“Don’t you just love being a mom?!” “I adore being a mom, I just love to sit and watch my baby sleep, don’t you?” “Having a baby is just the best thing in the world, isn’t it?” “I sure hope you’re enjoying this time, it goes fast!” Smile and nod. Smile and nod. The right answer to those questions is yes. I know the right answer to both those questions is yes. Why don’t I feel like the answer is yes? Maybe it’s like those books said; it takes time to “fall in love” with your child and it’s perfectly normal for a bond to take time; it’s not instantaneous for everyone, after all. But I couldn’t help but feel unsettled about it. The feelings would ebb and flow, the “baby blues” had long since passed as well as the usual “danger zone” for the onset of post partum depression (PPD) so mostly I was confused. Because the only thing I was sure of was that I did not enjoy being a mom. Not one bit. Let it be known, I have always loved my daughter, fiercely so. I fully understand the meaning of “mama bear” in every sense of the word because of this love. But that love for her could not make me love what who I had become when she entered my womb.
Shame. It overwhelmed me. I shouldn’t feel like this! I must have done something wrong to feel this way. There must be something I can do. I read more scriptures, I pray more frequently, I sing religious songs to my daughter to rock her to sleep (heck, they’re the only ones I can remember! What comes after the looking glass in that nursery rhyme again?). I receive Priesthood blessings of comfort, something my religion believes in. Specific thoughts and scripture verses come to my mind, you know the kind that should help and bring comfort and peace? Like John 14:27. It didn’t bring me any comfort. It didn’t change the fact that I didn’t like being a mom. And I’m afraid to tell anyone. What would they think? That I was crazy and not fit to be a mom-that I didn’t love my child? Would “they” try to take her away? Shame and guilt led to irrational fear.
Isolation. Those irrational fears drove me to pull inward. I had moved to a new neighborhood and did absolutely nothing to reach out to others, and being new, it’s sometimes hard for others to reach out to you. I was too afraid to go out on walks by myself. We have a nice paved trail 2 miles all the way around if you start counting at my doorstep. It led by a river. I was convinced that some wacked out stranger would pull her carseat from the stroller, throw her in the river and restrain me from saving her. I even isolated myself from my husband. I had horrible black white thinking that everything that happened to my daughter was a direct result of something I either did right or wrong, and if anything went wrong, I was automatically to blame. When I got tired of blaming myself, I’d shift the blame to him.
Ironically, at this same time, Tom Cruise made some infamous remark towards Brooke Shields about how depression is all in your head and all you need to do is take the right vitamins and exercise. Wow. I got so hot-headed and defensive about it that the light finally went on in my head. “Melinda, if you are so defensive about that statement, it must mean you have something to be defensive about.” My inner voice told me. So as much as I think he was an idiot for saying what he did, I am grateful he made it because it made me realize the cause of my suffering.
Courage. I got up the courage to tell my Bishop that I thought I needed prefessional help. I was still ashamed and kept the information from family and friends. When I got to LDS Family Services I filled out a survey of how I felt. Those who score above a 50 are considered severely depressed. I scored well over 100. It shocked me, really. After a couple sessions, I learned some cognitive awareness activities, but it did not quell as much as I needed it to. Having learned from my husband through his psychology degree that often counseling and medication paired together have the best results, I contacted my OB for an appointment to get on medication. This was around 2 ½ months post-partum, which is considered late on-set for PPD. Most times, I guess if it’s gonna happen it will rear its ugly head around 6 weeks when you have your post-delivery check up. They warned me that it could take up to a couple weeks for the medication to take affect. I received a miracle and it worked within a couple of days. I was scared to take medication for fear that I would never be “normal” without it, but I knew I needed it. The medication plus counseling worked for me and I began being more open about my condition, in hopes that I could maybe help someone else or at least just relate to someone else in a way that no one else could. But I had another unexpected guest.
Anger. As the title suggests, which is a quote from Cheryl Tatano Beck, a noted nurse-researcher, my PPD stole my motherhood. I was angry! PPD stole the first 3 months of my daughter’s life. It was supposed to be the happiest time of my entire life, and all I wanted to do was block it from my memory. The darkest personal hell I’ve ever been through before or since. I was not expecting the anger, I thought I had dealt with the depression and I could move on with my life, but I had to work through the anger. Following closely behind was jealousy. Even to this day I still cry when a new mother expresses her utmost love and joy of being a mom, because I never felt that way and never got to experience that. I feel cheated and have a hard time not envying mom’s who get that privilege.
To be honest, I only have a few vivid memories of that time, everything else is really like looking through a thick black cloud of pain. Of course there were some good days and good things and smiles and laughter, they just weren’t in the normal amounts. I never want to feel that way ever again. I was able to get off the medication, although I was obviously very sensitive to it, though it was just 10mg a day. If I did not take it at the same time of day every day, it threw me off. So when I weaned myself, I went from full doses to half doses to quarter doses and I chose not to complete the process until my daughter weaned 100% from nursing, since I suspected it to be largely hormonal. The next time I have a child I am opting for medication upon giving birth as a preventative measure. I have to admit that I sometimes feel weak by making that decision, but I am too scared to let PPD sneak in and take any more of my life away with any future children.
My daughter just turned 5 last April. And I can honestly say now that I love being a mom. And I’m not just doing the “smile and nod.”