Seven weeks prior to my bundle of joy, Reece, was born I was placed on bed rest. Apparently my body wanted him here sooner than he and I were prepared for. I was plagued with pre-term contractions that were every 2-5 minutes. Good thing I got my trip to Mexico out of the way before hand (by a mere 3 days!). I think this was the start of the accumulation of that dark cloud. I had to stop teaching, change my routine (I am plan oriented and routine driven), and I was sentenced to the couch.
For the first few days it was great, like a mini-vacation after having my big one in Mexico. I watched t.v., caught up on my baby forum on BabyCenter.com, and endlessly scrolled through the "Kids" section on Pinterest. Then it started, I started to feel down. I attributed it to just being stuck at home, not being able to get out except for my pre-natal visits (which I looked forward too, like a child would their birthday).
As I got closer and closer to my due date, I was able to set those dark feelings aside. I was too busy making sure we were prepared and I had all the answers to my thousands of questions. But in the back of my head that dark cloud started to take shape, swirling around, taunting me. When it would slowly show its dark vapor I would tell myself that it was just because I was nervous about being a first time mom. I would never admit that perhaps I could be one of those moms who had depression.
As my son came unexpectedly on his due date (seriously, only 3% of all births, including scheduled c-sections happen on the due date), I snapped out of whatever fog was weaving through my thoughts and I went into mommy-mode. 17.5 hours of labor later, I had a beautiful boy and an amazing husband/coach/new father surrounding me. It wasn't until we were discharged from the hospital that it all came back.
We spent three days in the hospital (I delivered at 9:55pm so we got to stay another day), but we were quickly sent on our way as a new family. The moment I stepped in my home I froze. What do I do now? I had a baby that was 3 days old, I was sore, tired, and felt totally unprepared to take care of such a little human being. That's when the dark cloud came back full force.
Within the first few days of being home we were already struggling as a family. My son had lost quite a bit of weight and wasn't nursing correctly, in many different ways. I found myself in pain from breastfeeding and already wanting to give up. The thought of switching to formula sent guilt through my body, so I suffered through the pain. Due to my boy's dramatic weight loss I was going to the pediatrician's office twice a week for weight checks. Each time he was placed on the scale I felt myself sink more inside of myself. Holding back the tears, each visit seemed excrutiating. To me it was like a neon sign shouting to the world that I wasn't able to care for my son. I felt everyone's eyes on me each time his weight decreased.
It didn't stop at the doctors office, it was at home as well. That dark cloud was now not only in my mind but swirling around my home. It touched everything that was around me. Shortly after getting home with my new baby, I stopped answering texts, e-mails, phone calls, and even let the door bell ring numerous times without an answer. The more I struggled with feeding my son the more I retreated inside myself and away from others.
I cried. I cried for hours. It was not a cry out of exhaustion, but a cry of loneliness. I was alone in my head. Physically I was surrounded by my loving husband and my precious boy, but no one could understand what I was going through, what I was putting myself through.
I had failed as a mother. Or so I thought. The one thing that I was meant to do, I couldn't. I couldn't provide enough sustenance for my child to survive. I had person after loving person remind me that it was okay and as long as he was eating (by nursing or formula) it doesn't matter. But it did! The more people tried to reassure me, the more I cried. The more I wanted to reverse time and start over.
I couldn't start over. I was already a few weeks into this long journey of motherhood and I needed to put my big girl panties on. I needed to pull myself out of this black hole I was quickly slipping down into. I needed to get outside, take my boy out, visit with others. But could I? Each time I got ready, I sat back down and started to have a panic attack. How could I take him out? I failed at providing for him, how could I take on the huge task of being in public? So I didn't. I stayed inside, with no phone calls, no texts, and no visitors for 2 months. My mother would stop by to see how I was doing, and she could see in my eyes that I was hanging on by a thread, a weathered fragment of what used to be my sanity.
I think the turning point and the initial retreat of that dark cloud came when my son went in for his weight check at 3 months. He had finally gained weight, a substantial amount too. It was as though I could see a sliver of sunlight cutting through the storm that had been brewing. As time went on and my son was flourishing, the cloud that had taken permeant residence, not only in my head but in my home, started to disapate. The sun was starting to commandeer those spaces that were so dark for so long.
It has now been 4.5 months since I brought my son into this world, and my world is a much brighter place. The dark cloud is now just a misty fog. It still taunts my thoughts from time to time, but no longer does it have such a strong hold on me.
Looking back I never once thought that I had depression. I thought I just wasn't cut out to be a mother. I thought what I was feeling was normal. But it wasn't. It wasn't normal to shut people out during such a special time. It wasn't normal to cry for hours on end with no real understanding of what brought on the tears. What I do understand now, is that post-partum depression manifests itself differently for each person. I also understand with great clarity now, that it is not something to be afraid of, but something that watch for. Next time, if those dark clouds start rolling in, I can fight it head on.
It is nothing to be ashamed of. Part of my denial was the fact that I was such a strong woman, and I was ashamed. Ashamed of failing, ashamed of having depression, and ashamed of being weak. I was not weak, I did not fail, I did have depression. But life goes on, just give it time, and take any help that is offered.