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What Postpartum Depression Looks Like

One mom describes her experience navigating through postpartum depression after the birth of her child.

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-This is the classic picture, right? Mother holding child for the first time. I had dreamed of this moment for years. I thought I will be flooded with the wave of love so powerful it would knock me down. That did not happen. I was in the recovery room after my C-section. I remember noticing that Nathaniel had a cleft chin just like my husband, but other than that, I didn't recognize him. He was a stranger. This is a hard picture to look at. When my husband first showed it to me, I thought I looked dead. I felt dead at that time. Nathaniel is clearly asleep because his pacifier has fallen out. I'm not asleep. Holding him made me feel even more anxious like every cell of my body was racing in circles. If I could have hand in Nathaniel to my husband and climbed right out that window at the foot of the bed, I would have. I distinctly remember trying to smile on this picture, trying to force my mouth into a smile-like shape, but you can see the desperation in my eyes. My eyes are saying, "Help me, I'm on fire." I remember this day perfectly. We were in the park and it looked like everyone else there was enjoying their babies and small children, everyone but me. It felt like I was sealed behind a pane of glass and the other side was happiness. I could see it so clearly, but I couldn't get there. This photo is taken the same day. I remember trying to look like I was gazing into the distance thinking loving thoughts about my child. But when I saw this picture, I knew that it hadn't worked at all. When I saw this, I was afraid. I thought, "Wow, I really looked as bad as I feel." I felt horrible when I woke up that way. I remember saying to husband, "I'm sorry, you must be so disappointed in me. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry because another day was starting and I still wasn't any better." He had what I thought was an insane idea. Let's rent a car and get out of the city for the day. He may as well have suggested we get into a spaceship and fly to the moon. I couldn't even go to the grocery store without feeling all consuming panic. But we made the trip to a local beach. In this picture, I look happy, but I remember when we drove over the bridge, I thought about opening the car door, running to the edge, and leaping. I thought I would feel free in those moments before I hit the water. We're sitting on the grass because we couldn't wheel the pack and play on the sands. I remember thinking, like a moody teenager, this baby ruins everything. Here is a day remember feeling sincerely happy. This picture was taken after I went back to work. I was so glad Nathaniel could go in the swing. Finally, he could do fun things. He could participate in the world. In the earlier pictures of me holding Nathaniel, I remember how my hands felt, heavy and rubbery like they were full of wax. The embrace did not feel natural, but here I think my hold looks confident, and loving, and real. And he is holding me right back. You can tell I'm truly better at this point because I broke out the party hat. This photo was taken on Nathaniel's half-year birthday. Life really did improve when I learned how to do the things I had always done like go out to eat with Nathaniel along with me. I see people now with infants going about their daily lives and it looks so normal, but for me, it just wasn't possible. Going to the baby story time at the library was a really big deal for me. At first, I didn't wanna be around other new mothers because everyone seemed to be doing it so much better than I was, but I met a gay dad in the playground one day. And unlike the other new moms who seem to be flaunting their love of breastfeeding and maternal all knowingness, Jacob made no attempt to hide that he was just as clueless as I was. He convinced me to come to Storytime. I'm a children's books editor, so books are very important to me. Being able to share my passion with Nathaniel was a really meaningful part of our bonding and of my recovery.