Despite a beautiful natural birth experience with Charlotte, I struggled with managing three kids once I got home. What is it about that third child? I had it all planned out, all organized and ready. But she was born two weeks early. And nothing worked out the way I’d planned. She was born on the first day of second grade for Parker. And since we all were still at the birth center, he had to skip his first day. My husband wasn’t able to get off work that week because another employee was out on medical leave. So the only day he was home with me was the very day Charlotte was born. Just thirty-six hours after giving birth, I was loading our baby and our three-year-old into the SUV and driving to the bus stop to get Parker, myself. Chris even worked late, three nights that week. I developed mastitis. Charlotte wouldn’t latch on properly. I missed Open House at Parker’s school, and didn’t even meet his teacher for at least two months. I yelled at the kids more than I care to admit. I cried constantly. The house was a mess. I couldn’t find anything, and neither could the kids. All of our family lives out of state and I made it painfully clear that I wanted the first few weeks alone with “just us”. I desperately needed a break from the revolving door of visitors our house had been that entire year, but in doing so, I shut out all offers for help. I went back to work teaching workshops just six weeks after the baby was born, and that was entirely too early. I never really got that “break” that maternity leave is supposed to provide. But when you’re self-employed, there is no short-term disability. Maternity leave = no pay. But since Charlotte arrived early, and I had worked up until the very last minute, I still had orders to place and prints to deliver during my entire maternity leave. Bitterness and resentment set in, along with exhaustion and complete mommy-brain. Even the max dose of Zoloft (which is, as I understand, the only type of antidepressant you can take while nursing a baby) wasn’t quite enough. I just shut down. Some days I just want to sleep, eat, nurse my baby, and cry myself back to sleep. Rinse. Repeat.
I had suffered with PPD after my son was born almost 8 years ago. I ended up on Zoloft for a few months, and it was life-changing for me. After Lila was born, somehow PPD didn’t hit me, but I had much more help with her and didn’t feel as alone. I thought for sure that I’d escaped it my third-go-around. But looking back now, it started when Charlotte was about three or four weeks old. I was actually oblivious to (or maybe in denial of?) my postpartum depression for two months. Finally, I couldn’t deny it any longer.
I will never forget the picture that my three-year-old handed to me one late October afternoon. She had drawn it herself with a red crayon: a stick figure with large, sad eyes and a slight frown. It looked so haunting. I immediately knew in my heart who the stick figure was supposed to represent. I asked Lila to tell me about her picture, but a part of me didn’t completely want to hear her answer. My little girl looked up at me, and with her sweet lisp, she answered, “It’s you, Mama. You’re angry, and you’re very sad, and you don’t want your kids anymore because they are being mean to you.”
I thought I would lose my breath. I felt my heart sink and my stomach drop. My daughter had seen me cry almost every day, and she mistakenly thought it was her fault. And worse, that I didn’t love or want her and her brother and sister anymore.
All I could think was, “Now I’m hurting my children by being this way. God, please help me through this!”
That moment was my turning point. I didn’t want to need help, and didn’t want to ask for it. But I knew that this had gone on long enough. I called my midwife that very afternoon, tears rolling silently down my cheeks as I admitted, “I think I have postpartum depression. Please help me. I don’t want my kids to remember their Mama this way!” That sweet woman prayed with me right there on the phone. She recommended that I try Zoloft, a b-complex vitamin, some fresh air, and for me to talk to someone regularly about this. She ended with this advice: “Give yourself some grace.”
Even with this advice and the drawing from my daughter, I actually didn’t fill my prescription for a couple of days… clearly I was in the “bargaining” stage of PPD at this point. I thought that if I could just get my routine back, start taking those extra vitamins, go for a walk, do some decluttering, etc., that I could overcome this by myself. I didn’t need that medicine! But I was so wrong. Postpartum depression is not something that you simply snap out of one day when you make the decision to do so. It is a process, it’s an obstacle to overcome, it’s a lion to battle. And it’s different for everyone. I finally opened up to a few people, and Bree encouraged me that there was no shame in needing to take meds for a while. Whatever helped! I finally filled that prescription, but it’s no magic bullet. There is no such thing.
Charlotte is six months old now. Things have gotten better for me, but I’m still suffering from PPD on a daily basis. I don’t expect it to end overnight. I have good days and bad days, and even worse days. Some days I still cry in the shower, some days I sing in the shower, and some days I can’t muster up the motivation to step into the shower at all. I know what it’s like to putter around the house like a zombie, going through the motions to get through my day, one task at a time. Unfeeling, robotic and numb. To walk around in a fog, often forgetting why I entered a particular room. I know the slowness, the feeling that my reactions are delayed, like a bad hangover that won’t end. I still have trouble focusing and concentrating. I’m unmotivated more often than not, and that drives me crazy. SO unlike me. My to-do list may never get finished. Even though I’m running now, which is so cathartic and makes me feel 100 times better, I do still have moments when I want to melt into the floor, or simply run away from my wonderful life. Sometimes I still have that longing to just disappear for awhile… just to hide, and rest a little bit without someone needing me constantly.
It was never a matter of me not connecting to Charlotte, not loving her or ever wanting to harm her. Or myself. For me, it was a matter of being completely overwhelmed by circumstances and hormones, and powerless to pull myself out of this chemical imbalance. This deep sadness that was robbing me of my joy. I have embarrassingly few photos of my last baby. When she was tiny, I was simply too tired and too numb to go through the process. I had no strength. I physically felt pain from this ordeal. I craved sleep. And sweets.
It took my husband discovering me sobbing uncontrollably in the bathroom, to help move me past several hurdles that were delaying my healing. Chris has been amazing through all of this, so patient and forgiving when I snap at him or have yet another meltdown. He is currently pulling my weight as well as his around here. And he hasn’t complained one bit. That sweet man deserves a medal.
For months, I was so afraid to say anything to many people about what I was going through. I thought I would be admitting weakness. I hid my PPD from anyone outside my immediate family. I hid it from my sweet friends, and especially my clients. I didn’t want anyone to know how awful I felt inside… what would they think of me? I didn’t want them to think I was ungrateful, or spoiled ,when I clearly had everything in the world to be thankful for. And I was thankful for it all. But I’m sure they noticed how different I had become. Thankfully, when I decided to share my story, I was not met with harsh judgment after all. I was embraced by kind women who supported me. I received emails and blog comments from so many mamas who have been in my shoes, who wanted to share their stories with me too, some who are living this nightmare for themselves right now. The response has been so touching. It’s comforting to know that I’m not alone. And neither are you.
My hope is that if you are suffering silently like I was, that you will please tell someone! Tell your husband or partner, a close friend, a sister, or your mom… and get help. Ask for it. You are not weak just because you need help! You are strong, and you can get through this.
And I can get through this too.