This is for moms with babies, or anyone who knows a mom with a baby. You’ve all heard of post-partum depression – the generic advice from your doctor/midwife about “baby blues”, the horror stories of moms who hurt their babies in some way, the warnings of side effects from medication…
I had heard all of that, too. But it took years for me to recognize that it was relevant to me. My assumption, based on what I’d heard and learned, was that women who suffer from post-partum depression experience negative emotions (frustration, anger, fear, even hatred) towards their baby. I didn’t feel that! I loved my baby (and shortly thereafter, babies) and felt bonded to her (them). Therefore, I assumed that I had escaped the dreaded PPD.
Unfortunately, there was a whole lot of other stuff going on in my life that I was trying to cope with, and because I wasn’t as emotionally stable as I thought I was, I didn’t cope very well. We moved to Michigan when our first daughter, Abigail, was 2 months old. It was only 4 hours away from home, but it was a new apartment, a new culture, trying to meet new friends at a new church, still figuring out this new role of motherhood with a new baby while my husband was starting a new job… All of it was understandably overwhelming! And on top of that, I soon got sick (that is to say, pregnant. I was sick before the line showed up on the pee-stick and I was sick until it was time to push.)
Generally in life, I’m fairly optimistic and adventurous. Sure, I occasionally have days when I feel like I’m treading water in a storm. But for the most part, I can face the tough stuff with a “Go get ‘em, Tiger” attitude. Looking back on those baby days (months. No, I’ll be honest – years), I can now see that there was a dangerous disconnect in my mind. I put on my “Go get ‘em, Tiger” costume because that’s what was expected of me, but I really wished there was some way out of the whole situation. I was so annoyed by all those church people around me who would surely judge me if I left my husband! And all those people who were so encouraging and excited for us – I just wanted to poke them in the eye. I didn’t, of course. I smiled and thanked them and joked about all the vomiting.
We moved back to our home in Cambridge a couple of weeks before Miranda was born. I expected that things would get back to “normal” – as normal as could be with a one-year-old and a newborn. But even though I really loved my babies, my disconnect grew. I responded to their cries on autopilot, not out of an emotional, maternal urge to soothe and protect. There was a constant anger deep inside me, suppressed and unnamed as it was. It wasn’t directed at my girls, but life in general. My joy had died, and I didn’t think it was coming back. This was my unrecognized, undiagnosed post-partum depression.
I am better now. My emergence from this depression took several years, and then it was a few more years before I could accurately look back and analyze what my emotions had done to me and my family. Further clarity came when we adopted a baby (Miranda was almost 7 by that time) and I was completely blown away by how different it was having a baby that hadn’t messed with my hormones at all! I was again dealing with a whole bunch of circumstances that would overwhelm just about anybody (another new culture, newborn-induced sleeplessness, bizarre and extremely stressful drama surrounding the concurrent adoption of an older child who didn’t speak English – that’s another story or two) and yet I was emotionally stable. I had my optimism and joy back.
Why am I telling you this? Because maybe you or someone you know is dealing with the same thing. Maybe you don’t have urges to hurt your baby, but there’s an emotional disconnect that you can’t quite put your finger on. Please talk to someone. Go ahead and get some medication. Make yourself say the words that will get you some help now.
I have come out of my depression completely, but during those early years, I set parenting habits and patterns that I still struggle with now. I wish I had figured all this out much sooner. I wish I had set a better parenting example for my husband to follow. I wish I didn’t have to fight the anger that is still my first response to just about any situation. But more than that, for those are just fruitless wishes, I sincerely hope that if you see something of yourself in my story, you will face the short-term embarrassment of fixing it now and thereby avoid the long-term pain.