The Baby Blues...or Postpartum Depression?
My husband and I went to our neighborhood teashop when I was 8 months pregnant one Saturday afternoon. While sipping my tea, I spotted actress and author Brooke Shields with her two young daughters. The youngest daughter, seeing my enormous belly, came barreling toward me. She placed her hand on my belly and smiled brightly. Brooke apologized for her daughter’s boldness and congratulated us on the big change that awaited us.
For a split second, I allowed myself to go there. Is this some sort of a sign?
Brooke’s name had been in the headlines the past year. Her book Down Came the Rain: My Journey through Postpartum Depression had been met with much debate. Since there were few well-known public figures talking about postpartum depression, she became a sort of spokesperson for the illness.
I pushed the thought aside and continued to make small talk with her about my due date and all the preparations we were making for the arrival of our baby girl. Before leaving, she gave me a hug and wished me luck on my motherhood adventure.
After our daughter was born, unexpected and overwhelming feelings of sadness knocked me right off my feet. Exhaustion, joy, infatuation, and worry all vied for valuable real estate within my shrinking body. I didn’t know what had hit me. I spent hours swimming in sadness.
By contrast, I would describe the stage of pregnancy as idyllic. Thankfully, I did not suffer from morning sickness or other complications and had a relatively straightforward delivery. But like so many women, I had been fed incomplete and unrealistic pictures of what those first few months of motherhood would be like.
Yes, I was warned that there would be sleepless nights and yes, I understood there would be a little human being whose survival depended on my ability to keep her alive. But did anyone ever explain the shift in hormones that could pummel you through a darkness that you could neither recognize nor reconcile with the simultaneous love and excitement you felt with your new baby? For me, the answer was definitely no.
While I felt joyous moments, many were followed by low-level emotions. Am I really good enough to be this baby’s mother? What if I screw up? When I confided such despair to my mother, she shrugged and said, “This is it, my daughter. This is it.” I shudder even now at the thought of that revelation.
By that statement, she probably meant, get used to it, girl. Over time, I learned then that ‘it’ wasn’t going to be all black-and-white photo shoots at the beach and energetic stroller rides with newfound mom friends.
At my first OB/GYN appointment, my doctor asked how things were going. I burst into tears and explained that I was constantly crying and despondent. I told her that for no reason at all, I would sob all morning long and want nothing more than to curl up into a ball, with my new baby in my arms, and weep until we were both soundly asleep.
“Looks like you have a touch of the baby blues, that’s all,” she said. She assured me that I would be fine. I pulled myself together and replied, “When it will stop?”
“Go get yourself a cup of coffee and take a nice long walk. You’ll feel better in a few weeks,” she responded.
Whether I had suffered from postpartum depression or just normal feelings of sadness characterized as a benign form of baby blues, I was ill prepared for handling the emotional landscape of motherhood.
I had known little of postpartum depression prior to giving birth. In all the stacks of pregnancy and child-rearing books that rested on my bedside table, not one single book touched on these feelings of despair and sadness that may follow delivery. From what little information I had ascertained, postpartum depression had to do with feeling “disconnected” from your baby. And I could definitely not relate to that definition. On the contrary, I felt so connected to my daughter that I was unsure of where she began or where I ended. We were one being, sharing every moment of the long, repetitive day together.
About six months after giving birth, a fellow mom from one of the baby classes casually mentioned that she felt she was finally coming out of her postpartum depression. Hearing those words resonated with me. I, too, was emerging from the haze and began to understand how strong a grip those biochemical-induced emotions had on me for the first few months of motherhood.
Though it has been several years, I hope that within the canon of pre-baby literature, there now exists information around the mother’s emotional state post-delivery – whether it’s just the “baby blues” or a more serious illness.
Did you suffer from the baby blues or postpartum depression? What were some things that helped you cope?
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