I’ll never forget the first time the nurse placed my freshly born son on my chest. After a lifetime of longing, several rough years of fertility treatment, and 27 hours of induced labour, I finally had my son. And all I could think was, am I supposed to touch him?
In that moment, I wanted nothing more than for the doctor, the nurses, anyone to take him away from me. I felt I had made a horrible mistake. I wanted to sleep. I wanted to close my eyes, and when I woke up I wanted that baby gone. At first I thought maybe I just needed some time to bond. I tentatively went about the first days, trying to get a feel for things, but my despair didn’t lighten – it got worse.
I wasn’t prepared for postpartum depression. When I tried to explain to a handful of people how I felt, the majority of them said, “Go for a walk. You’ll feel better. You just need to get out of the house.”
I finally asked one of my closest friends, point blank, “You have four children, did you never feel like this?”
“Of course I did. I wanted to throw myself in front of a bus after each one.”
I was shocked.
“Why didn’t you ever say anything?”
“I dunno,” she said. “I guess you just sort of hope it doesn’t happen to your friends.”
No one talked about postpartum at the time. At least, not to me. My husband knew something was wrong, but I insisted I just needed more sleep.
Then one night, when my son was about five weeks old, my husband brought him in to me for his 3 a.m. feeding. When he finished, I put him over my shoulder to burp him. He lay his head down; face turned toward my neck, and fell asleep. Within seconds, I felt his warm, sweet breath in my ear. It was like the skies cleared, like a 100-lb weight had been taken off my shoulders. I could see. I could feel something other than defeat. I can pinpoint that very moment; it was the moment the depression lifted.
I wasn’t so lucky with his sister.
My daughter was born in late 2007. I was determined that history would not repeat itself, and after a fairly difficult pregnancy but easy delivery, she came into the world, was placed on my chest, and I scooped her up into my arms and attached her firmly to my breast. This time it would be okay.
That feeling lasted roughly four days. She stopped sleeping and started crying all the time. I dragged her to the doctor every week, begging for answers. What’s wrong with my child?
It took seven weeks and two doctors to diagnose her gastric reflux. After her first dose of medication, she slept longer than she had in the entire first two months of her life. But for me, it was too late. The hormones, mixed with the lack of sleep, had returned me to that dark place I’d visited briefly when my son was born.
I thought I could brave it, that the feeling would vanish, easily, like it did with my son. But that wasn’t the case. I was irrationally angry with her for not sleeping, for crying, for being a baby. I tried to force her through the stages of development, get her to sleep on her own, soothe herself, sit up, whatever it would take to bring her to a point where she was something I was able to handle. I didn’t know what to do with her. I didn’t understand her. I was ill-equipped to deal with her.
She was loud, energetic, and demanding. She was clingy and needy. She attached herself to me like a baby sloth, fingers wrapped around my arms, my neck and later my legs. It got to a point where I started to resent her. I couldn’t breathe anymore. She had become so attached to me that I couldn’t tell where her heartbeat ended and mine began. It was the worst feeling in the world.
It took nine months and a lot of therapy for the postpartum depression to begin to subside. I went out, got a job, and built a life outside the demands of the home. But things didn’t really get better for years. I kept going to therapy; I kept trying to convince myself everything was okay. Five years passed before that was true.
It was a long journey for us, and I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t residual damage. But we learned to deal with it.
Postpartum is not a taboo subject in our home, and I speak about my experience with every new mother I know who exhibits that 1,000-yard stare.
My daughter is 11 now and growing into the most amazing woman you’ve ever met. She’s intelligent, funny, witty, and incredible compassionate and aware. Best of all? She still loves to snuggle. Sometimes, she gets in so close it’s hard to tell where her heartbeat ends and mine begins. And it’s the best feeling in the world.