Postpartum Depression Made Me a Better Mother

As Della Hadley

I dreamed of being the girl in the movie scene, crying in the bathroom, holding a pregnancy test, and hugging her husband that could not wait to see how beautiful she would be carrying their first child. Never once did I think that pregnancy could be traumatic and brutal and not so hard to accept as "beautiful" and "a miracle." Pregnancy reared its ugly head, and snapped me into reality when I was 23. Postpartum depression was inevitable for someone like me, who suffered from mental illness, someone who had just spent a summer partying with the worst of them and doing things any parent would tremble at. Out of everything that was difficult, being a mother would not be. I may not have realized it when I wanted nothing but to be cool and get high and go to the bar, but being a mom was always my very first dream. But still, I was completely and utterly devastated when the doctor came into the room and said, “The rabbit died,” an old phrase used to describe something very new. I understood neither. I accepted neither. I was incapable of loving myself, I was still looking for someone to save me, I was still completely dependent on everyone else. How was I supposed to validate the existence of another being when I was still using other people to validate my own? Within ten minutes, I was expected to plan for a life and a future of someone else; I hadn’t even cared about my own for the last ten years. The fairytale scene I wanted was robbed by a man in a white coat that wrote me a prescription for prenatal vitamins instead of the painkillers I was there for originally. That doctor said, “Good luck to you,” as I left his office, and the only thing that remotely resembled a movie scene was the white-knuckle grip I had on my paperwork and the words I screamed to God as I flew down the interstate to inform a soul as lost as my own that he was (regrettably) the father of my child.

Labor and delivery were so easy. I pushed for 30 minutes and he latched immediately — I was meant for this. It wasn’t until we got home when I couldn’t figure out why it felt so wrong. I couldn’t figure out why I didn’t have enough self-control to not be angry, I threw my remote across the room while my week-old son was laying on my bed. I ripped my hair out and I hit myself in the head while thinking it was all a normal part of being a new mom. Just like I had dreamed of. I couldn’t figure out why I would wake up to the sound of an infant crying and not jump out of bed and be at his side right away. I wanted nothing more than to keep my blinds closed. My body felt too heavy to move when he would cry. Even though my heart kept telling me I needed to feed him, or change him, or hold him, my brain made me want to roll my eyes and scream in frustration because I couldn’t bring myself to get up. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to breastfeed or change a diaper or hold him. I was sad because I was a mom, but I was also sad because I was sad to be a mom. I couldn’t figure out why it felt like such a burden to walk out of the house and go in public. I couldn’t figure out why I said things like, “No one wants to deal with a baby in a restaurant.” I couldn’t figure out why I struggled so hard to do everything I thought I was born to do. I didn’t know why I felt a fraud when I shared pictures on my social media platforms, talking about how special he was and how much I loved him. I didn’t know why my mind kept reverting to the moment when I was sitting on my bed and my dad asked me if anyone had ever asked if I wanted this child. The second time anyone asked how I was doing after my son was born was his pediatrician. I couldn’t answer the question. I could only cry. She gave me a questionnaire with statements like, “I have been able to laugh and see the funny side of things.” No. “I have blamed myself unnecessarily when things went wrong.” Yes, but not unnecessarily. I blamed myself for everything. “I have felt sad or miserable.” I. Hate. My. Life. The objective was to answer less than ten questions with positive answers. None of my answers were positive. Postpartum Depression. The thought of being diagnosed with yet another mental illness infuriated me. Another medication to keep up with that isn’t going to work, one more thing to keep track of along with my infant son and his astray, drug addicted father. I wanted to love this child more than anything on this planet. His pediatrician told me I had to feel okay to make my baby feel okay. I thought back on the sleepless nights and the nights he would sleep while his mom and dad screamed and threw things around the house trying to get a point across. I spoke with the psychiatrist and filled my prescription. A few weeks later, I climbed into my bed at my parents, with my baby in his bassinet, and I remembered what it felt like to feel safe and calm and collected. I will never forget that first night back — it wasn’t what I envisioned when I was a little girl, pretending I was a housewife and taking care of the baby. It wasn’t my white picket fence house with a golden retriever sleeping in front of the fireplace. It was my childhood bedroom transformed into a nursery, and I was sleeping my bed alone. I was a single mom, I was scared, I was confused, but I was determined. I wasn’t sad anymore.

I haven’t looked back since. Had I never been diagnosed, had I never taken care of my brain first, I would never be able to make my little boy happy. I never would have cleaned my room, or threw away a dirty diaper, or took him to the park. I wouldn’t have gone back to work, I wouldn’t have been excited to finish school and create a future for him. Postpartum Depression is a diagnosis that molded me into the mother I wanted to be. It’s a diagnosis that has taught me that I am a mother, but I’m still a person. I’m a human being. It’s taught me that he doesn’t have a choice — and I do. I have the choice to take care of myself so I can take care of him, and that’s a choice that I will keep making for as long as I live. 

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Postpartum Depression Made Me a Better Mother