“I don’t want to be a mom anymore!” I sobbed into his consoling, non-judgmental embrace four days after our daughter was born.
What I wanted was a team of experts to stampede into my room and whisk her, and all her encroaching necessities, out of my house and life so that I could sleep for a month and then resume my life pre-pregnancy style. What happened instead was the beginning of an unimaginable two-year struggle to climb out of an abyss of self-loathing and unbearable hopelessness.
Of course I was familiar with the term “post-partum depression.” All the pregnancy books wrote about it and it was something my mid-wife and I briefly covered during one of our visits. I knew the symptoms, but what I didn’t recognize was how they felt and how they could happen to me, someone who was having a textbook pregnancy. Never mind that the word I exclaimed when I found out I was pregnant only included four letters. Never mind that I couldn’t bear the thought of shopping for diapers or sleepers … and definitely never mind that throughout the nine months of supposed glowing bliss, I frequently questioned my decision to have our baby. Ambivalence was putting it mildly.
At first I thought I just had the baby blues—extreme fatigue, foggy brain, easy to cry, etc. I should have been tipped off by the unusual symptoms such as not liking “that baby smell” and dreading spending the day caring for my daughter. I didn’t know how to gauge what was normal and what wasn’t because I didn’t have any other mom friends I felt I could confide in. Even while under the guidance of my mid-wife six weeks post-partum, neither one of us had a clue.
I don’t know how I faked it for two months. I suppose I thought that dread and anxiety were normal emotions associated with motherhood. At least daily I looked out our front window, watching people drive by, and thinking how so very lucky they were to not be stuck in the house with an infant, how fortunate they were to be free.
One particular day while out walking with a couple of fellow moms, one of them exclaimed with pride that, despite the fatigue and uncertainty of this new role, we loved our jobs! I thought about how effortless it sounded, how she smiled with assurance and that I would have choked on those words if I had to say them. I didn’t love my job! Yes, there were moments that I was able to appreciate my role, but I was basically going through the motions of feeding, holding and playing with her. I could say with the same assurance that I hated my job! I’m not sure which was more crippling—my shame at admitting this, or keeping it a secret from everyone else.
After putting my daughter down for a nap one day (I vividly remember it was a Friday), I lay down myself, sighing with relief that I was not going to have to fake it at least for anther hour, when not ten minutes later I woke with a start. Every nerve in my body was frozen with tension and my mind wouldn’t stop racing with thoughts that I didn’t want this role anymore … I didn’t love my job! I forced myself to put one foot in front of the other, just far enough to walk into Tom’s home office and ask what a nervous breakdown felt like, because surely I was having one. I was terrified, I didn’t know what was happening to my body, and I felt as if I’d lost control of my mind. I knew that I couldn’t keep it all inside me anymore, someone had to know, someone had to do something about it and someone had to take it (whatever it was) away, now!
Twenty-four hours later I was officially diagnosed with PPD and harboring a bottle of anti-depressants in my purse. I finally knew I was sick … I knew that I was desperate enough to take the medication and I even reconciled, although barely, that I would have to give up breastfeeding my daughter for my own betterment. But what happens next? Take the drugs and hope for the best? Stay hidden under my bedclothes until my daughter turns eighteen and moves out? Was I going to spend the rest of my life denying that I was her mother? What about my vision of being the perfect Earth Mother? How was I going to live up to society’s expectations, let alone my own?
I would answer these excruciating questions over many months of counseling and under the supervision of expert hospital staff. I would learn that my own shame of feeling everything that was completely opposite to a loving mother was minimal compared to society’s stamp of shame on this and all other mental illnesses. I would finally know my own “rock bottom” … and I would learn to climb out of it with the help of everyone else’s faith but my own.