When my son was three months old, a woman at my childhood church looked lovingly at me and said, "Isn't it just wonderful? Could you ever even imagine loving anything or anyone as much as you love him?" I cannot remember how I responded to her question, or if I even did. Inside I thought, "Well, I actually can. Because, I do not love him." Her comment, made in kindness, absolutely tore me into pieces. I was on a therapist prescribed vacation, seeking relief from my postpartum depression.
When the world around us paints such a lovely picture of newborn love, it is difficult to know what to do when your life is not fitting that picture. When I was eight months pregnant, a man told me not to be surprised if I do not love my baby right off; he said it took time for him to gain love for his own children. I casually brushed off his comment, because he was male. All of the women I knew seemed to cry tears of joy and happiness and feel this overwhelming bond with their baby the moment the newborn is laid on their chest.
After a long and difficult labor, my son was placed on my bare chest. I did not cry. I actually felt nothing. I did not know it was possible to be so completely numb, everywhere. Over the next few days, I allowed countless people to hold my baby and I even let him sleep in the nursery - both things I swore I would not do. Every time someone handed my son to me to nurse him, my heart filled with anxiety, fear, and animosity. He was hurting me. He had hurt me for 41 long weeks and for something like 20 hours in labor. Now he was hurting me again. I did not voice any of my feelings. I thought they would go away with time.
I had my first postpartum anxiety attack when I arrived home. I had asked my family to clean my apartment before I came home but when I walked through the door, it was messier than I had ever seen it. As if this was not enough, my massive Dalmatian puppy leapt excitedly onto my very sore body. The overwhelming feeling of failure and fear of my future literally took over my body. I became a sobbing mess of emotions.
After a week, my mother and father returned to their home nearly 2,000 miles away. The day after they left, my husband returned to work. I was alone with a baby who I did not want to look at, let alone diaper and feed. No one knew. Days and weeks went by. The baby would cry and I would cry. The baby would scream, and I would scream. I was doing it though; I was keeping him alive. And so I kept on being miserable. I was barely eating and I only pulled myself off the couch to go on a walk with my neighbor once a day. My husband had requested that she would walk our dog while I pushed the stroller.
Every day, I would try to get my baby to take a nap. He would cry, I would cry, and eventually I would yell at him. I would look at him and yell things like, "Why don't you just shut up?" "Stop crying! Just Stop! I hate it!" "Why are you doing this to me?!" Then I would cry more because I hated my baby, this innocent baby who really did nothing to deserve hate. And so, I proceeded to hate myself. I knew this could not be "normal" but I did not know whom to tell. I could not tell my husband that I did not love our child, I could not tell my mom, and I felt like I had no friends. As time progressed, death became appealing to me. I thought it would be better for everyone if I was killed in a car crash, or got some terminal illness that would take me out quickly. During my fourth week postpartum, I hit rock bottom. During our usual nap routine… I thought to myself, "If I put this blanket over his face, he will stop crying."
Somewhere in my mind, I remembered the advice to leave babies in a safe place while you take time to calm down. I managed to place him in his crib and walk out of his room. I did not know what was going to happen. I was scared to tell anyone, my head filled with anxiety as I wondered if someone would report me to child services. I had not actually done anything, but I thought it. Would they take my baby away? Would that be better for him? After much contemplation, I called my university's counseling center and made an appointment for the next week.
The hardest thing I had to do was tell my husband, who I rarely spoke to anymore, about the thought I had. I needed him to understand that he had to care for our baby more because I was not capable of doing it anymore. He started coming home from work early so that I was able to take time away from the house. I resumed my university education and I contacted my employer and returned to work at five weeks postpartum, just for two hours a day. I also began therapy that continued for eight long months.
I still remember the first time I felt love for my son. He was five months old, and the feeling surprised me. It has not been an easy journey; however, it has been over a year since his birth and I now understand what that dear, sweet woman meant. I never could have imagined loving my son the way that I do. The love between a mother and her child is truly indescribable. I am still working on trying to rid myself of the feelings of guilt and failure that I have regarding his first few months of life. I would be lying if I said the thought of ever having another baby does not fill me with fear and anxiety. But I do know the signs now, and I know the resources available to me.
Postpartum depression/anxiety/OCD/psychosis looks different in every woman. For more information on common symptoms you can visit Postpartum Progress. It is never too early to seek help. I wonder what would have happened if I had just told my mom how I felt, if I asked her not to leave. I wonder what may have happened in the hospital if I told my midwife that something was wrong. I don't want anyone else to have to wonder, to live in misery, or in guilt. That is why I am sharing my story here. You are not alone. This video from Postpartum Progress can help you see that, too.
If you are concerned about your emotional well-being, you can contact us at Help Me Grow to connect with a Parent Support Specialist. We offer a free screening for postpartum emotional well-being and can also help connect you to information and resources such as therapy or support groups.
The international hotline for postpartum depression is 1-800-944-4PPD(773).
Online resources are also available.