The Mama Notes features essays written by different mothers from around the country in the hopes of giving them a platform to share their voice, connect with other women going through the same highs and lows of motherhood. Interested in sharing your story? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by Amanda Redinger
I can look back and see the moment the switch flipped, the second when, after 24 hours of labor and delivery, the darkness crept in.
I was exhausted from an attempted home birth where I eventually ended up delivering in the hospital with an amazing team. An hour or two after Emory was delivered, we were transferred to the mother & baby unit. I was handed my sweet newborn, my husband gathered up all of our things, and I was wheeled to the ninth floor. Everyone we passed smiled and congratulated us on our new bundle of joy, but I felt unusually distant from their enthusiasm. I felt disjointed, nervous, and rattled.
We got settled in to our new room with new nurses (who were kind, but held no torch to our amazing L&D nurses). It was a sign that we had officially entered the next chapter, and were parents to our 7lb 11oz little girl. I had spent most of my adult life around babies and children: at church, babysitting, nannying. I knew the type of parent I planned to be, how I would be so relaxed and clearly knew how to handle *all the things*. But this was my baby, and I lost all feelings of confidence and preparedness. I was terrified, but in an abstract, unsettling way.
I’ve struggled with anxiety & depression since I was a teenager, and was on Zoloft before and during my pregnancy (per my OB, midwife, and psychiatrist). We had a plan in place to watch for PPD/A since I was at a higher risk, and had been monitoring my mood throughout pregnancy. I knew what anxiety felt like, what panic attacks and dark depression felt like…but this was different.
As the hours passed in our new hospital room and family came to see our sweet girl, I felt a constant state of panic. Dread. I wanted to go home and I didn’t want to go home. We were having serious nursing issues, saw three different lactation consultants and ended up having to supplement her with formula feeding because she was basically starving.
The nurse came in to do her heel prick and Emory screamed. She had her Vitamin K shot and did fine, so I was shocked by her reaction. The nurse was doing a terrible job at getting the blood out, and kept squeezing and squeezing her little heel. Something broke inside me, and I started weeping. I was holding Emory’s hand as she cried, and I was crying even harder. My husband and parents and sister just looked at me, heartbroken–for me, not Emory. I felt her pain in every cell of my body, and knew that it was too extreme of a reaction even then.
We were discharged from the hospital late the day after Emory was born, and arrived home around 9:30pm. I cried before leaving the hospital, I cried on the way home. And I absolutely lost it when we got there.
We tried to get her to sleep in her crib, but she just cried. I was shattering inside, and knew I wasn’t well. I went to take a shower and felt like crawling the walls. My husband came in with the baby, and the sound of the shower (and heat, we apparently kept our house way too cold!) calmed her down to where he could ask what was going on.
I’ll never forget what I said: “I just want her to go away. I want our life back. I change my mind, I don’t want her anymore.”
That’s a far, far cry from the stories of euphoria and instant love you hear about new motherhood.
In the days following, it didn’t get better. I cried just as much as her, and I was terrified of everything. I never slept, because I was scared she was going to die. I started picturing things happening to her, and I would spiral into living a nightmare that wasn’t happening.
About a week after she was born, when things were still dark and dangerous, I said to my husband, “I am not well. I need help.” He called my midwives and they came over (perks of a home birth practice!) to asses where I was. We all decided that I needed to be seen by a professional and reevaluate my medication.
Since my husband went back to work after a week, I asked my cousin Rachel to meet me at the doctor and watch Emory while I went back. I was so insanely stressed–I just pictured her out there screaming her head off. The nurse practitioner came in and we talked about what I was feeling, how I wasn’t thinking of hurting my baby or myself (yet), but that I was very unwell.
She looked me in the eye and told me about when her first daughter was born. “I vividly remember wanting to throw her out the window. I know what you’re feeling.”
I don’t know if she was telling the truth, or creating a story to help me feel more “normal”, but I don’t care. I felt heard and like I wasn’t a completely broken, miserable human for not loving my baby like “they” say we should.
My medication was increased and I saw a therapist the next day. The medication was exactly what I needed, since (unknowingly) breastfeeding increases your metabolism which meant my normally fine dose was being metabolized way too quickly. It was exactly what I needed, and within a day I felt incredibly better.
But one of the best things happened when I decided to share on social media that my postpartum experience wasn’t going the way I’d hoped. I shared that I was overwhelmed and scared, and was seeking professional help. Within minutes my phone was buzzing: texts, direct messages, phone calls, emails. Mamas from every corner of my life came out to show solidarity. Many of them had experienced the same thing, and committed to holding my hand throughout the next few weeks. Some of them hadn’t experienced the same thing, but held my hand regardless. People would check in every few days, they’d bring food, they’d pray. Women who I’d never met reached out to make sure I knew I was supported and not alone. I was wrecked by the outpouring of love and camaraderie that I never knew was there. I pray I can be half of the tribe those ten, twenty women were to me!
Emory just turned five months old. It didn’t get better immediately, and even when it did get better it was still hard. Newborns are just hard! But now we’re in a routine, have her reflux under control, and are learning more about each other every day. She’s teething, and still takes all her naps on me, but the fog has lifted and darkness fled.
If you’re struggling postpartum, know you’re not alone. There’s a tribe of women who stand in solidarity behind you, propping you up. Seek help. Share openly. Be transparent with your loved ones and, perhaps most importantly, don’t judge yourself for what you’re feeling. It’s not you, it’s the darkness of depression and anxiety. One of the greatest tactics I’ve learned from therapy is to give your anxiety/depression a name, any name. Bob. Sally. Jadis. Beyonce. Refer to it by that name, so that it’s a separate identity from you. Your anxiety and depression are. not. you. You are you, and you’re beautiful and strong. You can do this, and your sweet baby will thank you for every step in the direction of health and wholeness that you take.
Other stories on PPD: