Jenny Lawson, of Bloggess fame, says that “depression lies,” and she is right.
After my child was born, I developed postpartum depression. And while the depression itself was awful, the lies it told me were worse. However, I wear the badge of postpartum depression without shame. It is a disease, and I am not ashamed to have encountered it.
Instead, I want to bring assurance and hope to other women who are suffering out there—and that’s why I want to tell you some of the lies that my postpartum depression whispered to me.
“Elaine. Hey, Elaine, wake up. Yeah, I know you just fell asleep 30 minutes ago. But have you figured out yet that having this baby ruined your life? No? Well, I’m telling you now. You’ve ruined your life.”
Groggy with accumulated sleep deprivation and ears filled with the wailing of my hungry infant, I fell for that lie. It certainly seemed like life was ruined.
“Elaine, nice job breastfeeding that baby. You actually acted like you cared about it. We both know that you don’t. You don’t really love her. How could you? All you ever want is to put her down and sleep. You don’t love her. You’re too selfish.”
I look at my sleeping child’s angelic face and feel numb—I’m not even happy that she’s not crying. I must not really love her.
“Elaine, there’s only one way to stop the crying. You know what to do. Swings work, but only for a little while. If you shake her—just a little—she’ll be confused and get quiet. Think of it! You might get five minutes of glorious silence. Just a little shake.”
I felt my hands tense around the tiny baby’s body. They turned to stone, unable to constrict or relax. I took a deep breath, and then I put the baby into her crib and texted a friend. I’m afraid I’ll hurt my baby.
Postpartum depression delivers a one-two punch of lies, followed by guilt. Every time we believe a lie, we then feel guilty about it.
How can we admit that we don’t feel love for our child? What kind of mom thinks a baby has ruined her life? And is there anyone more reviled than the mom who physically abuses an infant? How can that thought even exist in my head if I’m a good person?
I was trapped in an ever-deepening quicksand of lies and guilt—but I threw out a rope in the form of a text message, and my community pulled me out.
I changed my anti-anxiety medication. I began working with a talk therapist. I hired a baby sitter three times a week. I joined a La Leche League group. I forced myself to do something to bring me laughter every day. I gave myself any permitted indulgence as much as possible—time in my hot tub, watching the “Daily Show” and “Colbert Report,” eating entire packages of Oreos in three sittings, buying cute clothes to fit my new body and hiring someone to clean my house.
Most importantly, I confided in my friends. I told them how I felt. I let them comfort me. I listened to their advice. I didn’t hide behind the lies that had terrified me.
Because that is the biggest lie of all. The lie that no one will understand you—that no one has ever felt this way before.
Postpartum depression wants to isolate you from me, and me from you, and all of us from each other. Community is the truth that counters the lies of postpartum depression.
I got better. I never did any harm to my child. When I texted my lifeline, my friend responded with compassion and help. My community joined forces to yank me out of the quicksand. I regained feelings and finally felt that fierce and undying maternal love that had always been within me.
What can we do?
Remember that postpartum depression lies.
Find a trusted friend to confide in.
Get a babysitter—do whatever it takes to have an hour or two alone each day. (Yes, you can do this even if you’re breastfeeding.)
Find something that makes you laugh and do it every day. I watched the “Colbert Report.” Maybe you’ll read a humor website, or play with a pet, or ask your partner to tickle your feet. Whatever brings a smile or chuckle—do it!
Get treatment—medication, meditation, talk therapy, massage—you wouldn’t expect a rotten tooth to heal on its own, so why expect your brain to heal on its own?
Postpartum depression lies. You are not a bad mom for having these feelings.
Author: Elaine Bayless
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Photo: Flickr/Oleg Sidorenko