I had no idea motherhood could be as good as it is now. I thought everyone who was recovering quickly from having a baby, having fun with their toddlers, or who was gushing about being a Mom was putting a filter on their life or simply lying. I had no idea I was the one with a filter on my life. Motherhood IS hard but it doesn't have to be as hard as it was for the first 5 years I was struggling through. Each pregnancy, each birth, and each postpartum stage looked and felt completely different. Each woman may experience postpartum depression in a different way. They may have classic symptoms or symptoms we don't hear about as often. And from the outside, they may seem totally fine. So for anyone looking for info so they can see if they have the same filter I did, here's what postpartum depression looked like for me.
Baby Number One
My first pregnancy was tough. I had morning sickness the entire time, I retained water like crazy, gained 70lbs, and would swell so badly at the end of the day I couldn't wear pants or shoes. The insomnia, constipation, and exhaustion were so hard. I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy with tons of dark brown hair and bright blue eyes. He started smiling day 2 and was the happiest baby in the world. I loved him so much. So why was I crying so much? It wasn't just regular crying, either. I would sob for hours and the cries felt so deep, it felt like my soul needed to grieve. I would feed my baby, lay him down and just be inconsolable for the next 2 hours until he woke up again to eat. I was terrified to fall asleep when I was home alone with him because I knew he was going to die and it'd be my fault. I could only sleep when my husband was home because I trusted he would rescue the baby. Each morning when Denver left for work, I would sit in my rocking chair with our baby in my arms and just cry because I knew that was the last time I was ever going to see my husband and I was now a single mother. I had horribly dark intrusive thoughts about what a monster I was and that I shouldn't have ever been allowed to have children.
After a few months, I just went numb. The crying stopped but nothing really changed. I didn't feel joy or sadness, excited or let down, I was just...there. I was constantly feeling overwhelmed and subdued. I used to love to go out with friends or meet new people but now I just didn't want to. I wasn't myself. I thought motherhood had changed me, showed me who I really was. I was a sad person who didn't have friends. I often thought my family would be better off without me because I wasn't giving them anything. I was just existing. I'd sometimes reach out to other moms or friends for help and was told I was simply having a hard time adjusting to motherhood. I became fixated on doing things "right" and was constantly worried I was going to mess up my baby. I remember one night, I was nursing my son and when I looked down at him, I swear there was a spider on his face. I snatched it and pinched it so hard between my fingers. And there was nothing there. To this day, I don't know if that was real or not.
After a year, I finally started telling my husband how I was really feeling. I was terrified he wouldn't want to leave the baby with me anymore but he was perfect. He held me while I cried, felt heartbroken I'd been struggling that way, and we started looking for help together. That was the first time I realized I might have something wrong with me. I talked more and I started to feel better. Not whole, but better.
Baby Number Two
With my second I spent time during my pregnancy preparing for postpartum depression (ppd). I knew since I'd had it with my first I was a high risk of having it again. I read What Am I Thinking: Having a Baby After Postpartum Depression and found a therapist I connected with so I'd have a safety net ready. The anxiety began when I was pregnant and grew after he was born. While pregnant, I just had a constant feeling of stress, like I was forgetting something or something bad was about to happen. Therapy had taught me to work through those feelings but after my son was born, the gnawing concern turned into panic. I would have intense panic attacks, hyperventilate, and feel as though my brain stepped aside to my emotions. I remember feeling like I was watching myself just melt down. "This is an overreaction," my brain would say. But then my heart would be like, "Nah, man, we've GOT to let these feelings flow, man." Because I didn't have the extreme sadness, I thought I was getting better. Little did I know it wasn't healing, it was just changing.
Baby Number Three
After years of parenting and therapy, I still wasn't ready for what ppd looked like after the third baby. It had changed yet again. This time it was rage. I never wanted to be a Mom who yelled at her kids or made their children feel like they had to walk on eggshells for fear they'd set her off. But here I was. The smallest thing would trigger me and I'd be screaming, and hitting the side of the tub so badly my palms would bruise. I never hit my children. Ever. But I hated feeling like they were afraid I might. I hated who I'd become. And I felt totally out of control. I regularly thought my family would be better off without me. Denver came home to me sobbing on the floor regularly and I'd be utterly exhausted. After 8 months postpartum, I sunk to a lower low than I'd ever been. It would hurt to get out of bed and I would just cry for hours. I would lie in bed, wishing I could become one with the mattress or just evaporate. I'd hear my kids fighting or yelling downstairs and I'd just sob because I couldn't get up to take care of them. I knew I was failing.
This was the straw that broke the camel's back for me. After 5 years of trying to get better through natural methods (healthy diet, running) and grit (therapy and picking myself up from my bootstraps), I finally called my doctor and said, "I don't even know if y'all are the ones I need to be talking to but I don't think I'm ok." They did two evaluations right there on the phone and got me on a waitlist to meet with a specialist. Making that phone call was the scariest thing I've EVER done. I was afraid they'd take my kids away, admit me into a facility, or even worse...they'd tell me there wasn't anything wrong with me. Motherhood really was just that bad. I was terrified they wouldn't be able to help me. I started taking a mild dose of zoloft to hold me over until I could get into see a specialist and things started changing. In a matter of days, I was fine. I was myself again.
What Motherhood Looks Like Now
Y'all. I am happy. Motherhood is a complete 180 from what it used to be. I'm steady, long-suffering, kind, and loving. I have a greater capacity to love my children and I regularly feel my heart swell with how much I sincerely and fully love these little boys of mine. I do fun activities with them, I teach them, and I want to be around them. Yes, I sometimes get frazzled or my patience wears thin. Sometimes I speak louder than I need to. But y'all, I don't scream, I don't yell, I don't bang my hands, I don't burst into tears. I've been medicated for six months now and it's been the best six months of my time as a mom. I'd have pockets of happiness but nothing as steady as this.
I'm me again. I laugh more easily, I can easily talk to strangers and I focus much more on how I can help other's feel loved than I do worrying about what they thing of me. I'm active, ambitious, and spunky again. I re-lit my fire. Boy, did I miss this girl. I never realized how far I'd fallen until I got back on top and could look at my journey of recovery. This is the way motherhood should be.
If you're wondering if you're not yourself, please go have a chat with a trusted doctor or a friend. Motherhood doesn't have to be as hard or as miserable as we sometimes think it has to be. It can be hard and still be really happy.