced due to super low blood pressure, I pushed forever, and then when he finally came out he had the cord wrapped around his neck and was whisked away to the NICU due to low oxygen. We spent four days in the NICU. Probably the worst four days of my life. Breastfeeding was a disaster in the hospital and continued to be terrible after we finally came home. I cried all the time. I had no idea what was happening. Declan never napped more than 20 minutes during the day and the nights were awful. My husband tried to help, but didn’t understand why I was so sad. Neither did I. I persevered with breastfeeding for eight weeks until a complete breakdown in front of our pediatrician had him pretty much order me to stop for my own health (thank goodness for him). That, combined with a timely visit from my calm and reassuring sister, helped the dark clouds to slowly lift.
Things were initially better with my second, Ophelia. Delivery was fast and trauma-free. The stay in the hospital was the normal length and I made good use of the nursery to get some rest. At home, I found things easier because I knew what to expect, but… breastfeeding was awful again. Ophelia screamed at my boobs and refused to latch. I knew better than to keep trying this time and we quit after just four weeks. But formula was not the magic solution that it had been with Declan, and Ophelia screamed at that, too. She hated the bottle and failed to gain weight. She started dropping off her growth curve. We entered a cycle of weight checks and occupational therapy. We tried different formulas, bottles, nipples, positions, gas drops, probiotics, all the things. Nothing worked. My depression came back full force and I was struggling to cope. No words of reassurance helped. I couldn’t feed my daughter; there is no reassurance for that. Eventually, we started her on solids at just 3.5 months old and finally turned a corner with both her weight and my emotional state (some therapy helped this time, too).
Declan is now almost five and Ophelia is two. We have all the usual ups and downs of a family with small crazy children and two working parents. I still cry and get angry, but I don’t have spells of unexplained sadness and I don’t find myself sobbing uncontrollably for no tangible reason. But postpartum depression has taken a permanent toll on my life. I cannot look back on either of these experiences without being sad. Just writing this has brought tears to my eyes. I’m angry that even my happy memories of my children as babies are clouded. The absolute worst part is that I find it difficult to be happy for other moms with newborn babies. I’m jealous of anyone that seems to be having an easier time. I’m jealous when I hear moms talk about how much they love breastfeeding and the connection they feel with their child during that time. I’m jealous of moms who go places with their babies, apparently effortlessly. I’m jealous of moms who have babies that sleep. I hate when Hollywood depicts taking care of a newborn as no big deal. I have found myself wishing that pregnant friends would go through something similar so they would understand. How terrible is that?
I think it was the lack of control that left the deepest scar. I’m very independent and have always prided myself on my ability to manage my life and my mental health. I hate that I “let” this happen to me. Rationally, I know that I didn’t have a say in what the hormones did to my brain, but part of me will always wonder if there’s something I could have done differently. I love that there is so much more openness now about PPD and other maternal mental health issues. I’ve found reassurance in other peoples’ stories, but it just isn’t possible to effectively communicate what it’s like to experience PPD to someone who has never battled depression. Before Declan, I wouldn’t have believed that you have no control over the feelings. That people who experience depression are not just weak or overly emotional. Part of me still struggles with this.
We need to keeping talking, sharing, and connecting. To the mom crying because her baby won’t sleep. To the mom crying because her baby won’t eat. To the mom crying because she can’t breastfeed. To the mom crying because she is overwhelmed. To the mom crying because she feels alone. To the mom who doesn’t know why she’s crying. You are not alone, it’s not your fault, and you can and will emerge out the other side. It may take therapy and/or medication and that’s okay. Every case is different, but we’re all in this together. Hang in there.