An After-The-Birth Story from Colette Sanborn

February 8, 2012

Crocheted hearts by Sabahnur.

I have read countless birth stories and spoken to plenty of new mothers and each time, I am scanning the page or scanning their eyes in hopes of finding a story like mine. One that isn’t beautiful or precious or ends with a picture of a blissful mother cradling her child. And not one where the child is unhealthy or, God forbid, doesn’t survive. I am looking for the one where the baby is perfect, the delivery was textbook and yet the mother holds her new baby in her arms and feels…nothing.

Let me back up. I struggled for over a year to get pregnant, finally turning to IVF. I was very lucky and got pregnant on my first try. My pregnancy was the absolute best time of my life. I was healthy the whole time, rarely tired and stayed active. Years of struggling with my body image and appearance gave way to a feeling of absolute peace with myself. I felt beautiful for the first time in my life. A life where I often hated even looking at myself in the mirror was replaced with one where strangers were complimenting me on the street!

The world just rose up to greet me, in so many ways. I loved having my belly touched (I know so many don’t!), I loved discussing my due date, baby’s gender, name choices…you name it, there wasn’t any intrusion into my personal life that I resented. I was so proud, so excited to bring a baby into this world that was so full of loving people.

At 2am on December 15th, I started having contractions. I had been working a night shift the evening before, so I had only gone to bed a couple hours before. What I didn’t realize at the time was that that was the last time I would so much as shut my eyes for the next 48 hours, a fact that I think played a major part in what was to follow. I labored at home for a little more than a day (after being sent home on my first attempt to be admitted) but I was blindsided by back labor, which made it impossible to even get out of bed. Any loss of counter pressure on my back was excruciating and even with it, the pain was constant. My partner finally convinced the hospital to take me the next day. They started an epidural and I had immediate and complete relief. My desire to have a natural childbirth faded when given the option to end the excruciating pain! The next 12 hours were a return to my blissful pregnancy. I felt no pain. I loved the kind attention of the staff and the excitement that we would soon get to meet our baby.

At 11:33 on the night of the 16th, my son was born. When my partner placed him on my chest, my first thought was that his nose was huge. Really, that’s it. I felt no connection to him, through a bit sad that he was no longer a part of me. It felt perhaps like a bad arranged marriage…you are supposed to build your life with someone who you just met and you’re having reservations. Everything leading up to this moment had convinced me that there would be an instant connection with my baby and a part of me immediately sensed something was very wrong.

We finally got to our room around 2am on the 17th. At this point, I had been awake for a full 48 hours or, since I had only been asleep for a couple hours when my labor started, I’d had two hours of sleep in the last 56 hours. Looking back, I was clearly somewhat delirious from sleep deprivation but I didn’t know enough to take care of myself. My world as I knew it had ended and the idea of putting me first to heal before I gave my whole self to my baby was so contrary to everything I thought was appropriate. This theme would continue for months.

I spent the first night in the hospital plotting my escape. My son was a horrible sleeper initially and couldn’t be put down for more than about 20 minutes before he’d wake up crying. This theme would also continue for months! But having only been a mother for mere hours, I was too afraid to sleep while he slept in my arms so I continued my sleepless stretch. When my partner was holding him, I was in the dark, crying, wondering how I could leave, whether my friends and family and partner would forgive me for leaving my own child. I cried most of the remainder of my hospital stay. The nurses chalked it up to the “baby blues” so I did as well. I had read somewhere that they usually last for about two weeks, so I was secretly holding onto that timeframe. It’ll just last a couple weeks and then it will be better.

Things didn’t get any better when we returned home. I cried more often than I didn’t. My son refused to be put down so we held him in our arms all night and day. I was afraid all the time. I dreaded the long, scary, lonely nights and the fear would set in every day at dusk. Considering this was the middle of December, dusk came way too early every day. I dreaded the long lonely days after my partner returned to work. I had no appetite and barely ate. I continued to wonder how I could leave, desperately wanting to fall down the stairs or contract some horrible illness that would force someone to take care of me, to fix me and to give me a break. But I wouldn’t allow myself any breaks. My mom and sister came to visit after about three weeks and, while they did allow up a couple nights of blissful sleep, I insisted on always being with my son. I really believed that I might never want to take him back if I allowed someone else to care for him without me. The idea of not taking care of him was so tempting; I was convinced that I had to be there all the time. I didn’t trust myself. I honestly believe I would have given him up if I hadn’t been so afraid that my friends and family would ostracize me. The idea of this now is so horrific and shameful to me, but it truly is how I felt.

I knew about postpartum depression but it seemed too convenient an excuse. Having a diagnosis would mean this wasn’t my fault and I was convinced I was a monster. I was convinced I was too selfish to want this baby and that I was not the good person I always thought I was. But a part of me hope, desperately hoped, that it was PPD, which meant I could do something about it. That part of me reached out for help, thankfully fairly early on. I started seeing a therapist who specialized in PPD and went on medication. I was hoping for immediate relief but that wasn’t to be. The medication actually made my anxiety worse initially. But I was too desperate to stop so, with help from my therapist, my dosage was adjusted until things began to improve. I’d have a string of really good days, only to be unable to get out of bed on others. But slowly, things began to shift for me. I was absolutely convinced I would never be able to love my baby but gradually, it began to happen. Within four months of giving birth, I was feeling joy again and the overwhelming love for my son that I expected in the beginning.

Post partum depression took so much from me and my son and my partner. What should have been a time of celebration was a time of such darkness. My son was formula fed because the stress of breastfeeding was crushing me, pushing me further from him. And while I am pro-feeding-choice, I would have loved to have that time back to make my decision about breastfeeding with a clearer head. I’ll never know what my son felt in those early days, whether he knew on some level that my love wasn’t there and whether he carries any of that with him today. On most days, I feel confident I masked my feelings enough to provide him with everything he needed in those early days but on others, I can’t help but question each thing he does and wonder if it is a reflection of some disconnect created right after he was born. That doubt is my depression’s darkest legacy.

My experience did have some positives, however. I do believe I see the world differently. I will never know what kind of mother I would have been had a not been depressed; however, I do know that I really don’t sweat the small stuff anymore. Once I made it through the darkness, things in the light just don’t look that bad. I have also developed great empathy for others and a better awareness that none of us really know what anyone else is going through. I don’t know if I would go so far as to say that if I could go back and do it over again, I wouldn’t change a thing, but I have definitely squeezed as much good out of it as I can. Take that, depression.

So that’s my birth story. I just reread my first paragraph and I realize that my birth story does end with a blissful mother holding her child! It took a lot longer than expected but here I am!

From Colette Sanborn.

P.S. — Here’s a beautiful birth story by Lindsey Cheek, with gorgeous photos shot by Millie Holloman.

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Note from Design Mom: throughout my 6th pregnancy, I posted reader-submitted advice, memories and stories about pregnancy, childbirth, adoption and growing a family. My baby is hardly a baby anymore — here’s her birth story and her newborn photos — but the series has been so popular that I’m continuing it indefinitely. You can find all the stories in this series by clicking here. Have a story you’d like to share? I’d love to read it. You can send it to me at gabrielle@designmom.com.

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{ 49 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ana February 8, 2012 at 4:37 am

My eyes are watery. What a beautiful story. After I had my daughter we decided to move to Brazil and everything was so hectic that reality didn’t hit me until we got settled. I also went through depression and I’m so happy those days are gone. Thank you for sharing this with us.

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2 Carly February 8, 2012 at 6:24 am

I loved reading this. I feel like I had such a similar experience with ppd/anxiety and you feel so disfuntional and broken, it is wonderful to read about others who felt the same way. I also find it fascinating that every time I read an account like this the women talk about escape. When my daughter was a few weeks old I used to visualize getting in the car and just driving away…to anywhere or nowhere. It was so stifling to know that you couldn’t and would not actually do it. Thank you for sharing this story.

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3 Mary February 8, 2012 at 6:30 am

What a beautiful story. Thanks for sharing this.

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4 Shannon @ A Mom's Year February 8, 2012 at 6:51 am

You sweet, beautiful woman. So brave of you to tell your story in a world that wants everything happy and shiny all the time. The thing that made my heart ache most was the idea that you think you damaged your son on some level. It might have taken you a while to really connect with him, but you still managed to take care of him and his needs were more than met.

My youngest went through much, much more than your son (who, again, I don’t think went through anything) and she is thriving today. She wasn’t damaged any more than your son was, and to think of her that way would hold her back in some way, don’t you think? I hope you’re able to let those thoughts go once and for all and truly believe the experience made you a stronger and more empathetic person.

Whew! Sorry for writing a novel, but you obviously struck a chord.

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5 Sarah February 8, 2012 at 7:15 am

Thank you. When I would go through the PPD checklist I would always find one thing that didn’t fit and thought that was enough, the more stories I read like yours the more I realize how similar my experience was. I never asked for help, every 6 months or so it would feel like a cloud lifted and I was sure everything was fine, but it wasn’t. It took about 18 months to get through it. But thanks to people like you, who share so openly I won’t let it happen again.

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6 Pamela Balabuszko-Reay February 8, 2012 at 7:23 am

You are brave and true. What a good example you are to your son and to us all. Our life stories are not simple. There are entire sections of my life that seem like I am watching someone else (with embarassment and sadness) in the rear view mirror. I am Bipolar and thankfully properly treated now. Like you, my experience has made me more compassionate. Like you I wonder about possible damage I have done. But guess what, I was doing the best I could at the time. So were you. You are the best possible kind of mom. You care deeply. Now let yourself breathe because your son will be walking through life just like the rest of us….needing to be resilient and finding his own strength along the way. That will hold him in good stead. Breathe and let go and let in the joy. You deserve it. Sending the biggest hug from one mama to another. Pure appreciation from me to you.

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7 Marianne February 8, 2012 at 7:41 am

What a brave piece. I guess the reason why you don’t hear or read so many birth stories like this is, that women are afraid to admit this is how they felt about their babies. I remember a couple of friends telling me that they felt nothing really and thought their much anticipated baby was rather ugly, at first. Having been warned, I fully expected to take about 3mths before I would love my first. (However I was lucky, or got the right amount of bonding hormones, and immediately fell in love with my baby) But given the sleep deprivation, post -birth, which often lasts for months, combined with all the mothering myths, plus huge social pressure to be perfect mothers, it’s a wonder that more women don’t suffer PPD.

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8 shay February 8, 2012 at 8:01 am

I’m glad to see these stories shared. I think it helps to allow family members to spot and understand PPD, especially those who don’t really believe depression is an illness like any other. I felt the same way, and I came out the other side too, but not after months of crushing guilt and beating myself up. Thanks for sharing!

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9 Summer February 8, 2012 at 8:03 am

Thank you so much for sharing your story with such honesty. I don’t have/want children, but I’m always surprised stories like yours aren’t told more often (of course, I guess it did take thousands of years for women to even admit to this ever happening!). I mean, when a child is born, that mother’s life is changed forever. For good, of course (at least in the long run), but change is scary regardless!

I dated this guy for several years. He wanted children, and I thought, “Yeah, sure, that’s what grown ups do. I’m sure I’ll want them too.” The turning point of our relationship was when I found myself looking at him over breakfast. I thought, “Yeah, I could be with this man forever.” Then I thought about our kids. What if all our kids were just like him! I couldn’t put up with three of him forever! Then I found myself thinking, “Well, he’d be a good father, so if they were too much like him and I ran away, they’d be well taken care of and have a good life…”

I broke up with him within a week of that realization.

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10 M.J. February 8, 2012 at 8:07 am

Thank you for sharing this. I too struggled with PPD but didn’t know how to handle it or who to share it with since most of my friends who had babies only talked about sleepless nights, not the other stuff that comes along with having a baby. I had a long, long labor too and I was so exhausted when he arrived I could barely function. Then it was one health scare after another that required him to stay in the nursery rather than in my hospital room so I barely saw him the first few days of his life. I admire your courage to tell this story and for seeking help early on.

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11 SarahBeth February 8, 2012 at 8:10 am

Thank you for sharing, Colette.

Your story brought tears to my eyes. My beautiful daughter was born last year in cold, grey, damp November. Each day, around 3pm, my heart would fall deep into my stomach, the panic and fear of the dark afternoons setting in. As soon as my husband arrived home at 5pm, the screaming would begin and last until 11. While my husband danced her around the house, I would curl up in the bath and cry, wondering if I could ever love her the way I wanted to. One year later, I love her more than words could express — but it didn’t come as quickly or easily as I thought it would.

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12 Lindsay February 8, 2012 at 8:12 am

So much of your story was exactly what I went through when my first son was born. I just wanted to get in my car and drive far far away. If my OB would’ve asked how I was personally at the 6 week check-up I would’ve begged to be put on medication but he didn’t ask. I needed someone to ask me and no one did so I just suffered through it. It wasn’t until a year and a half later that I started to feel some reprieve from the depression. When I got pregnant with my second, I had a therapist lined up in case I went through it again. I didn’t. With my second son I was able to feel what all my friends had been talking about. No more crying in the shower. No more crying everytime any song happy or sad came on the radio. No dreading the constant feeding/holding/changing. Just peace. And maybe I felt that a little more having gone through the depression the first time. Only when you’re out of it do you think Why didn’t I just talk to someone? but that was impossible at the time. It’s a secret club that no one wants to be a member of.

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13 Amy February 8, 2012 at 8:27 am

Thank you so much for sharing this! For those of you who have experienced PPD or are worried about it happening, I’d encourage you to look into placenta encapsulation. My doula gave me a book on this subject with many testimonials about its benefits for establishing milk supply and preventing PPD.

Since I have experienced depression in the past, I decided to go for it and am so glad I did! NO baby blues (not even a little bit). I was very surprised.

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14 tearinguphouses February 8, 2012 at 9:05 am

it’s so refreshing to read such a beautiful, honest story. i admire the mother for her perserverence.

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15 Ayme February 8, 2012 at 9:50 am

This brought tears to my eyes. I didn’t suffer from PPD, but I did not feel an immediate connection with my daughter after birth. I’ve always felt like such a heartless person for that, despite all the endless love we have shared since then.

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16 Damaris February 8, 2012 at 10:08 am

Been there, been there almost exactly the same way. I had a 48 hour labor that happened after countless days of horrible sleep. I was so sleep deprived I remember holding my son and not even being able to hold him. I also remember being famished. I remember feeling zero attachment. In fact I was slightly annoyed that he was there when someone FINALLY brought me food and I could eat again and there he was crying, totally bothering me. When we got home I was a mess. I felt the exact same way, I just couldn’t put him down. I felt like if I put him down I’d never pick him up again. So I would hold him and cry. It took a couple months to feel totally connected to my child and probably a good 12 months to have the depression cloud lifted from my head. Hard times. With my second I decided that i was NOT going to be exhausted. I had an epidural (best decision ever) and I slept every chance I got. The depression never came, thankfully. And like yourself I do feel much more sympathetic with people who suffer through depression. Now I know it’s not just made up.

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17 Kate February 8, 2012 at 10:15 am

That was lovely and brave and stuck a cord with me too. I had my baby in the middle of October and well remember darkness falling and just dreading the coming night. He would sleep all day and then stay up all night long and I would just nurse and change diapers all night long. I felt like we were a tiny village in medieval times being ravaged by a werewolf. It did get better but I never really want to relive those first six weeks again. Your life as it was is over and I think that is a concept that is very difficult to grasp and takes a very long time to come to terms with. Three and 1/2 years later I think I still struggle with it sometimes.

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18 pepper elliot February 8, 2012 at 10:28 am

I had a super difficult time when my first child was born, they handed him to me and all I wanted was grape juice, I couldn’t even focus on his face. For months while I took care of him and cherished him, I didn’t feel “mother love” I really though of him as my husbands baby. It was such a strange and slow love affair. I didn’t feel like myself again until my daughter was born 22 months later. It feels like I missed his babyhood in my dark cloud. It’s sad how often and how many of us feel this way and remain silent. I had to read book after book with stories of other women who had terrible birth experiences before having my second I was terrified and hearing that I wasn’t alone was a huge help.

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19 Cortnie February 8, 2012 at 10:31 am

My heart is so happy for Colette and the place of love that her hard journey took her to. Thank you for sharing!

xo
cortnie

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20 Gretchen SB February 8, 2012 at 10:35 am

Beautiful! Thank you for sharing. You did everything exactly right for your son and for yourself!!

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21 Rachel February 8, 2012 at 11:37 am

I was so exhausted after having my baby when they put her on my chest, all I could think was “someone please get this baby off me!” I didn’t feel that excitement or love, I felt tired and overwhelmed. I had to ask the nurse to take her from me because I was afraid I would drop her. I still feel really ashamed that right after my baby was born that I wanted noting to do with her. Luckily all I needed was a good nights sleep. I am so sorry that you felt so bad for so long, I cant imagine.

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22 Janelle February 8, 2012 at 12:10 pm

I get wicked postpartum (and ante-partum) anxiety that borders on postpartum psychosis. I didn’t have postpartum depression, that I may have understood, so I “muscled through” (PLEASE DON”T FOLLOW THAT EXAMPLE) for my first three babies. Finally during my 4th pregnancy, my husband insisted I seek medication and treatment – what an enormous weight was lifted within days. It wasn’t until then that I even had a glimmer of understanding why people liked tiny babies, say, younger than 4 months. I so wish I had been conscious & supported enough to seek help sooner. My experience with my 4th & 5th babies has been so much more gentle and fulfilling. THANK YOU for sharing so beautifully and honestly. Maybe more mamas will be encouraged to seek the help they need.

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23 Audrey February 8, 2012 at 12:17 pm

I am so happy you shared this story although sorry to hear about this very painful experience. I suffered from crippling PPD after the birth of my first daughter. It was the darkest place I’ve ever been. We all suffered a lot. When she was a few weeks old, I didn’t sleep for three days straight. Not one minute. And I made plans in my head to run away. Thankfully I didn’t. I decided right then to call for help the next morning. I had no idea that antidepressants take two weeks to start working. Oh those were the worst two weeks. Even worse was the shame I felt. After about a month of medication and therapy (with a divine therapist), I started to improve very quickly. And I just feel thankful to exist in this day and age when women like us can get the help we need without being ostracized. I admire anyone who has an experience like this and shares the story. So that maybe other who suffer in the future won’t feel so ashamed. What causes the most hurt in my heart is that time I missed in my older daughter’s first days. It’s a strong fog and I don’t have a clear memory….nor do I want one because I was really suffering. Note that I also had a horrendous labor where I truly believed I was going to die ~ I really believe that had something to do with it. Anyway, I could write about this all day. Thank you SO, SO much for sharing your story ~ I think it’s so important.

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24 Amy February 8, 2012 at 2:32 pm

I had an epidural with my first baby and I swear it was the drugs that made me feel nothing as well after the birth. With my second child, I refused the drugs and I felt such love and happiness following the birth. I will never use pitocin, an epidural, etc. again!

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25 Sheri February 8, 2012 at 2:32 pm

Thank you so much for sharing your story. I had a horrible birth experience with my first child and it took so long to feel a bond with her. I was so mad at everyone…why did no one tell me how awful it was going to be?
Things got better and slowly I felt unconditional love. My 3rd child is now almost 2, her birth was fast, furious and full of pain but I knew I could love her no matter what. 3rd time was a charm. :)

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26 Amy (BiblioMOMia) February 8, 2012 at 3:01 pm

So brave, and so so true. The 12 weeks after the birth of my son were the darkest of my life–I have never been so scared, so alone, so hopeless. It was so scary–like you, all I wanted was to escape. Also like you, I threw myself into caring for my child instead. Only a very perceptive doctor, who referred me to a wonderful PPD team of doctors and therapists, brought me out of it. She saved my life.

Thank you so much for writing this. Reading it brought back both the dark and the light. We’re working on having another right now–I’m so glad I know what to look for this time.

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27 Holly February 8, 2012 at 6:31 pm

Thank you for sharing your story. The transition to motherhood was a painful one for me as well as I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder just weeks after my first child was born. Let’s just say, spending my baby’s newborn period in a psychiatric hospital was not in the birth plan! Fortunately, I had great care and have been healthy now for nearly five years. My second child’s birth was wonderful and I was completely free from mental health concerns. I wish you all the best!

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28 Carly February 8, 2012 at 6:54 pm

Thanks so much for this – clearly so many other women have been looking for a birth story like yours! Our first son had a bad birth – stuck by his shoulders, broken collarbone – and I was pretty injured too. No depression though (although my husband struggled badly with the extended sleep deprivation – baby was quite a bad sleeper); but when our second child escaped unharmed from birth, but most of my scars opened up again, both my husband and I hit the wall. Baby number two was an even worse sleeper (we couldn’t quite believe it) and we had no family support. Like other commenters, I remember how horrible nightfall was! I remember how it physically hurt to look at him. And how much ‘fake it till you make it’ I had to do, pretending to coo and interact with him, so that his language development wouldn’t be compromised… and in the hope that it would kick-start some maternal love. Clawing my way up from the mud of depression remains my proudest achievement. And now that my second son is three years old, I can finally be entirely confident that he wasn’t damaged by the experience… that took a long time; I understand you when you say it is the darkest legacy of your depression.

Sorry for the screed – to cut a long story short, your story made me feel so much less alone! And whilst no-one else’s opinion should impinge on any woman’s breastfeeding decisions, I remember so well the boost in energy I got when I stopped breastfeeding my sleepless son at 12 months. If I’d known about that I would have stopped earlier – and maybe started feeling better sooner.

Thanks again, Colette. And all the best for a lifetime of loving your child! :)

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29 Pamela Balabuszko-Reay February 8, 2012 at 8:57 pm

Checking back in after so many more women wrote. I am tearing up. What a sisterhood. Thank you all for sharing your stories.

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30 Rebecca February 8, 2012 at 10:59 pm

I remember listening to a new mom describe her mystical love-connection with her newborn baby and thinking she was on crack as I looked over at my 4 month old who never slept. I was blind-sided by post-partum depression, and didn’t even recognize it for what it was for many, many months. Thank you for sharing your story. Having babies is hard, hard work.

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31 Kathrin February 9, 2012 at 2:47 am

Thank you soooo much! Its almost one year now but it still hurts…so good to know that i’m not alone and threre are wunderfull Woman like you that had the same experience & are open to share.
Love, Kathrin
(Sorry for my english…I’m not a native speaker)

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32 Jessi February 9, 2012 at 7:13 am

I recommend getting as much sleep as possible, even getting a nap, with the help of older children, or babysitters. And, a product called Asea, check it out at http://www.enjoyhealthnow.teamasea.com It helps you get back in the groove quickly and is all natural. No need to suffer. This is one new breakthrough that everyone will soon be trying for post partem recovery and for help in healing post surgery. It is amazing!

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33 Angel February 9, 2012 at 7:13 am

I remember those feelings after the birth of my first daughter. We had waited so long for her to arrive and then when she did…I didn’t feel like I could enjoy her. I loved her – from the first instant – but I didn’t love being with her for quite a few months. She is eight years old now, but every once in a while I get a flashback to when she was a newborn and I knew that night was coming. My husband would get ready for bed and I would begin to feel horrible, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to sleep because my baby didn’t sleep well at night. Fortunately, by three months of age she was beginning to sleep in longer increments and my sadness and exhaustion slowly lifted.
Thank you for sharing your story. It is obvious that you love your child and that you coped with the situation the best possible way you could. I wish us all some good luck – parenting is so difficult at times, but so worth it!

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34 Claudia R February 9, 2012 at 8:05 am

Thank you Colette for sharing. And thank you Gabrielle for finding this story for us. I also suffered with my first. You feel guilty for your feelings so you don’t want to tell people. It can be very scary and lonely. Luckily, my best friend and mom made me seek help. Thanks to them, when my second child was born, I enjoyed it. We need more women like Colette and Gabrielle to keep bringing this to light so more women seek the help that they need and don’t feel guilty about it.

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35 Lisa February 9, 2012 at 2:24 pm

You’re amazing and know that your baby won’t feel any disconnect. You have so much more time ahead of you that it will make up for everything.

My mom suffered from post partum depression for years and this was before anyone knew what is was. I think that she is wonderful and brave for going through it all. On her good days she did everything she could to make up for the bad days, I valued those days and remember them the most. I love her to pieces and I know your son loves you too.

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36 Shannon @ A Mom's Year February 10, 2012 at 6:45 am

Lisa, you made me cry reading this. Your mother must feel so blessed to have you.

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37 Jasmine Rose Maghanoy February 10, 2012 at 12:23 am

Inspired by your story, thank you so much. I’m also a PPD (and PPP) survivor. I’m still gaining the courage to write about that part of my story. I hope one-day you can read it. All the best to you and your family. God Bless!

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38 Chrissy February 10, 2012 at 8:22 am

Some of this (certainly not all…depression is an animal that gets really mean when you have issues with hormone levels and etc, of course) has to do, I think, with how we as mothers prepare ourselves and each other for motherhood. My mom and I had many, many excruciatingly honest conversations prior to the birth of my first son (I have three sons, now) and all through his babyhood and to today, about what it really is to be a mom. My best friend and I have the same conversations and I am lucky enough to be able to share my mother’s wisdom with her. Unfortunately, her mom is a head case and wasn’t EVER present for her, much less a support now that she has four children and could use some advice and someone to talk to that understands.
It seems that we have a culture of “putting on a good face” and that, in a word, SUCKS. A lack of authenticity about our lives isolates us and makes it impossible for us to reach out and seek support and community. My conversations with my mom over the years have truly saved me and allowed me to forgive myself when I have made the inevitable mistakes, congratulate myself when I realize that I actually did something awesome and to work my way through problems. We all need that and we need to take responsibility for providing it to the women in our lives that we care about. Without we will continue to flail and to feel like failures. Conversely, my mother in law (who is VERY kind to me and a lovely person, seriously, she is, I adore her), is unable to be very real about her experience with my husband and brother in law when they were young and thus she has often unintentionally said things that I allowed to sink into me as criticisms (I know now that they were nothing of the kind…it just felt that way because I was vulnerable) or as comparisons in which I fell short. Quite short. lol A classic one is how she always points out to me that she only gained twenty pounds with each pregnancy and lost it all in a few weeks. Mind you…she is seven inches shorter than I am and they were totally broke and barely had money for food….but I digress. lol She says things without thinking about how I might feel about it…currently my youngest is three and I am STILL fifteen…okay, twenty…pounds overweight. We get to have this priceless conversation every time I have a child…at least fifteen times in that first year. Good times. And, of course, her children never cried at night…or at all….and they certainly never…did whatever my child is currently doing. Need I point out that none of this helped and only talking to my mom and close friends kept me sane? LOL

Colette…through it all, you held that child and he knew you loved him. That is how he knew….if you hadn’t you would have been gone. Babies aren’t idiots. They know who is there for them! It is a brave thing to feel that kind of sorrow and loneliness and to hang on for all of that time. Many a person would cut and run…more’s the pity for them. Our babies are a gift, for sure, but not one that is easy to unwrap!!! In the end, we are richer for the life experience of raising them and full of good stories to boot. One day you can tell him about the endless first months of his life when the only thing that kept you going was determination. He can be taught to be compassionate and understanding when he and his wife have children and it is hard and so much of that falls on her. He can be gifted with a better perspective, not only on how that can happen, but that it can also end up just fine. Wishing you well.

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39 Audrey February 10, 2012 at 11:46 am

Chrissy, I love your comment. I think you’re so right on about the need for women to have very honest conversations with one another. I didn’t have that and I was woefully unprepared for the reality of having a newborn. In fact, when my daughter was about a week old, I was holding her and trying to comfort her while she was crying and my mom said to me, “you’re going to ruin that baby” (she meant by spoiling). It was the absolute worst thing anyone could’ve said to me. After that I was afraid to hold her too much or, heaven forbid, spoil her. As if that would be the worst thing! In hindsight, I can clearly see that holding her more would’ve been good for my soul. And my baby’s too. I’ve chosen to tell a couple of close friends that story they all cried. My friend Elizabeth said to me, “She had only been in your body one week before ~ you needed to hold her and she needed to be held”. Amen. I also have a MIL who acts like her kids (4 boys) were total angels and made it seem that it was so easy for her. That is so dangerous and definitely didn’t help my situation. This isn’t a competition, at least not one that I want to be a part of. Women are so often their own worst enemies. I try very hard in my own life to be brutally honest about how I feel and to not care about how other people might judge me. And I’ve had other women thank me for that. I could care less about the rest. Sorry for the novel but I guess you struck a cord with your comment….

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40 the emily February 10, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Such a great story. Not that PPD is great, just great that you shared it and that you’re okay now. My now five-year-old and I suffered from a very similar experience, only I never had any help. I was too embarrassed to bring it up to my doctor (and ashamed) so I just suffered. And our relationship did. To this day I feel like my relationship with him is slightly strained, whereas my first son and third baby, when I didn’t have PPD, is not. You’re so lucky that you knew enough to get help.

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41 danielle February 11, 2012 at 6:30 am

How can what is supposed to be such a joyful time become something that comes back to haunt you forever? My second daughter was born 12 and a half years ago. She arrived after 2 traumatic miscarriages and I was so paranoid about the whole pregnancy that when she was born I was relieved and totally in love with her. However there was this constant underlying stress …..the day we left hospital I was sitting on the bed crying because I knew we could not afford to pay the hospital account….which was only $600! My husband and I had our own business and cash flow was very slow. I resented him for not taking care of me and I felt the majority of the burden of not having enough money just to live. I guess I went through each day doing what I had to do…I went back to our work ( taking bub) pretty much straight away and continued to function on the surface. I pretended everything was fine but inside I was not ok. My mum kept asking me what was wrong and I honestly didn’t know…..I was crying all the time and often in the foetal position on the floor just crying ( I am crying now just writing about it ) and I just couldn’t fall asleep. My husband was quite supportive but clearly he had no idea what to do or say. This must have gone on for quite a while …months I would say …until a friend , one who must have known what I was going through , said I should go to the doctor. I did and once on medication began the long journey back to normality and happiness. Since then I have always been very open about my depression and have been surprised how many other women open up about their own battles. I totally agree about being authentic and honest and supportive and compassionate….because who knows what each of us is going through each day….a little help can go a long way. Please, please if someone doesn’t seem right ask them to talk ….tell them there is help available they just need to ask and if you know there is something wrong inside you please , please talk about it with your doctor. I can’t really remember much my life during the time I was really depressed…I can’t actually remember my daughters first year of life…I have lots of photos so I know I was there but I really wish I had those memories back.

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42 Eustacia Eide February 11, 2012 at 10:07 am

I am so proud of you, my sister. I know your story will inspire more dialouge among women who suffer from PPD. Its a dark, scary place that no woman should suffer through silently because of social expectations/pressures. You fought your fight and what a wonderful mother you have become. Don’t stop talking and sharing your battle. The word mother is defined by someone who cares and protects. Your story is doing just that…..I love you so much.

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43 Norma February 11, 2012 at 3:31 pm

I had my son (my only child) back in the 80′s at age 35. I was unhappy during the pregnancy and all I could think about was that I would not want or love the child when it was born. I voiced this to all my female relatives, friends etc who had kids and all they said was “once they put your baby in your arms you will love it” My then husband was over the moon at the prospect of becoming a dad. When I tried to talk to him about my fears and tried making some sort of plan (me going back to work and using a childminder for example) in case my worst fears happened, he would not listen and just said “it will be your flesh and blood of course you will love it”

My son was born by emergency c section, I was not given a general anaesthetic they just “topped up” my epidural, so I was wide awake and they placed him on my chest as they wheeled me out of the operating theatre: I felt nothing. Back on the ward I kept looking down into his cot wishing and praying for the love to come. I spent the next 5 days and nights doing this, all the time sobbing and believing that I must be evil because I did not want my own child. All my relatives and friends were visiting saying how lucky I was and how happy I must be. My husband was absolutely besotted as was my mum. Nobody seemed to see how guilty and utterly sad I felt.

When I returned home things did not improve I did not tell anyone as I believed I was evil and I felt so ashamed. I just wanted to run away, I could not sleep or eat and still cried when I was alone. Things got so bad that I started having thoughts about harming my son it was at this point that I sobbed out the truth to my husband and my mum. I’ll NEVER forget the look on their faces: utter disbelief of what I was saying. The following couple of hours are a blur all I know is I ended up being admitted to my local psychiatric hospital. Part of the treatment there was ECT it made me feel so bad that I refused to have anymore after the fourth session. Nobody had explained anything about post natal depression to my husband so when I stopped the treatment he gave up on me and started divorce proceedings. This set me back even further and I was in hospital for months. My husband got custody of my son , I lost my job and as the house went to my husband (as he had custody) I lost my home as well.

I STILL feel guilty, and even though I have a good relationship with my son and he knows what happened, I worry it may have had a lasting effect on him.

I am so glad that there is the internet now and that people talk about this more often it will help so many women to know they are not on their own, and more importantly that they are not monsters or evil.

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44 Sheila@Chinaberry February 13, 2012 at 10:48 am

Thank you for your forthright and honest story. I had PPD with my first son as well, and I wish more people were as courageous as you to talk about it. You have touched me and reminded me that we need to care for our new mommies as much as our new babies. All my best to you.

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45 Jenny February 13, 2012 at 10:13 pm

So much of this happened to me too with my first, beginning with the really long labor. My son is 10 now (and awesome), but reading this still brings it all back, including the tears.

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46 Piper February 14, 2012 at 2:04 pm

Thank you so much for sharing. I relate to many emotions here…thank you, thank you for helping me realize I’m not alone! Love to you, Mama=)

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47 Anna Merritt February 16, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Whether or not a person can relate to this story specifically, I feel that in general women are not realistic or even truthful when it comes to talking about motherhood. Yes, it IS wonderful, my children ARE the best thing that ever happened to me, the extraordinary love I have for them far surpasses anything I feel for myself, but – It is one of the most difficult things I have ever done! And it’s not just the burden of raising and loving your children, it’s hormones and stress and expectations and physical pain! That’s the reality. But I wouldn’t trade my children or my pregnancy and birth experiences (good or bad) for anything, and that’s the truth.

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48 Megan August 22, 2012 at 12:29 pm

This is so familiar. My daughter turns one on Saturday and the first 6 months were a very dark time. I didn’t get help. I don’t know if I’m convinced that I really needed it. But so much of this resonates. I was terrified. I felt like a refugee. I’m glad I read this, it’s good to know that what sometimes feels like a lonely experience is actually quite the opposite…with a good ending.

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49 Paula November 14, 2012 at 4:00 pm

This story is pretty spot on with my experience. I, too thought about taking off and starting my life over! It lasted about 6 months! Then after that, it took me another two months to really even enjoy her at all. Weird how we psych ourselves out. I went to lots o therapy and it helped a lot. After my second was born, it was easy peasy. But whew! I don’t wish what we went through on my worst enemy!

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