In looking back at my first year of motherhood, I feel a twinge of happiness, but also sadness, and even a little bitterness, because the truth is, that first year was overwhelmingly hard.
I remember coming home from work and practically sprinting to my baby girl. It was summer and I was working my first job as a nurse, fresh out of college, while my husband was still a student off before he began classes again in the fall. I would put her on my chest and fix myself my favorite snack of cottage cheese and watermelon and we would just spend hours staring at each other.
But then, just as quickly as the summer heat faded, so did my darkness descend. Before I knew it, I was hospitalized twice for postpartum infections, once from a kidney infection and another from mastitis so severe my milk ducts were damaged and I had to be hooked up to an IV for days. I felt weak and lost and angry at my body. Next, I was off training and switched on to night shift at work as my husband began a grueling schedule of classes and volunteer coaching and without a babysitter at home, I never slept. I never saw my husband and it felt like I was all alone in the world. I had no friends and no support.
Soon, I was barely functioning. I spent hours crying, shedding tears as I pushed my daughter in a swing in our yard. Why can’t you just be happy? I would chide myself. You have a beautiful baby. You have a job. You should be grateful.
Mostly, I kept pushing through. A few times, I was so tired I couldn’t manage to pull myself off the floor and I called my mom in desperation, begging her to come over just so I could sleep. But she had a full-time job and enough on her plate without her adult daughter calling her. So I kept going.
And still, the fogginess, the exhaustion, the lack of motivation, the dark thoughts — you’re not good enough, you’re the worst mother — the desire not to be anymore, haunted me.
Now, of course, I know that I was suffering from postpartum depression. I had a real medical condition and it wasn’t just because I was ungrateful or a wuss or couldn’t hack it as a mom. It was because somewhere along the line, whether it was my sicknesses or sleep deprivation or support system breakdown or a combination or just plain old brain chemistry, something went wrong.
I didn’t seek treatment at the time because I didn’t recognize that I needed help. I thought it was just me. I thought I just needed to get stronger, push harder, stop my whining and complaining. I loved my daughter, but I was deep in the throes of postpartum depression and either too sick or too stubborn to see it. The only person that could have saved me was my husband — and he had no idea what PPD even was.
I wish so much that I could go back in time and shake some sense into both of us, make me see that I needed help, make him see that I needed help. I think that especially when it comes to having a first baby, so many men “default” into “yes, dear” mode. You know, the mode where they just step back and let their wives or girlfriends or partners do all the decision making and they just kind of hang back hoping not to do anything to make her mad?
Yeah, that’s enough.
Men of the world, you need to be an advocate for the woman in your life. You need to watch her closely and not accept that motherhood turns women into weeping, miserable versions of themselves, then shrug your shoulders and accept that this is now life. Because it’s not and there is a better way, but she needs help.
My husband and I didn’t know any better and I still regret that we lost so much in that time in our lives. I wish that the medical staff would have drilled him in the signs and symptoms of postpartum depression, made him repeat them back to them, made him be on the lookout for them. I wish that it was mandatory to take men to the six-week check-up so they would be there as a witness to their wives’ mental health when we try to insist “we’re fine.” I wish there was just as much focus on getting clearance to be happy as there was for clearance to have sex again.
My reality is that my life could have been a lot different if my husband had recognized when I had postpartum depression, but the truth is, we will both always have to live with that.
If you’re preparing to have a baby, don’t let that happen to you. Have the conversation ahead of time and for goodness’s sake, make sure he’s watching for postpartum depression — because you can’t be expected to recognize it when it happens to you.