Laura on postpartum depression and longing for her pre-baby life

mom looking at newborn baby in hospital - essay on pre-baby life

Content warning: Discussion of postpartum depression, birth trauma, domestic abuse or other tough topics ahead. If you or someone you know is struggling with a postpartum mental health challenge, including postpartum depression or anxiety, call 1-833-9-HELP4MOMS (tel:18009435746)—The National Maternal Mental Health Hotline This free, confidential service provides access to trained counselors and resources 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in English, Spanish, and more than 60 other languages. They can offer support and information related to before, during, and after pregnancy.

After I had my daughter, Nora, I spent two glorious days in the hospital surrounded by my baby, helpful nurses and a nursery that I could send my baby to during the night so I could sleep.

And then I went home.

I couldn’t sleep. I barely ate. I couldn’t go more than an hour without crying. I quickly realized that I was showing some obvious signs of the baby blues. I expected that. But in my heart, I knew it was more. This feeling I had, this deep and terrifying feeling, this felt irreversible.

Related: It’s time to retire the term ‘baby blues’

I wondered if this is how postpartum depression felt. Our doctors talk about that with us when we’re pregnant, right? I knew it was a possibility, of course. But every mom wants to think that they will be the exception. That they won’t feel sad, that they’ll lose the weight quickly, that they’ll sleep when the baby sleeps, and that they’ll bond immediately and perfectly with their baby. These would be really wonderful things, if they were realistic.

My husband also recognized this and we both knew I needed help. When Nora was three-and-a-half weeks old, I reached out for help and I was quickly diagnosed with postpartum depression and anxiety.⁣ I’m thankful for a husband and an OB that cared and paid attention to my health and well-being.

For me, that care looked like seven weeks in intensive outpatient therapy and once-a-week meetings with a psychiatrist. It still looks like taking Zoloft daily. I surrounded myself with women who were going through the exact same thing in completely different ways and stages of life. As I’m healing and feeling more like myself and a more functioning human, I’m starting to see the light. I’m finding joy and rest and acceptance. And it feels good. ⁣But it doesn’t feel over.

Related: Spotting postpartum depression can be difficult. Here’s why you should enlist your partner’s help

Postpartum depression doesn’t affect everybody, but it doesn’t discriminate. Whether you got pregnant on the first try or tried for years. Whether you planned for this baby or they were a beautiful surprise. Whether this is your first or your fifth.

It felt like I shouldn’t have gotten postpartum depression because having a baby is something I wanted so badly. I tried for Nora. My husband and I anticipated her arrival with excitement and joy and we love having her as our daughter. I was ready for motherhood. I felt made for this. How could something I knew in my heart was right feel so wrong?⁣

Hormones. Chemical imbalances. Sleep deprivation. Isolation. Sadness. Resentment.⁣ That’s how.

I quickly learned what the “fourth trimester” really meant. Our bodies go through so much. Our brains do too. The hormone drop, the breastfeeding (oh, Jesus, take the breastfeeding wheel), the sleep deprivation, the crying (my ears may never recover), and the general “baby blues.”

Related: It’s time to retire the term ‘baby blues’

I looked back at my life before Nora with an intense and sad longing. I wanted it back. That feeling feels like a whole other topic but I knew I wasn’t supposed to wish I didn’t have a baby. And if you read that and think, “Surely she didn’t actually wish she didn’t have a baby,”-UM YES I DID.

Don’t get me wrong, I was happy about Nora. I wanted her. But I also wondered what compelled me to even have her in the first place. Why did I want kids? Why did I do this? Isn’t there someone else far more qualified to parent her? Nora deserves a better mom than I will ever be to her. Like, can I just rewind time and change all of this?

I know all of that is really dark. It WAS really dark. But I had a lot of sweet moments, too. Baby snuggles (the only thing that will ever drive me to have another baby), her smiles, seeing my husband become a dad (excuse me while I weep), and countless other things that felt like extreme happiness.

Related: Sometimes I really miss my life before kids

But that is also part of postpartum depression—the extremes. I couldn’t handle any one thing with grace or neutrality. I wept because I was afraid Nora would die and I sobbed because she smelled good. Hormones, man.

My motherhood with Nora feels very hard fought for. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not thrilled about postpartum depression, but I have perspective and I wouldn’t have taken an easier path. I wanted an easier path. I want motherhood to be easy. And some parts of it, for me, are easy. I don’t feel like motherhood is a constant struggle and I certainly don’t need pity.

Related: This mama perfectly explains how time changes when you become a mother

But the emotional struggle and losing my expectations of how this would go is hard. I don’t think I’m a bad mom anymore. I don’t think I wasn’t ready or prepared for this. Show a little grace to yourself. Show a little grace to the mom who maybe isn’t thrilled about the idea of having another baby because she lost so much of herself with her first one. Show some grace to the mom who doesn’t find breastfeeding “natural.” Be kind to the mother who can’t always find the joy in sleepless nights. 

Most importantly, if you’re struggling, reach out. Tell someone. Tell your partner. And husbands, spouses, partners, friends, pay attention. Pay attention to the person who just gave birth. Even if we’re OK, we probably at least need you to hand us the remote or make us a sandwich.