I felt disconnected and alone after giving birth. But I was able to get help — and you can, too.
I have never been much of a shopper. I mean, when I was a kid, I enjoyed wandering the aisles of Toys R Us and Kay Bee Toys — pressing “Try Me” buttons and test-driving scooters — but my love affair with stuff soon ended.
I buy groceries because I have to. Clothing and home decor purchases are (more or less) limited. Yet after the birth of my daughter, I regularly found myself strolling through Walgreens and Foodtown, picking up candy, candles, and other odds and ends.
Why? Because these “things” filled me. They connected me to others and the proverbial real world which, at 6 weeks postpartum, I desperately needed. I felt absent from life.
I felt as though I was looking at my husband, daughter, and others through double-paned glass.
You see, I was lonely and sleep deprived. The hours blurred together. Days became indistinguishable, and while I saw sunrises, sunsets, the moon, and on certain days, rain, the weather meant little to me.
Trapped in my fourth-floor walkup in Brooklyn beneath my breastfeeding babe, I began to lose myself and my mind… so I walked. I shopped. These items became proof of my existence.
Strange as it sounds, Glade PlugIns proved I was alive.
Shopping also gave me purpose and adult interaction, which I was desperately lacking. Everyone spoke to me about my baby — how sweet she was, how good she was, how pretty she was, and how lucky I was — but it was something. It was better than silence.
That said, conversations (like my smile) were forced. My words were stilted. I said what I thought I should — not what I felt.
I didn’t tell anyone I hated motherhood. I didn’t tell anyone I was scared of my daughter and myself, and I didn’t tell anyone that I believed I had made a terrible mistake. That I was a bad mom. Instead, I nodded and smiled.
I distinctly remember the tension I felt in my jaw when another mother told me to treasure these moments. These were the best days of my life.
I worried she was right. I worried things would never get better — that I would never get better — and I couldn’t stand it. After months of wandering Walgreens in a sleep-deprived haze, I decided I wanted to die.
Scratch that: I realized I needed to die because my husband deserved better, my daughter deserved better, and because climbing four flights of stairs felt impossible.
I had been holding my breath for 4 months and on this unseasonably warm October day, the air had run out.
But before giving up, I gave in. I called my husband and told him everything. He came home and I made an emergency appointment with my OB-GYN to get help.
It’s hard to explain exactly what postpartum depression feels like. It’s living on autopilot, or floating beneath the surface of a frozen lake. You move. Life moves, but you are not a part of it. Sensations are dulled (or amplified) and you feel overwhelmed or numb. And the only clear thoughts you have are ones of sadness and self-loathing.
You believe you are not smart enough or good enough. You question your ability as an employee, spouse, parent, and friend. You give everything you have and still know it’s not enough, and you feel guilty for feeling these things at all.
You have a happy child. A healthy child. You are #blessed.
Sick or not, it’s okay to not cherish every moment. It is also very common.
According to the Office on Women’s Health, 1 in 9 women will experience postpartum depression. And while the symptoms vary — some experience extreme sadness, crying episodes, and low energy while others feel anxious, irritable, and unattached to their newborn babe — there is help and hope.
Treatment options include lifestyle changes, medication, and therapy. Help is available in many forms, and can provide relief, support, and strategies for working through your feelings.
That said, change will not happen overnight. While I first sought help for postpartum depression when my daughter was 16 weeks, I didn’t recover until her first birthday.
In fact, if I’m being fully honest, it took me a year and a half to “come out” of the postpartum haze. But things improved gradually, slowly. And I celebrated where I was, not where others expected me to be, because I was worth it (and you are too).
Help for postpartum mood disorders
- Postpartum Support International (PSI) offers a phone crisis line (800-944-4773) and text support (503-894-9453), as well as referrals to local providers.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has free 24/7 helplines available for people in a crisis who may be considering taking their lives. Call 800-273-8255 or text “HELLO” to 741741.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a resource that has both a phone crisis line (800-950-6264) and a text crisis line (“NAMI” to 741741) for anyone who needs immediate assistance.
- Motherhood Understood is an online community started by a postpartum depression survivor offering electronic resources and group discussions via mobile app.
- The Mom Support Group offers free peer-to-peer support on Zoom calls led by trained facilitators.
Kimberly Zapata is a mother, writer, and mental health advocate. Her work has appeared on several sites, including the Washington Post, HuffPost, Oprah, Vice, Parents, Health, and Scary Mommy — to name a few — and when her nose isn’t buried in work (or a good book), Kimberly spends her free time running Greater Than: Illness, a nonprofit organization that aims to empower children and young adults struggling with mental health conditions. Follow Kimberly on Facebook or Twitter.