I was lying on the floor, in front of the stereo, listening to Barbara Streisand belt out “Happy Days Are Here Again.”
I was turned on my side, with my knees tucked up—the bass was too loud and reverberating in my ears, but I could still hear wailing in the background.
“Oh, my baby, I can’t—I’m too tired,” I groaned to myself.
Then it dawned on me—the wailing I heard wasn’t coming from my three-month-old infant. It was coming from me.
Hours before, I had placed my little stranger into the lonely crib, which was tucked in the corner of our studio apartment, and left her there. That’s where she had been ever since.
That day, I had just learned I was pregnant with my second baby—and it was the beginning of my slide into a post-partum depression that would go untreated for 15 years.
According to the National Institute of Health, while it’s normal to feel periodic sadness after giving birth, when the feelings don’t go away, or if they kick in more than a month late—that’s postpartum depression.
My second baby was a girl as well. I still ache at the thought of how I would leave her in her crib, a bottle desperately propped in her newborn mouth, while I listlessly carried her older sister on my hip—who, at the age of 13 months, was still not walking.
The symptoms of post-partum depression are the same as the symptoms of depression that occurs at other times in life. Along with a sad or depressed mood, a mother may have some of the following symptoms:
- Agitation or irritability
- Changes in appetite
- Feeling of worthlessness or guilt
- Feeling withdrawn or unconnected
- Lack of pleasure or interest in activities
- Loss of concentration
- Loss of energy
- Problems doing tasks at home or work
- Significant anxiety
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Trouble sleeping
I didn’t have enough arms to hold two babies—or enough hours in the day to recover from giving birth to two babies!
I would go to bed at night, drowning in an inky sea of depression—each wave threatening to overtake me completely. I struggled to keep at bay, my atavistic wish that the shining lights of my life had only come further apart in time—or even madly, desperately—that they had come not at all.
- Be unable to care for herself or her baby
- Be afraid to be alone with her baby
- Have negative feelings toward the baby or even think about harming the baby
- Have little interest in the baby
What kind of woman was I? What kind of mother was I?
I’ll tell you what kind—a physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually exhausted, overwhelmed, sleep deprived, not-having-a-clue-what-I-was-doing, in-over-my-head, barely-out-of my-teens-kind. That’s what kind!
We take giving birth for granted.
“It’s not an illness,” we say blithely. “It’s a natural event.”
We say, “How wonderful—a baby!”
But it’s not always “so wonderful.” Or at least, not only wonderful.
When my babies were born, I thought I was “supposed” to feel nothing but happiness. I was “supposed” to be thrilled and filled with joy.
What happened? I was happy at times, yes—even ecstatic.
But I was also depressed.
“You have the baby blues,” my mother told me—as if I knew what the “baby blues” were or why they happened.
This was 50 years ago, and such things were not directly talked about. In fact, it was not until those very babies were in high school, that the insight of an exceptionally incisive therapist uncovered the depth to which my depression went.
Upworthy recently reported:
“Hayden Panettiere, actress and animal rights activist, is voluntarily seeking professional help at a treatment center as she is currently battling postpartum depression.”
In making her announcement Panettiere said:
“There’s a lot of misunderstanding. There’s a lot of people out there that think that it’s not real, that it’s not true, that it’s something that’s made up in their minds, that ‘Oh, it’s hormones.’ They brush it off. It’s something that’s completely uncontrollable. It’s really painful and it’s really scary and women need a lot of support.”
When my babies were born, I needed a lot of support—and just “turning the radio on” (as my mother had suggested) wasn’t it.
My mental state affected the quality of my parenting, shut me down to my children’s needs and left me as a cold, empty, raging time-bomb. I struggled constantly to keep under control.
Millions of other women who have struggled in this same way are grateful for the light that Hayden Panettiere is casting on this shadow regarding women’s lives and mental health.
It takes real courage to air one’s linen—especially when, for so many years, one’s “linen” hasn’t been taken very seriously.
“The stigma against postpartum depression…is unfortunately still strong. Many people still equate suffering from depression with ‘being depressed,’ ‘having a bad day,’ or ‘just being sad’ and expect those who suffer from it to be able to simply ‘snap out of it …and their experiences are minimized, ignored or dismissed.'”
Today, as a 73-year-old woman, my heart goes out to the 20-year-old young mother in me, who didn’t know a thing about “baby blues.” (Besides that she was feeling them.) Today, that same 73-year-old woman celebrates another young mother, Hayden Panettiere—for her courage, knowledge, self-acceptance and willingness to help others suffering with the same condition.
Because of her, fewer women will be singing the baby blues.
“Happy Days Are Here Again.”
Author: Carmelene Siani
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Photo: Flickr/Jenna Carver