I Suffered From Postpartum Depression and No One Noticed
The idea of having a baby terrified me, but I didn't know why.
After my son was born, three decades ago, I had postpartum depression. I only recently realized that’s what it was. For years, I didn’t understand why I felt the way I did: anxious, angry, hopeless, overwhelmed with feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt and inadequacy. I had no name for my indifference—indeed, for my total lack of love surrounding being a new parent—until recently, when I stumbled across an article about it.
It was only recently that I read about postpartum depression in an article online while I was researching depression that I could put a name on it. It doesn’t help that there is a diagnosis for my problem.
The Idea of Being a Mother Was Terrifying to Me
I wasn’t happy about being pregnant, but I wasn’t going to have an abortion either. Not out of religious reasons but just because there really wasn’t a reason to do so. I was married to a very nice man.
I didn’t love being pregnant and never felt an overwhelming connection and wonder about creating a new life with my husband. I read many books about childbirth and parenting an infant, with no thrill in my heart. I walked through my pregnant days terrified about being a mother.
It wasn’t a joyful time for me. I had severe morning sickness, which didn’t help. There were times that I wished I could have just one day without carrying around a big belly. I didn’t like being so obvious to the world about my condition. People would tell me how I should feel. Their comments only made me feel even more alone in my depression.
Then, I gave birth. I was just glad the pregnancy was over.
I have always felt guilty that I didn’t immediately fall in love with my baby or take to parenting the way I thought I was supposed to. I was terrified of taking care of him. Only a week after he was born, I begged my physician husband to stay home with me one day. I felt a lot of societal pressure to be the perfect mother, so I pretended I was confident, but in reality, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was frightened I wouldn’t know how to take care of a baby. Everyone I knew seemed to take to motherhood so readily and knew exactly what to do. My mother worked full-time, so she wasn’t available to me. I even took a Red Cross class on how to care for an infant. Unfortunately, the course only exacerbated my feelings of inadequacy. I was desperate.
Looking back now on the list of the official symptoms, I can knock off most of them: excessive crying, difficulty bonding with your baby, withdrawing from family and friends, overwhelming fatigue, fear that you're not a good mother.
Despite the Postpartum Depression, I Was Still Able to Keep My Son Safe
In addition to my list of failures, I didn’t breastfeed. There were several complications around it that I only learned after the fact. His father suffered from asthma when he was a child. So did my son, very early on. I later learned that had I breastfed, most likely he would not have gotten asthma.
Bonding was another of the problems I dealt with. While I wasn’t bonding, I did keep him safe from harm. I knew I had to do that, but I did it with resentment. I resented my infant taking over so much of my time. I resented being sure he was safe and if he seemed unhappy and would cry for no reason I could see.
I’m thankful at least that I was able to keep him safe. What awful events could have befallen a helpless creature by my indifference to their well-being? I was terrified of crib death or any other issue infants suffer.
Let me be clear: My husband was a wonderful man. None of this was his fault. Some could say that because he was a physician, he should have known something was off. I can’t shift the blame, though. I didn’t reach out for help either. I didn’t know I needed to, and I didn’t want to admit I had problems.
Who knows if my husband even recognized these symptoms? I concluded they were all character flaws of mine. I was imperfect. I wasn’t a good wife or even a good person, but I kept that to myself and tried to fool the world.
Undiagnosed Bipolar Disorder Made Me Prone to Postpartum Depression
I found many ways to be able to go out and around without my son. I put him in child care at a very early age. When he was old enough, I enrolled him in preschool and after-school care. None of this was because I was working. I wasn’t. I just didn’t want to be tied down. I didn’t delight in being a mother.
Some studies say postpartum depression happens more often in those diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I didn’t know I had that either until years later. So, if that is the case, I was set up for failure from way back then. I wasn’t diagnosed until my child was in his 30s. There are so many decisions I made over the years while I was undiagnosed, such as leaving my marriage.
Still today, I feel guilty when I see new mothers so thrilled and excited about their new babies. I feel terrible that I deprived my child of that love and security, and I can never get it back for him.
Why did it take me so long to put a label on what I endured all those years ago? I’m not sure, but after reading about it, I recognized behaviors that were textbook postpartum depression.
What baby deserves a mother who is indifferent and even resentful of it?
My postpartum depression didn’t go away in a few months. It lasted for years, even as my child grew into his teen years. There are things I look back on that I would do now, such as working more with him on his education or encouraging him to explore his interests or hobbies.
30 Years Later, My Son and I Now Have a Healthy Relationship
What I wonder now is how my behavior may have shaped his development over the years. Did it affect his self-esteem? What could I have done differently that would have helped his feeling of well-being? Are there lingering feelings of being unloved?
It’s impossible to know. What I do know is that after a couple of years, I finally found love for my son. I missed him terribly when he went away to college. I kept connected with him while he was away by sending funny greeting cards, and when I did see him, I planned events for us while he visited. I let him know I loved him and that I was there for him.
I am grateful for that. I only wish I or someone was aware of my feelings and showed me that it was a chemical issue and that there was help. How that could have eliminated years of guilt and resentment that didn’t have to be that way.
I’m grateful that my son grew up to be whole and happy. He survived my indifference and lack of love back then. He is now my shining star and has created a wonderful life for himself and his family. So I guess I did something right along the way, but the memories are still there. They're still painful.