Some stories we tell because they are funny. Some, we tell because they make us look good, or because they reveal something about who we are. Others, the less glamorous and entertaining ones, we share because somewhere in the telling there is healing. The story of my early days of motherhood falls into this category.
We brought my first daughter home from the hospital, perfect and glowing with the newness of it all. She was “easy” as babies go, no colic, slept as well as newborns sleep, and we quickly settled into a routine. It was good, but still the normal amount of hard. Nursing was surprisingly difficult and sleep deprivation mixed with a cesarean recovery took the normal toll on our household.
A month later I noticed a deep anger growing toward my husband. I lay awake between feedings, seething with his every snore. It never occurred to me that my anger was unfounded: He got to sleep, He got to wear his favorite jeans, He deserved all my rage.
My anger grew, each night my time spent dwelling on his apparent awfulness further justified my thoughts. Fuming turned to fantasizing about physically harming him. Night after night he slept, unaware that the woman next to him was lying awake raging over his existence.
I casually mentioned my anger to a friend who suggested I talk to my doctor. She had experienced something similar and was treated for postpartum depression. I was shocked. I wasn’t depressed! I was loving motherhood, loving my new baby, I just hated my husband — and who doesn’t on some level after giving birth?
At my next appointment I suggested to the nurse that I might have some slight spousal aggression. She seemed unfazed, so I decided not to bring it up with the doctor. My doctor walked in, eyes on the chart. “Is this you, Beth?” His eyes met mine. “It says here, ‘I want to punch my husband.'” I laughed, embarrassed, and fessed up.
The doctor explained to me that postpartum depression can manifest itself in a variety of ways, one of them being anger toward a spouse. He suggested I try an antidepressant and see if that eased my angst.
I finally confessed to my husband, and we decided together to forego medication. I had, after-all, passed the postpartum depression checklist with flying colors. I wanted to continue nursing, and we didn’t want the baby exposed to medication. My husband agreed to be my mental punching bag, and we chose to let it pass.
Within a week, what was a “non-issue” quickly snowballed into uncontrollable emotion. I became obsessive about my child’s safety. I mentally walked through every possible danger, each a graphic, traumatic movie playing in my head. I did not trust my husband with her, and soon didn’t trust myself.
I began to hear an audible voice chiding me to harm my daughter. Something terrifying and beyond my control was happening to me. While I knew I would never hurt anyone, especially my baby, I stood over her bed late one night hearing her cry, unable to tell if I was hurting her or even touching her. I had lost all ability to tell reality from the horrors in my mind.
That night I realized I needed help. After running from the room, I sat at the computer researching antidepressants and breastfeeding until the sun rose. I brought the studies to my husband, who, along with everyone else, had no idea the storm that had been ravaging my brain. I believed that if anyone knew, they would take away my baby. We decided together to request a medication that seemed to have the least breastmilk transfer, and I returned to my doctor.
Sitting in the office that day was simultaneously the scariest and bravest thing I have ever done. I clutched my baby, now nearly three months old, and sobbed. I couldn’t even get the words out, knowing in my heart I had lost my mind, and they don’t let crazy people keep babies. I praise God everyday for a doctor who took the time to really see me.
I began taking antidepressants and within weeks my world took on a different hue. My grasp on reality returned, and along with it so did I.
Today, in the midst of my third pregnancy, I am thankful for what I went through. I am more in-tune with my body, and quicker to offer grace. With each pregnancy I, along with my husband and my doctor, have been proactive about my mental health. I will never again hide my emotions out of fear or shame; the stakes are too high.
Studies suggest that nearly 1 in 5 women will suffer from a postpartum mood disorder. If you or someone you know is suffering silently after the birth of a child, here are some ways to start the healing process.
Get informed. If you aren’t sure about what you are feeling, the American Pregnancy Association has an extremely helpful list of symptoms.
Talk to your doctor or midwife. They are your first and best line of defense. If you do not feel like you are being heard or understood, get a second opinion.
Allow other women in. You will be surprised how many have shared your experience. Some, including your husband, may naturally never fully understand — despite their best intentions. There is power in community and healing in shared pain.
Do not hide in shame or fear. Having difficulty postpartum is far more common than we like to admit, your honesty may be the key to your own or someone else’s freedom.
You are not alone.