It was one of my darkest moments of motherhood. Staring at my newborn daughter from across the room while she cried for me. But instead of going to her and comforting her, I sat. Completely stationary. Empty. Numb. Then I cried. "What is wrong with me?" I questioned myself. "How did I get here?"
Rewind several years...
From a young age, I had a strong maternal instinct. I doted on baby cousins, always wanting to hold and rock them. "Look at her," family members would comment. "She's such a little mommy." There are things in life you may be uncertain about. And then there are things you know for sure. Things you know wholeheartedly to be true. One of these certainties for me was my desire to be a mom. After marrying my high school sweetheart, I couldn't wait to start a family of my own. And soon enough, I was pregnant with our first child.
Pregnancy was a time of bliss. I was one of those lucky women who had an "easy" pregnancy -- little weight gain, no morning sickness. Feeling the baby move filled my heart with joy. Pregnancy was just as I always dreamed it would be. Everything was going exactly as I had envisioned. I was on my way to finally becoming a mom. Little did I know, however, that the days ahead would take a dark turn. That my perfect vision of motherhood would be shattered after the birth of my daughter. That I would be struck with postpartum depression.
It came on fast and furious, and knocked me off my feet. Within the first week of her birth, I knew something just wasn't right. Instead of basking in the glow of my precious little girl, absorbing her every smell and noise, I was distant and emotionless. I had absolutely no feelings for her. When she cried, I did not want to go to her. I had no desire to take care of her. Resentful of her presence and the massive life change she brought with her, I often envisioned life before she was born. "Maybe this was a mistake," I thought.
Despite these feelings, I put on a good show in front of others. But on the inside, confusion and guilt racked my brain. How was it possible, I wondered, that I wasn't completely enamored with my first born child? Me, of all people. The one who had wanted to be a mom more than anything else for as long as I could remember. I had heard of PPD, but in my twisted head I thought that surely it didn't afflict women like me. I didn't see it coming and I certainly didn't expect it to happen to me.
Shame and embarrassment kept me mostly quiet about my true mental state. Slowly but surely, however, the walls came crumbling down around me. In the end, it was my closest cousin who made me face the truth. "You're struggling," she said to me with knowing eyes. "Tell me." And maybe it was the safety I felt in talking to her, or maybe I finally couldn't hold it in anymore, but I told her. "Why don't I love my baby?" I cried. "I think I need help." And reaching out for help was the first step in turning it all around.
My family rallied around me like pillars, holding me up physically, mentally, and emotionally. Cracking open my shell and spilling out my honest feelings did not take away the intense shame that accompanied the depression. It wasn't until I spoke with my midwife and learned the "science" behind the condition that I started to accept it. Learning that PPD is largely a chemical imbalance, that it is something I couldn't control, and that it is treatable helped me realize that how I was feeling was not my fault.
A combination of antidepressants and good old fashion talk therapy helped me slowly return to the light, and leave the darkness behind. Within a month, I was a different person. A fully functioning mom with a wide range of emotions. Were there still challenging times? Absolutely. Recovering from PPD didn't mean that parenting was all sunshine and rainbows. The difference was that even in the overwhelming or difficult moments, I still felt a deep connection and love for my daughter, whereas before I did not.
Fast forward two years...
As my due date with my second child approached, I found myself fearing a repeat situation. I assumed that if PPD struck me once, it would strike me again. But it never happened. My second daughter was born and I was instantly in love. "So this is what it's like," I thought. The profound love I had for my daughter made me feel eternally grateful, but also regretful I didn't experience it the first time around. In those moments, however, I reminded myself that the depression was out of my control. I may have missed out on the first few weeks of bonding with my older daughter, but have consciously made up for it greatly in the years since.
There are books that talk about how to prepare for your hospital stay. Pinterest boards that help you prepare the perfect nursery. And even websites that prepare you to go register for all of the "necessary" baby gear. But nowhere along the way to motherhood was I prepared for the emotional toll that having a baby brings. When I was in the lowest of lows during my struggle with PPD, I felt like I had no one to talk to who would truly understand what I was going through. It wasn't until much later, after I was back to my normal self, that I discovered several family members and friends had experienced the same thing. And since statistics show that up to 16 percent of women suffer from PPD, my question in retrospect is, "Why aren't more women talking about this to help prepare each other?"
Sharing your story is empowering. Empowering for yourself and empowering for others. Because truly, what's the point of having a voice if you don't share it? I hope my story is one example of how it is possible to find your way through the darkness of postpartum depression to love on the other side.