I remember the day I found out I was pregnant. I was a School Social Worker at the time and the bathroom was across from my office. I stood in that bathroom. I stared at the pink line and fell to the floor. I was stunned and overwhelmed. I burst into tears and called my husband. These were not tears of joy. Being pregnant was the last thing I wanted. My family and my husband’s family were thrilled, so the guilt of not feeling happy about a baby started in those first few months of my pregnancy. Why was everyone so happy when I felt so lousy?
I spent the rest of my pregnancy with many physical illnesses and with mixed emotions. As the delivery date got closer I was beginning to panic. My father assured me that when I saw my baby for the first time I would fall in love.
Imagine the horror when that didn’t happen. It had been my one hope. I looked at my little girl and felt nothing. The only thing that went through my mind was, “I must feel so disconnected because I didn’t want her. How could a good mother not want her baby?” That wasn’t the case at all, but I didn’t know that. Instead the feelings were part of the onset of my Postpartum Anxiety.
As the weeks passed I became more and more sleepless, more panicked, more depressed, and more overwhelmed. Each day was drudgery and each night was dark and very lonely. Being obsessed with the idea of getting sleep, I thought that if I slept well everything would be better. I was too tired to shower, too afraid to be alone, too confused to drive a car. I couldn’t be comfortable anywhere, not even in my own skin. One night, as we drove through an intersection near our home, it flashed through my mind that a car accident might be a relief. I was a burden, a horrible mother, unhappy, and useless.
By then my family was out of options and ideas. They urged me to talk with a professional—maybe for counseling, but I felt ashamed to talk to anyone about it. My obstetrician had never mentioned the possibility of postpartum mood disorders nor had she screened to see if I was at risk. When I talked with her about my feelings she was dismissive. I searched for any kind of support group that might give me hope, but there were none in our area. I was a mental health professional who felt helpless and did not want to consider therapy because of the shame I felt. I had no friends who were having babies so I felt very isolated and alone.
My family took over the night feedings with my husband and came to sit with me every day so I was not alone. When Mary was 7 weeks old I didn’t know what else to do so I called my daughter’s nurse practitioner and told her I was desperate for help but didn’t know where to turn. She was someone I had always felt comfortable around and I knew she would support me without judgment. She made a series of phone calls and scheduled an appointment for me with a physician who was understanding and compassionate. I was relieved when she told me that she, too, had suffered from postpartum depression. I sat in her office—sobbing.
I limped along for at least a year after Mary was born. By the time I began to feel clear headed and strong Mary was two years old. I felt like I was finally coming out a dark fog.
Since I was feeling better, my goal was to find a way to help other mothers move toward healing sooner. I began scouring the internet for training on the subject of perinatal mood disorders and discovered PSI in the spring of 2003. They had annual conferences and knew I needed to go. I went to the entire conference. I vividly remember walking into the room on the first day of pre-conference training. There were roughly 40 women in the room. As each one of them stood up to introduce herself, I began to hear their stories that were so similar to mine. It occurred to me that, for the first time—two and a half years after I had given birth—I was finally in the company of women who had suffered like me. I felt like I could really exhale and move forward. I couldn’t believe how healing it was to receive support from people who understood my pain.