I originally wrote this essay two years ago. It was intended for another blog, but was never published. Full disclosure--my youngest 'baby' turns 11 years old in a few weeks, so this wasn't recent. But my postpartum depression story is still true, still relevant and left an indelible mark on my life. I recently shared this with a friend, who is going through something very similar. She felt like I had read her thoughts. I hope my story helps someone else feel less alone in their struggle. Please reach out to someone if you find yourself struggling with depression or anxiety. It's okay to not be okay and there are ways to get help.
Sleep when the baby sleeps. Enjoy this time while they’re young. They grow up so fast. Just remember that the days are long but the years are short. This, too, shall pass.
Countless women who journeyed through motherhood before me, had some sort of cliché or mantra for me as I walked slowly through the grocery store or pushed my stroller through a church campus. I brushed aside the hair from my brow, smiled and said, “I know.” I really didn’t know. In fact, I sometimes would arrive somewhere and was rather fuzzy on the details of how I managed to get there…surprised that I was dressed, even freshly bathed, and that the sweet baby with me was clean, fed and that I even had a diaper bag full of supplies. I marveled at the times I must have gone into auto-pilot mode and made it to my appointments or church services on time and intact, because most of the time it was as if I was floating through my days. Half aware of my surroundings and some days, guiltily longing for the days before I was known as the mother of a child.
I became a mother with the first of my two daughters at the age of 28--just a few weeks shy of 29. On paper, I was not considered a very young mother, but to my circle of friends and relatives, I was the trailblazer. Though we married at 24, we didn’t feel the need to have children right away because no one else we knew had kids and my husband was part of an entrepreneurial team, launching a fast-growing software company. However, due to a medical condition I had as since childhood, it was recommended that I give birth to my last biological child by the age of 30, so that deadline was always in the back of our minds. It took over a year for us to finally conceive and when we did we were elated. Even though I had a few complications during the pregnancy, we were thankful and excited and nervous and dreamed out loud who our little girl might resemble and what she might accomplish.
After our homecoming, our parents, siblings, countless relatives and friends came to see us and meet the baby. I was thankful for the meals they brought and for our parents who stayed to help with diaper changes and folding laundry. But I was overwhelmed and never feeling like I was doing it well. I was tired from being up every two hours to nurse or pump and then change diapers and soothe the baby back to sleep, only the begin the cycle all over again in about an hour and a half.
Once, my family came to visit, and every adult rushed past me at the door to greet the baby. My sister walked back to me and said sarcastically, “How are you, chopped liver?” with a smirk. It was exactly how I felt as everyone walked past me. I felt invisible at times. When I was the Pregnant Princess, I received so much attention from strangers and friends alike, and doting from my family. After giving birth, the attention shifted entirely to the baby and I became a nobody.
They say hindsight is 20/20, and if I had known, I would have stayed off social media. Becoming a mother at the dawn of Facebook and Instagram, which paraded photos of fit, young, flat-bellied moms holding their cute babies on their hip by the pool, or an actress a couple months after giving birth, enjoying a fun girls’ night out with her equally beautiful friends in stylish outfits, hair and make up done, raising a glass with their bright white smiles. I felt so frumpy and disheveled and grimy. I glanced in the mirror and tried to fluff my unwashed hair and turned to the side and held in my belly, that hung over my c-section scar.
There were moments I was overcome with despair. Overwhelming feelings of worthlessness and not-enoughness. I constantly felt ugly and tired. I wished someone told me just how exhausted I would be. I wished someone told me how unrecognizable my body would be to me. I wish someone would tell me that even though I was at home with my baby, I would feel so lonely.
I began fantasizing about death. Not suicide, per se, but accidental death, or death as a result of a severe illness…wishing that our sovereign God would graciously sweep me off the earth and out of my misery. I convinced myself that my family would be fine without me. That my husband would receive sympathy from single women and remarry easily, finding a suitable stepmother for my children.
I suffered in silence with depression after my first child, and while I was distracted with my second pregnancy, the despair came rushing back after the birth of my second child. I recall telling my husband that I felt like my mind was in a dark place and I might benefit from counseling. My poor, bewildered husband had no idea what I was experiencing. After all, he was as sleep-deprived and overwhelmed as I was, too. We had been thrust together into a world we had never known and were constantly in survival mode. I also was never really able to express to anyone what was going on in my head.
It wasn’t until I read an article about postpartum depression—reading another woman’s experience and the clinical symptoms of it. I recall reeling from the terror of the realization, but also the freedom that I wasn’t alone. It was a “me too” moment that allowed me to see that the negative thoughts and the sense of utter despair had a name and that it was an illness. Not just a pitiful dwelling I made for myself.
At one of my daughter's well-baby visit with her pediatrician, he first rattled off questions about the baby such as how much she was eating, sleeping, soiling diapers. Then he paused, looked me square in the eye and asked, "And how are you doing? How are you really doing?" I initially stammered over the question with a quick and dismissive, 'I'm fine.' But his gaze was steady and I felt myself come undone. I sobbed softly. He put his hand on my shoulder and said he was as for me as much as he was for my baby. The moment of being seen, really seen was both liberating and terrifying. I must have done something wrong for things to have turned out this way.
My thoughts turned to Job, who suffered from a likely bout of depression from his trials. “Terrors are turned upon me…And now my soul is poured out within me; days of affliction have taken hold of me. The night racks my bones, and the pain that gnaws me takes no rest” (Job 30: 15-17). Yet, “the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). Slowly, God brought women into my life who allowed me to unpack my feelings and release it to God. Being able to discuss it with my doctor was yet another shackle I felt coming loose from me. Over time, I was able to heal from it. But I still remember the ache, the numbness and those dark moments. I don’t think I ever will forget.
My dear sister. You, who are scrolling through your phone with a baby at your breast. You, who are trying to discipline that toddler when all you really want is to take a long shower. You, who feel shame from not fitting into your pre-pregnancy jeans. You, who have more kids than you feel like you can handle and are crying for respite. You are seen by a God who created you, loves you and wants to carry you through this. Allow yourself to be held.
For more information about postpartum depression, please visit this link.