I was never going to stay home after I had my daughter. I planned my maternity leave meticulously. Lesson plans in perfect order, my classroom organized so a sub could teach the beginning of the school year. I’d be back in my classroom by Halloween, and my daughter would be happy and healthy in the perfect preschool, but then I had her.
From the very second I met my little girl, I knew I wasn’t going back to work. And in my mind that meant all those years of college, the time I’d put in teaching in the smaller school districts to finally land a job in the bigger one, and the years I had spent learning to be the perfect teacher– honing not just my career, but my identity as a schoolteacher, it all changed in an instant.
Plans change, and that’s okay, but when life changes suddenly like mine did, it can put you in a tailspin. And when I was already hormonal and brand new to mommyhood, postpartum depression set in. I had heard of it before, but I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t even really realize anything was wrong with me. I just knew that I didn’t want my daughter to die. She was too important. Before her, the most responsibility I’d had was a plant– and it was plastic, and I accidentally left it in the car, so it melted.
When I visited my OB after her birth, he asked how things were going, and I answered the way I was supposed to. “Lots of diapers! I can’t wait to sleep some time in the year 2020! HAH!” Plus, I was happy. I LOVED being a mom, and my little girl was the coolest thing on the planet. Postpartum depression sounded like something to make you sad. Wasn’t depression when you couldn’t get out of bed? I had to get out of bed. If I didn’t, who would protect my baby? It isn’t his fault that he didn’t see my postpartum, it was easy for me to hide.
And when I took her out, there was a small nail on the wall in our utility room on the way to the garage where I hung my keys. I envisioned accidentally tripping and pushing the nail into her soft skull. Nevermind that the nail was actually above my head, and I would have to trip UP in order for that to happen, it worried me so much that I covered her head each time we walked past it. Just in case.
And when we were at the mall, and she was safely secured in her carrier inside the stroller, I’d imagine her slipping through the bars of the bridge that went over the parking garage into the second story of the building. What if she wriggled out and somehow rolled over to the edge without me realizing? It worried me so much I parked on the bottom floor. Just in case.
And when I sat in marriage counseling, telling the counselor about these fears, about how I was constantly scared for her life. About how even right then, when we sat in his office, I worried that all the smoke detectors were broken at home and that my mother-in-law’s sense of smell wouldn’t be good enough to realize there was a fire in the house. He assured me that it was normal, and that all mothers worried their children would die. And this is where my counselor failed me, failed my husband, my daughter, and eventually my marriage. Because later on I asked him why he didn’t realize what was going on with me, and he shrugged and told me that it wasn’t his place to diagnose postpartum. He was there to fix my marriage. (He failed, by the way.)
But, I knew it wasn’t normal, and I didn’t talk about it again. Not to my friends, not to my husband, not to my mother. I just worried. I worried for almost two years. I wondered if life would always be like this. If I would live in constant fear of things I KNEW posed no harm to my child, but that would scare me so much I’d freeze in fear.
And then it went away. The fear slowly faded, and I realized the haze I’d been living in. I realized that I hadn’t been my normal self, that something was actually wrong, and I searched for answers. Everything I read, everything I researched led me to postpartum depression. But, still, I doubted, because that was the stuff that made moms go crazy and kill their babies. I wasn’t CRAZY, I would never do those things. Postpartum was looked on as this taboo, terrible thing, and it wasn’t– my hormones were imbalanced as all hell and they were playing tricks on my mind. The only reason they ever got back into check was because my periods were so screwed up that I had started back on birth control to regulate them.
Finally, I got the courage to tell my doctor about my fears, how they’d vanished with the birth control, how they’d stopped me in my tracks and made me take unnecessary precautions all the time. He shook his head, and apologized, “That’s postpartum depression, and I am so sorry I missed it. We still don’t know a lot about it and if I don’t ask the right questions, then I don’t get the right answers.” It wasn’t his fault, or anybody’s really– postpartum isn’t something that looks the same in everyone, and it isn’t something that anyone can see, or even know if they are feeling it themselves.
All we can do for women with postpartum is to share our stories. To tell our truths and be honest about what we REALLY felt after we had our babies and encourage them to do the same. And that’s why I am telling my story now, because maybe some mom out there somewhere is going through what I went through, and she doesn’t know why, and she feels alone. You’re not alone, and if you ever need to talk, I am here for you.