I walked along the sidewalk in front of our townhouse, pacing back and forth, tears streaming down my face, baby monitor in my right hand. Our three-month-old was sleeping right inside the door and I could see him swaying in his swing. It was the middle of December and the cold breeze threatened to send me back inside—but I needed a minute. I was desperate for relief. Dark thoughts filled my mind:
You are a terrible mother.
What were you thinking?
You can’t do this.
It will always be this hard.
You have no one to ask for help.
You are alone.
He would be better off with a different mom.
I felt like a stranger in my own body. This didn’t seem like how a new mom should be feeling. I knew it would be hard, of course, but this? This felt wrong. This felt impossible.
I sat in front of my doctor and asked him about postpartum depression.
“Do you enjoy the baby sometimes?” he asked me. I told him yes, of course, I love him—but sometimes things feel really hard. “That’s normal,” he responded. “If you’re enjoying the baby at all, then you aren’t depressed.”
That didn’t sound true. In fact, I knew it wasn’t true. But I wanted it to be, so I believed him. After all, he was the doctor, and we were surviving. I was taking care of the baby and the laundry was getting folded and somehow everyone was eating meals and getting to all the doctor’s appointments that accompany a new baby. We were making it. I would be okay.
Moments of joy and happiness kept me going. Henry, our son, was amazing. He was sweet and snuggly and when he smiled at me, I felt like I could do it. My husband encouraged me: “You’re an amazing mom,” he would remind me. “You are doing great.” But months went by and I spent long days and nights feeling like someone was sitting on my chest, holding me down. It felt like no matter what I did, I couldn’t catch my breath. Days would start out bright, but with the first sign of struggle or frustration, things went dark, and I couldn’t seem to recover until I was able to climb into bed at night and remind myself that God would bring new mercies the next day.
People asked how I was doing, and while I shared with two close friends that I felt I was struggling, I would tell people I was fine, that things were good. I felt guilty saying anything else. I prayed for this. I wanted a baby and I had gotten one when so many people want babies and struggle to have them. I simply needed to be more grateful.
When Henry was eight months old, we moved to a new state. The busyness of packing, moving, and then unpacking made it easy to push everything aside. I would deal with it later. Always later.
When I took Henry to his nine-month pediatrician visit with a new doctor, she said he was perfect, and asked how we were adjusting to life in our new town. Before I could stop myself, I felt the tears running down my face. Embarrassed, I wiped them away and apologized for crying in front of my child’s pediatrician who I had only just met. She handed me a box of tissues and kindly told me to stop apologizing. I told her that things had been hard and about what my doctor had told me months earlier. She told me what he said wasn’t true. She empathized with me and gave me a list of resources, including a walk-in clinic for moms who need support for postpartum depression. She told me I was doing a great job, but things didn’t have to be like that for me. I felt a weight starting to life off my shoulders.
That night I told my husband about the clinic and I decided to go the next week. This was the first step. This was progress.
When the therapist called me back to her office, I told her how I had been feeling, but that we were getting by, so I didn’t know if I was actually dealing with postpartum depression. She explained that just because I was doing it all didn’t mean I felt like I could. I finally understood that just because I wasn’t in bed all day or crying every moment didn’t mean that I was okay. It only meant that I was doing the things I had to do because I didn’t have a choice. She gave me the freedom to say that I needed help and helped me understand that needing help didn’t mean I was a bad mother, or ungrateful to be a mother, or that I didn’t love my baby with everything in me. It just meant I needed help. This was progress.
Now I sit in my therapist’s office regularly and she helps me understand what I’m feeling and we brainstorm ways to replace negative thoughts and actions with positive ones. Sometimes therapy feels like I’m going backwards, bringing my most painful moments into the same in which I seek to find healing. Shouldn’t I leave them at the door? But maybe feeling the pain and experiencing the healing are to be done at the same time. I am learning.
Now I take a little white pill every morning. It doesn’t solve all my problems or take away the heaviness. But it helps to keep me steady when the spiral tries to take me down. It helps me remind myself of the truth that this isn’t my fault. It allows me to fill my mind with the truth of the gospel and the promise that God is with me. Sometimes when I hold the little white pill in my hands I feel weak. I shouldn’t need this. It reminds me of the painful moments that led to this one. Sometimes it makes me feel like I’m going backwards, giving into the darkness. So I remind myself of what I know to be true: that taking this pill is an act of faith in the work I am doing. It is done out of a hope that life can be different.
Cover photo by Ben Blennerhassett.