I used to wander around in a newborn fog and wonder why it seemed so easy for everyone else. Why does that mom look so put together? Why does that baby not cry? Why does that dad help out without being asked? How is that mom so happy?
The transformation into a mother wasn’t magical for me. I felt alone, unwanted, and insecure. I didn’t feel like myself. The birth of my son didn’t go like I thought it would. As I cried along with my baby at three in the morning, I would say to myself, I wasn’t ready for this. Albeit, it was a bit too late for that self-realization.
I couldn’t understand why it came so easy for everyone else. It seemed effortless: the cute family, the clean house, the happy marriage. I wanted all those things. I wanted them all so bad it made my stomach hurt–and I had them from the outside looking in.
But within me was turmoil.
I thought, this is just what becoming a mom is like. I mean, I didn’t have anything to compare it to since I was a first-time mom. I knew to expect being tired, but I didn’t expect the wave of exhaustion that pushed me under. I knew babies cried, but I didn’t know it would take me quite a while to differentiate between what all the cries meant. I thought breastfeeding would be easy-peasy and natural, but it wasn’t.
I didn’t know that not being able to sleep while my baby slept was a sign of severe postpartum anxiety. I thought all moms were nervous and my jitters were A-OK.
On Sunday evenings, I would cry in the shower knowing my husband would be headed to work early the next morning, and I would be on my own for the next five or six days.
I would be fully responsible for keeping my baby alive, I had no family nearby to help, and it overwhelmed me to the point of tears.
Many days my head would hit the pillow at night before I realized I hadn’t eaten a single thing all day. Too focused on scheduling my day around the new tiny human in my house, I lost the bearings on my own life.
I retreated inside myself and inside the walls of my home. I felt like if I stayed home, then I could control everything. What time the baby slept, how much he ate, what germs he was exposed to. I declined playdate offers. I lost sleep over an appointment scheduled during a normal nap time. I slept every time my baby took a nap–one, two, even three naps a day. I let the dishes pile up in the kitchen sink each day. I could see them and I knew they needed to be washed, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I didn’t have the energy or the mental space.
It was not.
My biggest regret as a mother is not reaching out for the help I needed postpartum.
I don’t write this looking for pity–I write this to hopefully make another new mom feel less alone.
I’m grateful for the awareness that is being brought to postpartum anxiety and depression in moms. It’s more talked about now than it was 20, 10, and even 5 years ago. But more can always be done. I needed more than a one-page questionnaire at my one postpartum checkup at six weeks. I needed more than a sheet asking “Do you have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby?” at my son’s pediatrician. I never had a single thought of harming myself or my child.
When I say the thought never crossed my mind, I really mean it. So I thought that meant I didn’t have postpartum depression. I wasn’t considering ending my life, so I didn’t qualify as needing intervention.
But I did.
I needed more than, “Oh, he will sleep eventually” or “You’ll miss these days!” These comments, although well-meaning, would slice me to my core. They always left me pondering: Am I not a good mother because I’m not enjoying this? Will I grow up to resent my child because of this? Will my kid love me when they find out these things?
I constantly wondered, Why am I not enough?
I wasn’t enough of myself. I didn’t find joy in anything I did pre-kid. I couldn’t muster the energy to even leave the house. I wasn’t enough of a wife. My husband worked long hours, and I resented him. I didn’t communicate with him. He didn’t know the turmoil that was inside my head, and I lashed out often. He deserved better.
I wasn’t enough of a mom. I didn’t take my kid to many places for fear of being off schedule and that would result in him not sleeping at night. I needed him to sleep because I needed sleep. I needed more sleep than I ever had before. Even if I got 12 hours in a night I woke up still feeling exhausted.
Becoming a mom was overwhelming. I felt like I was drowning.
It’s also been the best thing to happen to me.
It took me until my son was about 15 months old to feel like myself again. I’m not kidding when I say I woke up one day and the fog was gone. I got up that day and the dishes didn’t send me into tears. My son’s crying didn’t make me quiver. Pulling out the vacuum to clean the floors didn’t overwhelm me. My husband came home, and I was happy to see him, not angry that he had been gone all day. I don’t know what flipped the switch for me, but I am so very glad something did.
I wish I would’ve spoken up about how I was feeling. I truly thought that since I couldn’t check off the “postpartum depression suicidal box,” I was fine—when in reality I wasn’t.
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Postpartum anxiety and depression can take many forms. We need more thorough mental health checks during the postpartum period. We need to speak up without fearing shame and ridicule. We need more resources for new moms to show them there isn’t a normal. We need support. We need more than the comment, “It’ll get better. This will pass.”
I’m not sure what pulled me out of the hole I was in after my son was born.
Prayer, desperation, a change in life pace–I don’t know. But I wish I would’ve gotten the help I desperately needed sooner. I was ready the second time when my baby girl came around. I didn’t feel myself sinking initially after I brought her home, but a few months in (thanks to COVID-19 and isolation) I could feel it beginning to happen. I knew what warning signs to look for in myself, and I knew what to vocalize to the people in my corner thanks to therapy.
I wasn’t afraid to ask for help the second time around and that made all the difference.
New moms need more than cute baby clothes and someone offering to hold their baby. Postpartum can be awful. Help be the one who puts out the fire. Don’t be the one commenting about their parenting when you have no idea what’s going on within their lives and home.
New mama, speak up when you feel isolated, scared, anxious, and sad.
Find someone you trust. Make sure they’re in your corner and reach out to them even if you feel ashamed, vulnerable, or stupid. I can assure you, you aren’t alone in whatever you are feeling, there is another mom out there wondering the same things you are.
Postpartum doesn’t last forever. Things do get better, but it might require speaking up and reaching out for help. Please don’t suffer in emotional turmoil like I did for months on end.
Mama, you are enough. You always have been.