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Why does nobody warn you about postpartum depression?

Content warning: This article mentions suicidal thoughts, which might be distressing to some readers.

I moved to the United Kingdom from the United States four years ago and have been working as an Editor. I prepared for everything when I found out I was pregnant. Labour, birth, and taking care of a newborn. But, I was not ready for the postpartum period — the period after childbirth.

Doesn’t this only happen to people with traumatic births or difficult pregnancies? No, it doesn’t. It can happen to anyone, and it happened to me.

I’m staring into the face of my newborn and I feel empty. This is what nobody talks about, what nobody warns you about. This is my experience with postpartum depression.

Two weeks after delivery

The first two weeks after delivering my first baby were a blur. I remember struggling to nurse, endless night wakes, and sleepy newborn snuggles during the day. I remember midwives visiting, focused on how much the baby weighed and how my second-degree tear was healing. I remember family and friends coming to see the baby, and I remember each day it felt like I was slipping further and further away from myself.

Around two weeks is when everything changed. I can only describe what happened inside of me as a crash. Like when you get to the top of the rollercoaster and then come racing down, it happened in an instant, and instead of at the end of the rollercoaster when you laugh at how scary and fun a ride it was, I was left broken.

Around this time, we were issued a health visitor. She came to introduce herself and get us set up in the system. She asked how everything was going.

“I can’t stop crying,” I told her. “Something feels not right, I’m very emotional.” She seemed so sure of her advice that I didn’t think to question her. “Mothers often feel weepy around this time, you’ll start to feel normal soon,” she also added, which I will never forget “Make sure you are resting enough.”

Resting enough? Hilarious. As if she didn’t see me sitting with this newborn baby in my arms.

Everything starts to feel scary

At this point, I was another person watching myself go through the day. I looked in the mirror and, even though I could see myself looking back, I swear I was looking at a stranger.

I was looking at a body that I didn’t recognise. My eyes were swollen and red from the constant crying, and my stomach was stretched out, saggy, and covered with stretch marks. My chest was heavy and sore. Physically, you could say that I was fully recovered. My tearing had healed and I was no longer taking Tylenol and ibuprofen for the swelling and pain.

But mentally, everything was falling apart. I couldn’t bring myself to do basic things. I couldn’t shower, I was barely brushing my teeth. I felt gross and disgusting but also couldn’t bring myself to care enough to do anything about it.

I took care of my baby. I struggled with nursing every day and this weighed heavily on my mental health. Feeding your baby should be an instinct, so why can’t I get him to latch? What am I doing wrong? I can’t believe I am failing him already.

Everyone with their good intentions and advice only made me feel worse. This led me to hide deeper within myself. Every bottle I had to prepare in front of someone else brought me such shame and guilt. One particular day, a day when I had already spent hours crying, someone said that I just needed to “try harder,” and this broke me.

The darkest downward spiral

My brain started to feel cloudy, everything around me looked foggy. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t see anything. I was taking care of my son, obsessing over everything he needed or did. Is he sleeping enough, is he getting enough tummy time — every question I got about his development felt like a personal attack.

Having visitors at this point was crippling to me. I would stay around people for as long as I could and then hide and cry in another room. It was so overwhelming to have to pretend to be okay in front of other people that I couldn’t take it for very long.

Then the intrusive thoughts started getting stronger. It was my own voice that I could hear telling me that my baby would be better off if I wasn’t here, that my husband would be happier, that they would both thrive with me gone.

The more I fought against these thoughts the louder they got. By now, my son was around twelve weeks old and, despite my health visitor’s assurance, I was not feeling better. At this point, I knew something was really wrong.

My husband tried to help me, comfort me, and understand. He asked what he could do to help, but how do you tell someone that life just feels like too much right now?

A glimmer of light

Around the time my son was six months old, I knew that I couldn’t carry on like this anymore. He needed me, and I couldn’t be here for him if I couldn’t show up for myself. For my own mental health, I stopped pumping breast milk and switched to solely using formula.

Maybe it was a combination of stress and not being able to get my baby to latch but my supply was drying up and I knew that mentally I couldn’t handle this anymore. It was time to let this go and move on.

I made small daily tasks that felt manageable. I made it a priority to wash my face every morning. Once I was able to do that, I made it a habit to start getting out of the house. Up until now, I would only leave the house if my husband also came, I was convinced I wouldn't be able to soothe the baby if he started crying while we were out. But in getting outside I saw my baby and myself come alive.

Now, don’t think a little skincare and fresh air was a magic fix. It wasn’t. There are still lingering effects of this time that I carry with me and struggle with.

But I have a wheelhouse of tools that I lean on to get through. Mantras, which I thought were a little ridiculous before, help me refocus myself when I start to spiral. A favourite of mine is, “This is hard right now, but I can get through this.” My husband and family, whom I can lean on when things feel like too much, and my religion, Islam, which keeps me grounded.

I sincerely hope that in sharing my experience, at least one person will know that they aren’t alone. That it is okay if you feel this way. You haven’t done anything wrong, it’s not your fault and it is okay to get the help you need.

There are options that you can go through with your midwife team which are free to use. So please don’t be afraid, don’t wait to feel better, and seek the help you deserve.


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