Having recently come out of the other side of post partum depression, I would like to share my experience; for myself (should I have any children in the future and suffer again) and for other mothers who have it/may get it.
I would like to start at the very beginning of my story. From a very early age, I always showed interest in children and becoming a mother. When adults would ask me what I wanted to be, before I answered with any career, I would tell them my desire to be a mother.
Which is why, at the very young age of sixteen, when I was diagnosed with a plethora of ‘women’s health’ problems that I won’t bore you with the details of, I was shattered to find out my ticking clock would stop ticking much earlier than most of my peers. In fact, my ticking clock may stop ticking before my 50 year old mother’s.
After having this confirmed at 18, and again at 20, I decided that I wanted a baby, no matter the costs- literally, and emotionally. I didn’t have a boyfriend, and I’m not the type of person to go out and have a one night stand (think of the STI’s I could’ve caught if it didn’t work the first, second or third time- no thanks!), so that left me with few options.
One option was to undergo fertility treatment from a clinic using donor sperm. I researched this thoroughly, and I came to the decision some months later that this was the route that I would be taking to conceive. I would be doing so as a single person, with only a part time job (as I am primarily a student), who was still living with her parents. Luckily, I had saved a substantial amount of money over the years from working, which meant I wouldn’t have to apply for a loan or borrow money from anyone, which was one less problem to think about.
Of course, because I lived with my parents, despite me being 20 years old, I had to ask my mothers permission to do this. It simply wouldn’t be fair to willingly bring a child into a home where they weren’t welcomed.
My mum took the news pretty harshly at first. She didn’t want me having a baby so young- especially since I was still a student without a career under my belt. She wanted me to wait until I graduated and had at least started my career. The problem was, she didn’t understand fully that if I didn’t do it now, I may never have the chance to do it again. That I may run out of time before I would be able to complete what she wants me to. I had been given an approximate age as to when I would be able to conceive, and that age was 25, based on the decline in my egg reserve over the years. Which mesnt- by the time I started treatment, I would only had 4 short years of fertility left (maybe less, maybe more). After explaining it to her and giving her time to think it through, she gave me permission.
Let me state here, publicly, that my mum was so supportive since that day. She offered me the spare room to make into a nursery. The spare room that was previously her study/sewing room. She gave it up without a second glance. She let me re-design the whole room, and even paid for it to be done.
So then the process started. My doctor recommended me trying IUI’s first before I moved into IVF, as I was ‘young’ and ‘it should work very quickly and on the first try’. It did work the first time, but unfortunately I miscarried very early on.
Finally, after three IUI’s, one miscarriage, two rounds of IVF, and upwards of $25,000 later, I became pregnant with a beautiful little girl.
I had an extremely easy pregnancy, in terms that I only had mild nausea a few times, I didn’t develop any health concerns during the duration, and every time I had an ultrasound or check, the baby appeared to be healthy! Sure, I had a few months of on and off bleeding where I wasn’t sure if I was going to miscarry or not, but everything worked out.
Through this process, I idealised what having a baby would be like. I thought so much about the instant, unconditional love everyone talks about. I thought about dressing her in cute little clothes, taking way too many pictures, the first milestones, playing with her, naming her, watching her grow up. I almost sort of blocked out all the ‘negative’ stuff that comes along with having a baby.
Lots of people told me ‘sleep now, you won’t be getting any sleep once the baby comes’, but I thought that you surely must get sleep. We are human beings after all, and we literally go crazy if we can’t sleep. I thought they were exaggerating.
I think my problems started once I went into labour. I had a plan set out for labour and delivery and everything following, but it didn’t go anywhere close to the way I planned it.
I wanted a natural birth, but got an epidural. I wanted to do skin to skin for hours, but was rushed to surgery and couldn’t see my baby for four hours. I wanted to breastfeed, but due to my milk never coming in, I couldn’t.
But now I’m getting ahead of myself. The birth. I had tried so many things not to tear during delivery, and despite my efforts, I had a third degree tear. Even with an epidural, I felt it rip.
Then my baby was placed on my chest. Now, don’t get me wrong here, I was over the moon that she was alive, breathing and healthy, but I remember looking at her and thinking ‘okay, where is this overwhelming sense of love?’. In fact, my first thought after seeing her was ‘what do I do with her now?’.
I remember being taken off to surgery wondering when I would feel it- this unconditional love. Would it just hit me? Maybe it was gradual? Maybe I would feel it when I got back to my room and saw her again?
But as my surgery progressed, so did my anxiety. I didn’t feel like I loved her. I didn’t dislike her. I didn’t feel resentment towards her. I didn’t really feel anything at that point. I felt numb, like I was incapable of emotion.
Looking back, this is where I should have thought ‘okay, this is a problem’. But instead, I ignored the feeling. I put it down to the exhausting experience I just went through- birth -and maybe all the anaesthesia in my body.
But when I got back to my room, that’s when everything really got worse. I knew my hospital didn’t let anyone stay overnight except the birth mother and baby, but that changed nothing. Now that I had gone through everything, even with the knowledge of who could stay, I wanted my mum to stay. I wanted to beg the nurse to let her stay overnight with me. I didn’t want to be alone with this baby.
I remember feeling numb in my arms from the epidural, and at first, I couldn’t hold her because my arms weren’t cooperating with me. Then, once I started getting feeling back in my arms, I pretended that I still couldn’t feel them because I didn’t want to take my baby.
If I took my baby, it would mean my mum would have to leave, and I didn’t want that.
I have never admitted that to anyone except my Psycholgist. Now, I realise it is nothing to be ashamed of and those feelings I was experiencing were my hormones rebelling and my mind not coping.
Eventually, I had to take her. It was 3 in the morning, I hadn’t slept for nearly 24 hours at that point, and I felt so many things.
I felt numb, but I felt overwhelmed. I felt anxiety, and I felt dread. Then I felt numb again.
I remember looking into my daughters eyes and thinking ‘I don’t love her. I don’t’. But at that point I wasn’t concerned, obviously I would learn to love her, or maybe other mothers lied about this immediate overwhelming love? I remember not knowing what to do, and once the nurse left my room, I remember crying and crying. I cried because I felt like the world was closing in on me. I was sore and tired and I had this baby who now relied on me for absolutely everything, and I didn’t even love her.
I’ll tell you something though, even when you are going through something like this, it is so god damn easy to cover it up. A nurse walked in on me crying and asked what was wrong. I told her I wasn’t sure and she said ‘you must be feeling so grateful to have your baby girl! That must be it!’. She didn’t enquire more into what I was feeling, so I just smiled and repeated what she said, ‘that must be it!’. And I hid my feelings from everyone from then. I often wonder what would have happened if the nurse had have pushed me for my true feelings, or if I had have been open about them from the start.
Scarlett (my daughter) decided not to sleep that night. At all.
Let me add here, when you have a hormone imbalance, or a mental illness such as post partum depression, sleep tends to be a necessity and often helps to ease your mind. Often people with a mental illness require more sleep, in fact. With me, sleep makes me less anxious, and just makes me feel more human.
Problem being, if you have post partum depression, what is the one thing that you don’t get a lot of? Sleep. Because to have PPD, you also have a baby.
So, with that in mind, as I was approaching the 30th hour of being awake, I was starting to really lose my shit. I felt overwhelmed, I felt like I was in danger and I needed to leave, I felt like I needed to go far far away and just escape.
Then my mum came and I think I nearly cried out of happiness. One thing I knew was that I was not going to stay another night at the hospital.
So, after them trying to guilt me into staying and me refusing, they let me go home. Just before I left the hospital, I used the bathroom and had my first panic attack that I have had in a long time. Again, something I have admitted to no one except my psychologist.
On the way home from the hospital, I remember feeling nervous. I remember not knowing what to do and feeling disconnected from my baby. I looked over at her in her car seat and stated facts In my head. I told myself that I am lucky to have her because if I didn’t have her now, I may have never got her. I remember thinking she had my eyes, but not my nose. I remember thinking that she looks terrible in hats, but so cute in her onesie. And I remember telling myself that everything was about to change. That this person relied on me and I had to do better, be better, for her.
All the while, I felt disconnected from the situation. I felt like I was watching what was happening through a TV screen, rather than actually experiencing it.
Fast forward two weeks and I am living my own little version of hell. Things got worse every day, and I kept my emotions bottled up because I didn’t want to admit that I was struggling. I didn’t want to think that I wasn’t cut out for this, something so basic as looking after a baby.
Everything seemed to go wrong once we got home too. It seemed she never slept. The night we got home my mum took her for a little while so I could sleep and recover a little from my experience, especially since I only managed to sleep about an hour at the hospital. I was approaching nearly 36 hours of no sleep (or I should say very little sleep) and I was starting to think I was dying. Everything hurt. I couldn’t string a sentence together. My mind felt muddled. I felt physically ill from the lack of sleep, which only increased my anxiety levels. But yet, I also didn’t feel emotion anymore. I felt like I was physically, emotiknally, and spiritually shutting down. My personality ceased to exist as far as I was concerned.
Thank god for my mum, because once I got Scarlett from her at 2am, Scarlett didn’t sleep the whole night. Again. I tried her in a bassinet next to my bed, no luck. I tried a swing, no luck. I tried her mamaroo. That worked for a little bit, then she realised it wasn’t what she wanted and continued to scream. So against all the prior warning I got, I put her in bed with me. That earned me a lot of judgement from my mummy friends and my non-mummy friends. Which led to guilt.
I felt guilty over every little thing.
I still felt like I didn’t love her, and I felt so incredibly guilty over that. I saw my mum connect with my daughter on such an emotional level, and here I was, her mother, and I couldn’t even tell her I loved her because I legitimately wasn’t sure if I did. Every single time I gave my baby formula, I wanted to cry because the guilt was eating at me. Not only was my mind not cooperating with this experience after my body so blatantly refused to cooperate with conceiving, now it was also not producing food for my baby. Yet another issue with my body- as if I didn’t have enough problems with it already!
Every time she wasn’t sleeping and I wanted her to sleep, I felt guilty because I wished that she would just shut up or sleep, so that I could sleep more. Every time she cried I felt guilty because I wasn’t making her happy and I felt like she should be happy.
Guilt was a huge emotion that weighed down on me.
Other emotions that took over was the feeling of dread. I felt like something bad was coming. I felt like it was the calm before the storm, and if what I was currently feeling turned out to be the calm part, I knew I couldn’t handle the storm part. I felt overwhelmed. I felt like I wasn’t cut out to be a mother. I felt like I had made a huge mistake. I felt like the universe made me ‘infertile’ for a reason, and that reason was because I wasn’t meant to do this. That I wasn’t physically or mentally capable of handling a baby.
And I felt so guilty. I felt guilty that I went through IVF, managed to become pregnant and be blessed with a healthy baby (which some people don’t get blessed with), and was now regretting my decision. I felt guilty that I was regretting my daughter- someone who I wished for and thought about every single day.
I felt guilty that I was relying on my mum so much because I wasn’t confident in anything I did.
I also felt incredibly disconnected from Scarlett. Out of everything, looking back, this was the most disturbing part of the experience for me. I felt disconnected from her completely, which was such a contrast to how I felt about her when I was pregnant. I was absolutely love sick over her when she was a mere ‘idea’ or ‘fetus’. It seemed once she became a real person, that love just dissapeared.
I don’t think I kissed her until she was about four weeks old because I just felt like she wasn’t mine to kiss. Honestly, if someone had have told me that she wasn’t my daughter, I would have believed them. The disconnect made me not want to be around her. I used to wish she would stay asleep an extra hour so I didn’t have to deal with her. When she was crying, I wished that my mum would offer to take her. I felt disconnected, overwhelmed, unhappy, and teary constantly.
I felt like I lost myself too. I was an avid reader before I gave birth, constantly reading. But at two weeks post partum, I hadn’t even touched a book. I would have killed to have enough free time to read. And there was two opportunities where I was able to- Scarlett had just been fed and went to sleep in her bassinet so I was actually able to walk away from her, but once I sat down to read, I just had no interest. I didn’t know who I was anymore. Before I gave birth, I wanted a baby so bad and I loved reading, and now, I couldn’t believe that I had ‘made the biggest mistake of my life’ and hated the idea of reading.
Now, luckily for me I never had thoughts of harming her or myself. My daughter was never the problem for me. Even though I guess you could say she ’caused’ the way I was feeling (in the fact that I birthed her, not that it was her fault), the negative emotions were directed at myself, never her. I felt guilty because I wasn’t doing right by her and I wasn’t handling the situation. I felt she deserved better than me.
Throughout this however, I made sure to pretend like everything was okay. When people would ask how I am going or how the baby is, I would give them a big smile and say ‘everything is going great! Thanks for asking!’, when on the inside I wanted to tell them how I wasn’t coping. How I knew something wasn’t right and that everyday it got a little worse.
And I cried constantly. Over everything. TV ads. Movies. Books (even though I didn’t get much of a chance to read in the end, which caused more crying because I didn’t WANT to read!!). Something my cat did. Facebook posts. Absolutely everything would send me into a fit of tears that were so, so hard to stop.
I avoided seeing friends. I didn’t want anyone in my space to see me suffering. I wanted to hide from the world, not see people. Which is why during this time, I pushed away all my friends. I let them come one time each at the beginning, and told them after 15 minutes that I was really tired and they needed to leave. I didn’t want to socialise, I wanted to sleep and feel better. I did not want to have to face the possible judgment they could have forced upon me.
Because I wanted to pretend everything was alright, I made sure to cry alone. I pretended to need to go to the toilet more, or make a quick trip to my bedroom to ‘put my phone on charge’. I remember my mum would offer to take Scarlett so I could go and take a nap, and often, I wouldn’t sleep. The three or four hours I would be in there, I would just cry over absolutely everything.
I was so sad. I was so angry. Why couldn’t I just suck it up and be a mother? Why did I have to be such a screw up? Why didn’t this come naturally to me like it does so many other woman?
After two and a half weeks of living in misery, I decided I needed help. I was in my bedroom crying, and normally I could pull myself together and stop. I would tell myself I needed to end the crying or I would get caught. But this day, I couldn’t stop. My chest was heaving. I felt like I was drowning in misery and it was all consuming. At this point, I was an emotional wreck. I still felt like I didn’t love her, but I was so emotionally messed up that I wasn’t even sure what love felt like anymore.
I honestly could not pinpoint emotion. I had no idea if I still loved my mum, or my dad, or even my cat! Before I did, but now? No idea.
So after not being able to stop crying, I made my way out to my mum who was baking in the kitchen. She looked at me and straight away dropped what she was doing to come over to me and ask what was wrong. I explained that I think something is wrong with me. I told her that I think I need to see a doctor because I can’t handle these feelings and I’m scared what will happen if I leave them to simmer any longer.
She said she knew that something was wrong. She told me that she could tell in my demeanour, and from several conversations we had had that I wasn’t my usual self. She said she was monitoring me and if she thought I was getting any worse, she was going to personally suggest I go see a doctor.
So that’s what I did. I saw a doctor the next day who referred me to a Psychologist. I saw him once a week for 11 weeks before I felt like I could handle it on my own from there.
Now Scarlett is 1 day shy of being 4 months old and things are so much better.
The psychologist let me in on several facts about post partum depression. It’s so much more common than I thought. It’s not your fault that you develop it. Some people, unfortunately, are more prone to it than others and the only way to get rid of it is therapy, time, acceptance, support, and sometimes medication (which I luckily avoided).
My Psychologist and I went over and over my feelings. He was very supportive and assured me that everything I was feeling was scary, but normal and common in mothers with post partum depression.
Let me add that although it took me 11 weeks to feel I didn’t need to see him anymore, there were times throughout that period where I felt like I could stop seeing him. Several times I almost called to cancel my appointments, but decided against it. Luckily, because another thing with post partum depression- introducing, mood swings.
One minute you might feel really good. Like, better than you have felt in a really long time, then as little as five minutes later, you will be walking to your room trying to contain your tears and fighting back loud sobs. Some days are better than others and some weeks make you want to crawl in a hole and never come out- but that’s all a part of PPD.
Unfortunately for me, I am very stubborn by nature and only sought out help once I was in a really bad place. And all things considered, I was extremely lucky. I had help in that of my mum and dad- especially my mum. I also never had suicidal thoughts like many other mums get. So in retrospect, I was lucky that I didn’t get it worse. For those mums that do/have had it worse, I am so, so sorry. Know one thing though, if you seek help, you will get through it.
I now know without a shadow of a doubt that I love Scarlett. It took me nearly three months to know for sure that I loved her, and my questioning my feelings for her stemmed from my hormone imbalance, from the PPD and from me being overwhelmed, but I got there in the end. Now I couldn’t imagine life without her and would never think of her as a mistake or ‘the worst mistake of my life’. She is quickly turning into my favourite person and I am so incredibly lucky to have her in my life. I am back to reading and enjoy it on a daily basis (even if I’m up until 2am reading, lol!). I enjoy socialising again now, and often find myself taking Scarlett to meet my friends.
Things are better. Trust me when I say this, it does get better. A little better at 6 weeks, then a little more than that at 3 months. Then better every day after that.
If you’re anything like me, when I was going through the worst of the PPD, time moved so slowly. I wished for her to be older and to get through all the really hard things. Thing is, once you get better and come out the other side of PPD, you will wish that time slows down. It goes so quickly, if you blink you will miss it.
I know from first hand experience it may not seem that way, but it’s true. PPD leads women to a dark place. For me, I wasn’t sure I would ever come out from it. I wasn’t sure if I would get emotion back, I wasn’t sure if I would ever love my baby, and I wasn’t sure that I would ever be the same person I was before.
I’m not the same person, I am someone better. Because I have lived through this milestone. I pushed through and worked really hard to overcome it. I have learned and gained a new experience (one I hope I never face again and wouldn’t wish upon anyone), but I also know that I am stronger for it. I know that if I do go through it again, I will be able to come through it like I did this time.
There is no shame in admitting you are having a hard time coping. There is no shame in seeking help. There is no shame in asking for help. There is no shame in admitting your feelings, because I guarantee you, you are not the first person to feel that way.
I am speaking up. I had post partum depression. I am not ashamed to admit it. I hope my story will help at least one person fight through their struggle. You are not alone.