I wanted to be a mother for as long as I can remember. I’ve always been maternal. Among my junior high friends, I was well established as “the mother” of the group. I was secretly happy about this label because being a mother is all I’ve ever really wanted to be. Other interests peaked and waned, but my desire to be a mother stood firm. If you were to have asked me 15 years ago — 5 years ago — 2 years ago — if I’d struggle in this role, my answer would have been a stone faced, “no way”!
My birth didn’t exactly go to plan. It was a hard experience. My son transferred to the NICU a few hours postpartum. Breastfeeding didn’t come easily. We got off to a really rocky start, but I had support. The midwives listened to me and let me cry on their shoulders. Our doulas brought us food and approached us with love and empathy. Family traveled to help us get back up on our feet through housework, warm meals, and an extra set of hands. We were well supported. So, why did I scream and cry and teeter just close enough to the edge of breakdown? Postpartum Depression. I had postpartum depression, and it didn’t go away when my baby started smiling at me.
How I Knew I had Postpartum Depression
I knew I had postpartum depression when at 6 weeks I didn’t feel that “relief” so many parents talk about. Oh, just wait. At 6 weeks it’s like a switch goes off and you’ll find your groove. I didn’t. In fact, at 6 weeks, I found myself yelling at my baby and bursting into tears several times a day. His crying and constant need for contact sent me over the edge. I felt incredibly needed and also felt incredibly insignificant.
I was ashamed of what I was feeling and how these feelings were manifesting into actions towards my baby. Not only was I finding myself yelling at him, but I would sway him too forcefully in desperation. It felt compulsive to me. I never intended to hurt him, but in hindsight, I probably toed that line a little too closely. These things felt shameful to me. I hated what kind of mother I was seeing in myself. One night around this time, my husband delicately took our son from me during a really intense moment. After the moment had calmed, he approached me on the couch. I looked up at him and blurted through tears, “I think I have postpartum depression.”
“I’d be surprised if you didn’t,” he told me. Hearing that pushed me to take action. I made an appointment with a therapist who specializes in maternal mental health the next day. I saw her several times over the next few months. It helped and I started feeling less out of control…
I thought I was better
The really intense feelings and compulsions stopped. I caught glimpses of a “good mom” in the mirror, and I felt like I had finally kicked postpartum depression to the curb. Afterall, my outbursts had lessened. There had been no more yelling AT my baby. No more forceful swaying. I dusted my hands off, took a deep breath, and that was it. I cured my postpartum depression, but now I found myself in larger and larger fits of rage.
Everything was setting me off, but I wasn’t yelling AT my baby. This must just be who I am. I’m just an angry person. The dog’s an asshole. I have too much work to do. I haven’t had a break in months. Angry.
It was nice to see friends. Our meetings were full of milestone updates, laments, and what’s been working for you? After a while, though, I resented the ease in which they appeared to have transitioned into motherhood. They all had it together, but every day felt like I was just barely scraping by. Inside I felt so disorganized. Why did motherhood come so easily to them? They actually enjoyed it?
Quickly, this resentment turned to shame. Motherhood just was not something I could breeze through and I hated that. Eventually, I told myself that I was “a struggle mother”: someone who would never find it easy or fun. Once I resigned myself to this fact, I could feel the emptiness sinking in.
By then, my baby was already over a year old. “Postpartum depression” was the last thing in my head. That second year was a doozy. I felt my “new parenthood” grace had worn off. It was time to get back to business, but I didn’t feel motivated or confident. I was struggling to re-establish myself as a doula. All I really felt was anger.
Parenting during COVID-19
When March 2020 rolled around, I was feeling peak rage. I resented the fact that I didn’t like motherhood. I had no boundaries, which amplified my anger when tested. My son watched several hours of TV every day. All the while, my anger prevented me from feeling a real connection to my family. I found myself isolated during “Isolation”. My heart didn’t need any social distancing. It had been living with distance for nearly 2 years.
Luckily, I’m no stranger to self reflection. The pause that the shut down granted me, allowed me to take a step back and evaluate my relationships. I saw myself 20 years down the road with a son who didn’t feel loved by me. That stung.
Setting Boundaries and Making Changes
I decided I had to start actually setting some boundaries. I made changes to my work schedule in an effort to set clear “home” and “work” hours. I turned off the TV and made the goal of playing at the park 4 days a week.
After a couple of weeks of this, I started to feel new. I felt different. Invigorated, I stuck to these changes. Feelings other than rage started to fill me. One morning, I looked at my son and love overtook me. It started in my core and squeezed its way up until it welled up in my eyes. I had the moment. You’ve heard of it, I’m sure. It’s the moment every parent you’ve ever met describes as that guttural connection to their child. That instinctual I’ll do anything to keep you safe and happy feeling. I had the moment that many describe the first time they meet their child, only this was happening to me 2 years later.
I sat there, dumbstruck with love, watching him play with trucks in the morning sun. The emotion of love was welcome after 2 years of emptiness and rage. The connection I thought I would never have finally sparked. I understood the joy I had seen in my friends’ faces because I was finally feeling it, too. That joy didn’t come from a place of “easy” parenthood. That joy came from a place of finally not having a postpartum mood disorder.