Disclaimer: This post contains details of postpartum depression and suicidal ideation that may be upsetting to some.
“When I found out that I was pregnant with Henry, I remember feeling both terror and joy in the exact same moment. My postpartum experience is exactly that; a paradox of emotions. Intense love, intense dread, faith and hope, doubt and fear.
When we brought Henry home from the hospital, days after thirty-six hours in labor, I was high on the adrenaline and the pride of expelling a 10-pound baby out of my body. I look at pictures from this time with confusion and strangeness. I quickly resented that so much was required of MY body and that I’d lost my sense of agency. Weeks after Henry’s birth, the adrenaline subsided and the reality of life set in. My partner did so much out of choice. I did the rest out of obligation. A cloud of depression lowered and I felt totally out of my depth. I remember this feeling of dread and worry well.
The sacrifice required of new parents is relentless. My life before and after childbirth could not have been more different. I can’t believe I used to sleep for at LEAST nine uninterrupted hours every night. Nothing could have prepared me for the exhaustion and emotional expense of loving a newborn.
I had no idea how intense parenting would be. Henry had incessant physical and emotional demands that I struggled to understand. I was increasingly suspicious of my capacity to meet these demands. I felt pressured to be vulnerable and available to him at all times. I felt like one of the guards in the opening scene of Hamlet. I was breathless and frantic, on high alert for disturbance and danger every minute of the day and night.
I was so hormonally depleted and physically wasting away. Things got dark, quickly.
By the time I was eight weeks postpartum, I longed to die and spent many days making plans to end my life in the most ‘considerate’ way possible. Every day I thought I’d finally figured out what to do. I had fictional visions of how life would continue effortlessly, without me.
It was hard to share this in detail with loved ones because I felt the weight of their response. I knew that my thoughts and my state of mind would upset them and that was almost too much to bear. I was crippled by the guilt of not being enough and I felt guilty that I felt this way. It was a vicious cycle that sparked a lot of creative thinking about how I could end my life.
I felt trapped and stuck. I am very grateful for the vigilance of my partner and my GP who flagged their concern with sensitive and serious care. I started on medication that I had been on before and within a week, I realized just how hormonal this depression seemed to be. There is such a cocktail of hormones that come with pregnancy and postpartum bodies – so much so that I felt entirely strange in my own body. A fog lifted and I could think clearly again and I felt like I could see my son. That’s a strange thing to say, but it was almost like a sheer curtain that had separated us was gone. For the first time, I touched and felt and saw my son with all of my senses. I realized in hindsight that things were not okay.
This started my slow road to recovery. Incredibly supportive family and friends helped in practical and meaningful ways. My partner’s encouragement was unflagging even when things got very dark and very scary for him.
I wonder now if my experience negatively affected my son. I am so grateful that I have the eyes to see his resilience. He is a happy little bean; he was loved by my effort and everything I could not give, he had in spades from my partner. I was one of the lucky ones. I got better, stronger, and more courageous. I got well.
I want you to be educated about postnatal depression. If you are soon to be a new parent, educate yourself. Look for signs in yourself and your partner. For me, I noticed the anxiety before I noticed the restlessness, the inability to focus or sleep, negative feelings towards myself and my son, the total exhaustion and inability to rest, the social withdrawal, and the looming sense of dread and lack of hope.
Look out for your friends. Be a non-judgemental fixture in their life. Encourage them and be ready for the moment when they are feeling brave enough to be kind to themselves. Be extra vigilant with parents who are doing this on their own or with absent partners. Be present and available. Be responsive.
If this is you, it’s okay to not be okay. It’s also not okay. Get help. And please do not attempt this alone. You are loved and known. Lean into that reality. Know that that is true.”
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