This sucks but listen, you gotta get with the program. You really do. So many people want to have babies and can't. And so many new parents adjust so well! And there you are, moping about, thinking how strangely horrible this is and feeling guilty about thinking this way. Look at this beautiful baby! Look at her. With her round cheeks and fat arms and bean-shaped belly, how can you possibly be blue? But you are. Always so ungrateful. You ungrateful, unloving monster. A failed parent -- no, a failed human being!
Oh, hello, postpartum brain. I remember you. We used to talk a lot, if you call that talking, because for me it was more like some satanic hum in the back of my head as I tried to keep a happy face and pretend that everything was okay. And in fact, mostly everything was okay. And the brain talked to me that way only occasionally, but when it would, boy did it ever resemble something out of a horror movie.
I remember lying on the operating table and the doctor bringing over the brand-new infant for me to see. The happiness over this event was so large that it seemed to erupt inside me, breaking through every single wall I've ever built to be tough and composed. Seeing that tiny, slimy being was so incredibly powerful -- the realization that this was an actual person, "my" person -- that it razed through any doubt about the point of my own existence. This is not to say that only children make one feel fulfilled -- not at all! -- but in that moment, that was it for me. I cried so hard that the doctors had to tell me to calm down; they were still putting me back together behind the green sheet (C-section). The next day, when I woke up (after a morphine night of in-and-out exhaustion and bliss) and I saw that tiny, red face in the see-through bin beside my bed, I had the most incredible feeling of connectedness. From that moment on, or from the moment I first saw him, I felt euphoric.
And then I fell all the way down. Or not fell down, but I was stuck between soaring high and crashing. I was still feeling the euphoria, but it was getting difficult to maintain it (and I wanted to maintain it -- it was like the most powerful drug that makes you chase its high the first time you take a hit). And there was suddenly so much time. And so much routine. And so much unknown. I found that I could do OK with learning all the new parent things about baby care, and there I was: a brave, confident mother. But routine and time killed me. I couldn't maintain a routine. Nothing ever turned out as planned and there was so much time that seemed to stretch infinitely before me that I was completely baffled as to how to keep myself occupied (while caring for an infant). This was making me sad and anxious. And while all that was going on, I felt like the world wanted me to keep a happy face because isn't a new baby just the greatest thing? It is.
There's a lot of information out there about postpartum depression. It can be brought on by a combination of things -- usually hormones, but also traumatic pregnancy (or birth), difficult circumstances, and so on. It can happen to both women and men. Like any other form of depression, it may come on suddenly (right after birth, or up to a year later) and it's circular in the way that you may very well be aware of being depressed and feeling guilty about it (see the conversation between me and my brain), but you can't see the way to get out. And the deeper you get into it, the harder it gets to maintain the happy face. And if you're similar to me, you end up doing harmful things to change the way you feel.
From talking to some parents (and believe me, it's not a topic that comes up often -- it's still hugely taboo to bring it up), I know those harmful things can be anything from obsessive shopping (I maxed out my credit cards on regular basis) to eating to using substances. It can also be just sitting on the couch and watching TV shows in the middle of the night (hello, over here). It can be not leaving the house much (ahem). And add in those thoughts, those awful, ugly thoughts...
Despite the fact that there may be a lot of information, postpartum depression remains a tricky subject to talk about. I'm having a tricky time right now. Do I really want to out myself with this stuff? (Ok, I just did.) I mean, I'm so hesitant to bring it up because I've had people say to me things like, "Well you shouldn't have another child because you had such a bad time." And it's true that I had a bad time, even though I was so freakin' happy. I don't want another child at the moment, but I hate the fact that I'm made to feel like a leper because I didn't fit the idea of what motherhood is supposed to look like. But the truth is that there's no such thing as "supposed to look like" with parenthood.
I was thinking of finishing this up nicely for you and telling you how much better things are now, but I don't take anything for granted anymore, so who knows if they are. Plus I'm kind of over believing that I have to fit a certain mould, whether it comes to parenthood or even writing this post here, wrapping it all prettily with a bow and shit like that. The only thing I do want to say is that if you're struggling, if you're not having a great time, tell someone right away -- your general practitioner, your sibling, your closest friend or another new parent. Whatever difficulty you're going through as a new parent, don't be quiet about it. And if it ever comes up in the future, well, just wear your experience and flaws proudly -- there's nothing more boring and predictable than perfection.
Originally published on they don't tell you