It was raining harder than I anticipated it would, as I walked an hour to my psychiatrist appointment. I had an umbrella that barely did any good, but I didn’t care. It was a welcomed break. An hour to myself, without any cooing or crying, diapering or playing. Good or bad, I wanted nothing to do with my own kid, and I was tired, exhausted, by faking it. My daughter was 13 months old, and I was just diagnosed a week before, officially, with postpartum depression.
Looking back, I knew it was coming. It’s why I put an official diagnosis off for so long. Having been diagnosed with clinical depression at the age of thirteen, I was told I was three times more likely to end up in this situation. But I wanted a baby more than those women who get postpartum depression. Way more. So it wasn’t going to happen to me. No way, no how, no chance. Find another new mom, global statistics, ‘cause I am not the chosen one.
Well, I had my baby. Everything went as planned. A relatively uncomplicated pregnancy led to an incredibly textbook delivery. And I took one look at her, and I felt nothing. And I continued to feel nothing for a good long time.
My Type-A personality vanished as I handed my less than six-pound baby girl to whomever would take her. I felt no need to grab her back, protect her, snuggle her. I felt no void when I had to attend my own medical appointment at the same time as her first pediatrician’s appointment. No need to be there, to take a photo, to document the day. I needed the information, but I didn’t need her.
I have wanted nothing more than to be a mom for as far back as I can remember. When asked what I wanted for my seventh birthday, I responded with a stroller. A real stroller. When we had “flour babies” in sixth grade, I chose to have twins. So when it came time to buckle down and figure out what I was going to do with my life, it was no surprise that I ended up training to be a child life specialist, working with children and families from all walks of life. Later, I got my masters degree and worked as a child development specialist at a well-known parenting center. I prepared every step of my life meticulously to make way for the path of parenthood. From who I married, to when I got married, to where I worked and where we lived. Every duck in its row, set up for success.
And I failed. Miserably.
Until recently, I could count on one hand the number of times I could remember feeling love towards my child: Over thirteen months—less than five times. In fact, I believe the exact number was three. So far and few between that I could detail those exact three moments of feeling that way so many other mothers get to feel so often.
When told how beautiful she was, I could only say, “She’s a good one!” And when people asked me how it was going, the most I could bear to mutter was “It’s hard.” And even just last week, the furthest I could push myself to admitting the truth was announcing that “I wasn’t the happiest new mom,” which has become my signature line in describing the first year of my child’s life.
It took more than six months after starting treatment to see what a terrible and terrifying place I was in. I consider myself lucky; I wasn’t in the category of wanting to hurt my own child, though on those long walks to therapy looking over the Mass. Ave. bridge, I did wonder what would happen if I were to just jump in front of a moving car, or throw myself into the water. And now, it has taken almost a full two years to acknowledge, out loud, that this was my experience. That everything I had hoped for and dreamed of and put so much effort into came tumbling down. And that most people didn’t know. Because as I’ve said in the past, Facebook posts about milestones and Instagram photos of family outings do not a happy mother make.
To compare where I am today, and where I was for such a huge chunk of my daughter’s life so far, is unbelievable. To reflect on what she missed out on due to what I missed out on is so sad. Together, we were both gigantically ripped off. But, through therapy combined with medication, and some major attempts at late-stage bonding, somehow, we have both healed in a way I couldn’t have ever expected to be possible.
I miss her when we are apart. My heart sinks when she falls. I, to my surprise, finally feel that innate love that so many new mothers are lucky enough to feel. That quintessential baby-being-put-on-your-chest-for-the-first-time connection has happened over mommy-daughter dates for frozen yogurt, completing art projects, and celebrating holidays. It may not have been the standard path, but we finally are on the right track. And this time, it’s truly a good one.
Can you identify with Rebecca’s PPD experience? Or do you know someone who went through a similar situation?