Things were different with my first baby.
I remember coming home from the hospital feeling like I was on Cloud 9. Everyone that came to visit commented on how great I looked and how adorable the baby was. They brought food, they helped out around the house and they checked in. I couldn’t believe how much love we were surrounded by. Breastfeeding was tricky for only the first couple of days, but my midwives/lactation consultants, were lifesavers.
My mom and husband took a month off of work and were there every day. Friends dropped by for weeks and held the baby while I napped and showered. My baby even ended up sleeping through the night by three months. My healing went pretty smoothly and I felt back to normal within four weeks.
I had never felt a love like the love I felt for my new baby. I honestly couldn’t think of a better time in my entire life.
So when I got pregnant with baby number two, I expected it to be the same.
My pregnancies with both babies had been horrendous. I had Hyperemesis Gravidarum with both and had been hospitalized numerous times to get IV drips for dehydration. But I assumed after all of that was over and I had baby number two in my arms, it would all go back to the blissfulness I felt with baby #1.
After I gave birth and they handed me baby #2, I felt that same rush of adoration, that same feeling of unconditional love.
So, when I got home from the hospital and the doorbell barely rang, and no one brought food, and I could barely walk after the 36-hour labour, I didn’t know what to think.
On the third day home, my basement flooded at about the same time that my milk came in. I remember sitting there with my boobs hanging out, trying to get my new baby to latch and simultaneously trying to feed my toddler with the other arm, while she was throwing a temper tantrum.
I felt so alone.
My husband was there, and he was amazing, but he was busy dealing with the flood. My dad came over to help with the basement and he said “Hey hun, how are you feeling?” and I burst into tears- full on, body- writhing sobs that I couldn’t explain. But I figured ‘This is normal, this is the baby blues, right?’
I remember the immense pain in my vagina and bum for up to nine weeks post-delivery, to the point that it hurt to sit or walk. The idea of going to the bathroom filled me with dread. And now my toddler had finally realized this baby wasn’t going anywhere and the jealousy had set in. My perfect child, who had never had a temper tantrum in her life, settled into the terrible two’s and now I had to take care of a crying baby and a screaming toddler.
My mother couldn’t take off that much time this time, just a few days, and my friends didn’t come over to give me time to myself because they all thought, ‘Oh she’s done this before, she knows what she’s doing.’ The few people that did come were only there to see the baby, and nobody asked me if I was doing okay.
There were so many tears.
But then those tears just kept coming. Every day, about everything. I turned into a blurry, teary-eyed, incoherent mess. What was happening to me? I remember looking up the symptoms, scouring the blogs, the message boards and seeing it over and over again. Woman who had the same feelings, the same thoughts, the same stories.
Postpartum Depression (PPD). ‘But there’s no way I could have that!’ I thought to myself.
I had that same unconditional feeling of love for my new baby as I did with the first. I couldn’t believe I had two perfect little beings in my life.
But then there was the sadness, the anger, the anxiety and the feeling of needing to escape. How could this be? I had always believed that women who got PPD were ones that suffered from depression before having babies. They were the ones that didn’t love their babies. The ones that thought about suicide. I didn’t have any of those thoughts. But there was just so much darkness and it was becoming overwhelming.
I remember desperately wanting social interaction. I was once the social butterfly of my group of friends.
But I would make plans, get ready to go, and realize that none of my clothes fit me properly anymore, my hair was falling out from the postpartum hormones, and the bags under my eyes from sleep deprivation couldn’t even be hidden with makeup.
The anxiety would hit me hard and fierce. I had nothing to even talk about with my friends except about babies and none of them had kids. I was going to be the boring one. I would quickly make up an excuse about the baby so I could cancel and loop myself back into the cycle of loneliness.
I watched my friends, excelling in their careers, travelling to exotic locations, looking cute in the newest fashions.
And here I was nursing, sleep training, and squashing food. I felt bitter and resentful.
‘What was wrong with me?’ I thought. I chose this life. I wanted to be a mom. I wanted to have two kids. So why did I want to hide under my blankets and feel the need to escape and never come out all at once?
And so, I kept reading over those symptoms repeatedly because it can be hard to differentiate between PPD and the baby blues. They share so many similar symptoms. Mood swings, crying spells, sadness, insomnia, and irritability. But the baby blues are short term; they gradually decrease, and they usually only last a couple of weeks and then go away on there own.
But PPD had many more symptoms: feeling worthless, hopeless, experiencing feelings of guilt, difficulty bonding with your baby, losing interest in things you used to enjoy, withdrawing from others, trouble concentrating, loss or gain of appetite, insomnia or sleeping too much, overwhelming fatigue or loss of energy, fear that you’re not a good mother. It can even turn into Postpartum Psychosis, where you develop severe anxiety and panic attacks, and have thoughts of harming your baby, and/or recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.
In fact, when you Google PPD, the first thing you’ll see is that it is very common: more than 3 million U.S. cases per year. The Canadian rate has been estimated that anywhere from 6% to 15% of mothers experience PPD. And those are just the cases that have been reported or diagnosed properly. I suspect that the true numbers are much higher. You don’t have to experience all the above symptoms to have PPD. If you experience any of these symptoms for two weeks or more, reach out. Get help. You deserve help.
I remember still trying to bury it deep inside and then my husband sat me down and asked me “Do you think maybe you have PPD?” It was a relief, after trying to hide it even from myself for months, for someone to tell me that they noticed the change in me.
This wasn’t me. Something was different. And my husband supported me in every way that he could, whether it was just listening to me or telling me I was doing a wonderful job as a mother. It was what I needed; it was him that drove me to the doctor where I said those words for the first time out loud.
“I think I have PPD.”
Even just saying those words out loud made me realize something was happening to me beyond my control. This was not my fault, and I immediately felt a small weight being lifted off my shoulders. It took a while. There were still a lot of moments of wanting to escape, but with the support of my amazing husband, the darkness slowly began to fade.
I sadly didn’t find that my doctor helped me get past my PPD, she gave me a card of someone I could talk to, but there wasn’t any follow up. I found that I really needed to search to find resources that could help. I researched how other moms had used physical activity like postpartum yoga and meditation to slowly get back to feeling like themselves again or temporarily using anti-depressants.
It’s been about a year since I felt the grips of PPD release their hold on me. I look at my son and daughter now, and hear their happy laughs, see their curly black mops of hair, and look at their chubby hands that always reach for me and can’t believe that I ever thought about running away.
What I needed was compassion for myself. Becoming a mother is the craziest transition you will ever have to make. Your life is forever changed and there is no way to prepare yourself for it. The postpartum period is the hardest period a woman will ever have to go through.
There is a stigma attached to PPD, that if you have it, you don’t love your children, or you think abut hurting them or yourself, but from what I experienced, that is not the case. When I share this story with other moms, the one thing I am most surprised with is the admission that they went through the same thing. Some of them tell me their stories and it is the first time they’ve ever uttered those words out loud because they felt ashamed at the time.
You can hear the relief in their voice at finally being able to talk about it, and how proud they are that they were able to get through it. This is not something women should be ashamed of. You’re not alone. This is something that affects women because of their hormones. It is out of our control.
But there is help. Please go to your doctor, fill that prescription, get that counselling and talk about how you’re feeling. Ask your friends how they are doing after having a baby and listen; really listen. There is light at the end of the tunnel; you just might need some help reaching it.