I think that one reason that it’s hard to detect postpartum is that the arrival of a new baby to any family creates a new normal. Particularly for first time mothers and fathers, the lore of how a child changes your life is chilling. Mothers and fathers tell you about how you’ll never sleep again, they tell stories of blow-outs, horrifying travel tales, terrifying trips to the hospital – it doesn’t end. Each phase of your new child’s life will be fraught with new types of exhaustion and challenges. Or so they say.
When you’ve been loaded up with these terrible stories, how are you supposed to see the signs of postpartum depression? You expect to be sleep deprived for life. You expect to be in a hopeless grind, wearily wondering if this is all life is now. Extracting actual depression from new parent myths seems impossible.
The only thing I knew was that if I had depression, I would just cry every day, right?
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
The first sign of my postpartum depression was actually anger. It was red hot, intense and overblown anger. I was angry with one of my family members…all the time. It didn’t matter what she did, it made me mad. It didn’t just irritate me – it infuriated me. Gone was my empathy, my perspective. I was no longer able to see her efforts for what they were – a woman just trying to help me with my new baby.
Somehow, by some errant search on Google (seriously…what did new mothers do before Google?), I saw that irritability, rage or anger was a symptom of postpartum depression.
Who knew…that you could blame not liking your family members on postpartum depression?
All kidding aside, this triggered a realization that I might actually have postpartum depression. Once we got me set back up with the therapist that I had seen briefly during my prenatal depression, I was actually able to see the full spectrum of my symptoms.
I never shed a tear. I was totally numb – I would confide in my husband that I felt like a sociopath.
I was sleeping 10 – 12 hours a night. My husband agreed to take all night shifts and would dutifully get up to feed Little Buddy every night at 3AM. I would still wake up at 730 or 8 and feel utterly exhausted.
I had no energy to do anything but go to work. Some days going to work was insurmountable.
When I could work, it took me two or three times as long to perform my work because I had difficulty focusing. I felt like my brain was in a fog.
I struggled to recall information and details.
On the worst days, I felt simply hopeless. I saw my life as an endless grind, devoid of joy. I couldn’t remember what joy felt like. How did it feel to be happy? I knew intellectually that I had felt happy at one point…but remembering those feelings seemed just outside my grasp.
I felt extreme anxiety when faced with the thought of being alone with Little Buddy. My husband’s job required frequent travel and I remembered telling him that I just couldn’t handle the travel and we were going to have to come up with an alternative solution, even if it meant jeopardizing his career. I called him one day while on maternity leave, begging him to come home and go to a doctor’s appointment with him because I couldn’t fathom driving to the doctor alone with Little Buddy. Simple tasks became an unfathomable jumble of impossible logistics.
Was this my life now? I was struck by the thought that this was the first time that I had made a mistake that I couldn’t take back.
Certainly some of the those feelings pointed me in the direction of depression – but given that I had never had a child before, and all the horror stories that other parents had filled me with, doesn’t it seem plausible that this could indeed just be the way life was going to be? With the chaos of my new life, I hadn’t even realized that I was just a shell of my former self. It wasn’t until I was on the mend that I even realized that my old self had been gone.
What I couldn’t reconcile with was the fact that I had no connection to my son. I felt some need to protect him, but that was it.
Connection still remains a difficult thing for me. I am appreciating my baby more. I like him. Love is still an elusive emotion though. It feels too strong. But that’s OK. I tend to compartmentalize my emotions and am certainly not a baby person. Given that I seek intellectual and analytical connections with people, it makes sense that I would struggle to connect with a baby – even one that is my own. I don’t push it or feel guilty. I just am allowing time to move us through.
Someone asked me if it was all worth it. It’s a loaded question. The answer is no…but I think it will be in the future. Now that I’m getting treatment, I don’t feel like this has ruined my life.
My symptoms are not the only symptoms of postpartum depression. Here’s a great resource. Even if you only have one or two of the symptoms, you could have postpartum depression. Of course, as I’ve stated, I am not a doctor, so please speak with someone if you have one or more of the symptoms.