It’s a question nobody has asked me before. Not even my mental health nurse, Anne Marie, asked me this. Sure, she asked me symptom-specific questions, but no one has ever come out and asked me:
“what was it like to have postpartum depression?”
What was it like?
At first I barely knew it was there. I was already in shock from delivering a totally different child than I was expecting. My fractured brain, and everyone around me, said this was normal. “You just had a baby, you’re a new mom, you’re a student nurse trying to finish your year, oh and your baby girl turned out to be a boy. This is just how new moms feel. Try to get more sleep. Enjoy your sweet little boy.”
Enjoy him? I hated him. Oh yes, everyone says they love their child at first sight, and I did too, but I also hated that I had no daughter, and to my mind, it was all his fault. I believed that he had killed her and assumed her place. I felt absolutely nothing when he cried, when I held him, and when others squealed, “What a beautiful boy!”
What I did feel, though, was rage. Rage at the idiots who brayed with laughter when they found out the story of how “she” was really “he”. I would weakly protest, “Really, it’s not that funny”, but they laughed all the same. I was chastised for not accepting this miracle in my life, made to feel ashamed that I had dared to try and find out what should be one of life’s greatest surprises…the sex of my own baby.
But what people don’t understand is that since I was 12 years old, I have suffered in silence with some form of mental health disorder. At twelve, I took a penknife to my wrist and as I was making the first cut, my brother came into my room, said “I love you” as I scurried to hide the knife, hugged me, and left. It took me ten years to thank him for it. At 14, I wrote a suicide letter to my best friend on her graphing calculator and handed it to her, intending to off myself quietly in the bathroom at school. She chased me down as I left and wouldn’t let me leave her sight until I promised I would live. At 16, my first boyfriend broke up with me and I decided to try cutting my wrists again.this time, though, the boy who would become my husband took my hand and it was his love that saved me. At 21, overwhelmed with the stress of planning my wedding, a difficult midwifery placement and medical issues, I counted out a handful of my fiance’s pain pills from a recent surgery, as I lay in bed next to him. He woke up as I was bringing them to my mouth and sleepily asked what I was doing. I thought then, “Never again. He is your reason to live.”
How wrong I was.
I got pregnant in the summer of 2011. I had two chemical pregnancies that I know of prior to that. I was overjoyed to become a mother. But that all changed as I entered my second trimester. As I entered my third year of nursing school, the stressors of being a student and soon to be mom caught up with me. Then the daughter of a teammate said to me, “You don’t have a baby in your belly,” when her dad told her I was expecting, because I didn’t have much of a belly yet. I began to believe it was true. I felt constant anxiety, apprehension and paranoia that everyone hated me, that I wasn’t really pregnant, and even if I was then there must be something horribly wrong with my baby. That I would be a terrible mother.
Then came the magical day when the sonographer at Health Sciences North told me I was having a girl. I was incandescently happy. I’d always wanted a little girl. I was going to name her Lucie. She would be my ninja princess, and all would be right in the world as long as I had my daughter by my side.
But then Cole pissed all over my midwife’s shirt at the time of his birth and announced, “it’s a boy!” I believe my exact reaction was, “Are you fucking serious?”
Now we get back to being a new mom with PPD. That insidious fucking mind-warping disease. I felt nothing unless I was angry at the world, strangers who mistook him for a girl, people laughing at my misfortune, and most of all that bitch of a sonographer who told my husband after the scan, “if it’s a boy, it’s a very small boy”. I wrote a letter to the hospital and got back a very condescending letter that made it clear to me that they didn’t give a shit that they’d made a mistake. That they’d cost me my sanity and my relationship with my child. At my six week visit, my midwife gave me the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale. I scored a 21/30. That’s really bad. I was immediately referred to a program for moms with PPD. It was an outpatient clinic and it saved my life. In 4 months, I went from wanting to swaddle my kid and throw him head first into a wall, to actually feeling genuine love for him when I held him. Instead of lying in bed until noon and eating next to nothing, I would go walking in the sunshine with my baby, and my appetite slowly returned.
Today, Cole is a happy 15-month-old holy terror who is the bright spot in my life, which used to seem so dark to me. There are still moments of doubt and fear, and mostly I wonder if this early lack of attachment to him will affect him somehow. But then I see his smiling face when he sees me in the morning, and I know one thing for sure…
I am an amazing mother, and going through PPD (aka Hell) made me that way.