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Suzanne on postpartum depression, PTSD and waiting to feel something for her son

crying mom holding her sleeping baby - essay on PNDA and PTSD

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.

My second baby was a boy. I’d sworn I didn’t want a boy when I was pregnant with my first, a daughter. But he was coming if I wanted him to or not. His birth didn’t go as planned. I went in so confident and legitimately eager–but came out of it a shell of who I was.

He needed resuscitation and was taken from me straight away to stay in SCU for three days. Lucky in comparison to some–and I was told that a lot in the first 24 hours. But I didn’t feel lucky. I felt nothing.

Surely I was supposed to feel something, right? When I got to hold him the following day I felt nothing. I mentioned it to a nurse who told me it was fine and normal, not to worry, it’ll happen. So I ignored it and kept waiting for it to come.

Related: How to foster deeper connections with your baby

I don’t remember much of his newborn time, but I remember crying every day at least once a day. I kept waiting to feel something for this human I created. At most, all I could feel was a sense of dread, having to get up again for him, having to feed him, change him, entertain him.

He screamed 8 out of 12 hours a day, which we later learned was CMPI. Even when he stopped crying and started to actually be the happy baby you see everywhere, at about 4 months old, I still felt nothing! I kept waiting for it.

I went back to work full-time. I was still waiting.
I picked up the kids from daycare every day. I was still waiting.
I had a birthday. I was still waiting.
I stopped going out on weekends. Still waiting.
Stopped replying to messages. Still waiting.
Stopped seeing my friends. Still waiting.
Stopped answering phone calls. Waiting.

I waited 11 months before I finally broke. I saw a psychologist who told me the “it” I was waiting for would come. I believed her. So I went back to waiting.

Five months later I was looking after my son on the weekend while my husband was at work. He was whining and teething, 16-months old now. I’d had enough. I had an overwhelming urge to just leave, to get away from him. I knew I didn’t want to hurt him, but I couldn’t trust myself to not. I sat on my couch as far away from him as possible while he slept. I was too scared to leave the room “just in case.” It scared me.

Related: I didn’t fall in love with my baby right away

By the time my husband got home that day, I was an absolute mess. I couldn’t stop crying, I could hardly breathe and I kept saying to him, “I’m waiting for something that just won’t come! When will it come? They said it would!” He didn’t know the answer of course. I still don’t know the answer myself.

I reached out to a community here in Australia who sent me on a search for a different psychologist. I found one and had my first session. I was a diagnosis of PNDA and PTSD. It’s petrifying. But now I have an answer. Now I know what I’m up against, and I know it can be healed, that I can be healed.

Now I look back at the photos I took when he was a fresh new baby and all I see is so much hurt and sadness and confusion. I want to reach out and shake myself and say, Stop waiting! Go fix it! It can be fixed!”