My husband, Matthew, and I spent 8 months trying to get pregnant. So when it finally happened, I was overjoyed. I wanted that baby more than anything in the world. After I got past the first 16 weeks, during which I suffered from debilitating morning-noon-and-night sickness, my pregnancy was textbook perfect. I was healthy, energized, and really excited about becoming a mother. My labor, on the other hand, was anything but perfect, and after five days of labor and a baby under distress, I ended up delivering her via caesarean. I was devastated, but I think I could have dealt with that if she had arrived healthy. Instead, Amia was born with major respiratory difficulties, and was taken immediately to the NICU. I wasn’t allowed to visit her for several hours and, once I was, I wasn’t allowed to hold or feed her for another day. That experience severely impacted our ability to bond. I was happy to have my baby but I wasn’t overjoyed. I loved her but I wasn’t head-over-heels in love. And, honestly, I wasn’t even all that excited. I just felt a lot of regret, like, if I had done something different during labor, the results wouldn’t have been so traumatic.
I told myself that my mood was due to me being tired and recovering from major surgery. Matthew assumed it was just “baby blues” and completely normal.
We spent another 4 days after that in the hospital. When we got home things really started to get bad. Amia wouldn’t let anyone but me or her father hold her. She hated breastfeeding. She would hit me with her tiny fists, bite me, pull off constantly, go on frequent nursing strikes, refuse to comfort nurse, and—worst of all—cry nearly every time I tried to feed her. She was also a high-needs baby. Amia would not take a bottle, would not allow anyone else to watch her, would scream until she turned purple and choked any time we put her in her car seat, would not fall asleep without constant bouncing for several hours, and would not stay asleep without being held or worn. On top of that, I was in the middle of writing a dissertation and searching for a job, my husband was busy working 16-hour days trying to support us, and I had no family nearby to help me. Needless to say, I was extremely stressed and had not a single moment to myself. Ever. It is no wonder I developed Postpartum Anxiety and Depression.
Amia and I both did a lot of crying together those first few months. I had an incredibly difficult time bonding with her. Every time she screamed instead of nursing, I felt like she was rejecting me as her mother. I did not have stereotypical depression with overwhelming sadness or an inability to get out of bed. I wasn’t sad at all. Instead, I felt disconnected from my child, my friends, my husband, and my life. I was resentful of everyone. I was filled with an overwhelming sense of anger. I wanted to break things. I screamed uncontrollably at my husband and withdrew entirely from my social groups. I panicked every time she cried. I felt dread for friends who were expecting because they had no idea what they were in for. I felt like everyone had lied to me about the joys of motherhood. Having a baby was not the dream I thought it was going to be. I was falling to pieces inside and I felt like I was losing my mind.
No one had a clue. Or if they did, they never spoke up. I was a great pretender.
I posted pictures online of my sweet baby. I told everyone that being a mother was awesome. The doctors would ask about my mental state when we went in for check-ups and I told them everything was fine. I continued to make progress on my schoolwork and landed an awesome job. Yet, I was completely miserable, angry, and I felt utterly alone.
I never sought counseling or medication. A friend of my husband’s suggested bringing Amia into bed with us to try and address some of her sleep issues. So, I started co-sleeping with my daughter when she was three months old, and it was the first time that I felt like her mother. The new sleeping arrangement was crucial to repairing our relationship, and was a first step towards improving my mental state. My husband stuck by me no matter how hard I pushed him away or how much I scared him, and he provided me with the patience and love that I needed. I don’t know how I came out of it. It took well over a year to begin to feel myself again. Even now, at two years postpartum, I still have bad days where I feel the anger and anxiety welling up inside of me. But, I am coping. I have learned to better voice my feelings and I have an incredible relationship with my daughter. Every day we laugh hysterically together. She still wants mama’s milk and our breastfeeding relationship is strong and beautiful and comforting for us both. She is silly and bright and challenges me. Amia is my light and I’d do it all again because it is what brought me to this point with her.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I made it out. No matter how bad it got, I never wanted to hurt myself or my child. It was quite the opposite, actually; I was incredibly protective of her and went to extreme lengths to make sure her every need was met. It was incredibly draining, both physically and emotionally, to always try to anticipate and prevent her distress. But it was important to me to make sure she wasn’t neglected because of what I was feeling. It was important to me that she felt loved regardless of the pain I was experiencing. I do believe, though, that the pressure I put on myself to be a perfect mother contributed greatly to my postpartum anxiety.
I do not have happy memories of Amia’s birth, and the good memories of her infancy are clouded by memories of my anger, my outbursts, my lack of connection. It’s taken a lot of work on myself and on our relationship to be where we are today, and I love Amia more than I can describe, but the effects of my PPA and PPD will stay with me forever.