I'm sitting in the dark as my shoulders shake violently, the tears streaming down my face, sobbing as quietly as I can so I don't wake my husband. The baby is staring up at me, eyes wide open, deciding if he wants to cry, or eat, or sleep, or just be with me. But I don't want to be with him. I don't want to be with anyone. I don't want my body to be used any more. I just want to sleep, to be left alone, to have some peace and quiet.
My husband needs the sleep more than I do since he goes to work every day, I tell myself. So I fling my legs over the side of the bed and pick my son up, praying that he keeps quiet until we get to the living room. I don't want my husband to see me like this. I don't want him to know how close I am to losing it. I want him to think I'm a good mom. Please think I'm a good mom. Please think I'm a good mom. Please think I'm a good mom.
We get to the living room and I unsnap my shirt to breastfeed. He has a hard time latching and it hurts. It hurts SO badly. I grab the nipple shield in hopes that it'll give me a little barrier between the pain. It doesn't. But he's now latched and eating away. And there are tears streaming down my face again. Tears of pain? Tears of exhaustion? Tears of feeling like a failure for not wanting to do this?
The next night it's the same all over again. Except this time the tears happen while I'm sitting on the couch with my husband, before I can stop them. As soon as I'm done nursing, I tell my husband I'm going to bed and rush to our bedroom and pull the covers over my head. I can't do this. I don't want to. Why can I not bond with my child? Every time he wants to eat, I just want to run away. I don't want to be a mother. I'm not cut out for this.
My husband comes back to check on me and fear overcomes his face. He asks me what's wrong, I tell him I'm just tired. He lays down with me and rubs my back. "What's wrong?" he asks me, knowing me well enough to know it's something deeper. That those tears are not just tears of exhaustion. "I don't want to do it. It hurts. I hate breastfeeding. I get angry every time I have to do it. I don't feel like I'm connected to our son. I feel like a failure as a mother. What kind of mother doesn't want to breastfeed her son?" It all comes spewing out of me before I can stop it. And then I freeze in panic. Terrified of what my husband will say next. Terrified that he'll agree with me- that I'm a terrible mother.
"So stop breastfeeding."
Huh? He just tells me to stop? There's nothing else? Is there a "but...." coming? How can I just stop? What will other people think? Will they think I'm a bad person? That I'm not a "real" mother?
But he's serious. He wants me to stop if he thinks it will help me feel better. So I do. That is the last time I ever breastfed my son. He was less than a month old. And the next morning the cloud had lifted. All of the darkness had turned to light. I looked at my son with his big blue eyes and I was excited to see him. I didn't shudder when he started crying to eat. I simply smiled at him and made him a bottle.
And as I look back at that time now, I realize I was entering postpartum depression, or maybe had already entered it. I was miserable. And not just "I'm exhausted from being a new mom" miserable. It was the overwhelming kind. The kind where it didn't seem like the fog would ever lift. I was depressed. I was not happy with life. And it all stemmed from breastfeeding.
I'm lucky that my husband knows me well enough to know when something is seriously wrong- even if I don't know it myself. I'm lucky that he was on my side the whole time. I'm lucky that he took into consideration my feelings, and my fears. I'm lucky that he knew exactly what to say to pull me through the darkness and into the light. Because if I didn't have him, if I didn't have him on my side, it could've been me. It could've been me standing in the middle of the road at night just praying for a car to hit me. It could've been me running my car into a wall when it all became too much. It could've been me who took all of those pills in an attempt to just fall asleep.
Postpartum depression is serious. It's not something that should be taken lightly. It's not something that only depressed people feel, or "bad mothers" feel, or people who aren't cut out to be parents. It's something that a large percentage of women go through. It can happen to any one of us. My sister told me just after I had the baby "if you ever start to feel depressed, I need you to call me ASAP". But I didn't think I'd ever have that problem. I had never suffered from depression in my life, so I knew I'D never have postpartum depression. But it could've or maybe actually DID happen to me. So if you know a new mom who is having a hard time (be it her first or sixth kid), ask her how you can help, offer to talk to her, be there for her. And let her know that it's okay to seek out help. It shouldn't be a stigma, because if it is, we're just hurting one another.
It could have been me.