In the hospital, I thought I loved my baby. I thought I wanted to bring him home and be his mother. Then I got home and my thoughts drastically changed. I wanted nothing to do with my new son. I decided I had made a terrible mistake becoming a mother.
With these new, irrational thoughts came a feeling of heaviness on my chest as if an elephant had all of a sudden taken up residence there. I couldn’t breathe. The feeling creeped into my throat. It woke me up at three am every morning. It exhausted me to the point where all I wanted to do was sleep forever yet I could never fall asleep because the anxiety made my heart feel as if it would leap out of my chest.
What was happening to me? Why do I feel this way? Where did this overwhelming anxiety come from? Why won’t the tears stop? Why don’t I want to get out of my bed when there is a healthy, beautiful baby boy in the next room who needs his mother? How do I make it all stop?
Tell me exactly what to do. I will do it. Drugs? I will take them. Talk to someone? Okay fine. Just promise me, it will all stop. Promise me I will feel better. Promise me I will feel connected to my son. Promise me motherhood will be filled with all the love and magic and excitement, Pinterest crafts and rainbows and unicorns I had pictured when I was pregnant.
If only it could be that simple. As I write this (and if any mom who is suffering is reading this), I wish I could tell you that there is a magical formula. That if you do X, Y, and Z, you will be better. That there is a set amount of time before you will start to feel like your old self again. But I can’t. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to postpartum depression. The treatment and recovery process should be taken one day at a time and no two are alike.
When I was in the throes of my postpartum depression battle I was lucky to find a therapist who specialized in postpartum mood disorders right away, but every week when I sat on that faded red love seat in her office, all I could focus on was when I would feel like myself again. I wanted to know exactly when I would feel happy again and what I had to do to get there.
Every week, my therapist would tell me the feelings were temporary. She had the proof in hundreds of former patients she treated with the same illness I had. Some took three months. Some six months. Others more than a year. I always thought she was lying. I felt like I would stay in that awful hell forever, so if I was going to get better, it needed to happen in the next five minutes.
All I could do was have patience, (which has never been my strength). The phrase I remember my own mom yelling at me most throughout my childhood was, “JENNIFER, BE PATIENT!” As cliché as it to tell someone to “be patient” and “give it time,” it’s also the truth when it comes to fighting postpartum depression and getting through to the other side. Slowly, the right medication started to work and I began having more good days than bad.
Then after several good days, I would relapse back into that helpless girl overcome by tears and anxiety who couldn’t get out of bed and function like a human, like a mother. Even though my therapist warned me this could happen, I would get frustrated and forget about all the good days that came before. I needed to be better NOW.
But that’s the thing about this mental illness that affects hundreds of thousands of new moms each year. It doesn’t stick to any pattern. It doesn’t follow any rules. The only thing you can do is hang in there while following your treatment plan, because postpartum depression is temporary with treatment. I wish I could tell you how temporary, but all I can honestly say is that it’s a marathon, not a sprint. I’m now included in the proof my therapist uses when a new mom comes to see her for the first time. I got better running the marathon and I’m a stronger, more patient, and one-hell of a badass mother for it.