(Thank you to Anna Williams for sharing your story!)
I don’t talk about it much. Okay, I don’t really talk about it at all. I hint at it. I imply it. I make a joke, sprinkle in some curse words, and now we’re talking about something else.
But I *almost* had PND. And by *almost*, I mean — I did. But I never got around to seeing a professional about it.
I know I did because I’ve seen the big D many times in my life. I’ve lived the waking nightmare of piloting a body around in a soup of unintelligible despair awash with anxiety, heart running in a permanent race I didn’t enter, lungs pushing against the wall of panic. Where is the air? What day is it? I can’t feel my face. I can’t do anything right. I can’t swim. I can’t breathe.
We say it all the time, “I was treading water.” — Depression is like the fine line between the doggy paddle and submersion. Post natal depression is like trying to push the boat around by a soggy length of rope. “Don’t let the boat capsize. Don’t let it stop. Keep going boat.. keep.. glug… glug….”
I won’t say that my childhood was or was not perfect, but a few years of therapy and a few years of “growing up” taught me that there’s not always some trauma in your life that was directly responsible for your depression in adulthood. I came to realize that I had been depressed, or anxious, or otherwise “treading water” since early childhood. My parents divorced, remarried, divorced again, etc. But divorce didn’t give me depression. My parents didn’t cause my depression. I was born with it.
So if you’re reading this, and you just finished swallowing that little white pill, and you wonder why, why did motherhood give you depression —
Motherhood didn’t give you depression. Your baby didn’t give you depression. You are not exceptionally ill-equipped for parenting. You are not broken. You’re not doing it wrong. Depression is not your fault. Depression is not delivered by life-events. Sadness and Grief, Happiness and gratefulness — these are. Depression is a catalyst. Sadness seeps, drip by drip, into your thoughts, and then, at some critical saturation, depression switches on, and twists your sadness — normal, expected, healthy sadness, into a turbulent, smothering, stinging fog that swallows you up and burns itself out until you are dry and hollow and vacant and numb.
I knew depression, when it came to my door again. Three years absent, it rang the bell, and whispered, “I’m back.”
I shut the blinds. Locked the door. Threw my hands over my ears and squeezed my tears back into my head with my eyelids.
She was born like she was conceived. Right when she was supposed to be. Quickly. Without fuss. No hitches. Later they told me, I could have gone off into a cave by myself. I’d done everything right. My body had demonstrated an aptitude for childbearing. A+.
And then we were alone, her, her father, and me. We had decided we were ready to have a child.
But a baby is not a child. A baby is a wailing pupae of despair and confoundment.
They tell you, they do. About babies. But they don’t TELL you. You hear about infant sleep. You hear about feeding. You hear about the 6 weeks (HA, if only) from hell. But you don’t HEAR it.
If adults ever figure out how to communicate with one another the race will be doomed.
I had so excelled at bearing her, and delivering her, that when we began to fail at feeding her, I was beside myself. I thought it was natural. It’s supposed to be easy if its natural. I didn’t really expect it to be EASY. But I did expect it to be simple. For 8 weeks, we had a screaming terror — 10 lbs of wrath — from 8 pm to 3, maybe 5 am. Eight. Weeks. Raw, chapped, bleeding nipples. Hollow, blurry eyes that seemed incapable of focusing, staring at the middle distance.
Why can’t I make her happy? Why can’t I make her sleep?
If I put her down, I had a maximum of 10 minutes. Ten. Minutes. Before she was hungry again.
Some of you will know — the answer, of course, was tongue tie. That it took me 5 weeks to find someone who could see that was its own special hell. The 3 weeks until the final, successful revision was just to see how far I could go, I suppose.
Fixing the feeding issues should have been it. Now I can happily feed my baby and she will be satisfied and she will sleep and I can take naps and my husband and I can get some rest and maybe we won’t die in a car crash on the way to work!
But tongue tie wasn’t what made me hollow. Sleep deprivation wasn’t what kept my eyes from focusing. Her birth wasn’t what was dragging me below the water line. Events do not make you depressed. Undiluted, unmanaged, unchecked sadness seeps in, like an allergen, the reaction is triggered. The rash spreads.
It was a day not long after the first revision. I remember. The clock struck 5pm, and I realized I had been in the rocking chair, all. day. Too terrified to move out from under my tiny captor, I had let her pin me to that chair, vegetating on daytime television, too empty to even watch something I enjoyed.
“I’m back.” it whispered. “Let me in.”
I set my baby in the infant swing. Swish click. Swish click. I stared at her from across the living room, darkness pooling in the corners as the sun set.
This is supposed to be about how babywearing saved me. And we’re getting to that part. But it didn’t happen all at once. Being saved doesn’t usually happen instantaneously. You have to grab on to the life ring. They have to pull you to. You have to climb out of the water. You have to heal.
Like most first time parents, I got a carrier at my baby shower.
Like most first time parents, I neglected to figure out how to use it before the baby arrived.
Like most first time parents, in the throws of terror at my new house-mate’s unparalleled fragility, the idea of strapping on a bulky, imposingly black, multi-step medusa was an insurmountable challenge.
I made a walking date here, a trip to the trail with my husband there, and slowly I felt the draft of fog lifting. I made a very daring and trying and introvert-exhausting pilgrimage to a babywearing meeting.
Very soon after I was graciously buried in a heap of loaned wraps and slings.
One year later I have my own stash, and regular wrap chat lunch dates, and I’m a VBE, and though I will maintain that it started with LLL and Dairy Queens facebook groups, my persistent addiction to social media is entirely the fault of the babywearing community.
The truth is, babywearing didn’t really save me as such. But wearing empowered me. Trips to the store were no longer frightening. Walks in nature were now something my new little family could enjoy. Where my husband and I used to hike through the oak hammocks hand in hand, we now have an extra pack to haul, with two perfect little turkey legs and two perfect little grabby hands and one perfect little sing-song voice to point out all the birds.
More than wraps, more than constant snuggles, more than the power to feed on the go, though, the thing that saved me the most are the friends I made.
So babywearing didn’t really save me. Babywearing was just a substrate in which my heart was allowed to regrow.
Kim, you saved me. Aya, you saved me. Anne, you saved me. Debbie, Rebekah, Judah, Emily, Embly, Nadia, Brittnie, and so many others…
You saved me.
Knock knock. I’m home.
I feel it necessary to point out that my husband is a loving and devoted husband and father. Depression is something that we both live with and anxiety is something we battle every day. My dips below the surface are in spite of his love, not for the lack of it. But it takes a village to raise a child. It takes a village to raise a family.
If you feel that you may be suffering from PND, please seek professional help. I am very irresponsible for not seeking help this time. I got lucky, but I am always aware that I may need to make that call again at any point in the future.
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For additional information on Post-partum Mental Illnesses, please visit our blog post #NoFlawsOnlyHuman or the #NoFlawsOnlyHuman campaign. Please seek support and help if you are experiencing any of these same feelings.