Good Mothers Don't

Thursday, February 23, 2006

In hindsight, I suppose that my postpartum depression was fairly textbook. Had I been a Mom in one of my Infant classrooms, I would have spotted my symptoms much earlier. However, as with parenting, the realities of the situation feel much different when you are the person in the middle of the maelstrom.

It isn’t as if I didn’t love my child. She was so well planned that I know the evening of the conception. Through my temperature chart I can tell you the day she implanted and the first day the pregnancy test came back as positive. As the only child of two eldest children, she has been anything but ignored.

It happened not long after she was born. I was just so tired. The physical exhaustion of laboring is something that took me aback. I understood that this was to be hard work, but I was wiped out. I felt as if I could have slept for days. There was no rest for the weary as they handed her to me over and over to nurse. I would ask for her to be taken to the nursery. An hour later I would be woken to be told, “She’s inconsolable – we think she is hungry”. Terrance was there off and on, but as most new fathers he assumed that we were all set. He felt free to leave for a majority of the day.

While it sounds as if this is an indictment of Terrance, let me be clear. It is not. The jumble that is the first year of parenting is one that I now compassionately watch others struggle through. There is simply no way to prepare anyone for the entry of this “Quantity X” into a relationship. My expectations of his behavior were never spoken out loud – except as accusations long after the fact. I was angry at his failure to help me. I was angry at his lack of skill with her. I was angry that his life hadn’t seemed to change very much. There he sat – the same- watching me be sucked dry. Doing nothing. Telling me how tired he was.

I hated him.

I hid it all well for a long time. I would cry, but only at night when he was asleep. I would nurse Emily on the couch and then lay her down next to me and cry holding my head in my hands. This whole thing had been a terrible idea. My terrible idea.

Occasionally, I think that he got glimpses of what was happening. One night I announced that if I didn’t get four hours of uninterrupted sleep I was killing every fucking person in this house – starting with him. The force of my fury drove him backward, out of the bedroom. He had Emily in his arms, and huddled protectively around her. I had my four hours of sleep, but it changed nothing.

I began to daydream about hurting her. It shames and horrifies me mightily to even write these words down. My betrayal to my daughter seems complete in that sentence. I would catch myself thinking that I could drop her in the lake and no one would know for at least a few hours. I could smother her and drown out the incessant screaming. In Montreal that July, I thought how I could drop her from the balcony on our hotel and it could seem like an accident.

I know now that this is stage 2 of a bad postpartum depression. I never acted on any of these impulses. I retained a quiet, still voice in my head that told me that these things were wrong. I would be caught. I would go to jail. I never crossed the line into psychosis, but I was skimming the edge, my fingers trailing through the tar.

When Emily was weaned at 18 months, I had expected to be relieved. That is when it got worse. I suspect that the flood of hormones in my body from nursing was keeping me afloat.

My behavior became more erratic, and I carefully hid it from my husband and co-workers. By the time she was 2, I was no longer able to hide what was happening to me. People began to notice. The staff at the child care began to notice. I was flat, disaffected. I began to fear talking with people and my first panic attacks began. During one, I crawled under my desk at work, to hide from the teaching staff. Of course, if anyone had walked into my office, they would have seen me through the 4-inch gap between the floor and the desk. I admit I was crazy, but obviously not a mastermind. I laugh at that image now – me weighing about 200 pounds cramming myself under my desk to hide.

I do recall the day I called for a therapist. I started to cry on the phone with behavioral health (who you call to get the first authorizations for my HMO). I kept repeating, “I don’t know what is wrong, but something is very, very wrong with me” and then sobbing uncontrollably. Emily was three and a half years old at this point. I couldn’t remember ever feeling good. I couldn't ever remember liking my child.

At the first sessions, I would cry and cry. My therapist would ask me to do concrete tasks like “write down the roles in your life”. I would write down my work roles. I never listed mother. When she would prompt me, I would hastily scribble it at the bottom of the list feeling guilty for having forgotten about it.

As the drugs filtered into my brain and my chemistry came back into balance, I mourned the lost years of my daughter’s infancy. She had never known a rational, even keel mom. One who didn’t flip out, yelling, crying and screaming at nothing in particular. I mourned my feelings of professional competency. I mourned the life I had envisioned for my family and myself. I mourned my vision of my perfect child.

Children are all forgiving. That is an amazing gift. As I returned to Emily, she accepted my presence with joy. After I had grieved for all I hadn’t done, I was able to begin to live in the present. She is my one and only child. I do my best everyday to give her an authentic mother, who is playful and funny and more than a little goofy. I want to arm her with the knowledge that I will always protect her, even as it hurts me to see her experience pain and disappointment. I want her to know that it is all right to be unsure and vulnerable and crazy. We have a long line of crazy in my family. She comes by it honestly.

So go ahead. Call me a Mommy or even a “MommyBlogger”. I worked damn hard to get here.

24 Baleful Regards:

Anonymous said...

Wow, Dawn. What a brave thing to post about -- so many people have a hard time writing about post-partum depression and its impacts. And with dumbasses like Tom Cruise who can't shut their yaps, who can blame the moms who suffer in silence?

I know how hard it must have been to write about the depression's impacts -- I have been there too -- but how incredible that you were able to move beyond it, to find a way to get help. I know you still think about the early years with Emily that you feel you missed, but think about how much you worked to be the great mom you are today. You absolutely are a mommyblogger of the finest kind. There is no shame, only pride, in that title.

p.s. -- I think you're right about blog cycles. I also hope the cycle doesn't fall during BlogHer or we'll have some interesting days!

Anonymous said...

What a horrible thing to have to go through. I'm so glad you made it to the other side and that you are strong enough to post about it now.
Talk about a bad-ass!

Mommygoth said...

Found you via SugarMama. This is really eloquent - a beautifully written summation of what must have been a horrible experience for you. I'm so glad you were able to get the help you needed - I think a lot of women never realize what has happened to them until something awful and irrevocable happens. And also, I agree with Beth. Pee for Tom Cruise. Also, possibly snot.

Anonymous said...

Dawn --

You are saving moms right now by that post. I had mild depression and I'm experiencing it at some level now (sublimating it in my 5000 blog projects :) - with the m/cs and the weaning. BUT, I had a lot of resentment and a lot of "what the hell did I do?" -- and I wish that I had someone else there that would have said what you said to me. It would have made life way more bearable.

And you have email :)


Anonymous said...

Dawn, I'm glad you survived to become the wonderful mother you are today.

This, post, more than any other I've read, illuminates your choice of title for your blog. The best you can is pretty damn good, and you're right-- you've earned all your titles. I admire you.

sweatpantsmom said...

I'll just call you...awesome.

That was a brave, beautiful post, Dawn.

I can certainly relate to those early, foggy, insurmountable early days after childbirth. Especially with my second, since I went through an extremely trying time during this pregnancy.* You seem to have come through it with flying colors, and able to embrace the light at the end of the tunnel. Terrance and Emily are lucky to have you.

*you can read about it here. It's a long one.

The Gradual Gardener said...

What a great post. Thank you for having the courage to write it. Kristen's right...You may be helping other women without knowing it, just by being honest about your experiences.

Anonymous said...

I don't even know what to say. Though thankfully from what you and others have written on the topic, maybe some woman (maybe even me when it's my turn) will recognize it earlier and get the help they need.

I tip my hat to you, Mom. You're incredible (as are all you Moms who had to work thru this).

Anonymous said...

How isolating- to be having the intensity and numbness of all those emotions, but feeling that you must hide it from everyone in your life (even yourself to some degree) for those years.

I agree with everyone that you are very brave in posting about it, and I also think Kristen is right, that you are saving mothers right now by writing it. Some woman will read this and see pieces of herself in it and might get help because of it.

And thankfully, like you said- It is all right to be unsure, vulnerable and crazy.

Later Mommy.

Sugarmama said...

Sounds like you were put through the emotional ringer--maybe are still going through it somewhat. I am frequently astounded by how our hormones can make us behave and feel, how they control us so utterly really. It's great that you figured out how to help yourself.

Table4Five said...

Wow, Dawn. I wish every pregnant woman could read this post. I don't know why there isn't a mandatory depression screening for all new Moms. I know that feeling of being so tired that it hurts to think, let alone take care of people and yourself. It took a lot of courage for you to pick up the phone and ask for help.

That being said, you should be proud to be a MommyBlogger. And a wife, an employee, a friend. You're "doing the best you can" at so many things, any of which are hard enough by themselves. You're my hero.

IzzyMom said...

Talking about PPD is one of the best things any woman can do. I had it quite severely and had nobody and I mean NOBODY to talk about it with. I ended up sobbing on the doorstep of a local childhood resource center because between PPD and colic, I really thought I might walk in front of a bus. If just one other person on the planet had been able to tell me that it would and could get better, I might have saved myself a lot of unnecessary suffering. I have begun writing my own story but time has not been on my side and it's taken me months collect my thoughts. I may never thank you for sharing yours :-)

IzzyMom said...

I wanted to clarify that when I said "Talking about PPD is one of the best things any woman can do" I meant in order to bring the topic to light. I didn't mean talking about it is the way to help yourself. It may be one way, of course, but just realizing that there IS help in the way of medication and therapy is probably the key to keeping women from suffering as long and as hard as you did and hearing women share their stories will facilitate that. So again, thank you, Dawn. You are helping women everywhere.

Jaelithe said...

Any woman, with or without PPD, who says she never ever even for one teensy tiny second considered throwing her newborn baby out the nearest window is LYING.

I actually make a point of saying something along these lines to first-time expectant mothers who ask me for advice about what to expect when the baby comes: "Labor hurts like hell, but it's nothing compared to the first three weeks of sleep deprivation afterward," I say "Don't feel guilty if you want to throw that kid out the window after a day or two," I tell them. "It's okay to think about it for a minute. Just don't do it. Ask someone for help if you need to. MAKE someone help you."

Of course, most of these innocent pre-partum women look at me in poorly disguised horror and don't dare ask me for advice again.

But I haven't stopped saying it.

We all need to talk about these feelings more-- about how incredibly hard it is to be a new mom, about how isolating the experience is in the context of a fragmented individualistic society where every woman is expected to be able to take care of her baby, her husband, her house AND often also a job, without any live-in grandmas or aunts or fellow village women to help; about how our husbands'/lovers/friends understandable failure to be transformed overnight in the same way motherhood forces tranformation on us makes us hate them, about how we are afraid we will be considered weak or inadequate mothers if we dare to ask others for assistance.

Good job, Dawn.

mamatulip said...

The more I read your blog, and get to "know" you better, I'm more and more impressed.

I'm amazed that you suffered for so long before getting help. I'm so sorry you went through what you did -- and I think you're one hell of a woman and mother.

Good on you, Dawn.

Anonymous said...


I don't know what motivated you to revisit these obviously painful memories, but I'm sure anyone who reads them is thankful and lucky you did.

Even though PPD is discussed more openly today, it's rare to hear the real deal from anyone. Thanks for sharing this.

(Oh, and mine was throwing her against a wall. I gulp thinking about it even now.)

Mignon said...

Dawn, that was an incredible story. I feel lucky to have escaped PPD for the most part (except the weepiness), but I also feel lucky to have had very good medical care post-partum that included much discussion and investigation for signs of PPD.

Like Elizabeth said, screening (and education) should be mandatory. I'm so glad your story had a good ending, when so many don't.

Lisa said...

Oh wow. That was a long time to feel so badly. And kids with the SI Dysfunction make it more difficult because they don't sleep and get fussy and freak out. I didn't have any serious depression after my little guy but I do remember feeling so emotionally beat up by 4 p.m. every day.

Its a good thing I wasn't in the same boat as you. My hubby worked alot of 70+ hour work weeks and traveled alot. I felt so very alone. I don't think he would have even noticed had I gone into such a deep depression. He was hardly around. That's only changed as of a few months ago.

You are a strong woman. And one of the many things I love and respect about you are that you use your blog to say, "hey, look. I'm not perfect. And neither is my life. SOmetimes I stumble, sometimes I fall on my ass, but it happens." I can relate. Because I'm no where near perfect. Neither is my life or my parenting.

Anonymous said...

Yeah - pregnancy and motherhood is the biggest mind fuck there is.

My son was born nearly 9 months ago - I started with the anti-depressants before he was even born. I don't see and end in sight but I do have that sane voice in my head, like Dawn did, that points me in the right direction. I try to share how I feel with my husband and he tries to understand but does not.

Everyone warns you about it but until you are here you don't really understand. XO Dawn!

Julie Marsh said...

THANK YOU. To you Dawn, and to everyone else who was brave enough to admit having those terrifying visuals. My god, I can't even tell you how much it scared me that we even HAD a balcony. I had other visuals that scared the daylights out of me - they would pop into my head at random, and I still feel physically ill at the thought that I had them.

Dawn, my heart aches for you, suffering as long as you did. I am so glad that you sought help, and that you and Emily and Terrance have made such a wonderful family together.

Anonymous said...

I have an appointment today with my mental health professional. really. 5:30 sharp. We will be discussing medication. been a wreck all daya nd then read your post and I'm considering it a sign.

Thanks for your honesty!

halloweenlover said...

Wow, Dawn, this post is amazing and so honest. Thank you for sharing this, it will certainly help so many people (me included). I hate to think about you going through this for 3 and a half years, how terrible. Em is lucky to have you, especially because I know you'll be watching out for her and you'll be able to tell her about your experiences before she has to go through anything like that.

Fraulein N said...

That was an amazing post. Thank you for writing it. I can only imagine how hard it must be to be overwhelmed by depression on top of having a child. I think because you went through that and made it out to the other side, you have a renewed commitment to being a mother. Your child will be better off for it.

Anonymous said...

I’d like to invite you to participate in the Blog for the MOTHERS Act blog day on October 24th. On that day we will be encouraging bloggers from around the country to write about the MOTHERS Act and encourage women to call their senators on that day and urge them to support it. If you’d like more information, please let me know. Thank you!

Katherine Stone
Postpartum Progress

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