I Hid My Postpartum Depression for Too Long—Here's What I Want You To Know

One mom shares her experience of hiding her postpartum depression and anxiety from everyone until she realized help was the only way out.

Tired concerned mother rocking sleeping baby
Photo: Getty

Last December, my son Jules was born prematurely. I won't get into the gritty details of how fast and traumatic his birth was because, as it turns out, that was the easy part. The hard part came later, and, just like his birth, it came faster than I ever thought it could or would.

The hard part I'm referring to is my struggle with and recovery from postpartum depression (PPD) and postpartum anxiety (PPA).

I can't tell you exactly when it all first started.

Was it right after I had a C-section and then was handed a helpless newborn to take care of and automatically felt more guilt because I was too physically weak and exhausted to care for this new life?

Was it when I left the hospital without my baby because the pediatrician said he wasn't ready to come home yet?

I can't say for sure what the defining moment was because there were so many challenging moments in those first few days, weeks, and months that followed my son's birth.

What I can say for sure is that I didn't feel a connection with my baby. I didn't feel that immediate bond with Jules that I had felt with my other two children. Although I knew deep down that I loved him, I also desperately wanted to forget that he was here.

I wanted things to return to how they were before he was born. I didn't want to be needed by anyone, much less needed by someone whose only way of communicating was through shrill kitten-like cries. I knew I was expected to be thrilled to have a new baby, but I wasn't thrilled. I wasn't even happy.

I was overwhelmed and exhausted. And I had so much guilt. I felt guilty for not being thrilled. Guilty for not living up to the expectation of a happy mother. Guilty for simply feeling guilty.

This endless cycle of guilt only contributed to the persistent feelings of anxiety and inadequacy I was dealing with every day. I didn't feel like a good mother. Hell, I didn't feel like a mother at all. Instead, I felt like an imposter and it would only be a matter of time before I was exposed as the undeserving mother I thought I was.

I was convinced everyone else saw that I was failing at what I believed was supposed to come naturally to mothers and new parents.

Keeping My Postpartum Depression and Anxiety a Secret

People would stop and ask me how the baby was doing, and I would smile and say something like, "Oh, he's great! We're so lucky!" But I didn't feel that way. I didn't feel lucky at all, and I felt ashamed of that. I felt so much shame.

I knew I should have felt a connection to Jules. I knew I should have wanted to bond with him, but I didn't. Instead, whenever I looked at Jules or held him, I saw my own failure as a mother. Instead, I volunteered to run every errand as long as it would get me out of the house—and leave me free to be away from him.

If you saw me on any of these errands, you wouldn't have said, "Wow, that woman looks like she's having a hard time!" Not a chance. I wouldn't have let you see that.

I knew what was expected of me as a new mom and the role I was assigned to play. I knew to say how grateful I was for Jules. I learned to make small talk over his sleep patterns, or lack thereof. I learned to mimic the compliments people handed out like candy, and say things like, "He is such a good baby!" or "He's so squishy and snuggly!" Then I would wonder if Jules would be better off with a mother like them instead of me.

Rarely would people ask me how I was doing, but when they did, I knew how to respond to not reveal my shame. I learned to automatically reply with a generic phrase like, "I'm just so tired!" because I couldn't fathom that anyone wanted to hear about my intrusive thoughts. On the even rarer occasion that someone would tell me to let them know if I ever needed anything, I knew I never actually would because I didn't want to bother anyone with my problems.

More days than I care to admit were filled with intrusive thoughts and passive suicidal ideation. I convinced myself that my baby deserved a better mother. I convinced myself that my family would be better off without the fraud of a wife, mother, and friend that I believed I was.

I cried endless tears because of the perceived shame I carried. I cried because I wasn't spending time with my baby, and I cried because so many people kept telling me to enjoy this time ("It goes by so fast!").

I cried because I felt alone and deluded myself into thinking that no one could possibly understand what I was going through.

That's what postpartum depression and anxiety do. They lie to you.

PPD is relentless in convincing you that you are weak and carrying around a character flaw. It isolates you from your true self and blames you for no longer recognizing who you are and who you are meant to be. It forces you to suffer alone with intrusive thoughts because the shame of letting someone know that you aren't the gold standard for motherhood scares you more than actually acting on those horrible thoughts and feelings.

Getting the Help I Needed

I was on autopilot. It was almost as if I was living one long out-of-body experience. I knew the "me" physically operating my body wasn't me, and I needed help. I knew what I was feeling wasn't what I wanted to be feeling, but I didn't know how to change that or make that happen. I needed help, and thankfully, there was help for me. There is help for you, too.

I'm thankful for a supportive health care team and access to counseling. In addition, I am taking prescribed antidepressants and ketamine infusions to help with treatment-resistant depression, both of which have improved my mood and intensity of suicide ideation.

Situational anxiety still rears its ugly head and while sometimes I want to retreat and hide when the emotions are overwhelming, I know there is help for me. I know this isn't forever. I am determined to make it to the other side of this postpartum journey.

But here's the deal: I wasn't alone. And neither are you. PPD and PPA aren't unique. Speaking up about it is. People, women especially, are needlessly suffering in silence because the shame keeps us silent. The idea of being thought of as a bad mother, a not good enough mother, or a downright failure can often feel worse than death to a mom suffering from postpartum mental health issues.

No one deserves to feel that way. I didn't and you don't either.

I got help and it helped. I got treatment and am starting to feel better. While I know everyone's journey will be different and people will respond differently to treatment, the key is to reach out and start somewhere.

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